The floating world doesn’t float the way it once did. Three years ago, the psychedelic Massachusetts power trio released an album called Reflections Of A Floating World, and they had their reasons for picking that title. At the time, frontman Nick DiSalvo said, “The term ‘the floating world’ comes from a particular period in Japanese society which is associated with a flourishing of the arts, but also a self-destructively decadent lifestyle.” So Elder were celebrating the temporary nature of the society that allowed them to make their churning and beatific stoner-metal. The idea behind “the floating world” had everything to do with fragility, with the idea that our society was in a state of fantastical suspended animation and that it could all end at any point. This week, Elder are releasing their newest album into a world that’s only just managing to remain afloat. The new Elder album is called Omens, but it could just as easily be Reflections Of A Crashing World.
Elder started in 2006; a lot of their earliest songs were directly inspired by Robert E. Howard’s mythical and apocalyptic Conan The Barbarian stories. Elder are a product of the metal underground, specifically the doom-metal side of things. But these days, they’re way more doom than metal. Elder weren’t exactly ear-crushing hellions at any point in their history, but they’ve moved further and further from the growling bombast of metal over the years, towards a bucolic style of psychedelic prog that only occasionally gives way to thunderous riffage. Omens is one more step along that journey — an expansive shag-carpet symphony. It’s music for watching clouds drift indifferently by, for losing track of time.
People always talk about time when they talk about Elder. Elder are undisputed masters of the long song. Omens, for instance, has five tracks spread over 56 minutes. Only one song clocks in under the 10-minute mark, and that only only barely does. But that’s only impressive when you’re watching the little progress bar of your streaming platform glacially ooching forward. When you’re actually listening to Elder, you probably aren’t thinking about where one song stops and the next begins. As with the band’s previous albums, Omens blurs into one heady whole.
But Omens does stand out from past Elder albums in a few ways. We’re dealing with a whole new band now. Matt Couto, Elder’s founding drummer, is gone, and they’ve replaced him with Georg Edert. The new guitarist Michael Risberg has come on board, too, so Elder are no longer a trio. DiSalvo and Risberg both play keyboards, and the Italian synth master Fabio Cuomo also plays on the album. Elder have never been afraid of keyboards, but there are a lot of keyboards on Omens: Ghostly organ moans, analog Tangerine Dream drone-whines, impressionistic sighs of synthetic strings, glowing Fender Rhodes tones. More than past Elder records, Omens is beautifully rich and layered, concerned with texture over grandeur. With its complicated riff-structures and elegantly piled-up waves of sound, Omens sometimes ventures off into jazzy post-rock territory.
But Elder are still fully capable of coming up with vast elephantine riffs. They just never use those riffs to flatten or punish. Instead, on Omens, Elder use those riffs as parts of a sweeping, comforting blanket of sound. Omens works as headphones-based zone-out music — music for letting your thoughts wander and drift. But it still rocks. DiSalvo still sings in a burly post-hardcore bellow — not quite a metal growl, but not anything pretty either. I get the feeling that DiSalvo would be perfectly happy if Elder were an instrumental band, since he spends so little of Omens actually singing. But his lyrics, in throatily poetic fashion, describe a society that’s already looking at its own ruins: “Wasting away/ In the embers of power/ Not a voice to remain/ Echoes of the past.”
Metal and prog and psychedelic rock have always been consumed with notions of the apocalypse, so it’s not like Elder made Omens with the current pandemic specifically in mind. (Elder had a big spring tour scheduled; the current situation is fucking with them just as badly as it’s fucking with all working musicians.) And yet Omens feels welcoming and comforting in its current moment. Where Elder once warned of the world’s fragility, they now work as a respite from it. When you’re stuck at home, you need something to come along and sweep you away. Elder will do that.
Omens is out 4/24 via Armageddon Shop. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The physical release of former Cymbals Eat Guitars frontman Joseph D’Agostino’s self-titled debut as Empty Country.
• Lucinda Williams’ first album of new material in four years, Good Souls Better Angels.
• Quelle Chris and producer Chris Keys’ hopeful hip-hop saga Innocent Country 2.
• Rufus Wainwright’s first proper pop album in eight years, Unfollow The Rules.
• German experimental pop artist Bec Plexus’ highly collaborative debut STICKLIP.
• Hazel English’s retro-tinged pop-rock debut Wake Up!
• Doors guitarist Robby Krieger’s new The Ritual Begins At Sundown.
• Raconteurs cofounder Brendan Benson’s first solo album in seven years, Dear Life.
• Veteran Norwegian post-rock explorers Jaga Jazzist’s first for Brainfeeder, Pyramid.
• Bad History Month’s scrappy indie rock set Old Blues.
• Other Lives’ stately indie rock set For Their Love.
• NOVA ONE’s DIY indie-pop dispatch Lovable.