Title: Innate Passage
Label: Stickman Records
Released: November 25, 2022
Location: Mostly Berlin
Written by Hanif
“Turn around /Turn around and see clear / The light of all”
The first line of the first song of Elder’s sublime sixth album arrives in the aftermath of a gorgeous crescendo of guitar and synth and cymbals – like an invitation – a beckoning – a leitmotif. Nick DiSalvo, the band’s song writer and vocalist/guitarist, offers us the words with a melodic understatedness – a singer in full command of his voice and how it might complement the mood and melody.
I was trying to think of how much better my December might have been if Innate Passage had been on my playlist. But in mid-January, six weeks into an intermittent stay at a downtown hotel, I was in the febrile grip of it: Headphones and heavy rotation and city lights – in a state of Catastasis – one might say. I had had to look it up – the title of the first track: catastasis, plural catastases, the dramatic complication that immediately precedes the climax of a play or that occurs during the climax of a play.
But here, now, on the 17th floor, in this generic, paint-by-numbers room, the walls were beginning to yield to the beauty and brilliance of the sound. I could have been anywhere.
With the closing of an eye / Accepting what may come / Drifting back inside the mind / To the age ethereal
Elder’s songs are long and immersive. Not long for the sake of it – not indulgently long – but long enough to tease out the nuances of a lyric – or shape a concept into a soundscape – to embody the ethereal (or the material). I’d first encountered the band through the riff-heavy Reflections of a Floating World (2017) – then lost myself in the lush and even heavier terrain of Lore (2015) and in particular the title track – a near-flawless 16-minute excursion through the interstices of sonic obliteration. 2019’s shimmering Gold & Silver Sessions and Omens – their 2020 release – saw the band attempting to slip through the cordon of a typecast (prog/psych) – to reimagine themselves on their own terms – like so many of us attempting to (re)negotiate the uncertainty of the times – left to our own devices. Halcyon, for instance, the 3rd track on Omens, offered a foreshadowing of what Elder would so skillfully perfect on Innate Passage.
Catastasis draws you in and along – like the sound of rushing water – then closes in a wash of guitar arpeggio and the drone of a synth – like the sonic equivalent of the ‘Star Gate’ sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You never want it to end.
I must have listened to that track over a dozen times before advancing to Endless Return – as if to hold on to the depth of feeling that accompanied what I was hearing – to trace the form and the content and the evocative lyrics and try and make sense of it.
Photo by hanif / Elder’s Nick DiSalvo at the Astoria, Vancouver BC. November 3, 2017
What Elder have succeeded in doing, on this exceptional album, is polish their sound through a process of refinement – a winnowing of the extraneous – an act of musical alchemy. Some of this is perhaps attributable to the band’s renewed line-up – the addition of Mike Risberg on guitar and keyboards in 2017, and Georg Edert on drums in 2019 – and its recent relocation to Berlin (save bassist Jack Donovan). But it is also a mark of the band’s commitment to its creative vision and the sometimes-solitary journey through and beyond the innate passage.
You hear this in the richly layered but restrained complexity of the opening few minutes of Coalescence, the album’s third track – before DiSalvo’s voice invites you to consider how Lucidity becomes unwound / Built on memory unfounded. And you hear it again in the spare ornamentation that foregrounds the epic riffs in the opening to The Purpose, the closing track, a beautifully sustained meditation on transience – that reminded me, at certain moments, of mid-career Genesis (Wind & Wuthering; Trick of the Tail).
On this album, Elder is a shamanic guide to our own innate passages – reminding us of our unrequited desire for truth and beauty; and never more so than on Merged in Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra an exquisite embodiment of the best of this brilliant band.
The song begins in the formlessness of a simple drum beat and bass – the constituent elements of the universe. Then plaintive guitar and a warbling synth – to give form to formlessness. Eventually DiSalvo’s voice pierces through the gathering, now cascading, staccato-like riffs: The moment passed has happened here before / Sense a rippling of time / A sudden lapse, a system breaking down / Collapsing from inside… And you know it to be true – the rippling of time – a system breaking down. Ne plus ultra – no more beyond.
Listen to and order the album: