Friday, 21 February 2014

Ogre - The Last Neanderthal (2014) / 93%

Fortune, freedom, beyond the hand of time

Right when I discovered Ogre, the band was sadly split up or in a hiatus. I was pleasantly surprised when they got back together to play some gigs and when they announced they were working on a new album, I was more than thrilled! “The Last Neanderthal” follows their great conceptual album “Plague of the Planet” which was a one song voyage through another world and although it's not as out of the box, it's a strong effort. I had huge expectations for this fourth album since this band has released three underrated American doom gems in the past and this one is fortunately no exception.

One could point out that many doom bands evolving in the 21st century are derivative, that they're not not modernizing their sound or that they're way too much into Black Sabbath.  Ogre will not change your mind if you think that way. While I already said that I have nothing against conservatism in doom metal in some of my other reviews, I think that bands bringing fresh ideas to the fold are always interesting and the trio from Maine is truly alive and evolving within the genre. They're far from being a modern band, their sound does indeed rejects the ideals of crappetised Nuclear Blast approved idiocy. It's warm and cuddly doom metal with deep roots in hard rock, blues and even some funk at times.

The power trio's key tactic is to play everything with a deep passion for their craft, it truly transpires the speakers to hit the listener right through his heart. Their formula doesn't deviate too much from “Seven Hells” or “Dawn of the Proto-Man” but it's tighter and heavier. Songs like “Son of Sisyphus” or “Warpath” are some of the heaviest material the band has composed, it's probably helped by the superior production featured here (not 50% better, mind you, just a tad). It's airy and it has this classic aura you're expecting from a traditional doom band. The songs are rather long (three being more than seven minutes long) but they know how to diversify things, the speedy opener “Nine Princes in Amber” is fucking awesome, it's aggressive and it has this charming fantasy flair inspired by the lyrical approach full of lore. Their music is nothing ground breaking but they're doing everything a doom band should do. It can be funky (like the cover of the uber obscure 70s band funnily also named Ogre) or slowly epic like the eleven minutes closer “The Hermit” introduced by the countryesque “White Plume Mountain” interlude. I almost wanted more of this calm side of the band, as you may know, I really enjoyed Leeches of Lore's third album with all its country and folk music sensibilities and it would had been nice to see Ogre explore these foreign lands.

Ed Cunningham (bass, vocals) is surrounded by two very strong musicians who both were session live members of the seminal and cult band Blood Farmers for a while. Ross Markonish is a superb guitarist who's a big fan of reverb and long, jam inspired solos. While he's a bit less loose here, he still takes the time to deliver big time leads. Even if the solos are numerous, the riffs are still freaking good creating a rock solid basis.

As with any good power trio, the interdependence between the bass and the guitar is (and should be!) optimal. The two dudes know each others very well and it's apparent here, they have this cohesion only found within veteran bands like Rush (Ogre covered two songs from their debut album, they can be found on the Secondhand Demons compilation.) To complete the lineup, Will Broadbent is a solid drummer who's not letting himself be overshadowed by his two companions, he's groovy and knows how to drive the songs. He's old school and likes to use the cymbals, no triggers or blast beats here of course!

Cunningham's vocals are perhaps an acquired taste but if you're used to Ozzy and Geddy Lee, you'll be fine. They're clean, high and comes directly from the good ol' days of rock. He has this particular gnarly way of singing that totally fits their genre an it's pretty honest and enjoyable. He's powerful and knows how to stretch out the lyrics (not very numerous) and make them last longer. He could be a deal breaker for some people but doomsters will appreciate him since his contribution is done so gracefully within the confines of the genre. He's emotional in all his nasal might and he's another proof that the band has no weak links.

There's nothing lacking music wise. Well, perhaps something... It's just not as special as their other albums even if it's certainly as good! But there's a certain aesthetic that is missing. Maybe it's only in my head, maybe I drank too much India Pale Ale tonight, I'm obsessed with this type of beer just like I'm obsessed with this type of metal. Unlike IPAs, the only thing that is bittersweet with Ogre is the fact the album is ONLY forty seven minutes long!

The sonority that I mentioned is tied with the title of the album, it reminded me of fellow Americans Slough Feg and Crescent Shield with their respective albums “Atavism” and “The Last of My Kind” with their prehistorical premises. Ogre's lyrics are always very good such as the mythological inclined “Sons of Sisyphus” which is basically an allegory to the harsh life of a blue collar American compared to the fate of some Greek personalities. It's deep but down to earth themes with an honest intellectual approach rooted in simplicity. They're able to transpose vivid historical subjects into songs hence cementing their original identity.

The Last Neanderthal is probably the doom album of the year and it's gonna be pretty damn difficult to beat it. While it's not as adventurous as their pre break up album, the quality is more than present. No one in the genre can be as honest and as hard working as these three guys, they manage to write heavy, intelligent, atmospheric and pertinent songs with ease confirming them as the best American doom band of the decade.

1 comment:

Lorc said...

Very interested to hear this one. 'Plague of the Planet' was a great, encapsulated little release.