Ogre - Seven Hells
Much like their mythological namesake, Ogre owes their very existence to the increasingly lost art of storytelling. On the band's sophmore album, their first full-length in three years, the band taps into the strength of narrative like few have before them. To be honest, the thing that has always drawn me to bands like Reverend Bizarre, Black Sabbath, or (most recently) Witchfinder General are not just the fact that all are verified riff monsters and doom shamans; nay, the reason that such retrogressive doom bands keep popping into my stereo is the fact that all of the above are fantastic storytellers in their own right. Each song transcends music; listeners can experience intense emotional attachment to a cast of characters who may or may not make it out of their horrific circumstances alive.
On Seven Hells, Ogre have crafted seven tales of bad luck, misfortune, and DOOM. In the spirit of heavy metal/hard rock's early founding fathers, the band has not made a concept album or anything like that; rather, Ogre have tied a thread of overall doom throughout the various stories here. Lyrically, the disc spans all of recorded history, jumps to the future, reinvents timelines, and at a point or two even gets a tad esotreric. Regardless of the actual basis for each song, the theme of each is the same; humanity is a mortal creature, and one doomed to die at that. Combined with one of the most ripping power trios in recent memory, excellent songcraft, and new backing from the classic doom label Leafhound Records, Seven Hells could just be the moment that Ogre goes nuclear. Even if they don't, this is still a barnstormer of a disc, and one of the year's best at that; every single song is white-hot doom!
The crispy rocker that is "Dogmen (Of Planet Earth)" kicks Seven Hells off with a bang. Some guitar histronics allow one to picture a landing spacecraft, and just as your mind forms such an image, the rhythm section kicks in under an upbeat hangnail guitar riff. Frontman Ross Markonish has really amped the amount of power behind his bluesy, crawling riffs; meanwhile, bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham perfectly rhymes the song's lyrics in a sick yowl that is bolstered by a funk twang. All of it works really well, and the band lays down a rocking tune behind an unusual story. In it, a lone colonizer lost in the future returns to Earth after centuries of trying to find a new planet to exploit; in an interesting twist of fate, the remnants of humanity have devolved into packs of feral dog-like humanoids. This is without any doubt the most balls-to-the-wall rock on the album, and after this the majority of Seven Hells moves away from the 1970's hard rock style and tries more of a retrogressive doom metal approach.
The gunfire and helicopter passes that signal "Soldier of Misfortune" begins the album's gradual descent into an underworld of doomed riffs. Easily the best song Ogre has ever penned, "Soldier of Misfortune" is a beast of a song at over ten minutes long. This grim cautionary tale about the Vietnam War and its dark legacy embeds itself into your skull with gritty, vibrant descriptions and one of the best Pentragram-worthy doom songs I've ever heard. Markonish and Cunningham perfectly match the former's slow-moving guitar trudge to the latter's kaleidoscopic vocal tones, while drummer Will Broadbent keeps a patient, clicking drum pattern in the background. As if to match the narrator's eventual demise, the band bursts into a gloriously galloping cavalry charge ala Trouble, Reverend Bizzare, or Black Sabbath's faster moments. In true doom fashion, the band adds little nuances here and there amidst the grooving repetition; if you are willing to look for them you will be pleasantly surprised. Long story short, this track is a masterpiece of the subgenre and never once falters in all of its long existence.
"The Gas" is without doubt the album's most laidback, psychedelic, and oldschool doom moment. Based on a short story courtesy of Charles Platt, "The Gas" is a hypnotic doom anthem about a world turned upside down by the appearance of an unknown gas. As the green fog drifts from city to city, listeners follow a protagonist fleeing the smog, as inhaling it makes people go insane. On that note, the song maintains an almost pulmonary rhythm; it is as if everything is breathing in and out, faster and faster, then slowing down, then speeding up. Restrained and chugging, this is groove for the sake of groove and nothing else! Hypnotic guitar leads drift by like the menacing clouds, and the vocals casually descend into outright mania, screeches and shrieks appearing at random amidst the more traditional singing. The ending of this tale is exceedingly rad, and as such, I cannot in good conscience ruin it. Just rest assured it will give you plenty to think about...
"Woman on Fire" is an absolutely gnarly doom rocker with tons of energy and religious symbolism. Written about an early American Witch burning, everything about this song is just letting loose and throwing the goat horns. Unashamed in how fun it comes across, the song also has no fear when it comes to indulging in a blazing guitar solo or two. The melodies are unforgettable and obscenely catchy; at one point, an absurdly chilled out groove wallows past your astonished brain and the transition from slow to hardly even moving is so effortless it doesn't seem right that this is only the band's second album. The song lingers off a guitar solo about to die out, before a massive drum roll crushes your cranium and the band attacks with furious vigor. This one rips!
In what I'd say is a very obvious move for the band, Ogre next covers Pentagram's "Review Your Choices" off the 1999 album of the same name. Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling has one of the strangest warbles ever to grace the doom genre, and matching him is a real task for any vocalist. Fortunately, Cunningham pushes his voice through all manner of vocal stress, ranging from garbled howls to crazy roars and back again. As for the rest of the band, they deliver a spot-on performance that sounds just like the original. It is a pretty solid cover but I personally dig it even more when bands add their own unique stamp to a classic rather than simply emulate it. "Review Your Choices" is still a great song however and also keeps with the overall vibe of the album.
"Sperm Whale" is interesting due to the fact it features very little of anything besides the band showing off their increasingly impressive musical chops. Gargantuan grooves pummel eardrums while Broadbent has a freak seizure on his drumkit; the man is possessed and seems to really have stepped up his game since the last album. After the drums get their day in the sun, "Sperm Whale" gives equal glory to some very fleet-fingered bass and the band's trademark guitar explosions. A leviathan-sized drum solo leads into a slinking moment of mystic incantation as the song's cryptic and strange vocals ooze out of the chaos. Odd but gripping, "Sperm Whale" sets the tone perfectly for the album's last song and thematic centerpiece.
"Flesh Feast" starts off with a plodding bass line and very quiet drumming, all while a luminous choir moans in the background and waves drift by. A buzzing jackhammer of a riff slowly elbows its way onto the scene, and before you know it, one has a song that is the band's longest epic to date. Playing off the Catholic concept of Eucharist, the song describes three sailors in the middle of the ocean after their boat has sunk. Trapped together in a lifeboat, a narrative of starvation, unwilling cannibalism, and eventual damnation unravels as the band plumbs depths of ambient doom I had no idea they could reach. For whatever reason, I keep envisioning a Leviathan-era Mastodon penning something like this had they been raised in the 1970's. I'm still trying to figure out how such madness is possible, and I'm guessing I feel this way due to the fact the song trudges along with such deep, dark, and boundless riffs it conjures images of the sea. The song's dismal ending gets even better as the music slowly fades into the sound of crashing waves; as the last sound you hear on Seven Hells, this little touch does a lot to sear "Flesh Feast" into your mind's eye.
Muscular, loud, and booming, Seven Hells burns with unbridled passion for musical craft. Never once does the band's relatively prehistoric take on heavy music sound forced or outdated; this is the musical equivilent of seeing a T-Rex go bounding down the city streets eating pedestrians during rush hour. In the same way you'd have trouble ignoring that, Ogre's Seven Hells is so damn kickass it is equally hard to miss. Get this the second you get a chance to.
1. Dogmen (Of Planet Earth)
2. Soldier of Misfortune
3. The Gas
4. Woman on Fire
5. Review Your Choices (Pentagram Cover)
6. Sperm Whale
7. Flesh Feast
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