There’s a certain familiar low rumble coming from Portland these days. No, it’s not another fleet of snowplows clearing a swath down 295. It’s not another plane coming in for a landing at the jetport, nor is it one of those rare Maine earthquakes. No, this particular rumble is caused by the doomy stoner rock of the mighty Ogre, one of Portland’s best metal bands, newly reactivated.
Dormant for five years, Ogre has returned with its first album of all new material since 2008 (last year’s “Secondhand Demons” was sort of an odds and ends release, collecting demos, cover songs and previously unreleased live tracks). The new album is called “The Last Neanderthal,” and it was definitely worth the wait.
For those not familiar with the rock ’n’ roll monster that is Ogre, theirs is a slow, bass-heavy form of metal, with a laid-back, low-slung ’70s vibe heavily influenced by Black Sabbath. The vocals are cleanly sung (rather than growled or shrieked) over gigantic, pummeling riffs.
Longtime Ogre fans can rest easy, as all the familiar elements are still in place on the new record, including bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham’s impish, Bon Scott-like yelp, the Bonham-esque stomp of drummer Will Broadbent and the fuzzed-out guitar tone of Ross Markonish.
But there are some newer elements creeping in as well. The songs are longer, some with time changes that give them a little bit of a ’70s prog rock feel. Other tracks have a touch of the blues about them, and some have just a hint of the psychedelic. It’s an interesting mix of sounds that thankfully does not detract from the classic Ogre sound.
The album opens with a short instrumental/sound-effect track called “Shadow Earth” before launching into one of the shorter songs on the record, the punishing “Nine Princes in Amber.” This is perhaps the fastest track on the album, galloping along at a brisk pace that evokes the spirit of early Iron Maiden and the new wave of British heavy metal. Cunningham is in fine form on this one, making full use of his range, especially during the anthemic chorus, where he strains to reach the screamy limits of his upper register. There’s also a terrific wah-wah-infused solo from Markonish that’s not to be missed.
“Bad Trip” is a lumbering, sinister doom metal number. As the name implies, this track is infused with a dark psychedelic vibe, especially when the time change comes in around the 3-minute mark, only to explode into full-on metal fury a minute later. The result is frighteningly powerful. The unexpected up-tempo parts are downright mosh-worthy, and if ever there was a track that encompasses all things Ogre, “Bad Trip” just might be the one.
“Son of Sisyphus” is classic “Master of Reality”-era Sabbath, anchored by a monster riff from Markonish and a depressive, Ozzy-esque lead vocal from Cunningham, with drummer Broadbent keeping things at an appropriately funereal pace. The heavy atmosphere of this track contrasts with the sassy, rocking vibe of “Soulless Woman,” a cover song that’s less metal and more good-time AC/DC party rock. Oh, and get this: The song is by an ultra-obscure ’70s band called Ogre!
“Warpath” tells of the raid on York in 1692 from the point of view of the Native Americans.
There are some quiet acoustic passages on this one where Ogre gets to display a more melodic side of their sound.
However, most of the track is potent metal, with yet another ripping solo from Markonish.
“White Plume Mountain” is a short Floydian instrumental, which sets the stage for the epic album-closer “The Hermit.” At over 10 minutes, this is the album’s longest song.
It is also Cunningham’s most aggressive vocal performance, a song that sees him going from soaring highs to growling lows. It also incorporates a number of different styles, from depressive doom metal to arty psychedelia to epic power metal in the tradition of early Judas Priest.
It’s a fitting and triumphant finale to an album that Portland metal fans have been anticipating for far too long.
Whether you’re a long-time Ogre fan or just finding out about the band, “The Last Neanderthal” has something for you.
Even if you’re not usually a heavy metal fan, see if you can listen to any of these tracks without cranking the volume or raising the horns in salute.
Actually, don’t even bother trying, because it’s just not possible.
Order your copy of “The Last Neanderthal” at minotaurorecords.com, and be sure to catch Ogre’s CD release party, a killer triple bill at Geno’s in Portland on Friday, featuring support from Eldemur Krimm and Sunrunner.
Keep up with all things Ogre at facebook.com/Rockogre.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at: