More proof positive the stoner-doom hybrid is king in metal these days. Portland's OGRE flocked to Italian label Minotauro Records to distribute their fourth sludge-bang affair "The Last Neanderthal", and fans of this stuff will want in on it.
Pick the usual gamut of influences going into "The Last Neanderthal" like BLACK SABBATH, PENTAGRAM, SAINT VITUS, TROUBLE, even WOLFMOTHER in the case of "Nine Princes in Amber". They all figure into OGRE's offshoot attack plan, but give this trio a hand; they can play like mad muthas and they display a snarky sense of humor by picking a cover of a different American OGRE band from yesteryear, "Soulless Woman".
The only real detriment with OGRE on "The Last Neanderthal" is they often don't know when to end a song. OGRE's concentration upon doom-sludge epics is good for maybe one round, but too many in one sitting gets tiresome. For instance, the 8:17 "Warpath" could've made a better statement shaved by three minutes. The riffs are monstrous, the acid washes of the extensive solo section are sizzling (if initially cooked from the static kitchen of Iommi) and the clobbering tempos keep "Warpath" on a sweaty thud for most of the ride. Later, too many transitions and bonus solos drag the song on more than it needed to when it could've ended on a burner. Prior to, "Bad Trip" is heavy as all SABBATH hell, but at 8:09, you might as well move on to "Master of Reality" and save the time.
While it seems like many stoner and doom acts feel obligated to salute BLACK SABBATH so much they include a "Planet Caravan" homage, OGRE's luminous "White Plume Mountain" featuring willowy and swampy guitar lines overtop lazy bongo rhythms is a smooth touch and hardly derivative. As set-up to the 10:45 closer "The Hermit", the echoing reverb gives way to altered clean and blasting guitar lines. Ross Markonish's first guitar solo is so cranked in the mix the rest of the band is nearly drowned, but quickly, "The Hermit" takes a new path along liquid notes giving audile form to bong glubs before yielding to another blaring solo. Ed Cunningham's pensive bass ushers the track back to an ethereal shamble and unlike the other marathons on "The Last Neanderthal", "The Hermit" actually resembles a journey, painstaking at that.
Ed Cunningham's vocals range from a salty minor rasp to a wallowing pseudo imitation of Ozzy Osbourne that you've probably heard in a hundred SABBATH tribute bands. If you listen close, you'll hear him toss a few Ian Gillan jerks into the tail ends of many of his notes. Will Broadbent lays down tasty snare-cracking rhythms everywhere on the album, while Ross Markonish might be one of the best slowly-discovered guitarists this side of Tony Reed.
At least the "Soulless Woman" cover drifts away from the pounding, shrieking menace of the album, instead offering a wah-frenching, head-bobbing Seventies rock diversion. While this OGRE may or may not enjoy a better fate their decades-gone predecessors, there's no doubt they enjoy what they do and they play like they mean it. "The Last Neanderthal" is solid gourmet for the tastes of sludge/doom purists, especially those who expect seconds beyond the full course.