When you see an album cover like this (painted by the drummer, no less), and a slogan that goes “In a doomed world, they must remain Thrice as Strong,” well, who wouldn’t grab this from the promo sump? Everyone but me, it seems. I’d never heard of Ogre before, despite these Portland, Maine doomsters having been around for twenty years now. It’s a great name for a band, though, and I love their use of the word “Thrice.”1 Professing to infuse their old-school doom with 70s rock and classic heavy metal, this should be right up my alley. Old-school is my middle name, and I’m even older now than I was a week ago, so let’s have at it!
Thrice as Strong does not get off to the strongest start. “The Future” and “Hive Mind” both suffer from DIY production, unmemorable riffs, and odd percussion choices. Ogre do not feel the need to make their music sound good, instead seeming to go with the attitude of “just get it to tape and push it out the door.”2 This detracts from what could be some pretty decent songs; rather than appreciating the music, I’m left annoyed by the album’s sound. A bone-dry snare drum, overly-loud shaker,3 and thin, nasal vocals make “The Future” sound like a demo take. On “Hive Mind,” the shaker is replaced with a completely inappropriate tambourine during the solo. There are no tambourines in doom metal!
But as I said, there are some solid songs on Thrice as Strong4, if one is willing to listen beyond the sound of the album. “Big Man” has a 70s boogie-woogie tilt to it that gets the foot a-tapping, slightly reminiscent of The Obsessed. “Judgement Day” chugs along with the world’s simplest riff, and “Blood of Winter” is an extended, plodding Black Sabbath jam that features Ross Markonish’s best guitar-work. The best song is “King of the Wood,” a bayou-influenced number with a ponderous riff underpinning Ed Cunningham’s sneer. Aside from the occasional cowbell leaping out of nowhere,5 this bluesy track wound up being the one I most enjoyed coming back to.
One has to breathe deep and get past the less-than-stellar sonic qualities of the album to figure out that Ogre actually do have some solid chops and fun ideas. You can also tell they’ve been playing together for more than twenty years now: Ed Cunningham (bass) and Will Broadbent (drums) have a chemistry that is audible despite the proto-production. Cunningham’s vocals come off as a playful Ozzy Osbourne, and Ross Markonish’s guitar style is a well-suited throwback to simpler times (i.e. the 70s). But even in simpler times, bands usually tried to sound as good as possible. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much prog these days, but getting past a poor-sounding release can be difficult.
Despite the amateur production and some questionable arrangement choices, I found myself rooting for Ogre throughout Thrice as Strong. The material isn’t awful, although it doesn’t compel me to dig into their catalog. Overall, the album is simply another retro-doom platter that neither shines nor stinks. The trio may not want to embrace modern times, but I can’t help wondering how good this album could be with a bit of a heftier budget behind it. Hopefully there are plenty of fans out there who love the album’s sound; I’m just not one of them. Still, it could be worse. I could have been forced to do a double review of Leprous with AMG Himself.
- Apparently taken from their namesake song “Ogre,” recorded way back on 2003’s Dawn of the Proto-Man. ↩
- My words, not theirs. ↩
- At least, I think it’s a shaker. It could be an odd-sounding hihat. ↩
- There’s the tagline. – Steel ↩
- I love some cowbell, but it is possible to misuse (or mix too high) this glorious instrument. ↩