ohGr: 'Undeveloped' - CD Review


Photography by Dan Santoni

Like any true fan of dark and creepy electro-tunes, I've been waiting like a starving man for the next musical concoction from the cat who calls himself Ogre – best known as one-half of legendary industrial duo Skinny Puppy, and lately a wildly entertaining actor in horror flicks like 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams and Repo: The Genetic Opera. His side project ohGr hit hard and heavy with their previous release Devils in My Details, and next week they're launching their latest brain-melting weapon, that being their fourth album unDeveloped. So with trembling hands, I gave this disc a spin and waited for the supreme nightmare to emerge. Read on to find out what creatures crept from my speakers...

But first, a little background for the uninitiated: while Skinny Puppy was on hiatus in the mid-to-late '90s, Ogre (aka Kevin Ogilvie) and frequent collaborator Mark Walk formed a new experimental but mostly club-compatible band under the name W.E.L.T. before changing to their present handle. Welt became the title of their first record in 2001, which was followed by SunnyPsyOp two years later. Even though Puppy reunited in 2004 (with Walk joining them in the studio) and turned out two albums since then (with another on the way), there's still been plenty room for Ogre and company to explore other paths... some even creepier than SP's horror-fueled legacy.

When the concept album Devils in My Details surfaced in 2008, the ohGr style had evolved into surreal world-building, with bizarre characters (some of them voiced by horror icon Bill Moseley) and connected storylines that continued into this new, more ambitious release – which still flashes back a few times to the danceable groove of their early material. That's not to say that unDeveloped is lighter in tone than its predecessor... hell no, in fact. It's hard to believe any album could be as beautifully unhinged as Devils, but this time we just might be dealing with the darkest creation this pair has ever hatched.

The record is front-loaded with its most massive, driving cuts, each with an extended intro: "101" opens with unsettling lo-fi spoken word cut-ups before busting into synth patterns and vocals that sound eerily similar to Skinny Puppy's early classic "Assimilate," then morphing into a sleazy demon-disco track with an unforgettable chorus refrain; "crash" begins on another blood-chilling note by playing the actual 911 call reporting the death of Michael Jackson, leading the way for Ogre to vocally riff his observations on the doomed state of the world, (peaking with the lyric "Nowhere left to run"), while piano and guitar march on with deadly determination.

The epic "pissage" grinds at a much faster pace, with Ogre singing double-time over sweeping symphonic strings and a buzzing beat, while wordless screams and guitar shrieks crawl up your spine like steel snakes. It smoothly segues into the pensive "comedown," which features a memorable synth melody, punchy rhythms and a bombastic club conclusion. The experimental piece "typer" plays out in true horror-movie style, with reversed string stabs and garbled voices beneath the constant hammering of typewriter keys and hypnotic big-brother communications like "stick to the mainstream" and "do not look behind you" slipping in and out of the soundspace.

Melancholy old-school synths and a warm piano propel "screwMe," probably the closest this band has ever come to an actual ballad... and strangely enough it works, even with the "Screw me, I like it" refrain (or maybe because of it). "bellew" explores turf once mapped by electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk, conjuring that old black magic through the hypnotic power of Ogre's digitally-dropped vocals. "hollow" sports simple patterns that recall Skinny Puppy's mid-'80s releases Bites and Remission, but with more expansive production, and the former fuses it with glassy trance elements.

"traGek" is definitely the hookiest track on the album, dancing around the edge of pop while keeping it weird, escalating to an orgasmic climax before quickly dissolving into the more subdued "animist" – a bass-heavy dirge with cavernous reverb, clicky percussion and goosebump-raising vocal harmonies. The record wraps up perfectly with the powerful, guitar-driven anthem "nitwitz," one of the band's purest and most ass-rocking songs, but don't stop playing at the fadeout... they've hidden the infectious nightmare lullaby "Collidoscope" at the track's halfway mark.

unDeveloped reminds me again how Ogre and Walk have managed to reshape the post-industrial music landscape, sculpting vintage analog synth sounds into new forms and abusing digital production tools in ways the inventors probably never imagined. This trip's harsher, darker and more complex than the band's earliest club-friendly work, and to me that's why it's even more interesting. But you can still bump in the night to their apocalyptic beats, so it's pretty much a win all the way around. Now, bring on that new Skinny Puppy album...