Ohgr: Devils in My Details

[11 December 2008]

By Mike Schiller

“Every time I open my mouth…[it] sounds like shit.”
—Ogre, “Shhh…”

Would that more artists could be so honest and candid.

The catch, of course, is that for Ogre (born Kevin Ogilvie), sounding “like shit” has been less of a complaint than a calling card.  He’s made a long and fruitful career out of squeals, screams, retches and moans, all of it done with a theatrical flair that makes him irresistable to those at all attracted to the darkness.  He’s also managed to surround himself with a supporting cast that invariably plays to his strengths. Controlled chaos is the order of the day when Ogre is involved, and everyone from Martin Atkins to Mark Walk to Skinny Puppy compatriot cEvin Key is more than aware of what can make Ogre’s brand of ugly sound positively beautiful.

Ohgr, Ogre’s project with Mark Walk, started out sounding like an attempt to lessen the brutality of Ogre’s approach.  Steering closer to hip-hop, synthpop, and dance music than the dark cinematics of Skinny Puppy or the percussion-heavy cacophony of his one-off Rx project with Atkins, Walk put something together that retained a bit of the chaotic feel, but constrained it to easy-to-follow beats and undistorted, if still heavily processed, vocals from Ogre.  The result was something that was one step away from radio-ready, even going so far as to feature a couple of catchy tunes and softened textures.

The last Ohgr album, Sunnypsyop, was five years ago.  Ohgr now, well…it’s a different story.

You see, Skinny Puppy has released a couple of albums since that last Ohgr album, and both of those albums have in many ways followed the path that Ohgr trailblazed, not least thanks to the continuing involvement of Mark Walk as Skinny Puppy’s new “third member”.  Cleaned-up vocals, beats that could well be palatable to the masses, and honest-to-God songs with verses and choruses and everything became part of the Skinny Puppy recipe book.  Sure, thanks to the reuniting of cEvin Key and Ogre, the cinematic beauty that has always defined Skinny Puppy was present, too, but it was obvious that Ogre’s then-recent on-the-side artistic forays certainly had some influence on the overall sound.

Devils in My Details, then, is the complete and utter reversal of the artistic trajectory that Ogre’s work with Ohgr and Skinny Puppy Mach II set.  Devils in My Details is a noisy, chaotic, distorted mess of an album that will completely put off as many people as it delights, with very little room in-between.

Hearing Devils in My Details is like hearing the Skinny Puppy of the ‘80s, back when Ogre was addicted to heroin and the dearly departed Dwayne Goettel was still alive, as seen through the filter of just about every single one of Ogre and Walk’s influences and friends.  “Shhh…” is Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” minus the heavy guitars and Gibby Haynes.  “Feelin’ Chicken” is Syd Barrett minus the guitar and plus a bonus monologue from Bill Moseley, who shows up periodically throughout the album to add some Bill Hicks-style spoken-word to the proceedings.  “Whitevan” sounds as though it might have been directly influenced from Ogre’s time working on Repo! The Genetic Opera, and “Witness” sounds just like Skinny Puppy itself, complete with synthpads and highly-reverbed percussion sounds that make things sound far more important and epic than electronic music usually chooses to sound.

Careening from one style to the next is (probably intentionally) a disorienting experience as Walk and Ogre have assembled it, and it’s a difficult listen, even after you’ve heard it a few times and know what to expect.  On one hand, you have tracks like the brilliant (save for its opening diatribe on “porno chicks”, which sounds decidedly hack coming out of Ogre at this point) “Eyecandy”, which all but makes a mockery of the idea of melody and consonance as it beats you over the head with all manner of percussion and distortion in a highly rhythmic way.  On the other hand, you have “Smogharp”, a testament to the fleeting nature of human experience, which features a backdrop of utterly gorgeous synthwork that you appropriately wish would last twice as long as it actually does.

Put it all together, however, and we have a whole that is less than the sum of its all-too-disparate parts.  Given that it’s mixed as a single, 42-minute listening experience, and that it was all recorded at the same time (as part of a “marathon Pro Tools session”, as the press puts it), this is a somewhat surprising revelation, but there it is.  However they broke it up and reassembled it, Devils in My Details simply doesn’t have the cohesiveness or the longevity to really hold up as a full-on listening experience.  Take any of these tracks out of the context of the album, however, and you’re sure to get a glimpse of the mad brilliance of Ogre, and by extension, Ohgr.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/66441-ohgr-devils-in-my-details/