Ogressa, Warts and All: She Awakens

“Fuck your drama/I’m too old/To give a damn.” The lines, taken from “Mange,” the second track of Ogressa’s debut, Warts and All, more or less sum of the entirety of the album’s approach. The Californian desert rock four-piece is centered around the collaboration between Dali’s Llama mastermind Zach Huskey and Whores of Tijuana’s Trent Ramseyer, who share vocal duties while Huskey also handles guitar and is the primary songwriter and Ramseyer engineered the recording. Released on Dali’s Llama Records and bolstered by the rhythm section of drummer Ian Dye and bassist Mike JacobsonScott Reeder also makes several appearances on bass – Ogressa’s heavy rock shares Dali’s Llama’s bullshit-free ethic as much as possible, offering crunching riffs, belted vocals and heady grooves that ask next to no indulgences. Warts and All keeps a semi-thematic edge tied to the excellent comic art of Sean “Skillit” McEleny (also Admiral Browning, etc.), with cuts like the sound-effects interlude “She Awakens” and “Lady Ogress” playing directly to the band’s moniker in a way more lighthearted than the “concept-album” tag might indicate. And for what it’s worth, Warts and All isn’t a concept album, unless you’re looking at it on a stylistic level and the concept in question is burly riff rock. Even that Ogressa veer from, however, with the jazzy take on The Mutants’ “The Boss” (Joe Dillon of Dali’s Llama guests on guitar) and the acoustic-led highlight “Sonoran Debris” offering variety in the record’s midsection.

In that way, it’s easy and perhaps best to think of Warts and All in thirds. The album divides almost evenly along those lines – the middle is made an extra minute longer with the inclusion of “She Awakens”; 17 as opposed to the first and last thirds, which are three cuts totaling just over 16 each – and Ogressa opens strongly with the catchy “Give Me Some Space,” “Mange” and “Rational Man,” the last of which marks the first appearance from Reeder. Huskey’s writing style is straightforward as ever, and where Dali’s Llama took a different (and charming) look at horror rock kitsch on Howl Do You Do? last year, Ogressa keep to thicker guitars that match well with Ramseyer’s throaty-but-still-clean vocals. That said, flourishes of acoustic flamenco on “Give Me Some Space” are an unexpected treat and a step away from the bluesy shuffle of much of the material on Warts and All, but still fluid within the song and subtly telegraphing some of the variety to come. “Mange” is shorter than the opener (which is the longest song on the album; immediate points) and can afford to be more straight-ahead in its approach on the strength of the chorus noted above, which is backed by a descending riff from Huskey and solid drums and backing vocals in the bridge from Dye. The progression of that chorus riff – almost a simpler take on Kyuss’ “Thumb” in a different key – makes “Rational Man” seem upbeat by comparison. The change from Jacobson to Reeder on bass is noticeable, but not so much as to upset the overall flow of the album, and of course the former Kyuss and The Obsessed four-stringer is well at home in anything closely related to the desert, Ogressa included. His lines mostly stick with the rhythm guitar line (Dillon also guests here, to further thicken the proceedings), but the end of “Rational Man” is one of Warts and All’s finest grooves.

Following “She Awakens” – which is basically the sound of the following cut’s protagonist doing just that – “Lady Ogress” shifts into an even doomier modus than that of “Mange.” Huskey’s riff is slow and Ramseyer’s vocals throatier and drawn out. The second third of the album is where Ogressa take it upon themselves to get a little weird (still sticking to the verse/chorus structures), and “Lady Ogress” marks the beginning of that process, picking up speed in its second half with a stomp that reminds some of the last Dali’s Llama and more of a Sabbathian vibe than anything else on Warts and All. “The Boss” is an immediate contrast to this, with Reeder returning on bass to lead an instrumental jam peppered by Huskey’s bluesy leads. Dye keeps to the ride cymbal for the most part, but a call and response between Huskey and Dillon’s leads prompts well placed cymbal accentuation and winds up being as fitting as possible a transition into “Sonoran Debris.” Reeder remains on bass, but the entire aesthetic seems to have shifted around him. I’d believe it’s Huskey in the lead vocal role here, but I’m not completely certain, and in any case, the singing is layered, so it could well be both. The central guitar figure is played on acoustic, with electric solo work included subtly. Because it doesn’t really fit with the rest of Warts and All’s aesthetic, it’s hard to call “Sonoran Debris” the best song on the album, but it’s definitely both a high point and a surprise, and should Ogressa progress as a project, hopefully not the last of its kind. As a conclusion to the second third, it proves there’s more to the band’s sound than heavy rock without being overdone or showy in the process.

Accordingly, it’s also something of a surprise when Ogressa move back into the more straightforward rock of the album’s first three songs with “Cuts on My Scars,” which has a bit of punk flavor in its verse, but not so much as to be out of line with the earlier material. “Snakehead” offers a nod to Sleep’s Holy Mountain without sounding completely redundant (no easy feat at this point), thanks in part to Ramseyer’s vocal patterning. Had it not been for the boldness with which Ogressa defied genre on “Sonoran Debris” and, to a lesser extent, their choice of cover in “The Boss,” “Cuts on My Scars” and “Snakehead” might not feel as anticlimactic as they do, but it’s worth noting they’re still well-crafted songs and the issue is one more of how Warts and All is laid out track-wise than the quality of the material itself, which winds to a close with the creeping blues of “Animal Mask.” Interestingly, there are no guest spots from Reeder or Dillon on any of the last three tracks, so it’s the Ogressa unit proper of Huskey, Ramseyer, Jacobson and Dye. Of the final stretch, “Animal Mask” is the strongest, which allows Warts and All to close on an impressive note, morphing in its final minute into a more raucous heaviness that finds Ramseyer channeling his inner Ben Ward to pleasing effect. These players are all experienced in their own way (Jacobson and Dye are members of Hot Beat Pussy Fiend and Ape Has Killed Ape, respectively) – though Huskey is far and away the most prolific – and with Ogressa they show that maturity can still result in a freshness of output. I’d be interested to hear them take on a more live-sounding and dynamic production for a subsequent outing, but that aside, Warts and All actually winds up with few blemishes, coming off as complete in terms of idea and realized as few first albums – even from veteran players – wind up being.

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