When it comes to power metal, German band Orden Ogan has been a rising star in the genre, especially over the last decade of their formation as a band. Like clockwork, their fifth studio album comes out two years after their acclaimed album Ravenhead. This time, however, they decided to go with a Western theme, and entitled their quinary release Gunmen. Led by frontman Seeb Levermann (guitar/lead vocals), Orden Ogan returns with Tobi Kersting (guitar), Niels Löffler (bass), and Dirk Meyer-Berhorn (drums) continue in their tight quartet – so is Gunmen worth the hype? Let’s explore to find out….
The album starts off with the singularly titled Gunman, which was also their first music video to be released (partially filmed in the US’s Monument Valley). Continuing the appearance of Alister Vale, this song is a fantastic opener and is very catchy, hooking the listener right in. Opening with a kind of symphonic theme out of the westerns, it provides a lengthy cinematic instrumental introduction until it switches over to the band-only rendition. Following this impressive start, the first verse pairs begin, and bridge into the main, hooky chorus that is sure to earworm its way into the listener’s mind. The next pair of verses, bridge, and chorus continue until it reaches the instrumental portion, which the band relies upon just as heavily as their vocalized segments. The intro motif is reintroduced as a guitar solo by Tobi dominates for the next 20 seconds until the glorious reprise of the symphonic introduction appears. This leads into another round of the bridge and double chorus, and the song ends with the same introduction riff for the outro as a balancing ending to the song. This song captures all of the essence that makes Orden Ogan great – the sweeping symphonics, the epic drums, the quick-on-the-draw guitars, and the layered choruses so thick you can cut them with a knife. This is a great track to start off right out of the gate on this album.
Fields Of Sorrow starts off with a lengthier instrumental introduction – about a full minute -with precisely executed guitar rhythms and melodies, punctuated by downtuned chords. The front end of the song begins with two sets of a pair of verses followed by a chorus each time, but after the second round, a new second chorus appears on the heels of the first with a slightly different approach in lyrics and melody. Following this, however, is a nearly 2 minute span of various instrumentals. The first section begins with guitar solos/duets with harmonizing, but then it segues into a second section that picks up the pace, and is more keyboard led and folksy. Another section yet appears where most of the band then drops out and leaves the percussion with only the folk melody remaining, playing until the reprise of the two choruses back to back. I would almost call this song a power ballad, but it doesn’t quite seem to fit the mold. However, the minor key of the song along with the anguishing lyrics makes for an effectively sad, gut-wrenching song.
The third track, Forlorn And Forsaken, starts with a chuggier intro, but the tempo picks up in feel with the 16th note rhythms pounding forward the verses in the drums and rhythm guitars as the vocal melody soars cooly over them. The verse is lengthier in and of itself, and segues directly into the chorus. There is a brief instrumental bridge before the second verse enters – longer than most couple of measures used to bridge vocal stanzas – with a focus on the driving rhythm preceding the second verse and chorus. A substantial instrumental section then enters, with several subsections to it. First, enters a melodic guitar solo that is not flashy, following the main theme of the song. Then it switches to a second guitar solo that wails much more than the first and then the re-intro appears with plenty of pinch harmonics. It continues with the underlying rhythms and chord changes of the chorus instrumentally before reprising the chorus twice – first with a vocally muffled vocal with Seeb only, and then a second time with the full-on choral vocals, before the ending of the song at the end of the last chorus. This track incorporates a lot of power plugging and chugging, and seems very reminiscent of the sound and style from Easton Hope.
The fourth track is entitled Vampire In Ghost Town – and what’s not to like about a song with a title like that? Starting off with the chorus riff in the introduction, the melody takes charge yet again with galloping rhythms that keep it moving along keeping it both measured and peppy at once. The first verse enters with a moderate pacing, but then the rhythms ramp up by the time the chorus appears, though it doesn’t make it any less catchy. Following this first chorus, there is an instrumental segue with humming of the chorus melody, but then the style shifts in the guitar work that leads into the same verse 2 accompaniment and again into the main chorus. After this, a more coasting instrumental with more prominent “Vampire” vocal chants and “Vampire In Ghost Town” sung phrases as it enters into the formal guitar solo that picks up the pace with blistering runs – both solo and with harmonies – and settles into a 16th note version of the main chorus chord changes before the next chorus enters. The outro to the song is the continuation of the 16ths of the main chorus chord changes while again the “Vampire” vocal chants and sung “In Ghost Town” repeat on every third 2nd and 3rd beat as it fades out for the ending. This song has a kind of anthemic yet fun feel to it, and in style, it is reminiscent more of the Ravenhead sound (think Ravenhead and F.E.V.E.R.).
Come With Me To The Other Side is the fifth track that features guest vocals from Liv Kristine (former Theatre of Tragedy,Leaves’ Eyes), bringing a softness to this haunting song. The beginning of this song is very reminiscent of some songs past, especially reminding me of how The Things We Believe In started. Liv begins the opening that is really the main lead of the chorus, with her delicate voice blending well with the acoustic guitar and keys accompaniment – after which the full-on power metal version of the song kicks in and hits you in the face after the initial soft introduction. This song actually begins with the chorus first before entering the first verse, leading back into the chorus again. There is a shift in the song with a focus on a precisely played rhythm heard equally tight with the rhythm guitar and kick drum, and then a new channel enters with Liv’s vocals returning again, soaring smoothly over the Morse-code-like rhythms underneath. The main chorus follows, twice repeated. The instrumental section then appears with deftly-executed solos for a full minute and a half – again, leaning on as much instrumental work as the vocalized parts. The full-on chorus appears twice more – with a key change on the second chorus – to close out the song on its sad and morose theme.
The Face Of Silence begins a bit differently with the sound of a crackling fire and a rocking chair at night with crickets chirping, with a distorted string/piano introduction of the main chorus motif, which then shifts directly into the full band version of the riff, completing the intro. The first verse enters at a clipping pace, but drops sonically to primarily drums with acoustic guitar for the bridge. The chorus, whose theme drives the majority of the song, enters in full harmonies with driving rhythms There is a brief instrumental segue into the second verse and then a double repeat of the chorus following. Suddenly thereafter, however, there is an abrupt drop into an instrumental with acoustic guitar only, with some martial drumming in the background and bass foundation, after which an electric guitar solo then enters, building up the section. Again, not staying static, the instrumental interlude introduces a third distinct segment comprising mostly of a rhythm guitar portion. Continuing forward in the instrumental section is a reprise of the chorus’ theme, setting the stage for the entrance of a full chorus again with vocals, repeated again but this time with a key change. This is followed into the wrap-up of the song with a continuation into a repeat of “We are, we are, we are, we are, we are, we’re the future” with fully layered vocals (a kind of lyrical parallel using this phrase like in Fields of Sorrow), repeated multiple times until the a capella round that eventually closes the song, allowing the listener to truly hear the expansiveness of the vocals.
The seventh track is called Ashen Rain, and this piece starts out of the gate with choral vocals from part of the chorus in a partially muffled and echoing pattern, then coming in vocally at full volume and openness singing the whole chorus, while the band introduces the post-chorus opener following with a driving riff that leads into the bass-driven first verse. The driving intro riff appears again, serving as an instrumental bridge into the second verse, remaining bass-driven as it builds into the expansive, double stanza chorus. Following this, however, there enters a channel with new melodies and musical direction with punctuating guitars. The soaring chorus then reprises twice before ending this song. This track is very rhythm-focused, holding a driving pace while undergirding the moderate tempo overall.
Down Here (Wanted: Dead Or Alive) is the eighth and shortest track on the album (3:15). It starts with a horn fanfare as the rest of the band enters with a melodic rendition of the chorus, before it enters as the first vocal appearance that is formidable yet measured in its delivery. The first verse then enters with some scaling back of the full vocals but a strong push remains from the consistent kick drum and guitar rhythms throughout and going into the reappearance of the chorus. The second verse and chorus then followed by another two choruses where the rhythm section and guitars suspend a little longer with a little more syncopation than the other choruses before closing the song. This track is fairly straightforward with no particular frills attached to it. It has its share of speedy rhythms but the vocals tend to be much more drawn out, almost like having a half time melody over a double time accompaniment, giving it a laid back and driving sound all at once.
One Last Chance is the ninth track, starting with echoing rhythms, accented by toms and chimes, building instrumentally as the lengthy introduction continues, shifting with rhythm and style as the first two verses enter back to back. The main chorus enters, including the chanting “One Last Chance” in the background between lines, giving it a kind of anthemic feel overall. The third verse appears, and is followed by a guitar solo (with a few vocals interspersed by the choir), which is then immediately followed by a thrice repeated chorus before the instrumental outro that systematically fades instrumentally to guitar and synth only. To give a sense of sound and style on this track, it has a feel similar to To the End.
Finis Coronat Opus is a fitting closer for the album, and an excellent bookend to serve as the album’s finale. It is also the longest song on the disc, clocking in at a hefty 8:49 minutes long. Even with all the stellar tracks on this album, I think this one is my favorite, probably because of some of its differences that make it stand out from the opening with hammered dulcimer to the extremely syncopated chorus in Latin. It starts off differently than the norm, first with muffled vocals, and then an intro exclusively by hammered dulcimer for several measures before the band enters at full speed ahead. The first verse is very bass-driven, and has a great layering effect as here, Seeb sings in octaves, giving it a different-than-usual depth that doesn’t include harmonies (which enter in the second or B verse). However, the chorus is grand, with rich choral layers, sung in Latin with an odd meter changing throughout (like a 3/4 to 5/4 back and forth) – a true musical gem. There is another instrumental bridge into the next verse pair, and the octave singing returns again, but this time, also with octave harmonies! This verse includes the lyrics that are heard at the beginning of the song, and the second portion of the verse changes into a kind of channel with different melodies and an instrumental rendition of the chorus’s melody, but played as 32nd note rhythms while still changing at the usual times of the main melody. The chorus then reappears after this section, and it fades into another melancholy instrumental section where the hammered dulcimer reappears with the motif that follows in a second chorus with heartfelt lyrics: “I’ll always be there with you, I’ll always be watching you, If I’m gone, don’t mourn me, I’ll be always watching over thee,” fading ad infinitum until the mournful guitar solo enters to finish the track to eventual silence. This song embodies all that I admire about Orden Ogan’s approach to power metal. They don’t do it all the time on every song, but it shows their creativity and ability to move outside of the box when they decide to do so.
One thing that is notable about Gunmen is that there are no real ballads. Not that it is particularly notable on a metal album, but it stands out to me because Orden Ogan has created heavy, powerful songs just as well as they can write touching and beautiful ballads (i.e., …And If You Do Right, The Candle Lights, The Yearning Remains, Requiem, Take This Light, A Reason to Give). This is something that was missing on this album if only because it is something they do so well, and it gives a nice balance to an album that is so heavy-hitting otherwise. There are some elements in several songs that incorporate some softer, balladic moments, but there isn’t one track that I would categorize as a ballad in their previously known style. For those loving solid, power-mongering metal, this is definitely the album for you.
The album is nearly an hour long. Most of the songs are around the 6 minute mark, so they aren’t too long, but you don’t feel shortchanged, either. Gunmen continues with the well-established Orden Ogan “formula,” with their twin guitar attacks and layering, precise rhythms that are tight between the drums, bass, and rhythm guitars, layered choruses with lush choral vocals, and catchy melodies (especially in the choruses) that implant earworms galore. Seeb‘s vocals sound as great as ever, and his partnership on guitar with Tobi is seamless and solid, with creative soloing that always enhances the song. Niels‘ bass is foundational to each song, and when he gets to shine a little here and there, it’s a treasure to hear. Dirk‘s drumming is out of this world, and is razor precise in his execution of each rhythm. For long-time fans of Orden Ogan, you will not be disappointed. Gunmen is a natural progression with a lot of similarities to the previous two albums, To the End and Ravenhead, but occassionally, some earlier nods from Vale or Easton Hope still poke their heads up, giving it a well-rounded continuation of their style and sound. Where they will go beyond this album is anyone’s guess, but for now, Orden Ogan aims for the top not only for themselves, but also for their genre. They are ones to watch for many years to come.
Music Video to “Gunman:
Lyric Video to “Fields of Sorrow:
Lyric Video to “Come With Me to the Other Side:
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