When people think of German metal, bands like Helloween, Rammstein, Scorpions, or Accept may come to mind. However, this Teutonic country has produced some other stellar bands that deserve as much, if not more, recognition that some of these “mainstream” bands have received. Orden Ogan is one of these such bands from Germany who has been gaining well-deserved attention in recent years, especially in the current generation of the power metal genre. Originally founded in 1996, their first released demo/EP album, Testimonium AD, did not arrive on the scene until 2004. However, they really gained their footing with their official debut album, Vale, released in 2008. Their subsequent two albums, 2010’s Easton Hope and 2012’s To the End, have gained continuing acclaim, and now the beginning of 2015 is seeing the release of their fourth official studio album, Ravenhead. Led by Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards, Orden Ogan also includes Tobias “Tobi” Kersting on guitar, Niels Löffler on bass, and Dirk Meyer-Berhorn on drums.
The introductory song is their trademark instrumental opener entitled Orden Ogan, is obviously named from the band’s moniker, which mixes German and Old Celtic to mean “The Order of Fear.” It starts off with choral humming of the main theme with a harpsichord and bass drum beat, which picks up tempo and intensity to an orchestral flair with the main theme repeated in the humming vocals and violin melody. Like a soundtrack to a movie theme, this song sets the stage for the rest of the album. It ends with the introduction of the electric guitar for the first time, as it segues into the powerful start to the next song, and appropriately the longest track on the album, the titular Ravenhead. Starting off with a lengthy instrumental introduction, this energetic track sets the scene for the album lyrically and musically, and includes powerhouse drums, duel soloing, and epic vocals. The chorus is typically catchy, and introduces the listener to the theme of the album, and the instrumental interlude is more than just a guitar solo, and traverses several styles, including solo guitar, dueling guitars at lightning speed, and a change to a slower iteration of the melody with modulations. The chorus is reprised a couple of more times after the instrumental, but then ends with an abrupt drop to a rainy background, with a single articulating harpsichord-sounding acoustic guitar and the choral humming of the main theme as it begins eerily into the next track.
F.E.V.E.R. is the first single released for this album (view their music video for this song below). Starting off with a lone piano playing the main theme of the song, it is soon joined by choral vocals that begin with the chorus rather than the first verse, as is often the case with Orden Ogan songs. It is a very groove-laden song, with a strong drive throughout after kicking in following the piano/vocal introduction with 16th and 32nd note onslaughts in both the rhythm and solo portions from the guitars and drums. The verses are moderate but driven, and the choruses are more staccato and have a very intentional cadence. During the instrumental portion about halfway through the song, they incorporate a key change. Another sign that Orden Ogan has not completely forsaken the folk/progressive foundations is the inclusion of bagpipes paralleling the melody line before it picks back up into a full thrash/power attack before gently ending with the return of the solo piano playing the same line from the beginning of the song as it slowly ritards into its melancholy finale.
Starting off with a brief effect of a deep underwater breath, The Lake begins at a more moderate pace, but not any less strong, with powerful rhythm and staccato/glissando guitar effect while strings carry the more flowing melody line overhead. The verse is more scaled back with punctuated rhythm guitar and more basic drum beat, both of which pick up the pace during the bridge into the full force of the chorus. In the appearance of the second verse, however, there is a key modulation for additional interest, and in the instrumental interlude after the second chorus, the pace is picked up particularly with the drums with some solid machine-gunning kick drums and nicely-placed China and splash cymbal off-beats that keep the pace of for the last chorus reprise, which ends the song immediately with no fade outs this time.
Evil Lies in Every Man commences with a muted, raspy, elderly-sounding, moderately on-key voice that sings the chorus, and for me was reminiscent of the inclusion Marianne Faithfull’s voice on Metallica’s The Memory Remains in its effect. After this peculiar start to the song, the band comes in full force afterwards with the chorus riff and settles into a crushing 16th note onslaught by the rhythm guitars, bass, and drums. This energy is kept throughout the song, on the verses and the chorus, though there is a little reprieve during the instrumental interlude while the solo guitars play on the harmonic minor scale, it diminishes a bit with an acoustic guitar as the lead for a time, but is then rejoined in tandem by electric guitar as it returns back strong to one last verse and chorus. A powerful and groove-laden song, I must say that this song is among one of my top favorites within this album.
The sixth track, Here at the End of the World, gives no reprieve as it begins pretty hard-hitting from the start with the usual introduction of the main musical theme, and then dives into verses that are just as catchy – if not more so – than the chorus. One feature of this song is the appearance guest vocalist Chris Boltendahl from the band Grave Digger on this track, singing the bridges. His voice is more rugged than Seeb’s, and though gritty and powerful, seems a little out of place, especially as his vocal features are immediately followed by the immensely smooth choral vocals on the chorus, which seems to further show the vocal differences. However, he seems to be fulfilling another character or perspective that his timbre seems right to fulfill with his fellow German metallers on this song in particular. In addition to the catchy verses and anthemic choruses, during the instrumental portion, there is such a tight and precise connection between the kick drums and the rhythm guitars that a thread would not fit through any space between the beats, they are that notably accurate and meticulously played. Though most of the songs on Ravenhead have definitive and in-your-face endings, this song ends with an abrupt change to keyboards, with a quietly simple symphonic outro, which sets the pace for the beginning of the next song.
A Reason to Give is a lovely song that has one of the best builds in a song that is so nearly seamless that before you know it, it has segued from one style and added instrumentation that the end of the song is quite different from how it began. It starts with a beautiful Medieval-like introduction with acoustic guitars and whistle and flute, but then shifts to a more orchestral approach with continued acoustic guitar with the deep beats of timpani and tambourine accents. This instrumentation continues as the vocals enter with the first verse, as strings are folded in, and then the drums and electric guitars layer in as the second verse begins. The chorus is again vocally multilayered with the background choir providing depth to the lead vocals. As the song continues, it leans toward being supported primarily by the band with less of the orchestration, but after about 3 minutes, it drops to just acoustic guitars and toms, but the whole band re-enters with an almost Journey– or Boston-like riff with the choir maintaining the flow of nonsyllabic vocal chords to the end of the song. The style of this song is much closer to the more orchestral method of Vale and Easton Hope, for those who enjoy the more symphonic power metal approach. This is a strongly and beautifully written song, with probably the greatest amount of musical versatility, and my top track on this album.
The eighth track, Deaf Among the Blind, starts off with a brief haunting piano ringing out before the same theme is augmented with crushing guitars with a very cool almost futuristically executed riff soon joined by monster drums and anchoring bass. The introduction continues for about a good minute before the first verse is sung, which is definitely the hard-hitter of the song (along with its sister verses), while the choruses are more drawn out vocally with the usual layered choral parts, but some machine-gun kick drumming finds its way into the last chorus in particular. This song puts the power in power metal, and if it doesn’t get you moving, one would be hard-pressed to find anything much more motivating. The end fades into an ominous howling wind that continues into the next track, Sorrow is Your Tale, after which a rhythmic hammering can be heard, setting the tempo for the song. The martial drum beat on toms in the background joins the regular chink of the hammer while the melody from the chorus comes in on an organ and then accordion for a somber introduction. The rest of the band takes it from there, reprising the main theme melodically before augmenting the rhythm guitar lines that dig in before the first verse begins. At the bridges, guest vocalist Joacim Cans from HammerFall takes the reins and into the choruses, blending in quite well with the others. The instrumental break changes from the more soaring and memorable verses and chorus and returns to the more martial style and beat from the beginning of the song, but then segues easily back into the last modulated chorus that carries the song out in finality. This is a poignant song that again ranks high for me among this album’s offerings.
In Grief and Chains is a second instrumental on the album. It is fairly short, as just over 2 minutes, and repeats the same musical theme throughout the whole song, but in slightly different tweaks and approaches each time the theme repeats, similar in method to The Frozen Few from the previous album. The tempo is rather largo (or moderato, if you consider it double time), and its heavier tempo reflects the title of the song. The recurrent theme is augmented by some guitar solo descants and other improvisational accoutrements to keep it fresh.
The last track on the album, Too Soon, is a melancholic end to this album’s story, and is the slowest, most ballad-like song included in the repertoire. It is reminiscent of songs like Requiem, The Candle Lights, and Take this Light, but it is a bit heavier with a deep pulsating bass synth and drums that give it a gravity and depth underneath the plaintive vocal lines and forlorn-sounding orchestrations. It is the second shortest piece on the album, and a simpler pattern of only 2 verses and repeating choruses between and after the verses, with the introduction of the full trap set and bass, building into the guitar solo after the last chorus. This segues into the outro as it is led out by a lengthy instrumental that pares back to the chords of the chorus being repeated only by choral vocal “ahs” and marcato low strings moving together, fading out into the sunset of this album.
With the announcement of its imminent release date, I was quite looking forward to this album, as the follow-up to their top-notch disc To the End, and wondered how and if Orden Ogan could surpass their previous masterpiece. After a very close examination, I’m not sure that they broke any real new ground with Ravenhead, but I do feel the album is quite on par with it. I don’t think they have backslidden in their continued rise in excellence with each album, but I feel that they have found their niche and are settling nicely into it. Some people may think that their style is becoming too known or predictable, but I like to think of it more as the “Orden Ogan Formula” – from regular features such as each album having a concept story with the recurring character Alister Vale who runs through each album as the connecting thread, to starting each album with a minute-and-a-half instrumental opener, to the introductions of the songs usually reflecting the choruses (which, by the way, are always extremely catchy), and so on – which works extremely well for them. This album is very metal-oriented, so there was little room for many softer songs on this album as have been on past albums, and is more rooted in their power metal foundations rather than the folk metal genre with which they have often been labeled. Their sound on Ravenhead is very similar in style as To the End, which may please fans as they maintain the strong, powerful, yet melodic style that they have established. They have moved away from as much orchestration as in their first two albums, and though cinematic and progressive elements are still included, they are not as prominent as they used to be. And though Orden Ogan’s style has leaned more on the power side of the power metal genre, one of their greatest strengths are the melodies that you would be hard-pressed not to get stuck in your head. They are the masters of the catchy chorus with layered choir vocals and rhyming lyrics that make each song memorable. Seeb‘s vocals are as strong as ever, as is his songwriting, which has matured and settled into its own distinctive style that helps Orden Ogan’s identifiability. In addition, Seeb and Tobi make a terrific guitar team. Their playing together is very tight, and they complement each other in a seamless way, whether they trade off solo and rhythm parts or play in tandem with the same line with its melody and harmony. Dirk‘s drumming is solid, precise, and accents the music in just the right ways. He can play with restraint, enhancement, and sensitivity or he can pull out all the machine guns and blast a bombastic beat as the song calls for it with utter precision. Niels‘ basswork is also very solid, at times working in conjunction with the drums for a solid foundation, and sometimes mirroring the guitars for a broader and deeper impact with a few highlighted features here and there. Overall, Ravenhead is a very solid musical representative of Orden Ogan and a must-have album for fans of theirs and the power metal genre in general. For me, after spinning this album for a good month and still never tiring of listening, it bodes very well for the album and Orden Ogan’s future endeavors. With not even one mediocre song on the album, they’ve hit another one out of the ballpark.
Music video for “F.E.V.E.R.”
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