Album Review: Orden Ogan - 'Ravenhead'.
Power metallers Orden Ogan – which roughly translates as ‘The Order Of Fear - have been musically marauding for the past decade, releasing a number of albums and EP’s along the way, as well as making waves with appearances at Waken and a number of other European festivals. Playing the sort of folky-tinged progressive metal that is hugely popular on the content as well as in Scandinavia, the German four-piece return to action with their first release since 2012’s ‘To The End’. Like most bands of their ilk, Orden Ogan owe a lot to Germany’s elder statesmen Helloween and Gamma Ray, however they also take their musically theatrical template to an expansive new level. As a result, ‘Ravenhead’ is an epic of biblical proportions; grandiose, ambitious and sprawling.
Subtlety and meekness are not words that you would associate with Orden Ogan, and this is brazenly apparent from the second that the first notes of the first track kick in. Following an opening self-titled atmospheric prelude, the title track sets out Orden Ogan’s musical agenda appropriately. Harmony guitars battle with double-kick drumming and grandiloquent keyboard passages, over which multi-layered choral vocals are laid. Singer and band leader Seeb Levermann’s timbre may be at the lower end of the vocal register, however this is a refreshing change from the operatic style usually favoured by bands in this particular genre. For some, this mix might sound a little too bloated, however ‘Ravenhead’ is an album that is both surprisingly catchy and supremely tuneful.
First single ‘F.E.V.E.R’ continues in much the same vein. The mud-infested first video to be released from the album, as an introduction to the band it sums up perfectly in four and a half minutes what they are all about. A song that has it all, from a solemn keyboard intro that gives way to a powerful metallic assault, to riffs as heavy as a Stuttgart strong man and turbo-charged double-kick drumming, it’s also the heaviest track on the album. If combination doesn’t do enough to grab the attention, then perhaps the cod-bagpipe section and closing key change will.
To make metal of this precision requires players of a particularly high standard, and in this department, Orden Ogan do not disappoint. The band are all musicians of exceptional ability, and as a result, the album is technically faultless. Guitarist Tobin Kersting melodiously solos throughout; one minute sounding like the European cousin of Zakk Wylde, the next like a chromatic computer programme gone mental. Drummer Dirk Meyer-Berhorn hammers away tirelessly, with the stamina of a long distance runner, while the conversely mono-named Nils adds colour to the band’s sound with layers of keyboards.
Power metal may be the genre with which the band is most readily identifiable, however their folk metal leanings are also prominent, most notably towards the middle of the album, on the three in a row renaissance fayre of ‘Evil Lies In Every Man’, ‘Here At The End Of The World’ and ‘A Reason To Give’. With a creepy troll-like vocal accompanied by a lone flute introducing the former, melodic heroics fit to soundtrack the final battle for Middle-Earth on the middle, and the ‘wedding in the village square’ acoustics on the latter, it’s music to raise a flagon of mead to.
It’s an extremely subtle detour, and save for the odd intro and mid-song breakdown, there’s little let-up in pace throughout the first half of the album. That frantic pace continues with ‘Deaf Among The Blind’, a heavy-hitting, pounding futuristic slice of Terminator-esque high-tempo progressive thrash. With dense banks of keyboards, it’s also the album’s most widescreen moment. What follows is a trio of pieces that also hint at a dystopian soundtrack. ‘Sorrow Is Your Tale’, which features a guest vocal from Hammer Fall’s Joacim Cans is upbeat and uplifting, and although it’s one of the album’s standouts, it’s the reprising instrumental ‘In Grief And Chains’ that reveals a much more measured and expansive side to Orden Ogan. The closing ‘Too Soon’ also treads a similar, less urgent path. An orchestral piece that for the most part jettisons the guitars and drums in favour of dramatic keyboards, processed beats and layers of vocals, it shows another side to the band, and offers a surprisingly tasteful end to the album.
As an album, ‘Ravenhead’ is a multi-layered and dense collection that is well crafted, produced and executed. With generous elements of traditional and modern metal, there is plenty to satiate fans of both. It may be utterly ridiculous in places, however it is none the less thoroughly enjoyable. Like your metal a little over the top? Orden Ogan will satisfy your every desire.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 6 February 2015.