Orden Ogan – Ravenhead
Orden Ogan – Ravenhead (2015)
Reviewed by Frank Zaber
Full disclosure – I am a huge Orden Ogan fan. In the last year, I’ve listened to their music more than any other band. Naturally, when the opportunity to review the band’s new album dropped into my lap, I was both extremely excited and somewhat concerned about being able to remain some measure of objectivity and keep my fanboy impulses under control. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
Orden Ogan has often been described as the “successor to Blind Guardian”. No more! With the release of Ravenhead, Orden Ogan ascends to the top of the metaphorical mountain in power metal, on par with genre favorites such as the aforementioned, Running Wild, and Helloween. Orden Ogan has painstakingly built its sound up, album after album, always improving and polishing the writing and production. The end result of all of that hard work, to date, is Ravenhead.
Seeb Levermann is the consummate front man – you can’t lead a great power metal band without a ton of charisma and showmanship, and he has both in spades. His live performances and his recorded vocals both have the same intensity and power – they hook you and don’t let you shake free. He also plays guitar and keys, and writes much of the music with involvement from the rest of the band. Tobin Kersting is an outstanding guitarist, and he and Seeb complement each other perfectly. Niels Löffler (bass) and Dirk Mever-Berhorn (drums) are a solid and capable rhythm section, driving the songs at a good pace and filling out the arrangements in a way that always feels natural.
There’s less of a folk metal influence to Ravenhead than on previous releases, and more of a straight ahead guitar- and drum-driven power approach to the songs. This makes the songs feel like they have more urgency and intensity, which is perfect fit for this release. Ravenhead smacks you in the face repeatedly for the entire length of the album, and never lets your mind wander too far from the post-apocalyptic foursome. The songs all have choruses that will be resonating long after the album is over, the guitar solos never get stale or devolve into simple displays of speed, and the pacing of the songs and the album as a whole is an expert roller coaster of speed, tension, and emotion.
The album starts with the intro track “Orden Ogan”, an instrumental that slowly builds to a climax and launches the album with an oomph! If you’re going to name a track after your band, I can’t think of a more fitting use than the way this song develops and delivers at the end, when it runs headlong into “Ravenhead”, the powerful, riff-your-face-off title track. The mood for the album is set early, with Seeb’s deep and dark vocals over some amazing music with classic double-bass drumming, a haunting chorus, and fantastic solo break. “F.E.V.E.R” is the lead single from the album, and it’s a great selection for that task: uncomplicated and catchy, with a driving pace and an infectious chorus that will burrow into your mind.
“The Lake” starts off at a slower, measured pace, and accelerates gradually into a full-out assault on your ears. I mean that in a good way. This track quickly became one of my favorites, due to its straightforward simplicity and power. “Evil Lies In Every Man” begins with the creepiness of an old person singing the chorus over and over in a rough and world-weary voice, and rapidly evolves into a signature Orden Ogan headbanger. “Here At The End Of The World” brings the first of two guest singers to the album, with Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger) providing some growling vocals on a great power metal track with a definite pirate-folk polish to the chorus.
One of the best things about Orden Ogan’s music, to me, are the band’s soaring ballads – “Requiem” and “Take This Light”, from Easton Hope and The Frozen Few are two of my favorite Orden Ogan songs. “A Reason To Give”, the first of two excellent ballads on Ravenhead, starts with an almost medieval acoustic guitar sound before adding some deep, slowly paced bass rolls and emotional, soulful vocals from Seeb… a beautiful rendition of the chorus is followed by a transition into a faster power metal song, and then back to the slower pace before ending on an up-tempo high. It’s an instant classic ballad, and may be my favorite song on the entire disc.
“Deaf Among The Blind” is a fast paced song that feels a bit like a tribute to Blind Guardian’s speedier era and really shows some of Orden Ogan’s early influences and how the band has incorporated some of those classic power/speed elements into its own songwriting. “Sorrow Is Your Tale” features the second guest vocalist, Joacim Cans (Hammerfall), and sounds like a polished throwback to the band’s powerful but still developing sound from the Easton Hope album.
“In Grief And Chains” is the second instrumental – it’s nothing outstanding, but it’s a well-written lead in to the final track of the album, the power ballad “Too Soon”. This dark and sad finale wraps up the haunting tale of Ravenhead with a slow-paced goodbye full of loss and regret in such a way that leaves the listener feeling drained as the last notes trickle away.
So, yes – I promised myself that I wouldn’t go completely fanboy, and I didn’t. This album is JUST THAT GOOD. There are no weak songs – only songs that aren’t quite as great as the others. I’ll call it right now – barring a musical miracle, this will be my Album of the Year for 2015.
5 // 5