Coming into the new year, one of my most anticipated album was Ravenhead, the fifth full length album from German power metal band Orden Ogan. In their early years, they were more of a folk metal band, but starting with Vale their power metal elements started to show through, before largely taking over on Easton Hope, which was their first album I ever heard. That particular album was probably their most complex to date, blending in some very strong elements of symphonic and prog metal, to go along with their by then trademark riffs and epic, soaring melodies. It was undeniably an impressive album, but at times it felt like the band was trying to do a bit too much, with the songwriting not always being as consistently strong as it could have been. With the following album, To the End, they simplified their sound quite a bit, pushing their epic power metal elements even further in front, while leaving everything else not completely behind, but certainly less in the spotlight than before. The result was by far their catchiest, and most consistently engaging album from start to finish, and it ended up being one of my top 10 favorites of 2012. Unsurprisingly, Ravenhead continues along the same path, and is an even more focused and stripped down album, which manages to be nearly as good as its immediate predecessor.
Compared to other German power metal bands, I've always found Orden Ogan to be rather unique. I've seen them compared to the likes of Blind Guardian and Running Wild, but to me there’s a lot more to their music than that. For one, they've always had a decidedly dark tone to their music, which is even more the case on Ravenhead. I also find their music is generally more dynamic, more epic and certainly much more modern sounding compared to most of their countrymen. To sum it up: While they do share some similarities with other bands, their music easily stands out among the crowd, and they have a sound that is unmistakably theirs.
Ravenhead definitely feels like a logical progression from To The End. The songwriting continues to be much more streamlined and straight-forward than on previous works, perhaps even more so. There’s no more massive progressive power metal elements, and the symphonic elements are once again toned down. Instead, this is an album dominated by crushing riffs and soaring melodies. The verses and instrumental sections are generally quite heavy, with Orden Ogan’s signature brand of aggressive, modern sounding guitar work dominating, but once the choruses show up, the melodies are in full force. The band has always been great at writing memorable choruses, and this album is certainly no exception. One thing that is a little lacking this time around is the speed. Don’t get me wrong: This is certainly a power metal album all around, so you can expect many up tempo parts, but with the exception of a couple tracks, these sections tend to come in bursts, with the tempo generally being more subdued than normal. Take the opening title track as an example: It has everything you’d expect from an Orden Ogan song, including those killers riffs, huge vocal melodies, an incredible chorus, an awesome instrumental part, etc, but compared to the title track of To The End, the speed has been greatly decreased, and this applies to most other tracks here. I personally prefer To The End, but judging the two albums purely on songwriting quality, Ravenhead is certainly up to par, and while the title track doesn't get me as excited as I’d like, it’s an excellent song in its own way.
Frontman Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann has always been a standout feature of the band, and this is as true now as on any of their albums. He has a very deep and powerful voice, which certainly separates him from the typical high pitched power metal vocalist, and his delivery is very forceful and commanding during the verses, but when those epic choruses come in, he has a smooth quality to his voice that greatly enhances the music. The choir vocals are outstanding as always, and obviously the two guest singers both sound excellent.
For most fans, their first taste of this album will likely be the lead single “F.E.V.E.R”. Opening with a keyboard part that feels like it could have been taken from a pop song, the track quickly speeds up, and is easily one of the best and most addictive songs on the album, if not in their entire discography. The ridiculously infectious chorus certainly has traces of “Land of the Dead”, one of my favorite from To The End. Another big standout is “The Lake”. It begins with the type of ultra modern sounding, slowed down riffs that dominates many of the tracks here (a sound which was previously showcased on “This World of Ice”) but towards the end of the opening verse it speeds up, and the chorus is pure magic. The speediest song here is “Deaf Among the Blind”, and it’s certainly one of the best. I mentioned two guest vocalists earlier. Well, the first is Chris Boltendahl, who appears on the mostly mid tempo track “Here at the End of the World”, which doesn't sound too different from a Grave Digger song, except obviously it’s enhanced by Seeb’s vocals, while Boltendahl raspy voice is still as strong as ever. The other guest is Joacim Cans, who shows up briefly during “Sorrow is Your Tale”, and helps enhance what was already a pretty awesome track.
The second half is lacking a bit in the energy department, and while there aren't any weak tracks, putting the calm instrumental track “In Grief and Chains” right next to the closing ballad “Too Soon” seems a bit odd, and effectively makes “Sorrow is Your Tale” the last proper metal song on the album, at track 9 out of 11, which I find a bit disappointing. “Too Soon” is a nice closer, but it has nothing on “A Reason to Give”, the prototypical epic ballad that Orden Ogan always manages to deliver. Seriously, their ballads are often among their best songs, and this one certainly lives up to all expectations. Right from the start, there’s some nice folk melodies, and the song calmly builds up, before turning into one of those larger than life ballads few other bands seem capable of, along the lines of “The Ice Kings”, except possibly even better.
I would have preferred to have at least one or two additional speedy tracks, but overall Ravenhead is another epic, dark and very heavy power metal album, sure to please existing Orden Ogan fans, as well as anyone looking for some ridiculously catchy power metal, with awesome choruses. To The End is a personal favorite of mine, and despite a couple very minor flaws, I’m enjoying this one almost as much, so that’s the sign of a band that keeps delivering.
(originally written for myglobalmind: http://myglobalmind.com/2015/01/11/orden-ogan-ravenhead-review/)