Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Adrian Hextall (Photographer/Live Gig reporter)
With Orden Ogan looking to hit the big time on the back of latest release ‘Ravenhead’, Adrian Hextall spoke to Sebastian Levermann (aka Seeb) the band’s founder and lead vocalist to discuss their rapid rise over the last few years, one that has seen the video for ‘The Things We Believe In’ garner rave reviews and over 1.2 million hits on YouTube.
Thank you for taking some time out to talk to us today Seeb. It’s great to finally talk. We haven’t really seen a lot of you and the band over here in the last few years?
Seeb: We were there in 2012 with Rhapsody but also I think we were there with Tiamat in 2010 but it was basically the only other UK show. We were in that, erm what was the names of the venue? I can’t remember. I think it’s pretty well known, you had to go downstairs and it sort of has a lot of punk attitude so what was it called? Underground or something?
The Underworld? Yes the Camden Underworld. It is underneath the pub isn’t it?
Seeb: Yeah yeah yeah right we were there with Tiamat.
So even with just a couple of visits under the belt, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get a little bit of background about the band because I think we’re still discovering the band over here in the UK.
Now I noticed that the name of the band is an interesting one. Order of Fear as it is loosely interpreted. Where did that come about?
Seeb: I really can’t tell you how we came up with that name, because it is already very, very old. I mean I started making music with our ex-drummer in 1996 and somehow, the name was around, even back then. Although, we really consider the history of the band, the name of Orden Ogan from 2008, when we released Vale, our first label release, that was the time when other people started working for the band like management, booking agency, record labels, so on. So in the years before, it was more like we were pupils when we started off, like a garage band or something and there had been years in between where we just didn’t make music at all. Therefore when we released the first real record, Vale in 2008, the name was around before but we considered it homage to the good old garage days so that was the idea.
We used to make fun out of journalists in the past and because when we were asked what the name was about, we would always find another explanation, another stupid explanation like “cheese spread in Slovenian” or something like that and at some point our label, the management started saying “come on you can’t fuck with the people all the time” (laughs). “They have to know what the real meaning is of the name”. So, Orden is German for Order and Ogan is old Celtic for Fear basically.
Before the last album you lost Nils on the keyboards as well didn’t you, which has now taken you down to a four piece. Are you sticking to that structure and line up now?
Seeb: The line-up changes are interesting. There’s a lot of wrong stuff on Wikipedia about the band around the line-ups. I’ve just rewritten our history for our new website and that will be on-line in a few days. I do however need to check all this information on Wikipedia as there are people listed who have never been in the band but are just friends of the band, people that were around at that time but never played an instrument, not even on a demo or something like that you know?
Basically the first real line-up in 2008 that we had was with Sebastian Grütling (aka Ghnu) on drums, the guy who founded the band with me, Lars Schneider on Bass, Nils Weise on keyboards and Tobi (Tobias Kersting) on guitar who still with me today. And I think up until now, if you counted, our band is basically just two line-ups. We lost Ghnu, Lars and Nils after the Eastern Hope album. We did Vale and Eastern Hope with the same line-up but the guys needed to go because at that time, when we started touring a lot, I think we had two European tours in one year and you can’t do that with a regular job. Especially when you’re away for 70 or more days. So the new line-up with Dirk (Meyer-Berhorn) on drums, the other Niels (Löffler) on bass, that is the stable one from ‘To The End’ in 2012, and now ‘Ravenhead’ and yes we are a four piece now and I think it’s better in every way (laughs). I mean I did a lot of the keyboard stuff already even in the time when Nils was still in the band and if you’ve got a keyboard player on stage, he always stands in the way and stuff. We have a little more space now (laughs) but I have to say that we are all still very good friends so there is one complete song written by our ex keyboard player Nils even on Ravenhead, the outro part in ‘In Grief and Chains’ and I also worked on lyrics with Lars the former bass player and stuff like that. So when I said we are all still good friends, it’s very important for me to keep it like that.
Thank you I appreciate that, you are quite right, as far as the former members piece is concerned. I saw that in its entirety on Wikipedia and I did think “that’s a lot of people you guys have seen coming and going through the doors” so that explains a lot.
Seeb: Yeah it’s partly my fault because I could have rewritten that already on Wikipedia it’s just wrong. I just don’t know where people get the information from but there are people listed that really have not been in the band so it’s just butchered.
That’s a good way to describe it so thank you. (laughs). So with the latest album, you’ve got a couple of guest musicians in there with you as well. ‘Here At The End Of The World‘ and also ‘Sorrow Is Your Tale’. How did that come about?
Seeb: We toured with Gravedigger, in 2011 I think, and Chris (Boltendahl) became a friend of mine. I was asked to sing the choral elements on the latest Gravedigger record as well. We were just a very small group of four people singing all that choral work on the Gravedigger record. I have to say before we go on that I’m not a big fan of this name dropping stuff. If people are going to buy an Orden Ogan CD then they should buy it because they want to listen to Orden Ogan and not some singer off another band. They could just go buy a Gravedigger record for example then. If we do work with other people it then has to fit on several levels, it has to fit on a personal level and it also has to fit, considering the song itself. So when we finished the choir recordings for the Gravedigger record, Chris said to me that if I like him to do so then he could do some guest vocals on the new Orden Ogan record as well. At the very moment he said that, I knew which part that would be on ‘Here At The End of the World‘. So that was just a perfect fit and I think he adds some really nice colour to the song. It was a little different with ‘Sorrow is Your Tale‘. There was this bridge part and I already had sung it but I had the impression that it just really didn’t work too well and I had the idea that somehow, maybe, it would fit better if there was somebody else , some completely other different voice that would sing that and that was basically the time when the Hammerfall tour was already confirmed and so I mean, it was an obvious decision and it was just a question of asking Joacim (Cans). He was immediately into the song and liked it a lot and from that moment, he was hooked. (laughs).
And its that sort of thing where you say it worked and the fit was the right one and it left you with the track as you would hopefully want it to be.
Seeb: Totally, totally. We had some flights booked before, where he was supposed to come over to the studio and sing it to us in Germany but then they had these problems, it was I think, the drummer left or something, it happened all before the tour and so he wasn’t able to make it over to Germany. We were very happy though that he was able to record in his own studio. When he sent it over and I put it into the arrangement and listened to it in the song, I was thinking “yeah, it’s the perfect fit for it, for the piece at that moment”. Yeah it was a good decision I think.
You open ‘Ravenhead’ with the instrumental piece that’s the band’s name. Is that then to be translated as the ‘Order of Fear’ for the opening track rather than it just being reflective of the band name as it were?
Seeb: I have to tell you a little more about that. Did you see the whole artwork or just the front cover?
I’ve only seen the front cover….
Seeb: Ok, so if you look at the Facebook page for example, you see the whole cover with the backside of the cover as well and on the backside, you see also our mascot which is the guy with the hat. His name is Alister Vale, we keep it for all the records. Some people have complained already he is not on the artwork but he is, just that this time, he’s on the back of the CD. You see him on the little boat, like the ferryman and behind him, there is a big Abbey and this Abbey is basically lying on a hill and there are ravens flying in the air over the Abbey so that is the idea why we called it Ravenhead because it flies a little higher and you know ravens over that. And this Abbey is basically the place where the monks of the Order of Ogan live (laughs). We thought it was about time to establish this Order of Ogan as well within the lyrics. So the Ravenhead song deals a little more like with the place itself but the Abbey and yes like I said its where the Orden Ogan monks live and that was an obvious choice to name the intro on the track and because also the melody of the intro appears again as the solo part of Ravenhead so these two songs are very closely connected. Also we have this man humming the melody with a deep voice. Some people told me already that they instantly had to think about the Pirates of the Caribbean but our intention was to have it sound a little bit like this, Gregorian monk chorals, yep that was the idea behind that.
Following on from those two opening tracks, you’ve then got your first single off the album ‘F.E.V.E.R’. It’s got full stops in between each of the letters so I’m guessing there’s a meaning behind the title there? Is there more to it than just the word FEVER?
Seeb: (Laughs) I really thought about making up a story about that (laughs again).
Along the lines of cheese spread……?
Seeb: The truth is when we wrote the song and the working title was ‘Fever’, our guitar player, Tobi, complained and said that “I think the title is just too simple, I don’t know, it just looks like a thousand bands have called their songs ‘Fever’ and I don’t know, I just made these full stops in between the letters”. And it was like ‘yeah that looks better‘ and I said OK. (laughs) “Let’s do it like this”.
I really thought about making something up but I was on a promotion day in Paris a couple of days ago and when this question came up the first time, I just wasn’t quick enough so I thought this time, maybe just tell the truth’. It’s funny anyway.
Now as far as the video is concerned for it, again it gives you that real sense of monks, Abbey on the hillside, look and feel to the video. That’s something you seem to be moving more and more towards with the imagery of the band. Obviously you’ve got things like ‘The Things We Believe In‘ where it was a little bit more, almost militaristic in the video approach and futuristic as well but are you looking for that medieval look and feel to where you approach everything now? Certainly the cover suggests it.
Seeb: I say we always have to have a small, loose, concept in the records. It’s not always like full concept records because I think it’s very limiting if you have to deal with a whole concept but there are always some songs that somehow are connected and there’s always the one, let me say, common theme or feel to the thing. If you look at Iron Maiden, for example, I think they were in the future and in Egypt with Powerslave. I like to have a varying setting, you know I mean? People know the band anyway so we don’t have to be the Pirate band or the Science Fiction robot band or whatever. I like to play with these settings and concerning a medieval fantasy, whatever, feeling, yeah we always had a little bit of these fantasy elements but I really take care and I really focus on not being cheesy and stuff like that. It’s very important for me I mean even if it’s like fantasy or medieval images or whatever, it will always be a dark fantasy or similar. You will never see dragons or such like on our cover artwork.
In terms of the style of the music, you seem to have moved on again slightly from the last album ‘To The End’ with the latest release. I read an interview with you recently that talked about your own personal love of music and you seem to be somebody who likes much darker and heavier elements of metal compared to what you play yourself?
Seeb: It’s totally right. Let me say there two or three ways of approaching that. Generally speaking I grew up with very hard stuff. I think I listened to Rise from Sepultura when I was still a child, you know. I feel basically at home in the old school Death Metal. I love bands like Benedictum and Bonesaw for example. That is basically where I feel at home, that’s what I would put into the stereo when I am in the car but I also have to say since I am producer myself and do a lot of mixing work and stuff like that, I listen more to producers than I listen to bands because of the interest how their work is done, how its mixed etc… I love Colin Richardson, he’s one of my favourite producers of all time in metal. And so yeah that is basically one of the reasons why I am listening to harder music.
Coming back to Power Metal, when I was younger like 15 or 16, I listened of course to Blind Guardian’s ‘Imaginations From The Other Side’, also the Running Wild stuff, ‘Black Hand Inn’, ‘Death in Glory’ and more. I think nowadays since also Power Metal is not that much in fashion there’s also one of the most important elements that is to me is missing is the metal in Power Metal. Most Power Metal bands are very, very soft bands and I think it is also one of the points really distinguishes us from other bands namely the heart and really heavy riffs that you don’t have in most other Power Metal bands.
In terms of the artwork imagery, it’s is very unique. Are you using the same artist as on the last album? Is it somebody you go to every time?
Seeb: Yes we are working with Andreas Marshal. I don’t know if you know him? Actually he’s some sort of a legend in the metal business. I think he did the artwork for ‘Imaginations From The Other Side’. He did a lot of the old Blind Guardian stuff. I think he’s worked with Kreator, Nightwish and he did a lot of the Running Wild stuff years ago and also artwork for Gravedigger. He just didn’t do much in the last few years and so in the ’90’s, he painted a lot. I think if Orden Ogan had been around in that time, I would have said no, let’s go with another cover artist because there was too much of Andreas Marshall in the art world. But as he is not doing very much anymore, we are one of the few bands now that work with him. He focuses on other stuff. He is doing commercials and doing his own movies so then our artwork is something really unique again. Meanwhile he is a very good friend of the band. I also did the film music for his last movie ‘Masks‘ in 2012 and that’s just a perfect fit for us. His artworks are really, really great and he’s an artist on his own and it’s more like artists speaking to artists. In our case, we always do everything on our own. It’s a lot of handwork, how do you say? Craftmanship!
He also is not a guy who sits there and does everything in Photoshop but really sits down with a pen and a big piece of canvas. He starts to paint with his bare hands you know and I think that it’s a very important effort for us, to have the whole package being one big piece of art.
Obviously it lends itself perfectly to a vinyl release and I see you have one of those coming out as well.
Yep. Green Vinyl coming out in January.
Last couple of questions. Not only you guys starting to spread a little wider in terms of the tours that you do but I believe you are also the organisers of your own festival – is that right?
Seeb: Yes we did it’s called Winternachtstraum Festival which translates as Winter Nights Dream (chuckles). Quite a strange name for a metal festival but I think it’s one of the points where it was stuck in your head. We did that like for eight years or something but we just had to take a step back in the last two or three years because my friend and co-organiser, I think he is getting his third child now and on the other hand, now Orden Ogan is just taking way too much time. I think we did it each year in February and yeah we will be on tour with Hammerfall this February again so I am just not there to do it and maybe again in 2016.
Where are you going next year? You played the States at the Prog Power Festival slightly earlier in 2014. Are you going back out to the States or is it a European Tour?
Seeb: There are two European tours in 2015. We will be, as I said before, on tour with Hamerfall during January and February and then there will be a couple of festivals in the summer, a couple in Germany. There will be another European tour in Autumn 2015 but let me say another band that is almost as big as Hammerfall will be another very good tour for us but I can’t talk about that yet. I mean it’s confirmed but it’s not officially announced so that this is why I must keep my mouth shut.
We will be very likely doing a headlining tour in early 2016 and maybe along with a live DVD release. So that is the plan at the moment.
Are any of those likely to take in the UK?
Seeb: If we go on a headlining tour, I can assure you that we will try and be in the UK 100% because when we’ve been there with Rhapsody. It was great for us and also when we were with Tiamat, even better. A true thing is an impression from back then. a lot more people being there, were aware of us in there than on the Rhapsody tour and both shows were really great for us so if it’s just about my opinion, I will try and get back there whatever it may cost. (laughs)
I think when you guys came over for the Rhapsody tour, I think we knew who you were, it’s more that nobody knew you were supporting Rhapsody. I just didn’t know you were on the bill with them which is very unfortunate.
Seeb: I think this happens a lot of times and I really don’t know why this is the case. It’s totally stupid because I mean the bands take the support with them on tour because they think that they should drag some people in as well but if nobody knows that the bands are there then well nobody comes to them. I have had this discussion a couple of times as well.
Well rest assured if the promotion is there and we know you are coming, I am sure we will be there, so we will look forward to it but thank you very much for your time and I really appreciate it.