Released By: AFM Records
Release Date: July 7th, 2016
Genre: Power Metal
Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Tobias Kersting – Guitars
Niels Löffler – Bass
Dirk Meyer-Berhorn – Drums
2. Fields of Sorrow
3. Forlorn and Forsaken
4. Vampire in Ghost Town
5. Come With Me to the Other Side
6. The Face of Silence
7. Ashen Rain
8. Down Here
9. One Last Chance
10. Finis Coronat Opus
Sometimes a band can change their sound in such a subtle way, that it only truly becomes noticeable over a long period, and multiple albums later. For example, when I first heard Ravenhead, the fifth full-length album from German power metal band Orden Ogan, I thought it felt like a direct continuation of their previous album To the End, and yet found myself a bit surprised to realize I was liking it slightly less. Over time, the album actually grew on me a little bit, but at the same time I came to realize that the band’s sound had indeed changed in ways that took time to notice, that I had briefly hinted at in my own review of the album two years ago, but listening to the band’s latest effort, Gunmen, due for release in July of 2017, has helped confirm that the little changes I had been noticing were indeed not my imagination, but signs of the band moving in a slightly different direction, while still keeping most of their classic elements intact. The result is another album I wouldn’t quite put up there with my all-time favorite, To the End, but it’s definitely another excellent album in a long line of them, and I think fans of Ravenhead, in particular, are going to absolutely love it.
First off, yes Gunmen is still largely the same kind of epic power metal Orden Ogan has always played, with a huge emphasis on vocal melodies, insanely epic choruses, and symphonic arrangements, so fans don’t have to worry about any major changes to the sound. In fact, I’d describe the album as falling somewhere in between the more complex sound of Easton Hope and the more straight-forward approach of Ravenhead, as it certainly has songs that are longer and more complicated than anything on the latter, but at the same time it’s also much catchier and more accessible than the former. Where the changes come in, though, more has to do with the intensity level. This is something I was noticing on Ravenhead, that at the time I had hoped would only be a temporary thing, but basically while that album still had a few of the classic, driving riffs found on albums like To the End and Easton Hope, I found that overall the tempos were a bit more restrained and the riffs weren’t hitting as hard as normal, with the band instead often relying more on mid-paced chugs that simply lacked the same power. Well, with Gunmen the band has taken this even further, as the majority of the songs here are more mid-paced throughout, mostly alternating between melodic leads, rhythm guitars and those chugging riffs, with truly killer lead riffs being few and far between. There certainly are bursts of speed on some tracks, but for the most part, the verses are rather uneventful this time around and move along at a rather plodding pace compared to some of the band’s past albums. As a result, while I love the choruses on every song, as well as the huge symphonic arrangements, choir vocals, and killer melodies, only a couple songs manage to keep me excited the whole way through, the way the band is capable of doing when they’re at their absolute best. At the same time, I can definitely understand what the band is doing here, as it feels like they’ve gone all in with the melodies and epic feel of their music, while toning down the intensity a bit, so I think it may even sound more distinct than past releases, but I guess it’s just a matter of preference, as I personally do miss the speedier tracks and higher intensity level found on To the End.
One area where the band thankfully hasn’t changed at all is the vocals. Needless to say, Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann’s singing has always been one of my favorite aspects of the band’s sound, as he has a very deep and powerful voice that stands out among power metal singers, while at the same time he’s amazing at adding in a bit of touch and pulling off some of the most melodic and epic sounding choruses ever written. Obviously, the band’s biggest strength throughout their entire career has been their ability to write some of the best choruses ever, and Seeb is a master at pulling these off. As always, there are some excellent choir vocals used throughout the album, as well as one memorable guest appearance, which I will talk about in more detail a bit later in the review.
Songwriting is the one area where I mentioned having some slight issues with the album, so let’s get to it. First up, we have the title track, which is actually a perfect opener and a much better title track than Ravenhead. It’s a western themed track which opens up with some huge orchestral arrangements, before the guitars kick in and the track speeds up, moving along at a brisk pace throughout the verses and keeping the intensity going with some great riffs, while of course the slowed down chorus is the best part, and is one of the most epic choruses the band has ever written, which is obviously saying a lot. The solo section is also really good, and overall it’s simply an amazing song that really raised my expectations for the album. The other song that really impresses me the way through is “Come With Me to the Other Side”, which opens up with a soft acoustic section featuring the beautiful voice of guest vocalist Liv Kristine, and while at first it feels like a ballad, something the band has always been great at, it quickly speeds up and becomes the fastest song on the album, with very speedy and fun verses, as well as probably the single best choruses on the entire album. Even the solo section feels particularly inspired, and overall it’s easily my favorite song on the album.
Compared to those two tracks, the rest of the album is still solid, but I find most of the other tracks to be lacking a bit in the energy department. The second single from the album, “Fields of Sorrow” is a great indication of what to expect from the album, as right from the start it opens up with some mid paced chugs, which dominate most of the track, as it’s a more restrained track that’s more about the epic feel of the music than it is about being fast or heavy. The chorus is absolutely stunning, though, and it’s a nice track overall. Likewise, tracks like “Forlorn and Forsaken”, “Ashen Rain”, and “One Last Chance” are fairly plodding during their verses, but once the huge arrangements and choruses take over, they become a ton of fun. I will single out “Ashen Rain” in particular, for being a track where I really struggle with the chugging during the verses as it can get really repetitive and boring in a hurry, yet at the same time, I really can’t fault the track become of how damn brilliant that chorus is! Really, my biggest complaint about this album is that the band just can’t quite put enough full songs together that works for me, the way they were able to on To the End and in the middle of Ravenhead and this frustrates me to no end, because I know they’re capable of doing it, but it’s like they just chose not to for some reason. The biggest example of this is the near 9 minute closing track “Finis Coronat Opus”, which starts off slow and remains mostly plodding throughout the first half, before opening up with a beautiful soft vocal section towards the end, and between this and the opening of “Come With Me to the Other Side”, I can’t help but feel the album could have used a ballad to break up some of the tedium between all these mid-paced tracks. Overall, though, the song, like the rest of the album, is solid but definitely not as strong as the band is capable of.
Moving back to the positives, “Face of Silence” is fairly fast and fun during its verses, and while I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level as the two best on the album, it’s an excellent track overall with another unforgettable chorus. Likewise, “Down Here” is a fairly paced track, with another memorable chorus, though at just over 3 minutes it does feel like it ends a bit too early. One last highlight is “Vampire in Ghost Town”, another track which stays mid-paced throughout its verses, though I find this one a bit more fun than the rest and once it speeds up for its epic chorus, it becomes a favorite. Again, not quite as strong as my two favorites on the album, but still an excellent, incredibly addictive track, and if the whole album was even as strong as that one, ignoring those two masterpiece songs, I’d be very happy.
Overall, Gunmen is probably the weakest of the last few Orden Ogan releases for me, as it has too many mid-paced tracks where I struggle to find excitement during the verses, and I miss the faster, heavier riffs of past albums like To the End and Easton Hope, but it’s still a great release overall and is sure to please fans of the band. The symphonic arrangements and choruses are as awesome as ever and the production and performances are as strong as always, so despite my complaints about the songwriting, I’d still say it’s a very high-quality release. To be honest, this is a case where if it was a different band I’d probably be more positive, but just knowing how good the band can be I feel the need to be a bit harsh, especially in a case like this where there are two songs that show the band at their absolute best, and then the rest just can’t quite measure up to those two. Still, an easy recommendation for any power metal fan looking for some great melodies and some truly spectacular choruses.
Reviewer: Travis Green