In a year when two bands already dropped ill-conceived wild west themed albums with naturally disastrous results1, well-respected Germanic power metallers, Orden Ogan choose to ride into Devil’s Gulch on a white horse. And cheese followed with them. Gunmen is the bands unusual follow up to 2015s slick, enjoyable Ravenhead opus, trading in their armor and axes for six shooters, pemmican and saddle sores. If you think a Teutonic power metal band is a natural choice to tell tall tales of western lawlessness and frontier justice, I have a certain bridge I’d like to sell you, and it comes with free bagels for life! Dubious subject matter aside, Orden Ogan has proven a talented, creative crew with a Blind Guardian meets Rage style that’s easy to get behind, so one goes in hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. And surprise, surprise, Gunmen is not the complete locomotive and dirigible collision I feared it would be. That’s not to say it’s a K.O. at the O.K. Corral either. Regardless, this is a trend that needs to stop. I’d rather hear power metal about the Reformation or the suffrage movement than see these pirate-shirted types strap on chaps and spurs ever again. There’s simply no place in these cow towns for Blind Guardian or their progeny, but I digress.
Opener “Gunman” begins with a symphonic section I’m sure was intended to recall the epic spaghetti western soundtracks by Ennio Morricone, but it sounds more like something from Transformers XXII: Pneumatic Boogaloo. Once we get past that, we’re greeted with a nifty lead riff that’s pure Running Wild pirate glory trying to pass as a dusty cowpoke. Still, a good riff is a good riff and it leads to a galloping slice of Euro-power that works until the chorus hits. After the song builds up to something big, the chorus we get is flat and anti-climactic. Despite this shortcoming, it manages to grow on you due to the combination of slick guitar-work and solid vocals. “Fields of Sorrow” is the Orden Ogan I know and like, i.e. sounding like a poor man’s Blind Guardian and featuring their penchant for over-the-top choruses. This one works much better and has a nicely morose vibe.
“Forlorn and Forsaken” is respectably catchy, and “Come With Me to the Other Side” is a fairly rousing power ditty with ample bombast. “The Face of Silence” is the big anthem this time, essentially this album’s version of “F.E.V.E.R.,” with a huge Blind Guardian influence and a fist-pumping, brain tickling chorus. Upon hearing it, my first thought was “Where has this been and why did I have to wait 5 tracks to get it?”
Elsewhere, “Vampire in Ghost Town” sounds every bit of corny and goofy as the title suggests, and “Ashen Rain” is fairly run-of-the-mill. Lengthy closer “Finis Coronat Opus” redeems things by borrowing heavily from both Rage and Blind Guardian and ends up a standout with many interesting, engaging moments. It also serves to remind me what I want to hear from these faux-cowboys: over-the-top yet classy and polished power metal. Sadly, it’s not as prevalent on this album.
Sound-wise, the production is a bit too compressed to do justice to the band’s bigger-than-life style. This is especially noticeable on “Finis Coronat Opus” which strains to fly high like a symphony but is tethered to the Rock of Compression. It isn’t awful though and most won’t be troubled by it.
I’ve always been a fan of Sebastion “Seeb” Levermann’s vocals, as he reminds me of Hansi Kürsch. He does a fine job on much of the material, but he often feels pushed too far back in the mix, which sucks the life out of his vocals and prevents them from really popping. He also seems to be too restrained on many of the songs. Add to that the scarcity of winning choruses, which are so essential to this kind of Euro-power gobbledygook, and you have a problem. The guitar-work by Seeb and Tobi is high-quality as always with some inspired riffs and harmonies scattered about, but overall this feels like a less urgent, driving platter than what we’ve come to expect from Orden Ogan.
Gunmen is an album dancing on the cusp of being good, with just enough missteps to bring it back to the pack. Compared to past albums like Ravenhead, it falls short in memorability and replay-ability. Call it the curse of the ghost town or what have you, but since we’ve mostly seen the bad and the ugly come of this dubious trend, Euro-power bands should stop playing cowboy post-haste.