As the power train keeps on rolling, we come to the new release by Orden Ogan. Considered a heavyweight power unit in some quarters, this German act received their share of accolades for 2010s Easton Hope, which some consider a minor classic of sorts. Because of the strength of their last release, I’m sure the band felt some pressure while writing the follow up. To that end…To the End is pretty much a stylistic counterpart to Easton Hope with all the same power metal bells and whistles. They traffic in a variety of Euro-power that borrows heavily from early Blind Guardian (think Somewhere Far Beyond era) and Rage (think Perfect Man era). As things spin along, you’ll also hear hints of Sonata Arctica and even Symphony X crop up in the song structures and playing. At the end of the day though, it’s a near 50/50 split between Blind Guardian and Rage influences. Therefore, you can expect tons of fast, zippy and catchy melodies, bombastically huge, heavily layered vocal harmonies and fair amount of melodrama. These boys know how to craft a big sounding tune even if they aren’t always great tunes. They also write some mighty infectious, sticky choruses that defy expulsion from the brain. With all these gifts, it seems a bit surprising the end result isn’t stronger this time.
“To the End” introduces strong Rage influences through the fast, zippy riffing and structure and when the chorus arrives, its old school Blind Guardian at their best (i.e. big vocals with tons of layering and backing choral accompaniment). It’s like a who’s who of premier Euro-power and its indisputably well done and slick, but it feels a bit “by-the-numbers” and there’s something missing. Maybe its too generic or just too much a hodge-podge of better bands, but it seems a bit soulless, despite a lot of great guitar-work and solos. However, if great guitar playing made great music, Annihilator‘s discography would be solid gold.
Orden Ogan come into their own with the super catchy “Things We Believe In,” which builds to an enormously anthemic, flag waving chorus that any power metal band would kill for. The Blind Guardian-isms run amok on songs like “Land of the Dead,” with its mega-layered choral bombast; “Till the Stars Cry Out” with its epic vocals that can only be sung whilst standing on a mountain brandishing a sword and a barely dressed maiden; and the memorable gallop of “Dying Paradise.”
The best moment for me personally comes with the moody, melancholy semi-ballad “The Ice Kings,” which has convincing and sincere vocals without all the overblown layering, polish and glitz. Its just a stripped down, raw, emotional song with great chord builds and choices. It really stands out amongst its over-inflated neighbors. Also worth mention is the surprising blend of djent riffing, Symphony X melodic runs and extra impassioned vocals on “This Land of Ice.”
Things take a turn for the boring on the album’s back-end, and “Mystic Prophecy” is bland, while “Angels of War” is decent, but drags on too long. Closing ballad “Take This Light” is sickenly sweet and cheesy with lyrics like “you can run to the place where the dolphins swim and the sun will shine warm and bright down on your skin.” Wow, just wow. That one should have left off the album with extreme prejudice.
One of the big issues for me are the vocals of Seeb Levermann. The man can sing and at times, showcases some major range, but something about his voice is very hit or miss for me. He shines on “The Ice Kings” and “Things We Believe in,” but on a lot of the material, he leaves much less of an impression, despite the heavy layering his vocals receive (such choral layering wears thin on me after a while too). Likewise, the riffing from Seeb and Tobi is often too generic and Euro-power 101 for my tastes. The guys can play, but too often they stick with tried and true zip riffs that are far too similar to those of their main influences. Still, the album ends up partially salvaged by a keen sense of melody and catchy songwriting.
While it’s a noticeable drop off from Easton Hope, To the End is worthwhile and has a few moments of greatness scattered about. I think the band is a bit overrated to begin with, but I do recognize their talent and their strong points. I likely won’t spend much time with this apart from the few truly special cuts, but I can still see this going over huge with fans of Blind Guardian style excess. Decide where you stand and sample accordingly.