It’s been a little while since we heard from German power metal stalwarts Orden Ogan. The band’s terrific last album, Gunmen, dropped way back in 2017 and wound up staking a claim on at least one of our staffers’ year-end lists. But since then, the band’s had some ups and downs. Longtime guitarist Tobias Kersting left the group. Vocalist / producer / mastermind Seeb Levermann suffered a hand injury and had to give up guitar-playing responsibilities of his own. And most notably, the [gestures broadly at everything] that was 2020 forced multiple delays of the band’s follow-up album, the perhaps-too-appropriately-titled sci-fi concept piece, Final Days.
Originally scheduled for release last summer, Final Days is, erm… finally… upon us. So, how does it stack up with Orden Ogan’s back catalogue? All told, mostly well enough.
The band absolutely stacks its deck on the first half of the album. The opening salvo of “Heart of the Android” and “In the Dawn of the AI” feel like vintage Orden Ogan, with slick, meaty riffage and instantaneously hooky refrains. Bassist-turned guitarist Niels Löffler and his new counterpart Patrick Sperling swap chugged patterns back and forth with nimbler, lead-heavy lines, handling everything seamlessly.
And seriously, guys, these refrains. Let’s not mince words: Levermann can produce the fuck out of a chorus. Ready yourselves for some absolute, maximum-impact earworms in the early-going of Final Days. In fact, up through “Interstellar,” it’s difficult to find much fault with the album. The songs each end up sticking in different ways, but each builds on what came before it, and the overall flow throughout these first five songs ends up being one of consistent quality.
But starting on “Alone in the Dark,” things just… stop sticking for a bit. On paper, the track should be a home run. After five upbeat tracks, we get a pace-changing ballad that showcases Levermann duetting with Brothers of Metal vocalist Ylva Eriksson. And yet… it’s hard not to be left wanting more from the track. It’s hard to pinpoint whether this is due to Eriksson’s natural vocal cadence, to this particular performance, or to the overall, “done up” production style favoring the band’s sensibilities a bit more than Eriksson’s own — it is their album, after all — but the execution ends up feeling like a missed opportunity.
And unfortunately, “Alone…” kicks off a three-song run where it feels like the band’s simply treading water. There’s nothing particularly bad about “Black Hole” or “Absolution for Our Final Days,” and the band seemingly checks all its boxes compositionally — sturdy riffage, orchestrated choral parts, etc. But the songs wind up feeling a bit aimless, which is a particular shame considering the precision and purpose with which the band had been firing just a few songs before. Thankfully, the lull ends there; the closing one-two punch of “Hollow” and “It Is Over” renews the band’s sense of direction somewhat, and allows Final Days to close on a relative high.
So then, how do we rate the album in the end? Well, despite that drop-off in the middle, there’s a lot to like here. When the band is on, it’s REALLY freaking on. That’s particularly true on the band’s most recent single, “Inferno,” which sees the band channeling its typical power metal bombast into something that casual listeners might describe as “pop.” It doesn’t really sound like anything else on the album, yet also… might be the best thing on it?
There’s perhaps a different discussion to be had about how to properly rate something that sounds so different from the songs around it — and, to be honest, maybe kind of interrupts their flow a bit? — in the context of an album at large. But that’s not really for here. (And at any rate… those friggin’ gang choruses, man. How can you not love that shit?)
But ultimately… if we’re being completely fair, Final Days isn’t quite as good as Gunmen, which in turn wasn’t quite as good as Ravenhead before it. They’ve been relatively small drops in quality, but drops all the same.
So, here’s hoping Orden Ogan can streamline things a bit next time out. As fun as this thing can be at its peak, it’s hard not to think there’s still something bigger, untapped, in their tank.
Keep it heavy,