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Odes to the winter and the endless ice. - 89%

Empyreal, December 4th, 2012

Orden Ogan hit big with Vale back in 2007, but the follow-up Easton Hope was really boring and cluttered with directionless songwriting. I didn’t have much hope for this one because of that, and lead single “The Things We Believe In” didn’t sell me at all, and so I was dreading this as the drop-off point in a once-promising career that I once christened “the future of Power Metal” when I wrote the Vale review all those years ago. Fortunately the power metal gods are kind, and Orden Ogan have more flame in their sputtering engines than I feared. To the End, in fact, is one of the more interesting renditions of 90s power metal I’ve heard in years.

Orden Ogan’s big strength on Vale was the rather unprecedented originality in their songwriting. They had their big choruses and their speedy sections, but they weren’t afraid to dip into a quiet acoustic moment, a slamming, heavy hard rock groove or a Symphony X-esque prog lick, sometimes combining multiple elements like these in the same songs. The songwriting was exciting and varied, and To the End is definitely the work of the same band that made that great album. This album is more conventional and relies more on speedy, double-bass tinged sections of frosty bliss, but the originality is still there. If the down-tempo groove section, complete with Viking-like chanting, in the middle of the otherwise anthemic “Land of the Dead,” or the bleakly sliding, icy climes of “This World of Ice” don’t make for the most original power metal songs of the year, I’ll eat my hat.

If you haven’t guessed yet, the big thing on this album is ice. Ice, ice and more ice. Lots of ice. And the band carries the theme well, with a sort of loose conceptual feel to the songs and every song from the really fast ones to the slower ballads has the strong feel of an icy field at the brink of dawn, the freezing sun rising up over the hills and coating everything in an odd blueish-yellow light. If you want a good example of atmosphere in power metal, this album will do the trick. Vocalist Sebastian Levermann has never sounded better, and frankly after his weak performance on the last album, I was really surprised. On the old albums he was good but the music carried him, rather than the other way around. On To the End, he dominates the music with class to spare – his voice soars to the stratosphere and he doesn’t really sound like anyone else to boot. The closest approximation is probably Manticora/Fool’s Game singer Lars Larsen, but Leverman is better and has more charisma to him. It’s always good to find a singer who isn’t just trying to sound like someone else.

The music on here is squarely modern power metal that calls back old Edguy and Gamma Ray, with touches of Blind Guardian in the big choirs they use. Hell, “Till the Stars Cry Out” is practically worshiping at the altar of Edguy’s “Babylon” off Theater of Salvation; its chorus is so big and its melodies so lush. Orden Ogan keep things fast and dynamic on here, and with songs like “Dying Paradise” they recall the fondest days of the 2000s Europower scene and do them up with better production, a more professional sense of songwriting and heavier, more metallized riffing of the likes that old Freedom Call wouldn’t have touched. The title track is another great song and rocks out with a big, shoutalong chorus, and “Mystic Symphony” is just the best song Orden Ogan has ever written. Witness the power of this song, with its speedy riffs and that unforgettable chorus melody, which rises up like smoke from a volcanic crevasse; immaterial, ethereal. One of the things Orden Ogan do stunningly on here is the intricacy with which they play even the most generic power metal moments on the album, as every song has spot-on playing that is urgent, heavy as hell and energized. Even those generic trilling riffs and the double-bass parts sound fresh and cool on here.

It’s not all perfect; there are a few weaker tracks. “The Things We Believe In” is catchy but just too silly, like a Turisas or Ensiferum song – not the best comparison a serious album from a serious band can invite. Given how strong the rest of the album is, it really sticks out like a sore thumb. “Angels War” is a re-recorded song from the debut album that nobody ever heard, and it’s not bad. But it takes too long to start up and it just doesn’t have the same ‘icy’ feel as the rest of the album, and also lacks in the momentum and stirring energy too. Closer “Take This Light” is a nice ballad, but it’s a bit short and recalls the great “Candle Lights” from Vale a little too much to really be a great tune. So the album loses some momentum in its last few songs. The bonus tracks include “Masks,” which is a cool, groovy mid-tempo song, but it doesn’t really fit in with the icy theme, and a cover of Running Wild’s “The Battle of Waterloo,” which is good, but lacks the fire and anger of the original song – using big happy choirs doesn’t really suit a balls-out classic metal song like this one, guys, but hey, I’ll take it over Shadowmaker any day.

Overall, though, Orden Ogan’s To the End is good, really good. It’s a power metal album that both embraces the genre’s past and reaches into its future with better songwriting than the norm and a more adventurous sense of purpose than the usual clichés the genre is prone to. The songs are well done, the hooks are infectious and I am loving the ice theme going on. If Florida had an actual winter time, I’d be playing this every day – hell, what it must be like to play an album like this while walking in the snow, under a slate-grey afternoon sky. That’s how this should be heard. Sigh. If only I lived in a place where I could actually hear this in such a setting. Oh well. I’ll just have to content myself with Florida’s damp and soggy imitations of winter instead…

So yeah. Go buy the album.