From the moment Blind Guardian‘s stock started to fall following 2006’s underrated-if-uneven A Twist in the Myth record, their countrymen in Orden Ogan stepped in with a series of ambitious, concept-driven records that recaptured the glory of the German power metal pioneers’ earlier harder-edged material without sacrificing the bombast of their mid-period, or overdoing it as Blind Guardian themselves would soon fall victim to. Their seventh full-length record, Final Days, however, sees the power metal heirs in danger of overdoing it themselves, and arguably already having well and truly done so.
There seems to comes a time in every progressive/power metal band’s life when they suddenly forego their traditional fantasy imagery in favour of a science fiction aesthetic. Occasionally they manage to pull it of, as Symphony X did with 2011’s outstanding Iconoclast. More often they crash and burn, as with the last few Dream Theater records. The lead up to the release of Final Days, which saw Orden Ogan’s top-hatted mascot Alister Vale whisked away from the safety of his Victorian setting to a blindingly white post-singularity future, suggested the band were in danger of replicating the follies of the latter example. Yet, while the record certainly doesn’t approach the heights of Iconoclast, it’s also far from the outright disaster of The Astonishing (2015) or the mitigated one of Distance Over Time (2019).
Final Days opens strongly with its slew of singles. Although, in isolation, they failed to capture the energy of previous lead singles like “Ravenhead” or “Gunmen” (from their respective, eponymous releases), together, “Heart of the Android”, “In the Dawn of the AI” and “Inferno” create a significant burst of momentum that showcases the band’s knack for penning stadium-sized anthems. The captivating bombast that characterises trademark song “The Things We Believe In” and was threaded all throughout 2017’s Gunmen is on full display here, letting the listener know that – whenever the next festival season finally arrives – Orden Ogan are coming prepared.
However, while there’s a lot to admire about the Blind Guardian-meets-Backstreet boys approach of the album’s early offerings, Final Days ultimately pales in comparison when compared with Orden Ogan’s previous offerings due to its lack of a truly metallic edge. The band have always traded in high production values, yet they’ve also always been markedly heavier than their nearest competitors as well. Conversely, Final Days is as squeeky clean as its shiny, snow-white cover, with all the edges rounded off as well. Gone are the serrated, thrash-inspired edges of Ravenhead (2015) or the colossal beatdowns of Gunmen (2017) and, even at its most imposing, Final Days is hardly that intimidating. “Heart of the Android” sounds like goes hard at the end, until you realise that what they’re milking is essentailly the main riff of The Used‘s “Pretty Handsome Awkward,” which – don’t get me wrong – its a great song, but it’s certainly a far lower ceiling, in terms of intensity, than Orden Ogan have imposed upon themselves in the past.
Although its opening salvo is surprisingly convincing, Final Days become fairly forgettable throughout its lackluster middle section. The record looses what little edge it had following “Inferno”, subjecting the listener to five tracks in a row of overly anthemic yet ultimately flimsy power metal fluff. Despite their previously accentuated heaviness, Orden Ogan have also always happily traded in cheese – this is a band whose most well-known songs include titles “We Are Pirates” and “Vampire in Ghost Town” after all. Standard epic power metal fare like “Let the Fire Rain” and “Interstellar” (featuring Firewind‘s Gus G) would probably be fine in isolation but, back-to-back it all becomes a bit too much, and that’s before bringing in the melodramatic melancholy of “Alone in the Dark” (featuring Ylva Eriksson of Sweden’s Brothers Of Metal) or the butt-rock leaning “Absolution for Our Final Days”.
Tellingly, the album doesn’t really find its footing again until penultimate track “Hollow,” a thundering thrash-infused offering whose main riff more-readily recalls Machine Head than Manowar. The track is, by far, the heaviest of Final Days‘ offerings and provides a much-needed shot of adrenaline to a record that had become all but lost in its self-indulgence. All that’s left from there is the final, triumphant ballad “It’s Over”, which instantly eclipses tracks like “Alone in the Dark” and even some of the band’s lofty previous offerings (dare I say “The Things We Believe In”). It’s a demonstration of just what Orden Ogan can achieve when they’re firing on all (cybernetically enhanced) cylinders and one which will surely close the band’s sets for years to come, but it also only makes the album’s mid-section all the more redundant.
Orden Ogan’s drop in intensity is perhaps due to some significant line-up changes since their last outing. In the past two years frontman Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann has largely foregone guitar duties, due to injury, with longtime Tobias Kersting also temporarilly stepping aside for personal reasons. Bassist Niels Löffler and Earacle‘s Patrick Sperling havse since stepped in to fill their roles, with Löffler himself being replaced by Xandira‘s Steven Wussow. Iit’s also unclear how much of these changes were in place prior to the writing and recording of Final Days. Nevertheless, the album suggests the beginning of a new era for not just Alistair Vale, but Orden Ogan themselves, and, while it’s a solid enough outing with some spectacular highs buried away in its back end (ooer!), it’s also undeniably the weakest Orden Ogan release since their long-forgotten debut. Final Days will do for now, but they might need to step things up on their next release in order to stave off the likes of Unleash the Archers who have found both critical and commercial success by leaning into the more extreme elements of their sound –as Orden Ogan once did themselves.
Final Days comes out March 12 through AFM Records.