Monday, January 25, 2010

Orden Ogan - Easton Hope (2010)

Apparent discontent with the classic stylings of European power metal has sent a multitude of younger acts scurrying all over the spectrum to find the branches of sound that will stick to the core values of melodic vocals, driving, anthemic guitars and graceful symphonic orchestration, but as the style continues to find 'modernization', it often strays too far from the very essence of what made it great to begin with. Orden Ogan are a German band who started their career in more of a folk metal direction, but here on their 3rd full length Easton Hope they have crafted a vainglorious effort swathed in synthesizers and orchestration, multi-tracked soaring vocals and technical, punctual guitar lines which excel both at more complex rhythms that you might be used to, and narrow, but graceful leads.

While this band is pretty good at composing their songs, and coming up with a few great guitar riffs (and then a few that sound pretty familiar, ala the chord sequence at the end of "Nobody Leaves"), this is a highly digitized album, which like so many others of its class, fails to make a huge impression despite the obvious proficiency of its creators. Everything is so prim, proper and precisely placed that it sounds like it was composed by half-man half-robots, so after the glorious symphonic intro overture "Rise and Ruin", espect some thin and crisp guitars to explode below the vocals, which thrust about the atmosphere like a formation of eagles. The song starts off well enough, with energetic, spry guitar lines, but once it arrives at the chorus vocals, I began to lose interest, even with the thrashing, palm muted guitars. Speaking of which, "Goodbye" opens with similar axes that roll below the orchestrated keyboards, before weaving into a proggish melodic momentum not uncommon for the synth-driven melodic death groovers like Soilwork or Disarmonia Mundi. Once again, the band goes for a huge, obvious chorus that fails to really leave a mark, since you've heard the progression of nites used in so many previous pieces of music that it comes across bland.

And that is how the rest of the record really plays itself out. There are moments of real depth, like the melodic splash that initiates the title track, then transforming into the bouncing, chugging modern power/prog groove of the verse, or the thick guitar tones that thrash out the memorable moments of "All These Dark Years", but even in these songs, there are underwhelming segments awaiting the listener. "We are Pirates" might seem fun at first, but who really needs a clean, punchy ode to piracy when it's been done so much better before. Just seems redudant here, and the production of the album is so polished and sterile that it feels limp, and I almost thought I heard an auto-tuned vocal somewhere in the vocal bridge...? "The Black Heart" is pretty good, perhaps the strongest single track on the album.

I hate to be too hard on Orden Organ, because they're clearly talented musicians who also know how to mix an album to a modern extreme, while retaining clear and audible levels across all the varied lead and backing vocals, dominant keyboards, and guitars which are powerful enough to still out in the center of the audio (unlike bands like Symphony X, whose guitars sound like shit). There are times where the album does please, and even some soothing vocals elements, but I find it difficult to remember a single song once it ends. That said, I liked it more than 2008's Vale, the only other album I've heard from them.

Highlights: Easton Hope, All These Dark Years, The Black Heart

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

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