Back in 2012, when all I really knew of the European power metal subgenre more or less consisted of the unholy trio of Helloween, Hammerfall and Accept, I found enough of interest to review and bring on the podcast one Seeb Levermann of Orden Ogan, in relation to his just released opus magnus To The End.
Taking place during what turned out to be a week long Wintertime blackout (complete with cold showers and frozen nights) at the house of a friend who had the mercy to let several of his friends from all over the area warm up and sleep over for a three day weekend in his somehow unaffected home, this was hardly the most conducive of environments to a comfortable interview.
And yet, I recall having a pleasant enough chat with the man (and if memory serves, the same weekend scheduled one with Chastain‘s Leather Leone as well). You do what you have to in life, and I thought things worked out well enough, particularly given the rather awkward situation.
So here we are, four years and one almost equally enjoyable (if rather more pared down and commercial sounding) album on, and the band has pulled together a surprisingly attractive four disc package of DVDs and CDs celebrating and commemorating their five album (or as Seeb considers it, four albums and a demo) history.
Previously reviewed for its audio portion here, Orden Ogan’s complete Book of Ogan package arrived on my doorstep a week or so back, and it’s taken this long to dig through all of its accompanying riches.
Following a thick booklet mainly filled with tour photos and gig flyers (plus the full contents of the long out of print Testimonium AD booklet to make disc 4’s inclusion complete), you get a documentary on the band and its history. And when I say you get a documentary…
A surprisingly personal and intimate “warts and all” affair, Seeb and company don’t focus on the current membership alone, but dig up a good portion of their respective former lineups over the years (the other two of the “three Sebastians”, former drummer Sebastian “Ghnu” Grutling and former bassist Sebastian “Seve” Severin, alongside former keyboardist Nils Weise and former guitarist Stefan “Terrazzo” Manarin) to tell the story.
What’s particularly fascinating about all of this is the unearthing of some ridiculously old teenage basement footage which shows Seeb, Ghnu and Seve screwing around the latter’s house and playing some pretty inept black metal, complete with a corpsepainted photoshoot (!)
“It was a search for what the band should sound like…even when Tobi joined the band, we were still searching,” and this comes across not only in their earlier, rather un-power metal basement band orientation, but in their litany of band members rotating in and out (including former bassists Timo Konnecke, who appears onscreen*, and Lars Schneider, who does not).
*and gets into a bit of a tit for tat with Nils Weise in the process!
While members current (Seeb, Tobias “Tobi” Kersting) and past (Ghnu, Seve) recite a litany of unsigned band-related struggles, snippets of footage of everything from their first show to old photographs flicker across the screen.
In short order, Seeb and company admit to playing for shows with 6 attendees, driving ridiculously long distances for rehearsals and not only failing to “strike it rich” on the live circuit, but being so impoverished from doing shows that there were discussions that they “couldn’t afford to play out” (!) Then a fight over whether to sign a bad contract with an unnamed but tiny record label causes a texting flame war and band breakup…you get the idea here.
Even post-(comparative) success, there’s an incident where Seeb and Ghnu get off the bus to take a piss and get left behind by the tour bus. In the middle of the French countryside. In the dead of winter. In light clothing, and with an uncharged cell phone. Eventually they hitch a ride with a disturbingly horror film-like local…
Eventually, things begin to come together, with Seeb’s persistent pushiness garnering cover artist (and horror movie director) Andreas Marschall for an ongoing collaboration despite their still independent release status (and love ’em or hate ’em, you have to admit, one of the best things about an Orden Ogan album is the cover art…)
In all of this, there is an unusually punk-style message coming from a power metal band, and one best left to Nils and Tobi to spell out:
“Orden Ogan was always a do-it-yourself (affair, and) still is.”
“My (advice) to all young bands and musicians is, no one will do anything for you. There will be no one. People always show up when the “product” is already done.”
Through all of this, most if not all of the band members come off as fairly good humored, particularly current bassist Niels Loffler and Seeb himself. While a serious bunch at core, there’s more than enough lightheartedness and acknowledgment of the absurdity of life to give a good impression. What this means is that somewhere between all the candor and light clowning the documentary is pretty damn watchable – one of the more engaging metal band documentaries I’ve seen, in fact.
The same disc is rounded out by all 8 of the band’s music videos and a few rather silly behind the scenes featuring the guys goofing around on tour and in the studio. Personally, I got a few good laughs out of Seeb headbanging with a plush alligator covering his head and flopping around spastically, but they seem a fairly sedate bunch overall (they actually start goofing around to a familiar Mozart (or is it Beethoven?) piece at one point), so don’t expect wild tour bus antics here.
Of the videos, by far the most amusing is the low rent Ren Faire aesthetic of “we are pirates!”, which features a pair of sexy tavern wenches, plenty of silly Jack Sparrow cosplay and a whole lot of good natured clowning, while their most practically apropos moment comes courtesy of an accurately corporate-set “land of the dead” (this video pretty much describes adult life, folks).
DVD 2 is the concert disc, with two full live sets captured. The outdoor festival Rocharz Open Air is the better of the two, with a more excited crowd and, for Orden Ogan, a fairly lively set filled with a respectable degree of energy throughout. The sound is crisp and the footage is high definition, all the better to showcase the band’s musical prowess.
Guitarist/vocalist Seeb Leverman and co-guitarist and occasional lead player Tobias Kersting are good players, with Leverman’s Jackson bringing out the appropriate balance of melody and crunch through both anthemic power chord verse sections and fleet fingered leads. While we’re hardly talking Yngwie here, Leverman is more than adequate, with a precise attack, clear tone and enough old school metal flash to keep the fans heads banging.
Similarly, while Kersting takes center stage less often, he can certainly hold his own, and drummer Dirk Meyer-Berhorn offers plenty of the expected percussive double bass and precise if often generic feeling kitwork the power metal genre demands.
Then we move indoors for an equally well shot if comparatively much less energetic set at Brose Arena Bamberg, which more or less repeats the setlist of the earlier show to similar if admittedly lesser effect.
In fact, if there is an issue with the two concerts contained herein, it’s just that: it’s more or less the same show twice, with a heavy lean towards the more recent To The End and Ravenhead albums. Understandable, certainly, as To The End contains most of the band’s best material and Ravenhead its more palatably populist if not radio-oriented companion, but it may leave longtime fans feeling a bit cheated.
Perhaps to make up for the relative avoidance of earlier material in these two shows, there are additional clips of “angels war” and “easton hope” taken from 2010 and 2013 shows, as well as an alternate live video for “masks” and a weird motion comic (don’t ask me…).
Taken in conjunction with the greatest hits disc and the reissue of Testimonium A.D., this is as expected quite a worthy package, well worth a look for those with any interest in well crafted, mostly clean vocal-driven symphonic power metal of a dramatic bent.
For Orden Ogan fans, it’s a no-brainer.