|Review: Orden Ogan - Easton Hope|
Label: AFM Records
Year released: 2010
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Review online: April 16, 2010
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
I really liked this band's last album, the superlative Vale, and it pains me to say that this new album, entitled Easton Hope is not on the same level of greatness. The band still plays a brand of riffy, complex Power Metal in the vein of later-era Blind Guardian and Falconer if they formed a super-group together, but as I predicted, this album is a continued streamlining of the sound, with less folk elements and less rock-ish ones, too. So that leaves us with about an hour of pomped up, grandiose Power Metal in the way that only Europeans can make it. Is it good? Well, I can't say it's terrible...but it certainly isn't what I expected.
This is just such an overwrought album, when worse comes to worse. Nothing is subtle or deep about this on an aesthetic level. Where the last album had intriguing prog sensibilities that unfolded like lotuses with listen after listen, this album is more in the vein of bands like Rage. You know, those bands who write complex material that isn't actually all that complicated on more than a musical level? Orden Ogan can be compared to a lot of bands, really; there are bits and pieces of a lot of different bands thrown in. But what's missing is the level of intellectualism that the last album exuded. The symphonics blare and toot their horns, the guitars rumble and roar and the vocalist belches and piles a bunch of layers over himself that make the whole thing sound like a male choir snuck into the studio and replaced the vocal tracks. But I guess that was the intention.
It's a cold album. The band clearly worked hard on this, but I wish they had done a bit less, as it just isn't really engaging or emotional like the last one was at times like on the lovely "Candle Lights." Here it's all very technical, but at what cost? The material on this album is just too digitized and computerized to pull me in. While I'm at it, I don't like the vocals on here. Sebastian Levermann was never a great singer, but on Vale I excused his weaknesses due to the charming musical nuances and the fact that he didn't over-exert himself like he does on here. He knew his limitations on the last album, but not on here. On Easton Hope there is really no excuse for how strained he sounds at times, with his vocal chords sounding like they're scraping at one another like nails on a chalkboard. He isn't always bad, but he certainly does grate at times, and you'd think the band would have put more work into making him sound better, like they did with the rest of the music. I guess they do that with the choirs, but those are far too abundant by the end of this thing. Geez, lay up on those, you guys! It's getting to the point where the choirs are actually suffocating everything else.
Buuuut I still like it. Yes, despite its flaws, this album isn't bad, and although it sounds like any number of bands from Blind Guardian to Kiuas in its lengthy run, it's still a pretty enjoyable album. The riffs are good, some of the choruses are infectious and the music is generally pretty solid Power Metal. See? Taking it out of the context of being worse than its predecessor...well, it doesn't make it that much better, but the point remains. "Nobody Leaves" is probably the best cut on here, with its dark theatrics and ballsy guitar playing making for a furiously entertaining romp, but the busy, pompous title track and the catchy "Welcome Liberty" are damned solid as well, despite some dire vocals in the former. "Goodbye" is fun, albeit shallower than a wading pool, and "We Are Pirates," despite a lame chorus, is musically energetic as hell. Fun song. "Black Heart" charges through the speakers without any kind of restraint – sure, you've heard those trilling riffs and melodies before, but how can you really deny a song this cool? "Of Downfall and Decline," is a strange epic, dark and dense and swirling with some forlorn sense of desire or longing. Good, but it could still be better, more interesting and with more of a punch to it. There are a couple of weaker songs like the incredibly lame "Requiem" and the cluttered "Nothing Remains," though; seriously, they could have just cut these songs out, couldn't they?
Easton Hope, in the end, is an enjoyable album in spite of itself. Orden Ogan were a creative force to be reckoned with on their last album, but here they have moved for a more standard sound, without anywhere near as much of the unique flair that I liked so much from Vale. This album is decent and approaches a higher quality on some tracks, but it's too long, too emotionally stunted and too musically crowded to really captivate.
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