Orden Ogan: the monks are in battle order

Like most bands, Orden Ogan started playing in a garage, then proceeded on their merry way and eventually ended up as a professional combo. The release of their new album, Ravenhead, was a good opportunity for us to talk to guitarist/vocalist Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann about the way he approaches music, the concept and the visual aspect of an album, and more generally, on the band’s career, from their amateur beginnings to their recent US tour.

Said career was littered with the inevitable comparisons with their predecessors in the genre, which can be as nice as it can be annoying. Just as inevitable for any artist is that moment when you ask yourself what the essence of your art is. And in this respect Seeb is totally OK with taking into account the feedback their audience gives them.

« I think both are the two really strong points about Orden Ogan songs: the riffs and the choruses. Obviously, we should focus on that. »

Radio Metal: This year, you did your first shows in the United States. How was it?

Sebastian « Seeb » Levermann (vocals/guitar): It was absolutely incredible. We really didn’t know what to expect in the States and we sold all of our merch in less than one hour after the shows [laughs]. Yeah, it was absolutely incredible.

So is the American audience responsive to this very particular style that is mostly played and enjoyed in Europe?

Totally. I don’t even think they were responsive to this particular style but to the band itself. There were hundreds of people singing along to our lyrics, so they definitely knew the band and where there for us. It was a really great experience for us.

Do you think that it is an important step for a rock or metal band to play in the US? Are the USA this musical Eldorado people think it is?

You know, in the industry there are a lot people that say “fuck about the United States” because it’s a huge country but quite a small market actually for metal bands. I was there for the first time in 2009 when I was touring with the band called Suidakra as a stage guitar player, and even back then I had the impression that a lot of fans really dig European music. Suidakra has more to do with melodic death metal, but apart from the vocals it’s not too far away from what Orden Ogan is doing, you know. So I had the impression that there is a really big market for this music. In general I think most people would say that the USA are not that important, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a big market with a lot of very dedicated fans. I had very interesting conversations about lyrics or guitar chords and stuff that were a lot deeper than most of the stuff I’ve been talking about with fans in Europe. So that was very interesting for me, especially since a lot of people say that the Americans are not that deep thinking people, if you know what I mean…

This new album is described by you as more metal and having more choruses. Do you think that Orden Ogan is all about metal and catchy choruses? Do you think this is what defines the band’s identity? Do you think that this is the band’s essence?

We’re a band that tries to be very close to our fans, and we always try to go to the merch whenever we are finished with the show to talk to people. So we talked a lot to people in the last two years and what we found out is that there are two points in how our fans define Orden Ogan songs: the first is the strong choruses, the second is the hard and heavy riffs, being heavier than most of the other power metal bands. This time I also started the songwriting process differently. Normally I start with one riff and see where it takes me. This time I started writing the choruses first and then got to the riffs, and this is the cause also to my opinion why the new record is the strongest concerning the choruses yet. I think both are the two really strong points about Orden Ogan songs: the riffs and the choruses. Obviously, we should focus on that.

The album starts with an orchestral intro where we can hear men humming. Somehow – tell me if I’m wrong – it reminds me of the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, the scene of the execution of the pirates. You already did a song called “We Are Pirates” on a previous album. So is this intro a reference to this song, or to the movie, or am I completely wrong [laughs]?

Absolutely not but you’re not the first one that feels it that way… The song is called “Orden Ogan”, it’s self-titled. The meaning of the name it is that “Orden” is the German word for order, a group of monk, and “Ogan” is the old Celtic for fear, so it’s the order of fear. And we thought it was about time to establish this order, as the order of monks, as well. The song “Ravenhead”, track two on the record, is also about the abbey called Ravenhead where the monks of the Orden Ogan live in, and the intro melody is also to be found in the middle part, the solo part, of “Ravenhead”. So basically, the idea behind humming the melody in “Orden Ogan” is to create a horror-like, Gregorian feeling of monks. But I totally agree, you could totally link it with a pirate theme. It’s okay, wherever your imagination takes you! [Chuckles]

You said that “Orden” is German for order and that “Ogan” is Celtic for fear. Why did you mix these two languages?

I don’t think we did it intentionally. We count the history of Orden Ogan from 2008 when the Vale record was released. That was the time when we really started being a professional band and having people working for us… The name itself is a lot older. It started in 1996 when I started making, let’s call it music although people would have said it’s noise, with our former drummer Ghnu. We were basically a garage band back then. So there were also times where the band was split up and whatever so we really counted from 2008, but at that time we decided to keep the name as some sort of reference or a tribute to the good old times where we started making music as pupils together.

The first name of the band was Tanzende Aingewaide. What does this mean? Why did you change the name?

Tanzende Aingewaide means “dancing entrails”, which is the reason why we changed the name [laughs]. Honestly we didn’t even do a demo tape or anything with that name, so basically it’s not significant. It was in the very, very beginning, in 1996, the name was around for a couple of months and we were laughing our asses off about it, so changed it very quickly.

« The interesting thing is that when I’m in a really good mood, I write really sad songs, and when I’m on sad mood, I write very optimistic songs [laughs] »

The band has often been compared to Blind Guardian and Grave Digger, and you always disliked that kind of comparison. You’ve been quoted many times saying that you disagree with that. Why is that, exactly?

It’s not that I don’t like the comparison. I have to say first of all that it’s an honor to be compared to Blind Guardian because it’s a great band. It was one of our influences when we were a lot younger. The thing is just that I don’t think that the music we’re doing has so much to do with Blind Guardian. Even Blind Guardian by the way thinks that, because I was able to meet them a half a year ago, at least Marcus (Siepen), the guitar player. He said he likes the “To the End” record a lot but didn’t think it was sounding too much like Blind Guardian. I think we have a completely different approach of song writing, of how we deal with melodies. The last Blind Guardian records are much more proggy while we got more and more a really heavy band focusing on riffs and doing really heavy music. Blind Guardian has, to my taste, a little more of a 70s’ prog rock approach nowadays. So basically, the only thing that we share is the bombastic choruses with choirs and stuff like that. That would be the same to compare techno to darkwave or EBM. It’s all electronic music but the approach is completely different.

The album ends with a very dark ballad called: “Too Soon”. This song seems to be very personal. Can you tell us more about it?

Yeah. The interesting thing is that when I’m in a really good mood, I write really sad songs, and when I’m on sad mood, I write very optimistic songs [laughs]. When I wrote “Too Soon”, I think it was a great day, I was feeling great, the sun was shining and the birds were singing outside. I was like: “OK, let’s sit down and write the saddest song we’ve ever written!” This was basically what turned out to be “Too Soon”. The other thing I have to add concerning that song is that it’s on the very end of the record, even after the outro, because it has nothing to do with the, let’s say, loose concept story of the other songs, and it’s very different from the other songs. That’s why we put it on the very end of the record.

So basically would you disagree with people that say that the greatest songs are composed in the darkest moments and moods?

It depends. Obviously, it’s a personal thing. Not everybody is the same and also I would say of course I have written, for me at least, good songs when I was in a dark mood, but what I wanted to say is that for me, it’s always the absolute opposite of what I’m feeling: when I’m down, I’m writing more optimistic songs.

You declared that you guys are fans of real painted artworks, that it’s important for you to have an artwork that was really painted. Can you tell us more about your taste for painted art?

We put a lot of effort into the music that we do, everything is handmade, they’re all real drums with nothing programmed, the guitars, the vocals and everything is real. For me, it’s real music whereas other bands program the drums or whatever. This is how we work, so having a real artwork and not the digital stuff that people do with Photoshop made sense. Also I think that Andreas Marschall who’s with us since the very first record from 2008, Vale, has a very unique style that fits perfectly to the music. Of course, he also has this history of having worked with all these German traditional bands who have influenced us like Running Wild, Blind Guardian and stuff like that. So that’s a perfect fit. I hope our collaboration will last for a long time from now on.

What are your favorite artists in painting actually?

The obvious ones. I mean of course Andreas, or H. R. Giger, he was a great guy, he’s the guy who designed the Alien and all that… I think there is a museum in Switzerland I’ve been to a few years ago, a very interesting visit where you can see a giant wall made out of crying baby faces… You should definitely go and take a look at that!

Like you said, Andreas makes the band’s artwork since the album Vale. He’s almost like a band member! Can you tell us more about how this collaboration works? Do you tell him what you would like him to paint, or is it completely free?

Normally we have an idea of it before, it’s based on one song or on the concept of the record or whatever. Mostly, I just sit in the car and drive to Berlin where he lives – it’s about 400 kilometers from us -, and we sit down, have diner and talk about this and that. He’s a really nice guy. I also did the film music for his movie “Masks” that was released in 2012. We are really friends and it’s always nice to meet him. I tell him my ideas and we sit down and scribble a little bit on a piece of paper. As soon as there’s something like a bigger idea, he knows where he has to go. We may speak about some details, but he does the most of it on his own, then he presents us the final result after that. I think it’s great, you shouldn’t tell a great artist like Andreas too much what to do because he should feel free in what he’s doing. He’s good when he has a direction, an idea and knows where to go and what the different elements should be like, but it’s great to have him work on his own and contribute with his own ideas. I mean that’s why we work with him, because of his own style and own ideas.

Interview conducted by phone 18th, december 2014 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription and traduction: Chloé Perrin.

Orden Ogan official website: www.ordenogan.de.

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