Orden Ogan – Behold the Final DaysSunday, 4th April 2021
Rising up the ranks as one of the premiere power metal bands not only in Germany but all across the world, Orden Ogan are enjoying the fruits of their labor. A steady release schedule beyond impressive live performances has aligned this group with their fans – who enjoy the strong riffing, multi-layered harmonies/choirs, and uplifting nature to their sound. Including lyrical content that can take in concepts of the past and present, it makes sense that with Final Days the sixth Orden Ogan record, they would tackle a futuristic, sci-fi theme for the lyrics and musical textures this go around.
We reached out to main man Seeb Levermann as he had to go back to his studio and work on some edits for another band. Appreciate the insight and forthcoming thoughts on the new record, the delays, lineup changes, favorite moments, setting straight the Blind Guardian/ Queen comparisons, his philosophy when it comes to working with other bands in the studio, and what we can expect in 2021-2022 and beyond.
Dead Rhetoric: Final Days is the sixth Orden Ogan studio album. Tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this release – where do you see the major differences (if any) from this album to the previous discography?
Seeb Levermann: The recording process was terrible! (laughs) I don’t believe in stuff like that, but you could say it almost felt like somebody didn’t want us to get this album finished. There were at least fifteen to twenty situations that pushed us back for over one week each. There was so much going wrong, it started with the recordings of the bonus live DVD that will be on the digipack version where the audio tracks were corrupted and had to be restored, a big pain in the ass. When we were doing the drum recordings I had to go to the music store five days in a row because everything died – microphones died, he even broke a ride cymbal, who breaks that? We had problems with the power grid so I had to go into another studio and record my guitars. When I came back to my studio the power grid was fine again! (laughs) Just stuff like that. When it was all finished, I was super happy we were finally done.
Basically COVID was just the super cherry on top for us. When that hit, we were totally cynical. Not a surprise that came in between us. It prevented us from working at the locations that we wanted to do for the video shoots. Due to regulations we couldn’t work with all the members of the crew we wanted to, and the different actors we wanted. That was a big pain in the ass.
Coming to what differs, Final Days may be our most diverse record we’ve ever done. You have the progressive, longer songs like “In the Dawn of the AI”, you have the more pop-ish tracks like “Inferno” for example or a song like “Let the Fire Rain” with this classic 80’s heavy metal riff in the beginning. Which is actually so simple, I don’t think we would have put that on another record in the past. If you grow as a songwriter, you understand that simple things can also be great, if they are simple but not cheesy if you know what I mean. A big part that has changed since the beginning is I think Final Days is our best sounding record, which is also connected to all the experience that I’ve gained over the years. Gunmen is a great sounding record, but there are three years in between and there are a lot of things by recording and producing you learn that make stuff better, little details that are the extra mile of the extra mile. If you take care of that, you might be better for that one or two percent – and that stuff really adds up if you really focus on all the small details. So this is what we did this time and I am super happy with the results.
Dead Rhetoric: When it came to the scheduling of the record, it was originally supposed to come out in the fall of last year, correct? Was it your choice to push it back because of COVID?
Levermann: Because we had so many problems from before, evil spirits hovering above us that were trying to prevent us from finishing this record, at a certain point we just had to say come on, it will be finished when we get it finished. We took the time that it needs and (we will) release the record when it’s done. In the case of Orden Ogan, I’m doing this because I love to do this. It’s a kind of music I really want to do. Orden Ogan obviously earns some money for people and different companies, the record company though doesn’t put any pressure on me. The most important thing for me is that I am 100% happy with what we do. It’s also what the fans really appreciate, they always know that they will get 100% from us. There was some guy from the record company that suggested, ‘ah come on – let’s release the 80% version, it’s good enough.’ And that is totally out of the question for me.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the dark sci-fi concept come into play – is this something that you think about in parallel as the musical components develop, or had you been planning something futuristic all along after tackling the dark wild west, monasteries in moorlands, apocalyptic ice worlds, and burning cities with previous albums?
Levermann: Yeah, it’s pretty fun. For example when we did Gunmen, we had these songs with old wild west melodies and sort of harmonies, maybe we should do a Wild West record. We are a band that tries to be very close to the audience so if we can we will go off stage and go to the merch stand after the show and talk to the people, take pictures. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the job as you hear all of these great stories, what the music means to the people and how they overcome bad times in their lives, our music giving them the strength to carry on. So many people said the same list you wrote – we have been in these worlds, what do we want to do next? Do we want to go to space, or what? (laughs). If one hundred people ask you if you want to go to space because there is nowhere else to go to, then you keep thinking to yourself we should do this, kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s why we did that.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the special guest appearances you made with Gus G and Ylva Eriksson of Brothers of Metal for the tracks “Interstellar” and “Alone in the Dark”? Do you feel adding those special colors gives the record added dynamic texture?
Levermann: Like I told you before, I do these records because this is my music and because I want to do this, it’s my thing for myself. When it comes to guest musicians, it’s never strategically planned and it was never about name dropping. It’s always about people that bring something to the table that wasn’t there before. With Gus G, it’s obvious because he is one of the best guitar players on this planet. It came about… it was pretty funny because of our former guitar player Tobi, we had some problems with him, and we replaced him with Patrick Sperling. When we had the impression that we would not be able to record the songs with Tobi, we thought about bringing a few guest guitar players for the solos. Nils our other guitarist knew Gus from another tour, and it was so obvious. It only took a couple of days between that initial contact and the finished solo. It’s a great honor for us to have Gus on our record, it was exactly what I was expecting.
When it comes to Ylva, the song “Alone in the Dark” is written from two different perspectives. It was clear we wanted to bring in a female vocal, and there were a lot of names thrown around. Ylva was suggested by AFM Records because Brothers of Metal is also on the roster. I listened to the recordings and I had also seen them live, I was trying to picture how she would sound if she sang with a fragile, low, sad voice. I thought this could be best – when we sent out the tracks and she sent the recording back, I thought yes- her performance is just beautiful. I don’t think that any female singer on the planet could have done this in a better way – maybe differently but not better.
Dead Rhetoric: You have expanded to a quintet with a few lineup changes – including you relinquishing the guitar slot due to a hand injury in 2018. How do you feel about this new lineup and are you enjoying your role on stage purely as a front man?
Levermann: When I broke my thumb, it was like two weeks before the first show, the first summer show. And we didn’t want to cancel, because there were a lot of great festivals coming up. So our bass player Nils, he’s actually a really great guitar player, he took over and that was the obvious thing to do. We had to play a couple of shows without a bassist. I was just singing. The thing is, I think a lot of people who were used to playing guitar and singing and then just go to singing, they feel sort of lost on stage. It was the total opposite for me, I felt like a fish in the sea. The audience, the press, the fans, the crew – they realized it was great, even the Powerwolf guys came to us on the Summer Breeze Open Air festival and told us we should keep the lineup like this.
We were thinking okay, if everyone thinks this is good, us included, maybe we should keep it like this. We were lacking a bass player. We knew Stephen, he’s a former bass player from the symphonic metal band Xandria. We had been touring together, he’s an amazing guy, a beast on stage. Xandria was inactive, and it wasn’t even a question. It was crystal clear that his path would lead to us. That was the very obvious choice – the only real lineup change was with our guitar player Tobias. We felt something was off from the beginning of 2018, he had a difficult time in his private life. Sometimes you don’t have the energy that you used to do. We all felt that there had to be a change. We brought in Patrick Sperling – and the thing with Patrick is, we were thinking who could fill that slot? And it was really tough, there was nobody coming to mind. It’s not exactly technical death metal, we are melodic power metal but the Orden Ogan stuff is pretty hard to play on guitar. If you take into account all the super-fast picking and sweeps that Tobi does for the solos. The other thing is Orden Ogan is probably the nicest band you will ever meet, we are super down to earth and super nice people, always people (who) are in a good mood. There are almost never any bad discussions. It was really important to find a guy that wouldn’t bring in any ego bullshit or stuff like that.
Then a friend of mine called me and told me we were having these problems, he recommended Patrick. He looks like a young version of Zakk Wylde, he plays like a young version of Zakk Wylde, he lives 30 minutes from your place, and he’s a big Orden Ogan fan, and he’s a guitar teacher so he has time to go on tour. I thought this sounds like winning the lottery, I gave him a call. The first thing Patrick did was laugh at me and I was like, just trying to offer him a job. He said don’t think I am weird, but I was expecting this call to come at a certain point in time. He didn’t have to say anything else, he wanted in. He’s an amazing guy, a good friend, and this might be the strongest version of Orden Ogan that we’ve ever had.
Dead Rhetoric: As a wanted/seasoned producer with your own studio, how would you assess your abilities and what do you try to get out of the artists that you work with? Does your role differ depending on the abilities and seasoning of the musicians on hand and what they are looking for?
Levermann: Yes, it really always depends on the project and how they approach their own process. If I’m working with Alex Staropoli from Rhapsody (Of Fire) for example, I don’t need to produce – he is the producer and he knows exactly what they have to sound like. I get the finished tracks from him and he says I’m the guy that makes things sound nice. I will mix and master that material to the best of my abilities to make a great sound for this record. On the other hand you have the total opposite with a band like Brainstorm because these guys were absolutely looking to bring someone in who can work with them on the songs and the vocal lines, the harmonies, the song structures themselves. For example on the new Brainstorm record, there was one song that was seven minutes something, and they sent me the track. I just edited things together, cut parts out and sent them back a 3:30 edited version, and I told them if they do it like this, it will be a hit! And the band said it’s great. But a lot of other bands would normally say I was insane, cutting away four minutes of a song.
In the end, as long as it’s not my own project, it is about what the artist wants. When Brainstorm asks me specifically to work on the songs and give suggestions, I will do that. Still in the end if they don’t like something, I won’t force my opinion on them, it’s their record and they have to be happy with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe younger bands are better prepared today than they were a decade ago when it comes to studio work, or do you have to work more with younger musicians to get their best effort out?
Levermann: I actually think when I am working with newcomer bands or younger musicians, I think… it depends. I’m not the typical studio guy that has to work with every band that comes through the door just to have food in the fridge. I’m in a great position that I can choose the bands that I want to work with. Like the bands I work with, they are highly motivated to make great records, getting record contracts. Our success rate was pretty impressive, because there are many bands that got a record deal after we would work together. They all really try to the best of their abilities to make stuff work. But I would say that a lot of bands nowadays, are less prepared. People tend not to be in the rehearsal space anymore and play together, but work at home, program the drums and bass, and maybe grab their guitars and write songs with that. This is most likely not up to their abilities.
Brainstorm for example, they are a real band together working out the material in their rehearsal space, and they will play the material and nail it super tight.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the career highlights for Orden Ogan – benchmark moments either in terms of records, tours, festival appearances, etc. where you knew you were making more of an impact and moving up the ranks in terms of popularity and respect?
Levermann: The thing is, the great thing about Orden Ogan is we didn’t have an overnight success. It was a continuous growth process. There were a lot of moments that stood out but they were just basically the validation of what we did was real. When we released the Gunmen record and it hit the charts at number eight, of course that was great. If you are doing your headlining tour for Gunmen and you have Rhapsody (Of Fire) for special guest support and Unleash the Archers, both not small bands that is amazing. The actual tour that was planned for the Final Days record for last year would have been Orden Ogan with support from Grave Digger and Rage – that is amazing with a poster like that with two of these bands standing below Orden Ogan. There was a lot of stuff actually. I loved it when we were in the United States playing ProgPower, that was amazing. It was great to be in Japan.
I do think a lot of people when they start making music in a band, they love playing in a place that is really far away – especially in a place like Japan. You feel like you are on a different planet as well. There are a lot of great festivals as well – the first time we played Hellfest in France, that was great. Bloodstock was great, Wacken is also great. Also some of the smaller things – 70,000 Tons of Metal. Playing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea? I don’t know if I ever would have got there if it wasn’t for the band. I don’t think I would book a cruise ship and go there. All these little things.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you look at the evolution of the style you’ve developed – as I’ve often heard many journalists and fans compare Orden Ogan to taking ‘Blind Guardian to the next level’ in terms of power, speed, or choir-harmonization?
Levermann: Ah, this is good that you bring this up so I can finally clear this up, like I have tried to do with some other journalists who have brought this up. These Blind Guardian comparisons, no fan has ever come up to us comparing us to Blind Guardian. And we don’t think we sound like Blind Guardian, and even Blind Guardian don’t think we sound like Blind Guardian. It came from a different situation. When we released the Vale record in 2008, the German Rock Hard wrote that Orden Ogan is the only legitimate Blind Guardian successor. And the German Metal Hammer, they wrote that Orden Ogan is the new Running Wild. And since Blind Guardian and Running Wild are nothing alike, the record company AFM thought that might be a good idea to put into the press information. For some people they are the new Blind Guardian, for other people they are the new Running Wild.
And we wanted to stress our own unique sound. But that somehow developed a life of its own – especially the journalists were picking it up, asking about it all the time, how does it feel to be compared to Blind Guardian? We couldn’t just say, we aren’t being compared to Blind Guardian, you journalists dig out this old story. Marcus from Blind Guardian told me about the Gunmen record he said, it was a great record and the only thing that is similar is that we use choirs like they do. That’s it. They are more into the 70’s prog-ish kind of stuff, and also with a lot more Queen vibes. Whereas Orden Ogan is a lot more heavy metal, a lot more riff based.
The idea of making Orden Ogan actually came from listening to “Blackened” from Metallica. I thought to myself, hard/heavy metal with heavy riffs, clean production and the guitars are amazing. James Hetfield has this great mid-range voice, I didn’t really like the super high pitch power metal screams. I can do it for Orden Ogan from time to time and I will do it, but I like some colors and spice in the background. I’m more in the mid-range. The only thing I thought was weird was the lead guitars at the beginning of “Blackened” should be reappearing during the chorus. That is what we did with Orden Ogan later on.
Also the vocal arrangements, journalists would ask me if I was a big Queen fan. I have thought about that. It comes from something totally different. I have never listened to Queen, and actually I’m not a big power metal fan, actually. When I listen to metal, I love old school death metal – when I listen to something on the stereo, it will be Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Napalm Death. I think these multi-layered vocals, it comes from my dad who used to listen to these 50’s and 60’s acts, like the Hollies. These bands were the masters of true vocal harmonies, it was all done in the studio by people. I listened to that since I was a little child, and my father used to be a singer in a band as well. He was singing at home, and I got it from there. I learned how to do vocal harmonies, that’s where I see that.
Dead Rhetoric: Discuss the importance of the Orden Ogan fanbase and the interaction you have with your community? What have been some of your favorite fan interactions that you’ve had over the years?
Levermann: There is a lot of stuff. You have people that really travel a long way to see the band. There’s one guy, a German guy, that we have met in the United States, 70,000 Tons of Metal, Sweden – it’s really crazy. I was actually surprised he was not in Japan! (laughs) People give you gifts, people that have Orden Ogan tattoos on their bodies. There’s a girl from the Czech Republic that has a picture of me tattooed on her left arm, which is really crazy. I would never personally do that, but I think it’s so great that people connect so much with the band.
We really love to go off stage if we can. Orden Ogan is growing and more people want to see us, we will go to the merch stand, take pictures, give autographs and talk to people. Listen to the stories and what the music means to them. How they overcame things with the music. We really love to do that, and are in touch with the people. With the new record for example, in “Let the Fire Rain” there is an audience choir that we recorded for the last show on the Gunmen touring cycle, the Saloon Showdown – we recorded the audience singing and put that into the song. Which is a very nice touch. For the “Inferno” video we asked people to send in some videos looking into the sky and looking like they are shocked. In the end if you see the video it’s about some aliens killing our fans and blowing up AFM headquarters. If it’s possible we will come up with more ideas like that, the fans love if they are a part of this.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about Seeb the person when he is not on stage or not around the studio?
Levermann: What is surprising about me? I don’t know, a lot of stuff I’ve said in a lot of interviews. One thing that is not so known about me, I try to be a very non-political person when I am with the public. If you put out any political statements, people will twist things around. It’s better to talk about politics when you are in person face to face at the same table. You can directly reply to what somebody else says. I would consider myself being pretty scientific and a realist with a slight touch of being an optimist. For me it’s all about probabilities and not about believing in stuff. I’m not an overly religious guy, and I think there are a lot of things going on in this planet that you can have a real opinion on. A lot of people very fast have an opinion on something, and will not go away from that, even if presented facts. The most clever thing you can do, the more deep you dive into one specific topic, you will understand that you don’t know enough about that topic to make a true opinion on that.
It’s super interesting to see how different countries perceive things or write about certain stuff that happens in other countries. This is what I am saying – I don’t think you can be able to know the exact truth of stuff, if that makes sense. I’m thinking in probabilities, and there are many topics that I don’t have a real opinion on because I don’t know enough. It doesn’t matter how much I read about that, I don’t know enough to make a real opinion. I wish there were more people like this on this planet, to think more in a scientific way.
Dead Rhetoric: With plans for touring set for 2022, how do you see the rest of 2021 setting up for Orden Ogan in terms of promotion and activities? Will you just be busier in your own studio with other bands/projects during this downtime away from touring/festivals?
Levermann: Yes, like I said before I can do Orden Ogan, or the studio work. I first thought that there were a lot of bands cancelling studio time because they thought if they can’t tour, what’s the point in releasing a record? But now, my schedule is filling up and that’s great. This is the wrong way to look at things, people are at home restless and have the time to listen to music. These are weird times we are in, and it can give hope to people who love their bands. Why should you not release the record if you can make people happy? I don’t really get it.
2021, I don’t see any shows happening this year. I’m the first guy who is jumping in the air and saying yes if it goes. I don’t think anything will be vastly different now in the summer. By the end of the year there will be more people vaccinated, so we postponed our tour to February of 2022. We will have to see how the summer and autumn goes.
We were thinking of doing a streaming show. I watched a lot of streaming shows last year, and a lot of them made me even sadder. A lot of bands who stand on a stage and play to an empty venue. I had that for years with no audience, I don’t need that anymore. I don’t think that is the right way. We would most likely do a very long performance clip in a very specific location. We will also make that the decision of the fans. We would go through a crowdfunding – even though I don’t actually like crowdfunding, because to me its begging your fans for money. I wouldn’t do that for a regular release, because it is what I do anyways, make records. We may offer that sometime after the release.