Review Summary: A grand statement of the band that could save power metal.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Every album tells a story. They are the snapshots that give us insight into the artists, they show us bits of character those involved might not realize are being revealed to the world. Each album is a statement unto itself, a realization of a mindset set to music, an undeniable expression of something self-contained.
Some albums achieve this goal better than others, the honest truth laid out for all to see. Easton Hope tells two stories. There is the story running through the lyrics, the concept-album mentality carried over from their stunning debut Vale. But then there is another story, the tale of a band looking for the respect they feel is deserved. It is the latter story that is interesting about the album, the one that separates it from a crowded pack of power metal bands content to sit back and regurgitate the genre's history time and time again.
Orden Ogan proved with Vale that there were not an ordinary power metal band. Blending bits of power with tinges of progressive and folk music, they created a blend of sound that compared them favorably to fellow Germans Blind Guardian. The record was a critical success, but didn't break the band into the ranks of mass popularity equal with Helloween, Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, or the rest of the standard-bearers. Unbowed by the pace of their climb, the band returned to the studio, creating an album that reaches for the brass ring. Blind Guardian had A Night At The Opera, Helloween had The Keeper Of The Seven Keys, and Orden Ogan has Easton Hope.
The traditional elements of power metal are not abandoned throughout the album, but are used as the building blocks of something much larger, something much more important. The guitars still rage with unbridled speed, the vocals still soar, and the choirs still threaten to extinguish the air, but the music never gives in to the reckless joy that leads the genre to be ridiculed as 'flower metal'.
If power metal is 'flower metal', Easton Hope is an entire ecosystem. The music creates soundscapes, a dramatic flair stretching the boundaries in directions unfamiliar, all without revealing the tricks as they are performed. Orchestral opener "Rise and Ruin" leads into the hyperspeed technical onslaught of "Nobody Leaves", a cliched beginning that masks what is to come. The sticky melodies of the latter are addictive, a sugary precursor to a more savory platter.
Whereas Vale was an immediate punch of an album, Easton Hope is more subtle experience. The songs are more focused that those of its predecessor, a more mature and progressive affair, boasting a different sense of melody. Eschewing the catchy proto-pop choruses that drove Vale, Easton Hope settles the mood, preferring sweeping melodies that convey the size of the story being told. The massive choir leading the semi-ballad "Goodbye" mirror the ambition of the album, a bottomless drive to create something lasting, something illustrated by the note-perfect title track, with its progressive flair and massive chorus.
If the middle third of the album appears to drag, it is an illusion. "Welcome Liberty", the swinging thrash riffs of "All These Dark Years", and "Nothing Remains" are the calm before the storm, the intermission allowing the listener to rest between the two runs of near perfection. The run beginning with the somber "Requiem", following through to the end of the album, is nothing short of breathtaking. Traversing moods and sounds, the band pulls out all the stops, proving their worth with every passing second.
That is not to say that the band is afraid of stepping back and having fun. "We Are Pirates" pays homage to the legendary Running Wild, capturing the swagger of pirate charm, wrapping it in the guise of an addictively rousing song. The dueling solos featuring a guest appearance by Running Wild's Majk Moti isn't even the highlight, that being the absurd-yet-spellbinding accordion break leading into the final chorus. It is a daring song, one that could overwhelm and neuter the scope of the album with its inherent comedy, one that fits seamlessly into its place.
But all of that only sets the stage for the closing duo, a pair of cinematic tracks that encapsulate the album. "The Black Heart" winds its way around the orchestrations, setting the stage for the epic closer "Of Downfall And Decline". The guitars pulse through a monolithic riff, one that feels ripped from the heart of a Messhugah album. This drills into the listener before falling away, allowing the bass and drums to play a syncopated riff, leaving out notes where they are expected, feeling like the soundtrack to a butchered skyline. A progressive masterpiece that shifts and sways as it moves from section to section, it is the defining statement of a band ready to claim their crown.
Vale was the opening statement, an album that announced to the world that Orden Ogan was not going to do things the usual way. Easton Hope fulfills that promise, breaking all the rules of the genre to deliver something few bands of their ilk could; an unadulterated piece of art. Easton Hope is not just another album in a long line of disposable music, it is a mission statement put out by a band that wants to be the heirs to the throne, a band that believes they deserve the accolades given to so many others. Easton Hope is the sound of a bleeding heart, a melancholy cry that must be heard