Nearly five years since their last release, Orphaned Land are back, bringing their distinct trademark fusion of metal and traditional Middle Eastern sounds to release Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, a timely commentary on challenges facing the world today.
When a band is referred to as the originators of a genre, there is obviously something noteworthy to check out. Israeli, Oriental Metal band Orphaned Land have done that as well as being named Global Metal Band of the Year in 2014 by Metal Hammer and have been the subject of a petition by fans to get them on the ballot for the Nobel Peace Prize. Back in the early 90’s the band was originally known as Resurrection before changing to Orphaned Land in 1992. In the early days of the band, they released two albums, Sahara (1994) and El Norra Alila (1996) before being signed to well-known metal label Century Media Records and releasing Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven in 2004, which drew heavily on the story of Noah and the great flood to tell a story of three songs trying to warn humanity of impending judgment, one son for each of the main religions in the Middle East, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Over the years, Orphaned Land has opened for the likes of Metallica and played legendary festivals like Wacken Open Air, Sonisphere, and Hellfest among others. In 2014, founding member and guitarist Yossi Sassi left the band and was replaced by Idan Amsalem. Last year, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett recruited Kobi Farhi to sing on his solo album along with Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, who had performed the female vocals on the Orphaned Land album All is One (2013). For Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs the band recruited a couple of guest artists to contribute, one being Steve Hackett who provides a guitars on “Chains Fall to Gravity” and Tomas Lindgren (At the Gates) who provides guttural vocals on “Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War”.
Orphaned Land is one of those bands you simply have to experience. On the surface, eight minute long songs like “The Cave” which kicks off Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs can be a bit intimidating but the time spent is so worthwhile. First impression is that this is going to be symphonic or orchestral metal given the quiet intro to the song and then the full choir backing vocals and string arrangements that add layers of complexity to the underlying metal rhythm section. From a music standpoint, Matan Shmuely’s drum work in this song really stand out when you focus on them, but taken as a whole, they work well within the song. Production and mixing are spot on, the wide variety of instruments and vocals in the song, which range from the aforementioned choir to full on death growls to clean singing, are clear in the mix. The song itself introduces the concept for this album in the Allegory of the Cave by Plato, which was written after the Greeks decided to kill Socrates. In essence, why in the face of the evil around, does mankind prefer to not act, but to stay in the perceived safety of the cave. Deep subjects for sure, but throughout their career Orphaned Land have challenged the status quo, calling for peace and understanding, something near to their hearts being an Israeli band and having fans that are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim as well as non-believers.
“We Do Not Resist” starts out with a great percussion rhythm that melds into a driving death metal groove with Kobi Farhi’s growled vocals a perfect fit for the song. As the song progresses, the symphonic elements return and in general, the guitars and drums really drive this song along. Interestingly, the band chose to insert a censor-like beep in the song on their own and within the lyric booklet as an element to remind the listener that censorship is a tool that controls what we see and hear. The song ends with an extended segment of traditional instruments and a melody recognizable for its Middle Eastern flavor, which sets up “In Propaganda” perfectly as it emphasizes the Oriental metal sound more than the previous songs have. Oriental metal is a term some use to describe folk metal that incorporates instruments and styles of the Middle East and most consider Orphaned Land the originators of the genre, which makes perfect sense listening to this album.
To those new to Orphaned Land, I heartily recommend the video for “Like Orpheus” as it is a perfect introduction to the sound of the band and to their experiences and message. The video tells the story of two metal fans, one Jewish and one Muslim and how they experience traditional cultures that are very different but have a common ground in the music they love, while not realizing the passion they share when outside of a concert setting. The song itself really showcases the importance and impact clean vocals can have while providing a brief taste of the power in death growls as well as bringing in Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian to assist. The music takes several twists and turns as the story unfolds, shifting seamlessly from sections that rely on the Middle Eastern instruments to those that are carried by the guitars and drums.
To really do this album justice, one could write a lengthy review on nearly every song. The lush and complex arrangements, outstanding performances, and intelligently told story meld into an amazing listening experience. To the band’s credit, even though it is a concept album, the songs can stand equally strong on their own. Certainly heavy enough for the metal fans but the way the traditional instruments and melodies are incorporated into the mix make this an album that is approachable to a much wider audience. All the rave reviews and accolades Oprhaned Land have received are not hype, they are well-earned. This will undoubtedly be in the top albums of 2018.
Written by John Jackson
01. The Cave
02. We Do Not Resist
03. In Propaganda
04. All Knowing Eye
06. Chains Fall To Gravity
07. Like Orpheus
08. Poets Of Prophetic Messianism
09. Left Behind
10. My Brother’s Keeper
11. Take My Hand
12. Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War
13. The Manifest – Epilogue
Kobi Farhi – Vocals
Chen Balbus – Guitars
Idan Amsalem – Guitars
Uri Zelha – Bass
Matan Shmuely – Drums
“The Beloved’s Cry” (Demo, 1993)
“El Norra Alila” (1996)
“Mabool – The Story of the Three Sons of Seven” (2004)
Sentenced / Orphaned Land (Split, 2005)
“Ararat” (EP, 2005)
“The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR” (2010)
‘Estarabim’ (Single, 2010)
“The Road to OR-Shalem” (Live, 2011)
“The Road to OR-Shalem” (Video, 2011)
“All Is One” (2013) [review]
‘Brother’ (Single, 2013)
“Sukkot in Berlin” (EP, 2015)
Amaseffer / Orphaned Land – “Kna’an” (split, 2016) [review]
Orphaned Land & Friends 25th Anniversary Boxed set (2017)
“Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” (2018)
Record Label: Century Media Records, Jan. 2018
Video for ‘We Do Not Resist’
Video for ‘Like Orpheus’ feat. Hansi Kürsch: