Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs (Album Review)

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Prior to September of 2017 – when they appeared at the mighty ProgPower USA XVIII Festival – I had never paid attention to Orphaned Land‘s music, despite my husband owns their entire collection.  For those unfamiliar with them (as I was), Orphaned Land is an Israeli heavy metal band widely considered ‘The pioneers of Oriental Metal’. They formed in 1991 under the name Resurrection (changing their name in 1992 to the current name), and their music combines metal with Jewish, Arabic, and other West Asian influences. With a 26 years long career working tirelessly to use their music as a tool to spread positive and peaceful messages and bring people together regardless of nation or faith, they have been receivers of three International Peace Awards. The band has gone through multiple lineup changes but has retained two of the founding members, Kobi Farhi (vocals) and Uri Zelha (bass), now joined by Matan Shmuely (drums and percussion), Chen Balbus (guitar and saz), and Idan Amsalen (guitars and bouzouki) who replaced co-founding member Yossi Sassi in early 2014.

Today the world will wake up with the release of another ambicious and remarkable album by Orphaned Land, this time entitled “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs”, and coincidentally their first one after the departure of guitarist and co-founder Yossi Sassi“Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” is an album fueled by righteous anger at the state of humanity in 2017, and inspired by the writings of Plato and the frustrated aspirations of peaceful revolutionaries throughout history.  “We are angry, yes, with governments, the media and all the brainwashing you can think of,” vocalist Kobi Farhi states; “We are trapped in a system that simply became smarter. It just lookaside freedom. The emperors are still being emperors, and no matter how far humanity has gone with technology or science or anything else, when it comes to how one human being treats another, we are still at the same place. We are being drugged by media and gossip that keeps us far away from those things that are really important. We read and know more about Kim Kardashian’s ass than kids that are dying in Africa, just because there is no clean water for them to drink, Einstein once said: The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything, we are the ones who are afraid of the light, like the cave men of Plato, like the sons of Israel that didn’t want to leave their life of slavery in Egypt.” The album counts with guest appearances from Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) and Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian, was mastered by Tomas Lindberg, and mixed by world renowned audio engineer Jens Bogren. The artwork for the cover was created by Metastazis, a fine work that shows the groundbreaking meaning of the lyrics. 

“Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” Album Cover

“Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” opens with “The Cave” an 8 minutes long entrancing and operatic tune, sporting choral elements and an evocative clean singing, mixed with their unmistakable oriental touch, great guitar riffs, and death growls. One singing style does not merely replace the other as a decorative accessory, instead the combination of both is utilized as a powerful component to support the expressiveness of the song, giving the track a supporting epic density, which is not precisely caused by its length, in the most typical vein of progressive-rock concoction. “We Do Not Resist” scores immediately with an aggressive punch, Kobi’s press the growling pedal to the bottom throughout the whole song, guiding the listener to feel the rage flowing though the Eastern harmonies. The drums are belligerent; and the entire band does a farfetched job backing him up with pure metal supremacy, while keeping an overall sensation of catchiness.

“In Propaganda” is a charming song, calmer and more harmonious than its predecessor, but attractive in its own way, unconsciously you might start moving your body and singing along with the chorus even the first time you play it. A perfect blend of metal with Arabic folk music, the ethnic melodies and syncopated batteries serve as far-reaching pain strokes to highlight the band’s compositional skills. To get the album right in balance the elegant “All Knowing Eye” comes next: If I had to choose a single qualifier for this song, I would say is “delightful”, but I think it would fail to describe the full extend of its melodious beauty. Kobi’s vocals easily move from whispering speeches to hopeful ones, and the track reaches it end with an exciting and heart-rending guitar solo. “Yedidi” is an adaptation of the traditional song Yedidi Hashachachta (ידידי השכחת) which is based on a liturgical poem, written in the 12th century by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Sang entirely in Kobi’s native tongue and plenty of regional folk rhythms, it could be perfectly used to explain what Oriental Metal is about to someone unfamiliar with the sound.

Orphaned Land’s compositional cleverness is unambiguously apparent in “Chains Fall to Gravity” another well accomplished oriental anthem which starts off in a balladesque mood plenty of warm oriental airs, and mutates slowly into a more bombastic attitude, to segue into a magnificent progressive segment that has the master Steve Hackett as guest, tearing up a classy guitar solo, ending in a choir-wrapped finale incorporating recited passages exuding a rich symbolism. When I initially saw the video for “Like Orpheus” my attention was divided between the music and the message and meaning of the lyrics, exploring the reality of metalheads forced to keep their love for heavy-metal music hidden beneath their obvious oriental appearances. An obscure, harsh but impressive metal hymn for those fans of the genre at heart the Blind Guardian singer’s vocals climb high above the chorus adding a monumental feel to track’s bitter atmosphere, and there’s a truly admirable moment where the Uri Zelcha’s bass lines are practically left alone with the backing choruses.

The album continues offering a kaleidoscope of messages enhanced by the sometimes complex, sometimes uplifting yet ever-present and unequaled attractiveness of the remaining tracks. From a dreamy instrumental piece with a stunning choir in the background in “Poets of Prophetic Messianism”, or the return to their death metal roots featuring Tomas Lindberg in a snarling duet with Kobi in “Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War”, to the oriental nuances and awakening lyrics in the sensational symphonic closure of “Manifest – Epilogue” – sporting an enthralling, spine-chilling guitar solo on top – Orphaned Land‘s proclivity for mixing metal songwriting with a strikingly visionary dosage of ethos and spirituality that conveys a monumental message of hope, is certainly unrivaled. Truth be told, they are in a league entirely of their own. 

While I somehow missed Yossi Sassi‘s tasteful solos (the album overall lacks the deep of the guitar work he is well-known for), there’s so much sophistication happiness, anger and joy surfacing from each track that the powerful sheen of the record is undeniable and works on many levels. “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” takes the listener into a musical voyage scattered with shades of darkness and light, and embalmed with refinement and the essence of a group in the search for perfection through the ultimate redefinition of their own style. This is an album to go back time and time again and despite we are still in January is already worth to be considered as one of the best metal albums of the year. Highest recommendation.

Released By: Century Media
Release Date: February 26th, 2018
Genre: Oriental Metal

“Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” track-listing:

  1. The Cave
  2. We Do Not Resist
  3. In Propaganda
  4. All Knowing Eye
  5. Yedidi
  6. Chains Fall To Gravity (Feat. Steve Hackett)
  7. Like Orpheus (Feat. Hansi Kursch)
  8. Poets Of Prophetic Messianism
  9. Left Behind
  10. My Brother’s Keeper
  11. Take My Hand
  12. Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War (Feat. Tomas Lindberg)
  13. The Manifest – Epilogue

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