Album Review: Orphaned Land – The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR

Music has a way of tearing down walls and bringing people together.  Orphaned Land, self-labeled as “Jewish Muslim Metal” or “Middle Eastern Progressive Metal,” has managed to find support from both Muslims and Jews.  Considering the ongoing friction in the region, I find this astounding.

I am a newbie to the musical world of Orphaned Land.  Viola learned about them via the Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) forum.  Century Media was kind enough to send us a digital copy of Orphaned Land’s new album, Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR, which is scheduled for release on February 23, 2010. Before hearing a note, it is very clear that Orphaned Land is making a political statement.  The album cover is a portrait of band members — Kobi Farhi, (Leading Chants, Growls, Narrations, Choir & Backing Vocals), Uri Zelha (Electric & Acoustic Bass), Yossi Sassi Sa’aron (Electric & Classic Guitars, Saz, Bouzouki, Chumbush, Choir Vocals, Piano), Matti Svatizky (Electric & Acoustic Guitars) — dressed in Christian, Islamic, and Jewish outfits.

In a recent interview, Kobi Farhi (Vocalist) had this to say:

“As people that were born into the tragedy of our region, we have always been devoted to creating harmony between conflicts, a musical heaven on earth, a tango between God & Satan. Even in the album’s artwork we combined Hebrew and Arabic, regardless of the fight between Jews and Muslims. I found a Jordanian guy, specialized in calligraphic artwork. He took letters from Hebrew and Arabic and moulded them in his art to create a symbol of peace. Same goes for our band photo, where we portrayed a synergy between the three monotheistic religions, that believe in the same God and yet, ridiculously have been killing each other for centuries “in the name of God” and turned the holy land into an orphaned land.”

Middle Eastern music is filled with complex, asymmetric rhythms with exotic modes and harmonies.  In many ways, the rhythmic complexity is a natural fit for progressive metal.  Stylistically, Orphaned Land has successfully combined the inherent sonorities of Middle Eastern music with the intensity, rage, and passion of heavy metal to create a distinctive musical voice.  On the metal side, the band is clearly influenced by Dream Theater, Opeth, Symphony X, and Metallica.

The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR is Orphaned Land’s fourth album, which took more than five years to make.  Stephen Wilson (of Porcupine Tree and Opeth) produced, played keyboards and mixed the album.  The band spent over 600 hours in the studio cooperating with The Arabic Orchestra of Nazareth, using multilingual vocals (e.g. English, Hebrew, Arabic, Yemenite), countless Oriental as well as other traditional instruments such as: saz, santur, arabian flutes, middle-eastern percussions, cumbus, bouzouki, violins, and various kinds of guitars and piano.

The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR is an eighty minute epic about warrior life.  Farhi described the album, “It’s not some kind of heroic messiah that we all know. He’s the warrior of life.”  He goes one by saying, “There’s a problem of happiness in the world. We believe that our inner self contains a huge source of power and light that we are not aware of.”

It is challenging to select favorites because of the sheer magnitude of the album and storyline.  As a whole, the album has a nice flow.  The album balances the musical intensity by alternating between Middle Eastern and progressive metal and from intense to lyrical moods.  Throughout the album there seems to be a kind of call and response between musical styles from song to song.  The Arabic-influenced opening track, “Sapari”, sets the tone for album.   The next track, ”From Broken Vessels,” combines progressive metal, death growls and lyrical vocals, with a hint of Middle Eastern flavor.   “Bereft in the Abyss” is a calming interlude, which features for the first time some of the native instruments used throughout the album.

All in all, I’d rank The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR on the same level with Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory: Metropolis Part 2, which I consider DT’s greatest achievement to date.  I rarely, if ever, compare an album to this DT masterpiece, but Orphaned Land has created something out of the ordinary.

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