Many rock bands are turned off by tags and definitions, but Orphaned Land defines itself proudly: oriental metal. That’s true, but it doesn’t take into account the full, breathtaking range of the band.
Orphaned Land is the most successful and most highly regarded Israeli metal band ever – across the globe, including the Arab states. It’s thrilling to see Israeli flags and flags from Arab countries flying side by side in the band’s performances overseas, and to see Arabs and Jews coming to the shows in Israel.
Metal always saw itself as transcending all affiliations, be they national, ethnic or religious. Metal bands will not boycott Israel, because the bond with the fans will always override every other consideration – and at the moral level. In the case of Orphaned Land, the band offers a sensitive and clever balance as a bridge over the conflict.
This is vividly reflected in every creative aspect of their work: in the fusion of Arab, Mizrahi and Jewish liturgical music; in an existentialist philosophical overview that touches the hearts of conflicting camps precisely because it does not lower itself to the banalities of a left-right dialogue; and aesthetically as well. To promote their 2010 album, “The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR,” the members of the band dressed up as believers of the three monotheistic faiths. The album they released in 2013 is titled “All Is One,” and its cover is a beautifully designed amalgam of a Star of David, a crescent and a cross.
The band’s new album, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs,” released last month, carries messages that are more universal. The unity of religions is expressed in a music video for the song “Like Orpheus,” in which a young Muslim woman and a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish man are seen in parallel scenes making their way stealthily to a metal performance. “Based on a true story,” the clip states. After the concert, the two wait at a bus stop, not imagining that they were at the same show. At its conclusion, the clip declares, “With respect to Judaism, Islam and” – in huge font – “METAL.”
The new album intermixes the catchy accessibility of the previous album with the conceptual and musical complexity of the two albums that preceded it. The melodies soar, the solos fly from all directions (including one by Steve Hacket, formerly with Genesis), and when it’s heavy it’s head-pounding. The album’s range is cinematic: it includes a Turkish string orchestra, samples of Aldous Huxley speaking, sound effects, arrangements replete with nuances and a narrative that stretches across its whole length. The story is about a hero who is extricated from the clutches of the Platonic-Matrix cave of illusions, but decides to go back and liberate those who were left behind.
There’s megalomania in the work of this band, but it's justified. The final, singular result breaches the bounds of the genre as a local Mizrahi work that deserves attention, respect and esteem outside the metal crowd, too.