Released: 2010, Century Media
Many of their fans felt that Orphaned Land would not be able to top the masterpiece that was 2004’s MABOOL, their last album before ORWARRIOR. I was not one of them. What I mean to say is, I was not aware of their existence before watching Sam Dunn’s follow-up documentary to HEADBANGER’S JOURNEY, 2008’s GLOBAL METAL which focused on heavy metal around the world. One of the bands interviewed in that documentary was Orphaned Land, and it’s fair to say that many fans around the world have had their eyes opened to the existence of them in particular and Israeli/Middle Eastern metal in general, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion. Retrospectively speaking (I have only gotten into them recently), MABOOL was a fantastically conceived album that showed the band’s dedication to their craft and to their music.
The latest album, THE NEVER ENDING WAY OF ORWARRIOR, has been six years in the making. The time has most definitely not been wasted, as nearly 80 minutes of music has made its way on to the CD, dwarfing the 70 minutes of MABOOL – and it is epic in musical as well as thematic terms. In almost every aspect, I struggle to think of another album that is quite so varied in structure, in musical elements, in lyrical and thematic content, in sheer ambition, in emotions and tones and flavours and textures. The band has been most compared to Opeth, and the comparison still holds true for ORWARRIOR, and I would add Blind Guardian (on MABOOL especially, Kobi Farhi sounded, in his clean moments, uncannily like Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian – he has noticeably changed his vocal delivery on ORWARRIOR) as well as later Therion to the mixture as well. The bands who want to push the development of progressive epic metal to its impossible, even absurd, extremes in terms of sheer aural overload – you can add Orphaned Land to that list.
Let’s break down ORWARRIOR to a few parts, as there’s a lot to talk about. Kobi’s vocals, as I’ve mentioned, have changed quite significantly, no longer sounding like Hansi v. 2.0. I actually do prefer the new vocals – they are cleaner, more plaintive, and as ethereal as it’s possible for a male voice to be. I actually do hear a lot of Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse in Kobi’s voice, which I feel fits the music superbly well. I also won’t disagree with comparisons to Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes. In fact, that brings me on nicely to one of the negative bits of ORWARRIOR and Orphaned Land in general.
I really dislike Kobi’s harsh vocals. I don’t think he’s a growler at all. For one, his growls aren’t distinctive enough to really add anything other than the ‘beast’ half of the ‘beauty and beast’ dynamics. They’re just…there, almost for the sake of being there. They also lack conviction and power in their delivery – to these death metal seasoned ears at least – which is a shame, because his clean vocals really do evoke something within me. The emotion in his clean singing voice is vastly superior to the flat, nerveless growls typified by a lot of death-doom singers (Nick Holmes being another main offender, although he has improved over time). I would really wish that they get a specialised growler, but I guess the proportion of clean to harsh singing in Orphaned Land’s music rules that out immediately.
But that doesn’t rule out Shlomit Levi’s involvement in the band. I’d hazard a guess that the proportion of female vocals is below 5% of the total vocals, but Shlomit’s wondrous presence graces Orphaned Land’s music adding even more authentic Middle Eastern spice to the bubbling cauldron, as if it needed any more. The sweet undulating lilt of her uplifting voice when it is raised in its full glory is one of the reasons to get into Orphaned Land’s music – ‘Sapari’ is a traditional Yemeni folk song re-worked to kick off ORWARRIOR, and although she rarely takes the spotlight after that, she slides effortlessly in and out of your consciousness through the 80 minutes. And for a lovely lass with a glorious voice like that, she’s most welcome to do whatever she wants to me.
So that’s vocals sorted. The music is classic Orphaned Land – layered, epic, rich with all sorts of traditional eclectic instruments that aren’t quite traditional to metal, at least not yet. And yet I detect slightly less overt use of these traditional instruments than on MABOOL. They are slightly better disguised – or more subtly incorporated into the metal sound that is undoubtedly still the base of Orphaned Land. The piano, a decidedly non-Middle Eastern instrument, and the classical Spanish guitar is used more, to great effect I feel. The riffs aren’t particularly anything to write home about, but the lead/rhythm playing of Yossi Sa’aron and Matti Svatizky is way up there with the Olbrich/Siepen dynamic from Blind Guardian. Yossi’s lead tone in particular is very John Petrucci, and he plays some of the most delicate and tasteful solos and lead lines I’ve ever heard – see the subtle playing on ‘Vayehi Or’ where he simply echoes a little theme that was introduced on an earlier song ‘The Path Pt II: The Pilgrimage to Or Shalem’ – it is one of the most exquisite moments of the album. And a particularly virtuoso example of his fluid legato playing is the last four minutes of ‘The Warrior’ where he really lets rip.
I’ll wrap up this review by addressing a couple of gripes I have. The spoken parts really don’t work for me; the voice is too dramatic for me to take it seriously at all. I also don’t see the point of ‘Codeword: Uprising’. Lyrically/thematically it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album, but more importantly, it’s a musical anomaly: little distorted sound samples, and it’s a real plodder with nothing going on in it. It’s certainly a weird choice to be one of the listener’s last experiences of ORWARRIOR, being the penultimate song of the album. I don’t have a complaint with regards to its length (except for the inclusion of ‘Codeword: Uprising’); for one, I love bands like Avantasia, Therion and Blind Guardian, but two, sometimes you want a quick thrown-together sloppy joe before a Friday night movie, with ketchup and onions dripping down your sleeves, and other times you want a candlelit dinner that takes 5 hours between leaving your coat with the waiter and escorting your date into your apartment. Guess which one ORWARRIOR is.
This is not an album without flaws, but the sheer weight of passion, craft, dedication, richness and everything else that the guys and gal of Orphaned Land have imbued into THE NEVER ENDING WAY OF ORWARRIOR makes it a 5/5 for me. There is no other score available for such an album.