Interview with Chen Balbus, of Orphaned Land

7th November 2014

Interview by Victoria Fenbane

Metal Rules UK Team member Victoria Fenbane, grabbed an interview with Chen Balbus, guitarist for Israeli oriental metal act Orphaned Land , before they took the stage at The Dome in Tufnell Park, London.  They discussed the band’s musical influences from home, the inevitable politics questions and how the band ended up becoming associated with the metal fusion belly dance phenomenon.

Orphaned Land 2013 Promo Photo
Orphaned Land

How is UK tour going?  Pretty grueling non-stop schedule, what keeps you going?

Chen : So far so good first time I think in Leicester.  I didn’t even know the place existed but they found the grave of Richard III.

It’s quite a grueling tour, you have been playing like every single night for what?

Eight days! Night by night.  I’m surprised we’re alive!

How did you get from Dublin last night?

We took a ferry; those were the most terrible three hours of our lives, since there were quite rough seas and we all got sea sick.

Orphaned Land_2013 Promo Photo of Chen Balbus
Chen Balbus of Orphaned Land

Tonight’s show is part of the ‘Mabool 10th Anniversary Tour’ to promote the re-mastered version of the album.  Why did you decide to re-master it?

Actually it was not my choice, I believe that album is perfect but the guys , co-founding members, they decided that they want to  bring this album to new levels of sound, with modern technology and everything.  Eventually it sounded actually more good than it  did before, so it  was a good move to do I guess.

Was it also a way of bringing the album to the attention of new fans who have discovered you  since ‘All Is One’

Yeah this album [Mabool] was the breakthrough for Orphaned Land, so it deserves that kind of respect I guess.

Are you working on any new material at the moment?

Yes we are.  From tour to tour we are gathering materials and putting them in the drawer waiting for 2016 to record it.

Will new material be as accessible as ‘All Is One’ or will you be going back to the complexity of albums such as ‘Mabool’?

You can never know [Laughs]. What we always try to do with each album, we just have some core idea that keeps going through all of the albums but we just add something new.  For example ‘All s One’ has Turkish violins and choirs. So the secrets will be revealed on the next album.

Your western influences are recognizable to fans here, but who are your musical influences from Middle Eastern music?

Pretty much from things we have at home.  For example some of us have Greek roots, so that is why we always combine lots of bouzouki in our songs.  And I for example have Spanish roots, so Spanish guitars for me and Uri (Zelcha)the bass player, he’s Egyptian.  Each and every one of us mostly draw things from what we heard as kids.

I guess we figure if there are Swedish and Finnish metal bands and they all have their things, for example bagpipes, uilleann pipes.  We don’t want to sound like that, we have our own stuff, so that’s what pretty much creates  our genre, oriental metal.

The band incorporate Arabic, as well as Jewish elements into the music.  Do Israelis listen to much Arabic music or are you unusual?

Actually most of the Israeli music is drawn from Arabic music and Turkish music, most of the Israeli pop songs you can hear on the Israeli radio today are the tunes from Arabic countries.  So even us, we take lots of influences from people like  Dhafer Youssef  or Ömer Faruk.  All of those people, they have such strong influence on us regarding music, so we have to provide.  There is a saying in the Middle East that you can use one of another’s tunes, so we share them sometimes in our songs.

Orphaned Land are probably better known for promoting religious tolerance than for the actual music you create.   Did you set out to make a statement, or are you taking advantage of your position the music has put you in?

It wasn’t intention at first when the guys were seventeen. They just wanted a death metal band you know, to rock the world, influenced by Metallica and all that stuff.  And suddenly around 2000, a fan from Jordan sent Kobi a video of himself hiding his face just showing a tattoo of Orphaned Land and he said he has to go to jail for listening to us.  You know this is what was the driving force for Orphaned Land to come back and he showed us that we do have some kind of power to show that Israelis and Arabic people can live together.  Some don’t care that we’re enemies; we just want to enjoy music so we thought how a strong tool that is.

Would you prefer to be known for the music you create rather than the controversy?

As a guitar player and music writer I would probably say I would like the music more, but then again the message we send out is meant for all of us in the Middle East and we do want to live in peace.  It’s hard to choose what I want people to love us for.  I think they should love us for both.

Do you think you are representative of the real youth movement in the Middle East with Palestinians and Israelis actually wanting to work together, as opposed to the popularized media representation of irreconcilable nations at war?

Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for generations and lots of people really don’t care about wars.  If  he’s Arabic or if I’m Israeli.  It  doesn’t matter to anyone, it only matters to the extreme people who take it to a higher lever like chopping heads.  But after just  lots of time fighting each other it’s not something we want.  Especially the Jewish people we have been persecuted since the bible days, so we’re the last the hate anyone.  We just want to get it over with.  Such a small country and so much noise around the world, all we want to do is just live knowing that around you is not neighbours who want to bomb you.

When on tour do you ever fear attack from those who do not like your views and collaboration with artists from other nations/beliefs (eg Johanna Fakhri).  I am asking because there have been terrorist incidents in London.

That is something which is sometimes on our minds, but ah well if you fight for a good cause and that’s the way I’m supposed to go…

You feature belly dancers in your videos and live shows.  Did you decide to incorporate the dancers due to the Eastern elements of your music, or did you find that dancers were being inspired to dance to your music and approaching you to perform at your shows?

That’s something actually we didn’t plan.  Random girls around the world decided they liked our music. They decided that they want to belly dance to our music and sent videos, or wanted to dance with us on stage and created I think that whole trend of metal belly dancing, since then we just saw that it is fitting us in a way.

So you think Orphaned Land created the Metal Fusion belly dance trend?

I am not sure but I think so.

Are there any dancers joining you on stage tonight?

Not that I know of.  Sometimes there’s a girl approaching us before a show and ask to dance and we say ‘Yeah sure why not’.  We  never say no.  Sometimes randomly if we see a girl in the crowd and we realize she has moves.  So any belly dancers come on stage dance with us!

Why is the band called Orphaned Land?

First Orphaned land were titled  Resurrection because it was cool at the time in Israel for bands to end with ‘T-I-O-N’.  At some point  the guys just realized OK there are many bands  that have that same name.  Uri our bass player looked up in our favourite  Israeli artist’s lyrics and found these two words ‘Orphaned Land’ in Hebrew and this was something which fitted us.  Orphaned Land is Israel.  It’s no one’s land and everyone fights for it.  This is the name that just got stuck there.

A cool story about it is a nice closure. This specific artist we took the name from [Yehuda Poliker] his lyrics, he wrote a song for us on ‘All is One’ a song called “Shamai’m” he wrote this song for us.  It was like huge closure.

Thank you for your time.  Have a great show

Thanks Victoria.

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