Album Review: Orphaned Land - "All Is One"

Orphaned Land is a band totally consumed by their message. Normally in metal, that message has a good chance of being insipid or sophomoric. We’ve seen messages that range from “CHAOS!” to “Drink until you can’t feel feelings anymore” and let’s not forget the tried and true “all organized societal institutions are crap.” As fans, it falls on us to either embrace or, more commonly, overlook any petulance and merely attempt to absorb and judge the music.

By contrast, Orphaned Land has been preaching the same message for nigh on twenty years. Kobi Farhi and his Israeli metal band are dedicated to the noble concept that religious differences should never lead to violence, that we as a society must band together to combat cultural ignorance and foremost that we are all one people. This is clearly stated in the very title of the band’s new album, “All Is One.” In the accompanying press release, Farhi relates stories about how playing a gig in Turkey (according to him, the only Arab nation Orphaned Land is allowed to perform in,) sees the band play in front of a crowd sampled from all the Middle Eastern countries and all creeds. The band’s mission may seem overly simplified on its face, but that does nothing to reduce the importance of their message.

Where Orphaned Land’s previous efforts laced Middle Eastern musical influences over a core of solid, mildly progressive metal, “All Is One” plays out much more like a stage performance, leaning heavily on their heritage and complete with striking mental imagery. The album’s emotional appeal is its centerpiece, focusing on cathartic moments like the passion of “Brother.” Where the band’s previous effort, the given-away-for-free-in-the-Middle-East “The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR” saw a mash of traditional music and screamed metal vocals, “All Is One” is a stripped-down, purified concept that sheds some teeth in exchange for direction and voice.

The album begins with the title track, which showcases the majority of the album’s punch much in the same way that the sublime “Sapari” headed up the last album. “All Is One” is an impossibly well-balanced track, espousing both the virtue of the band’s mission and their chops as a metal band from half a world away. The track’s edges are buttressed against thick orchestration and full choral choruses, which make it not only the album’s best track, but its most beautiful.

This is immediately backed up by “Simple Man,” which continues in the trend of traditional music intertwined with the underpinnings of modern heavy metal. The mix of Middle Eastern strings with the common concepts of power metal makes Orphaned Land a continued experiment in a sound totally different from what metal fans are accustomed to hearing.

For this new record, Farhi drops his screamed vocals almost entirely, which is to the album’s benefit. His screaming voice, as so evidenced on “…ORWarriOR” isn’t fully developed and can distract from the overall presentation. Going for his straight-up singing voice not only plays more to Farhi’s strengths, but to the band’s, as his voice couches much more easily in the music beneath.

Listening to “Let the Truce Be Known” and “Through Fire and Water” makes it easy to envision a concept unfolding in front of you. The pieces, as we discussed above, seem almost more suited to a stage or movie, which is a credit to their drama and arrangement, but in a backwards away makes them feel almost incomplete.

The album’s back half becomes a fairly straightforward exercise in repeating the ideas and maneuvers we’ve already talked about, although several songs spin in a more traditional European power metal bend. It’s not a bad thing as the entire album is satisfying, but it does mean a fair amount of the same thing. The different lyrical aspects make the songs easy to tell apart, but from a strictly musical standpoint, it’s like playing a nine hole golf course twice to say you played eighteen.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I would support Orphaned Land wholeheartedly because of their message, even if their music wasn’t very good. The fact that “All Is One” has some truly unique and enchanting moments makes it all the more reason to talk about this band. This album does some things musically that you won’t hear anywhere else all year, so pick it up if you’re looking for a new experience. Orphaned Land deserves the attention.

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