Orphaned Land is back. Not better than ever perhaps, but veering dangerously close to past glories. We, of course, had opinions.
2018 looks like it’s well on its way to being a year of Bands Getting Their Shit Together. Summoning really delivered with their new album after a slightly disappointing predecessor, and Primordial looks set to better themselves after an in hindsight not as memorable Where Greater Men Have Fallen. Judas Priest’s Firepower also looks to be a step up from Redeemer of Souls. In that regard, it might also be the year of looking back and admitting I was probably wrong, or at least a tad too enthusiastic. Then again, we’re talking bands taking their time in releasing new material, so perhaps I get so happy when new stuff is finally being released that my enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me.
I still think All Is One is a good album. Perhaps not great, but at least good. The problem is that it pales in comparison with Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven and The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR. All For One’s biggest problem is the band eschewing what made those two albums so interesting: the interplay between oriental music, prog and death metal. The songs on All For One were too clean, too polished and, for want of a better word, too radio-friendly. Mabool and ORwarriOR challenged the listener with multifaceted and lengthy compositions, whereas All For One “only” offered a bunch of good to great songs. As I said back then, it’s a very good album, but we’ve come to expect more from a band like Orphaned Land.
It’s good to be able to say that Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is a triumphant return to form for the Israeli group. Gone is the oriental pop rock sensibility from the previous album, with only the lush orchestration being carried over, making room for Kobi Fahri’s death metal growls to return alongside a more furious and more metal approach than we’ve heard from these guys in a long time. Opening track The Cave immediately showcases this, bringing together everything brilliant about this band in one eight-minute song. It features oriental choirs and instrumentation powerful metal riffs, both clean vocals and grunts; it’s everything one could have hoped for and more. We Do Not Resist adds to the aggression and could very well be the most straight-forward death metal song the band ever released.
It’s good to hear this band doing its own thing again after so many years, making music that’s interesting and varied again. Maybe Orphaned Land can only really excel when they’re doing proper concept albums like this one, which is about totalitarianism, revolution, religion, politics and protest, and when there’s a story driving the band forth, the music gets swept up in the momentum and the band is able to create the most wonderful music. Most songs are bite-sized, but the big highlights are the aforementioned The Cave and the epic Chains Fall to Gravity, clocking in at over nine minutes and featuring a wonderful guitar solo from ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett (as a return favour for Kobi Fahri doing guest vocals on Hackett’s 2017 album The Night Siren). Another highlight is the first single Like Orpheus, a straight-forward metal track featuring guest vocals by Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch.
As is the case with Orphaned Land albums, at least in my experience, is that they seem to start to drag near the end. That’s not because the material gets gradually worse, but because the band tends to put the real heavy hitters on the first half of the album. The quality is very consistent from start to finish, but the albums starts out in such a stellar fashion that it seems to just fizzle out after Like Orpheus, even though the remaining songs are brilliant in their own right – especially Only the Dead Have Seen the End of the War (featuring At the Gates’ Thomas Lindberg) is a proper highlight in itself. Maybe it’s me. Maybe 63 minutes is too long for a full-on barrage of oriental metal. Maybe Unsung Prophets could have been better with some fat cut off and trimmed into a tight fifty-minute record. Maybe I’m missing the more technical flourishes of guitarist Yossi Sassi (who left the band just before All Is One hit the streets) to keep me on my toes for the last fifteen minutes or so. I know I had the same thing with ORwarriOR and All Is One, so maybe it’s just me.
In the end it’s nitpicking, because Unsung Prophets remains a stellar album by any measure. Even when the latter half does not manage to hold the attention like the first. In any case I’m glad that Orphaned Land seems to have rekindled the holy fire and once again deliver a brilliant album after a predecessor which was perhaps too commercial sounding. Old fans, rejoice. Those yet to discover this musical treasure: perhaps it’s finally time to take the plunge.
Label: Century Media, 2018
- The Cave (8:10)
- We Do Not Resist (3:24)
- In Propaganda (3:33)
- All Knowing Eye (4:28)
- Yedidi (2:33)
- Chains Fall To Gravity (9:29)
- Like Orpheus (4:34)
- Poets Of Prophetic Messianism (2:56)
- Left Behind (3:11)
- My Brothers Keeper (4:42)
- CD-11 Take My Hand (6:03)
- Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of The War (5:43)
- The Manifest – Epilogue (4:45)
- Kobi Farhi – lead vocals
- Uri Zelcha – bass
- Chen Balbus – guitars, piano, Bouzouki, Saz, Oud, xylophone, backing vocals
- Idan Amsalem – guitars, bouzouki
- Matan Shmuely – drums, percussion