Artist: Orphaned Land
Album Title: Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs
Label: Century Media
Date Of Release: 26 January 2018
More than just a band, Orphaned Land are a positive force for good. Over the course of a quarter of a century and five critically-acclaimed albums, the Israeli progressive metal quintet have sought to unite people through music. But more than that, their music has served as the vehicle through which they try to spread positive messages of peace and inclusivity, whilst also venting anger at the state of the world and those that rule, particularly those in the Middle East.
As musicians, inspired by the work of the rock and metal greats far and wide, it would have been easy for Orphaned Land to stick to recording albums and touring the world in a bubble, detached somewhat from the real world. But they haven’t, and it is because of this constant fight and desire to be a source of good that these five musicians from Tel Aviv have won numerous awards for their endeavours. A petition even exists on the web to award the band a Nobel Peace Prize and it’d be a brave person to bet against them winning it one day.
Album number six, entitled ‘Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs’ has been years in the making and for some time, there have been rumblings that the final product could be something special. Cutting to the chase, I have to say that the rumblings were indeed correct. As a huge fan of ‘Mabool – The Story of the Three Sons and Seven’, I am finally coming around to the idea that ‘Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs’ might well be their best yet.
It was not always thus however. Whether it was my own lofty expectations, my overall mood or some other external factor, I wasn’t convinced on a first listen through. At over an hour in length and spread over 13 individual songs, ‘Unsung…’ is a weighty body of work, with a lot going on within it, both musically and lyrically. So this might have something to do with my initial feelings towards it.
With time and patience however, ‘Unsung…’ has truly blossomed and become very dear to my heart.
One of the most striking things about this record is the wonderful symbiosis between the influences of east and west. Or more accurately, Middle East and west. For Orphaned Land, the utilisation of traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and melodies within their progressive heavy metal framework is not new and has, to a certain extent been ever-present. However, on ‘Unsung…’, the bar has been raised, or at least in my opinion it has.
There is no demarcation between the two, as they blend seamlessly and harmoniously. In many ways, despite the undeniable complexity of their ambitious song structures, it is the marriage of East and West that makes them so ‘progressive’. Equally, it is the strongest and simplest metaphor for what Orphaned Land are trying to achieve; there’s absolutely no reason why the East and West can’t co-exist and enrich each other. And the music proves it, as electric guitars and synths duet with the oud, saz, bouzouki and other authentic Middle Eastern instruments.
The opening epic, ‘The Cave’ is the perfect example to bring to life exactly what I am desperately trying to describe. It is a song that leaves nothing at the door and showcases Orphaned Land at their complex and beguiling best. It was something of a grower in the early stages but has since blossomed as all of the intriguing facets of the track have revealed themselves to me over repeated listens. Beginning with the sounds of a female vocalist atop some poignant orchestration, it is a sombre opening before a kaleidoscope of textures, colours and sounds assaults the senses. Eastern melodies are carried along at a vibrant pace by a strong rhythmic spine courtesy of drummer Matan Shmuely and bassist Uri Zelcha, whilst there are some super riffs within the mix delivered at the hands of Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem, not to mention some more expansive lead breaks as the track gathers momentum in the latter stages. Then there are the choirs that add a rich theatrical element to enhance Kobi Farhi’s multi-faceted approach that deviates from impassioned clean singing to spoken-word, to harsh growls effortlessly.
The most striking element of ‘The Cave’, aside from the gorgeous melodies and sheer bombast, is the lyrical content, which once again makes a powerful statement. ‘One can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark…but one cannot forgive a man who is afraid of the light’; so simple, but so impactful and eloquent – demonstrating immediately that Orphaned Land are still hugely passionate and angry about the state of the world.
Bold statements continue to be made throughout ‘Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs’ such as tackling the media’s preoccupation with celebrity to the detriment of everything else, including the plight of the innocent caught up in wars around the world. Or there’s the recurring theme of commenting on modern human slavery, even if we, the populous, don’t perceive ourselves as slaves.
The former is so cleverly brought to life via the superb ‘We Do Not Resist’. It is an up-tempo anthem with one of the catchiest choruses, juxtaposed with some of Farhi’s harshest vocals anywhere on the album, which remain gruff and full of barely-concealed venom and scorn throughout. And if anyone claims to not clap along at the appropriate time towards the end of each chorus, I might suggest that they are lying – it is almost impossible not to.
‘In Propaganda’ takes things down a notch, at least at the outset, allowing the Middle Eastern flavour come to the fore. The acoustic guitars are gorgeous, as is the orchestration and Farhi’s soaring voice that contains such incredible emotion.
One of my favourite tracks on the album arrives at this juncture in the form of the exquisite ‘All Knowing Eye’. The acoustic guitars of the previous track remain, but the way in which the song builds from humble beginnings to beguile with such an incredible outpouring of emotion, first from Farhi and then via a stunning and soulful melodic lead guitar solo, is simply irresistible.
The brief ‘Yedidi’ sees the Middle East come to life with Farhi adopting his mother tongue but it is to ‘Chains Fall To Gravity’ that I feel compelled to focus upon. Just shy of double figures, it is arguably the most epic track to appear on the album. Like the opener, the contrasts are pronounced and beautifully wrought, from delicate soundscapes dominated by acoustic guitars, softly-delivered vocals and expressive bass-playing, right through to the all-out grandiosity of choir vocals, bold musicianship from all quarters and the mother of all crescendos. The eruption of power that is channelled through an extended lead guitar solo is a delight, especially when it smoothly segues into a reprise of the earlier choral section, a moment that never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
If that wasn’t enough, ‘Like Orpheus’ follows with barely a moment to draw breath. Featuring the talents of Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch, it is another massively strong composition that combines deep and thought-provoking lyrics with some of the most straight-up and immediate heavy metal melodies. Indeed, there is a hint of power metal to some of the guitar work and the driving beat, accentuated by Kursch’s presence, but it is interwoven with Orphaned Land’s unique flavour to ensure that the progressive authenticity remains.
Elsewhere on the album, ‘Poets of Prophetic Messianism’ really catches my ear. It is less than three minutes in length but is a stunning piece of music that introduces a female vocalist and more choral vocals, as well as some beautiful melancholy strings, particularly at the outset.
Another big strength to ‘Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs’ is the use of motifs and the reprise of certain melodies as the album develops. They act as anchors in the sand, golden threads that guide us through the myriad of events within the record. In so doing, I find that my affection for the album is increased, as is my overall enjoyment.
I also like the use of spoken-word samples, such as those at the beginning of the heavy, stomping ‘Take My Hand’ which explore the way in which the ruling elite manipulate the masses, bending them to their will through the use of more and more sophisticated propaganda. And when the song opens up and Kobi Farhi starts singing about a world in which children can sing and play, it really tugs at the heartstrings.
The regular beep of a medical device ushers in the penultimate track, the darkly-entitled ‘Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War’, only to be outdone by the spine-tingling sound of an air-raid siren that cuts through the song like a stark messenger of inevitable death. Kobi reverts to his deep growls and the inclusion of guest vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates), means that this track has the veneer of being the harshest and heaviest composition on the record, albeit within the lush and grandiose framework that is the preserve of Orphaned Land. The song culminates in an all-too-brief crescendo, cut short by the sound of a drawn sword and the thud of a body hitting the floor.
A lengthy silence ensues, before the sounds of clinking shackles heralds the album’s finale, the sombre and oppressive ‘The Manifest – Epilogue’. Once again, the lead guitar work is insanely beautiful and emotive, full of soulful intent as the track builds around it, hinting at many of the melodies that have gone before. The crescendo is more measured but no less opulent for it, starkly giving way to a chilling spoken-word quote from George Orwell’s ‘1984’:
‘In our world, there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement. There will be no loyalty except loyalty to the party. But always there will be the intoxication of power. Always and every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever. The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: don’t let it happen.”
If defy anyone to remain untouched emotionally by this and the preceding twelve tracks. The power, the sincerity and the gravity of the subject matter makes it almost impossible. And when it is wrapped up within such beautiful and engaging music, it becomes yet more powerful; a force of nature. ‘Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs’ is an exquisite body of work, almost certainly their best yet, a tour-de-force of intelligence, beauty and sincerity. Everyone should hear this album, and I mean everyone.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse