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Album Review: ORPHANED LAND All Is One

Posted by on June 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I’ll confess that I didn’t know Orphaned Land existed until Public Radio International’s The World aired a story on the band in February 2011, during the early days of the Arab Spring uprisings. I listened to the interview with vocalist Kobi Farhi and was intrigued. Who is this Israeli-Jewish band, I wondered, that speaks openly of breaking down barriers between Jews and Muslims, and refers to Muslims as their brothers? And their music, a mixture of progressive metal, traditional middle eastern folk melodies, Yemeni poetry—among other styles and influences—bore little similarity to any other band I was listening to at the time, with the exception of Melechesh.

Since then I have devoured every Orphaned Land album, from their 1994 debut Sahara—an early progressive gem infused with distinct Middle Eastern flavor—to their fifth release, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR. The latter, a sprawling epic of a record, seemed to alienate some reviewers. Many declared that the production was overwrought, the runtime longer than necessary (78 minutes), and the six-year span between albums just too long to wait for more of what we’ve already heard. These are all valid criticisms. In order to improve and grow as artists, bands eventually have to change, or else risk stagnation, loss of their fan base, and eventual irrelevancy.

But Orphaned Land clearly took to heart the criticisms leveled at their previous album when they went to work on their sixth record, All Is One. Coming only three years after ORwarriOR, All Is One features new guitarist Chen Balbus replacing Matti Svatizky, who had been with the band since the beginning but left last year due to personal reasons. In an interview, vocalist Kobi Farhi said that the fresh blood brought “a surge of motivation and energy” to the band’s creative process. It shows. Among the more noticeable changes are shorter songs, an almost complete absence of growled vocals, and production that feels less crowded and more straightforward in its delivery. The effort to write a leaner, stronger album is evident on every track.

The record opens with “All Is One,” a catchy and undeniably epic song featuring a 25-person choir, Orphaned Land’s signature use of traditional instruments, and lyrics that, as always, speak truth to power: “Who cares if you’re a Muslim or a Jew?” The song has an uplifting effect, and it stays with you long after you hear it. Turkish violins make a fine accompaniment in many of the songs, particularly “Let the Truce Be Known,” where their melody subdues gunfire noise and explosions into the background. Though, generally, such sound effects are kept to a minimum.

Unlike on ORwarriOR and Mabool, which featured the breathtaking vocal talents of Shlomit Levi, the band chose to use female vocals sparingly this time around. And we hear Kobi Farhi’s growl in one song alone, “Fail.” It’s a refreshing change that allows his singing voice to shine. Still, there’s an inescapable undercurrent of melancholy throughout All Is One, but in no way does it detract from the listening experience. The band sounds tight, focused, renewed. Even the album art conveys a sense of unity and simplicity, as if attaining a state of oneness were the easiest thing in the world.

All Is One takes Orphaned Land in new musical directions, certainly, and does so without sacrificing the style that makes their music their own. The band wrote the album they wanted to write. They grew and changed in the process. But they also remained true to who they are. This is the mark of a band in its maturity, a sign that Orphaned Land will be producing great records for many years to come.

All Is One will be available in Europe June 24, the United States on June 25, through Century Media Records.

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