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ORPHANED LAND Vocalist Kobi Farhi Discusses New Album, Israeli & Middle Eastern Metal Scene, and PEARL JAM

Although there isn't much awareness of an Israeli metal scene, Orphaned Land is easily the biggest and most recognizable heavy act from the Middle East. The band has been around since the early 90's and has been consistent in releasing 'Oriental metal,' a mix of the folk music styles from their region as well as the extremes of death, doom, and progressive metal. The quintet has just released their sixth record, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, via Century Media Records.

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We recently spoke to vocalist Kobi Farhi about the stylist approach and guest appearances on the new LP, Israeli metal scene, Pearl Jam, and more. Check out the full interview below.

 I saw you guys live for the first time last year at the Whisky a Go Go with Pain and Voodoo Kungfu and it was amazing. I loved the diversity of that tour lineup. Out of curiosity, what was it like to be with the guys of Voodoo Kungfu on a daily basis?

Yeah yeah, that was a great show. It was the ending show of the tour and it was great to come back to the Whisky. It’s always great to play the states. Thanks a lot. Voodoo Kungfu are such nice guys. Onstage they are monsters, but when you talk to them, they are so nice and down to Earth. When I lost my voice, their vocalist gave me this Chinese tea that really helped me.

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Do you plan on possibly doing similar tours like that in the future with each band representing a different country?

We have done that many times when we’ve toured Europe. We’ve toured with Tunisian, Palestinian, Jordanian, or Algerian bands. It was always a great feel. And Voodoo Kungfu toured with us in Europe too. We always try to make the bill very interesting, especially if we are headlining. It looks like we may be back in the states in May. It’s not confirmed yet, but it looks good for a longer tour.

Next month, you’ll be releasing Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs can you talk a bit about this new record and maybe how it differs from your last album, All is One?

I think on a musical level, we’re back to concept albums. This new album is a mixture and combination of our last three albums together. All is One was a very straight-forward album with a straight-forward message and wasn’t so much conceptual even though it had one theme. If you go back to The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR, which we did with Steven Wilson, or Mabool, which came out in 2004, those were conceptual albums. I think what we did with this new album is that we went back to doing a conceptual album like the way we did the albums I just mentioned. We used the production, sound, orchestration, and all the epicness that we used on All is One. So, this album is like a salad between those three albums. I think this is a great formula for us and this is putting us on a new level.

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There also are to be some guest appearances included in the new record. Can you delve into that aspect and what was it like working with these individuals?

Let me start with Steve Hackett. Steve was contacting me because he wanted me to sing on his album and I was completely shocked that Steve Hackett from Genesis is writing me an email. Of course I agreed and he asked me if I wanted to get paid or if I preferred him to record a solo for our next album. I thought, “what am I going to do with money, buy some pizza?” A solo is a timeless thing and it’s always worth more than money, so it was amazing to have him on our album. Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian is a good friend of ours because we toured with him in 2015. I thought that Hansi would be perfect for our first single “Like Orpheus” because he’s like a modern Orpheus. They say in Greek mythology that Orpheus was such a great singer that even the stones and clouds liked his singing. So, he agreed and really did an amazing performance on that song. We also have Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates who is singing this part where the hero is being killed by a lunatic. I always thought Tomas’ voice was of lunacy and his growls are broken and sick. He’s really one of a kind. The list of guests are really eclectic and I’m really happy to work with these genius people.

One of the reasons Orphaned Land’s sound is so unique and foreign to American ears is your use of different instruments. What instruments did you use in this record that Americans may be unfamiliar with?

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Yeah, I’ll start with the familiar sounds, which are the violins. They are being used on this album, but in a different way. In America, orchestras play on half-tone scales while the Middle East use quarter-tones. These are the same violins as those used by a Philharmonic orchestra in the states, but you can hear by the way the violins are playing on the album that the players use it in a different way. It’s less linear and in a more round kind of playing. These violins were recorded in Turkey and they have amazing violinists over there. Other than that, we use instruments called saz. It’s a Turkish guitar with a very long neck and three double strings. We also use a bouzouki guitar, which is Greek and has four double strings. We use qanun, which is a table full of strings. It’s more coming from an Egyptian source. And we use oud guitar. It’s all different kinds of guitars from different places. We also use some Middle Eastern percussion.

The public’s first take of the record was the “Like Orpheus” music video, which is first of all an amazing song, but the video depicts a very interesting dichotomy between religion and the metal community. To give a better understanding of the social life in Israel, would you say metal is still heavily frowned upon in your country?

Definitely in the Middle East, this is literally the true story of orthodox metalheads in this part of the world. They practice their religion, but they happen to like metal music. I know a few stories of where people have to live a double life, changing their outfits for metal shows and changing back into religious clothes back at home. This music video is a true story and I want people to know the story of metalheads in the Middle East. In the Middle East, not referring to Israel, metal is still considered to be Satanism and blasphemy. There are people being arrested by the police because they listen to metal music. No one can just wear a Behemoth or Rotting Christ shirt in public. Sometimes there are anti-religious symbols or words on a t-shirt and these countries are regimes and they just don’t understand it. But people happen to like metal music, that’s the nature of things. I literally know a Muslim girl who got in trouble because she had a photo with Nergal from Behemoth. I haven’t seen her at metal shows ever since. She was my inspiration for this music video actually.

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While your band is huge in introducing the masses to Middle Eastern or Israeli metal, I don’t think there is much public knowledge of the scene there. Are there other notable bands within your country that you believe are worth spreading the word about?

The biggest metal scene in the Middle East is from Israel because it’s easier for Israeli metalheads to talk freely about that music. There’s a lot of bands from many styles in Israel. We have black metal bands like Arallu. We have bands with female vocalists like Scardust. We have bands more into Pantera like Shreadhead. There’s a band called Tomorrow’s Rain, which is more doom. Every style out there from doom metal to black to folk metal, we have it. Many bands are playing in Israel. Metallica played three times, we supported them in 2010. Just recently, Kreator played here, that’s how we filmed our music video. Carcass and Paradise Lost just played here in Israel. But if you go to the rest of the Middle East, there’s hardly any metal shows and that’s a shame that metalheads have to come very far to see a show. There’s a great band from Dubai called Nervecell. There’s also one called Bilocate from Jordan. There’s a band from Egypt called Odious. There are a few bands around the Middle East, but it’s hard for them to maintain being a band and find a good studio. And that’s a pity because the Middle East is full of metalheads.

Even though I write for a metal site and you’re a metal band, I will admit that my all time favorite band is Pearl Jam, so it was amazing to see you guys cover “Jeremy” several years ago. Can you discuss your relationship with the band?

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It was a great pleasure to do that. I really love Pearl Jam and it was a great experience to cover that song. That was part of a big movement trying to bring Pearl Jam to Israel, which eventually failed, but people did great things and gestures for it. There was a stupid movement saying that artists should boycott playing in Israel, as if Israel is the only place in the world where bad things are happening. I’m strongly against any kind of artist boycott because I think art is the opposite. If you have anything to protest, what’s better than art to do so. There was a rumor that Eddie Vedder is a close friend of Roger Waters who stands at the top of this movement. He never said anything specifically about boycotting Israel, but then there was this show where he was drunk because every show Eddie drinks a lot of wine. When he was drunk, he was saying things that sounded like he was bashing Israel. And that was the point where I wrote him an open letter. Right after that, he published a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and he contributed all the money to a Palestinian-Israeli organization. So, one could say my letter contributed to that, but I couldn’t for sure say that was the case. I’m still a fan and have hopes that they will come play in our country one day.

What is coming up for the band next?

We’re looking to tour in May and we’ll see many people. I hope everyone will like our new album. It was made with a lot of passion and devotion.

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