#TBT: ORPHANED LAND's Mabool Braves the Waters of Religion to Inspire and Unite
Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. For the last week of the month, we finish Folk Metal May with a unique band that stands in defiance of hate. No matter the long-standing social traditions, or grudges, or even wars, Orphaned Land's Mabool hopes to show those who believe a little differently from one another that we are all connected. TBT number 37 brings us a message of light from a place of darkness thanks to…
ORPHANED LAND'S MABOOL
Release Date: February 2004
Record Label: Century Media
If you haven't listened to Orphaned Land, your ears are missing a dynamic metal band and that draws upon multi-cultural experiences, scales, and instruments to create a sonic and emotional experience unlike anything else within mainstream metal. For Mabool, the band's third full-length album, Orphaned Land created a hyper-proggy atmosphere to tell a story of three 'angels'. Each angel represents a different sect of Abrahamic religion – one is Christianity, one is Judaism and the third is Islam. The three angels are forbidden to work together, and because of this, the people of these great faiths fight too much among themselves and ignore the angels' warnings of a great and terrible flood (think Noah's Ark). To tell this harrowing tale, the concept album borrows from a hugely diverse range of musical elements such as folk, a little Devin Townsend-style epicness, and a healthy amount of sustained, mid-range melodeath guitar work. Across the album you'll also hear lots of synth, piano-laden interludes, and the unmistakable hypnotic rhythms of Middle Eastern tabla-style drumming. What strikes the listener into paying attention is the combination of West Asian/North Eastern African melodies mixed with 'traditional' metal stylings. Many of the clean vocal lines throughout the tracks integrate whole, half, and quarter steps. The quarter steps could be considered part of something called Arabic maqam. Maqam is not really a scale, and it not really a melody; but it is something like a group of notes, often used circularly, like a structure to melodically play within. This structure is what allows vocalists to create the unique and very recognizable atonal melodies that are both eerie and enchanting – and distinctly Middle Eastern.
On Mabool, the clean vocals of lead singer and founding member Kobi Farhi hold a tightly coiled and almost nasal vibrato which, and he holds long notes, is powerful and triumphant. The growls are definitely Cookie Monster-esque, but I don't mind them. Check out this video of opening track "Birth of the Three" recorded live at Wacken:
Orphaned Land is a band on a mission. Here's an interview we had with them over 5 years ago. In it, Noa Injection asks some really tough and really interesting questions. In a true show of class, the band offers beautiful, thoughtful, and honest answers.
To paraphrase, Orphaned Land talk about their beginnings in Israel in a towns such as Jaffa (a southern part Tel Aviv). Where the band comes from, the Middle East, is an area generally thought of as "a place known for tragedy and wars." They started playing music because they wanted to be, "an inspiration for people to know and find their inner light." They go on to say that, "Darkness is the place you ask questions. The light is the place you can find the answers…"
There is a moment during the interview when when Farhi reflects on what it was like to grow up there. He remembers worrying about finding kids to play football with, not what religion his teammates were. That sentiment is such a humbling reminder of the innocence of man and how our societies and our politics shape our views and who we are. This paradigm is what makes a band like Orphaned Land so important. They recognize that music is a universal language. If two people can find common ground in music, then that means they have something in common. As the interviewees suggest, "The power of music is a unifying tool. You and you worst enemy can love the same song."
Woah. That is just stunning. And yet, even though these sentiments seem like common sense, it is grim how uncommon the practice of peace and understanding has become. Here is a band unafraid to unite Israeli and Palestinian fans, and they also reflect on how happy they are to have an Arabic fan base as well. To read more about Orphaned Land's social impact and personal message, check out this MI article about unifying religious groups. Goals this lofty and noble wouldn't be possible, however, if the band was trash. Lucky for us, Orphaned Land happens to be a great band, and Mabool is a superior album. Check out the official video for the second track off the the album "Ocean Land":
For Mabool, and thematically for many of their album, Orphaned Land tend to layer. They layer core concepts, combining ideologies from a variety of monotheistic religions. They also layer musical elements from traditional Greek, Turkish, and Egyptian musical styles. This means that strings, violins, and choirs are sewn carefully together with growls, syncopation, and sludgy doom-style riffs. Structurally, that is a brilliant way to represent unity and to show diversity in the world and music as a universal language. Check out the other featured video from Mabool "Norra el Norra":
It's no surprise then that on subsequent albums, Orphaned Land boasted working with prog god Steve Wilson. Interestingly enough, Mabool was the first release from Orphaned Land after they signed with Century Media. Fans had to wait 7, almost 8 years for Mabool to come out. And, it's easy to see why the album took such a long time to write, record, mix, and produce.
Mabool is a very ambitious concept album. Sonically, it slides right into the feel of what was trending in 2004 thanks to a mix of melodeath and progressive album elements. Early in the 00's was a great time in metal. Many turn-of-the-century albums showcased bands with a new focus on exploring emotion through melody. Mabool fits nicely right into that trend, thanks to their classic prog elements combined with the new, layered, slower sounds coming from Sweden and Norway.
Orphaned Land's newer albums are even more sonically aligned with their epic and unbridled call for peace and unity. 2013's All Is One hits another mark in production that their current albums trend with, marked with sweeping and inspiring vocals and huge choir moments. To read more about their 2018 release Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, and the Middle Eastern metal scene, check out this article.
It's rare that metal offers such hope in such a brutal and often aggressive art form. But that message is exactly what Orphaned Land is about – finding commonality and beauty in places they're not often found. Orphaned Land is currently on tour if you want to check out them out live and support a great band with a great mission.