Orphaned Land // All Is One
Rating: 2.5/5.0 — The title refers to the tempo
Label: Century Media
Websites: orphaned-land.com | facebook.com/orphanedlandofficial
Release Dates: US: 06.25.2013 | EU: 2013.06.21-25
Little has been new in the world of heavy metal for a long time. While the scene continues to crawl up its own ass with retro-this and retro-that and a naval gazing focus on the music of the past while waiting for new and fresh material, Orphaned Land has been one of the few bands that has branched out. These peacenik Israelis have been doing their own distinctive brand of ‘middle-eastern’ melodeath that breathed life into a scene. However, the band’s slow output has been a constant thorn in the side of their label, and after blowing the world out of the water with The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR, there was increased pressure to get a record out in three years. Orphaned Land delivered, and All Is One is that labor of love (and label pressure).
You’d be forgiven (by Jesus, no less) for being skeptical of a new Orphaned Land record after only three years instead of 5 or 6. When a band has a successful way of doing business, the #1 rule should be “don’t fuck with the model.” Forcing Orphaned Land to produce a record in three years instead of five does just that. I was not alone in expressing my worries. While I wasn’t worried Kobi updated the official Facebook to say they wouldn’t have any growls on the new record, there were others who saw that as a bad sign: “don’t fuck with the model!” they screamed. “We’ll wait!” they wailed. One assumes there was gnashing of teeth and sackcloth involved.
All Is One certainly doesn’t start out badly. The title track and introduction is more meta and self-referential than previous work, but it rides the same syncopated rhythm for four and half minutes without much happening. While Orphaned Land always had a message of peace, All Is One is the most bold-faced in its approach (ham-handed, some would say). They’ve thrown the concept record out the window and written 11 easily accessible tracks about the Israel-Palestine situation and the need for peace. This is admirable, and the record is much more easily accessible for the non-metalhead. There is no song called “The Path Part II: 8211 – The Path to Or Shalem,” and growls are heard only on the sixth track “Fail,” which is also one of the few places where the band reaches a metal pitch.
Instead, All Is One is largely mid-paced Arabic influenced hard rock and big ballads. Surprisingly, it’s the ballads that are the highlight of the album. The smooth and emotionally poignant “Brother,” a song that is a letter from Isaac to Ishamel, is tremendously moving, using all the drama of piano and orchestra to maximal effect. Coming out of the mouth of an Israeli, it’s pretty amazing to the hear the words “Forgive me brother / You did nothing wrong but took all the shame / I suffered myself but I am to blame / The Lord blessed us both, but we still fight and claim / That kid on the mountain, what was his name?” Its followup, “Let the Truce Be Known,” is less emotionally poignant, but also a powerful song that uses the Christmas Truce as a lyrical base. “Children,” the final track, is an epic that pushes on the mid-paced metal feel but is largely ballady in its own way, as well.
The “oriental” [Edward Said is spinning in his grave. – Angry Sociology Guy] feel here gets played up in a number of places as well—maintaining that swooping Arabian orchestra from ORwarriOR that was so effective—in “The Simple Man,” and the intro to “Through Fire and Water,” which has a sweet feel and beautiful writing. On the back-to-back tracks “Shama’im,” which is in Hebrew, and “Ya Benaye,” which is in Arabic, All Is One wanders about as far from metal as Orphaned Land has ever gotten—sounding like something that could probably be played on the radio without problem in countries that previously banned the band. Unfortunately, to quote the estimable Mr. Franquelli, some it sounds like it could be playing in the background of a tacky Tel Aviv tourist shop.
Between these two different feels—the highly ‘oriental’ flavored songs and the ballads—there are two metal respites: “Fail” and “Our Own Messiah,” which are both really great tracks. Still, one gets the feeling that the metal was an afterthought here, and they never really commit to the feel. Instead, they focus on their much more accessible sound and this, for listeners who loved the band’s eclectic take on metal, is going to be problematic. The record ends up feeling repetitive by the time you make it to “Shama’im” and “Ya Benaye,” and I pretty much have to fight to make it to the draggy “Children.”
Try to think about Orphaned Land‘s musical variation as a normal curve. What made Orphaned Land records so entertaining was their ability to walk between the heavy melodeath pieces and fill those out with amazing, delicate and entertaining variety. This contrast is what makes Mabool and ORwarriOR so good. But what it needed was all that variation—to the very tails of their sound-curve, so to speak—in order to really hit home. “From Broken Vessels'” crunch needed “His Leaf Shall Not Wither,” to be effective. “A’salk” needed “Mabool (The Flood)” to really feel like part of the same beautiful art. These contrasts made for entertaining, intellectually stimulating and enjoyable music. It was emotionally poignant and artfully done.
All Is One ends up being a perfect title for this record, because it describes the music. The teeth are gone and the record falls flat because of it. While there are some really, really good songs (“The Simple Man,” “Brother,” “Fail,” “Shama’im”) the flow drags. At 54 minutes, All Is One feels longer than ORwarriOR by a year. By the time the listener makes it to the 8th or 9th track, one starts to wonder whether or not the band used the same click track for every song. The inspiring variation, the epicness that required choirs and Arabian orchestra falls flat. The picture is monotone and the record becomes repetitive. It’s not the metal is gone, per se, it’s just that by taking out the contrast, the painting becomes a lot of grays.
When will bands (and labels) learn? Don’t fuck with the formula.