Orphaned Land // The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR
Rating: 5.0/5.0 —A work of art
Label: Century Media
Websites: orphaned-land.com | myspace.com/orphanedmyspace
Release Dates: EU: 25.01.2010 | US: 02.09.2010
Few bands will ever make their own mark on a genre of music. it’s just a statistical rarity. Someone once told me that there are something like 5 million bands on MySpace, if that gives you an idea of the breadth which exists when one is thinking in terms of how many musicians there are out there. Of those, most of them probably last longer than a year, never produce much of a demo much less get signed to a real label, and how many ever produce a real step forward into a new decade with a statement of great things to come? The chances of becoming a professional musician are basically NIL and then of the number that do, how many ever produce something that will be remembered and affect enough listeners to ever influence any? That number is even smaller. Orphaned Land is one of the few bands that will ever exact change in metal and they are doing so now with their new record The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR.
For those of you not “in the know,” (though frankly these guys are on Century Media if you don’t know by now…) Orphaned Land is progressive death metal act from Israel who produces masterpieces at a snail’s pace. However, they do, in fact, produce masterpieces. To do the band no justice at all, imagine Orphaned Land as the culmination of progressive metal (in the vein of Opeth and old Paradise Lost), traditional heavy metal and folk metal. But not Otyg, Eluveitie or Finntroll folk metal, which is very much a northern Europe kind of thing, but instead blending in all the textures and unique flavors of “oriental” and middle-eastern instruments and big orchestrations into one cohesive, and epic as hell, whole. Blend all of that in with a tendency to get a little chuggy at times with off-tempo and syncopation and beautiful female vocals and you have Orphaned Land.
For fans of the band, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR picks up where Mabool, the band’s 2004 (!) release, left off. Well, musically, that is. Despite the 6 year break, the sound is still remarkably fresh. This might have something to do with the fact that this album was mixed by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree genius-at-large, temporary keyboard player for the band and Opeth go-to guy for Blackwater Park, Deliverance and Damnation), who added some of his distinct, trademark sounds (see: telephone line vocals, mellotron keyboards, etc.) to the album giving the tracks a different flavor than Mabool had, though, I’ll guess that a higher budget probably had something to do with that as well (though this is conjecture). The tracks flow into each other perfectly, balancing mid-paced death metal riffs and mid-range death metal growls against folky klezmer sounding pieces and huge sweeping orchestras which use unison violins to imitate old Lawrence of Arabia style movie soundtracks, a stunning and chilling effect, surprisingly. [Editors note: it was confirmed for me by Kobi Farhi that this orchestra is indeed the Nazareth Orchestra, which plays the violin in a different way and that it was chosen specifically to give this album a different approach.]
As Mabool before it, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR is a concept album, but the unfortunate side-effect of promotional media is that I have not received lyrics to give you a picture of the story. However, from what I’ve read elsewhere on the net and from the band’s own statements it is clear that they are maintaining their overarching theme of the unity and common ground of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, even appealing for peace openly on the track “Disciples of the Sacred Oath II” and singing in Arabic for the first time on that track. In a sense, these guys are breaking ground with this stuff, too. Without being an overtly religious band, they have broken away from the confines of EEVIIIIL heavy metal and moved into the arena of smart, appealing and interesting themes on their own. This gives the band a sense of sincerity that I think a lot of bands lack, and gives them credibility overall.
I admit freely that Orphaned Land has pretty much cemented its place as one of my favorite heavy metal/progressive bands of the modern era and, frankly, ever. The complexity of the thought processes, the writing, the arrangements and production are not lost on me and I encourage everyone to give this a record a listen in high quality earphones, because that is to some extent how it deserves to be listened to. I suspect that I will be listening to this album every day for a long time to come, despite the huge number of CDs I should be reviewing, because I can’t keep myself away. And if it holds up as well as Mabool has to the years, then I strongly suspect I’ll be about ready for a new album in 2016 when they finally get back around to it.