Don’t Be Afraid of the Light
The originators of Oriental/Eastern Metal return – only their sixth full-length release in just over two and a half decades – with an incredibly strong musical and political/spiritual statement. Despite the recent departure of Yossi Sassi (seemingly irreplaceable) and Matti Svatizky on guitars, original members Kobi (vocals) and Uri (bass) have pressed on with drummer Matan Shmuely to breathe continued life into the enigmatic phenomenon that is Orphaned Land. Fear not, two new guitarists have stepped in to fill the void left by the departure of Sassi and Svatizky. And while Sassi will always be missed (he has moved on to pursue a solo career) – his distinctive style and creativity unmatched – the new guys hold their own. The music here, then, is a nice mix of the more melodic leanings of 2013’s All Is One with the densely instrumental, progressive masterpiece of The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR (2010). In lock-step with the intense nature of the socio-political lyrical outpourings this time around, Kobi chose to reincorporate some of the death metal vocal growls (characteristic of the majority of the band’s back catalogue) this time around, but he did so in a way that is perfectly commensurate with the nature of the music. It is fair to say, though, that the melodic vocals still predominate, and even the harsh vocals here are extremely discernable. While U.P.A.D.M. doesn’t offer up quite the musical diversity of The Never Ending Way…, I think there is much more here to enjoy and rejoice in when compared to All Is One – a collection of songs, brilliant in their own right, which were nevertheless crafted to be more accessible.
The subject matter here has been well-broadcasted by pre-release information and hype so I won’t say much other than to say that it is entirely consistent with what Orphaned Land have been about since the early days. I have been following this band since the mid 90’s and they have always transcended the ordinary themes of heavier music and metal in general – their humanitarian efforts and love for mankind pre-eminent. And they have never swerved from intricately infusing the cultural, ethnic and spiritual elements of their being into the music. And while the message of All Is One was clear, I think they have definitely taken things one step farther on this release. Inspired by Plato, few bands have more perfectly depicted the state and problem with mankind than OP have done here. And while many have cried out about the abuses of power, media, religion with angst, OP are gifted in how they balance the anger against the world order and the nature of man’s sin with the love for their brother in offering hope in reconciliation.
Musically, I do like how the band has tapped into their history and crafted more complex and intriguing compositions this time around. I have always felt these guys made great songs, but that they may have simplified things just a bit too much on All Is One. They have incorporated a few guests this time around as well with Steve Hackett (“Chains Fall To Gravity” is definitely one of the highlight tracks here in its lyrical and musical beauty), Hansi Kursch (“Like Orpheus”) and Tomas Lindberg on the heaviest track appropriately named “Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War.” Really there is so much quality here to digest that it is impossible to pick favorite tracks, but I think the opening track “The Cave” perfectly encompasses both the concept and the musical brilliance of Orphaned Land that it is hard to not keep hitting the repeat button for this song alone. I love, in keeping with the “media mind-control” theme, how certain sections of the lyrics have been both blotted out in the lyric book and censored in the music with a “beep.” But in addition to the opening track, “We Do Not Resist,” “In Propaganda,” “Chains Fall To Gravity,” and “Take My Hand” are brilliant.
I think of Orphaned Land as one of the top 5 progressive metal bands currently active. They easily have one of the most distinctive and original sounds and approaches out there right now – really only Myrath compare, but they are not as innovative or lyrically profound in my opinion – and they never fail to deliver an entrancing and provocative soundscape with each release. The sound quality, the production and the design elements to the booklet/presentation are first-rate (as has really been this band’s MO since 2004’s Mabool) so no fan should hesitate to pick this up.