I remember a time when “happy metal” was the favorite go-to dismissal of fanzine writers wary of death metal’s forays into more positive-sounding terrain. The Goteborg bands, particularly In Flames, were favorite targets. Somehow Israel’s Orphaned Land, a band that has sought to create uplifting, folk-inflected music from the raw industrial-grade sludge of death metal, escaped their scrutiny, gradually building a respectable international following in the Middle East and the West.
Orphaned Land has not been the most prolific band, releasing only four albums in sixteen years, but the band makes every release count. They’ve been able to avoid wearing out their welcome by releasing only a few generally stellar albums and dodging the so-so albums that plague bands with longer discographies. “The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR” continues the trend of quality control, this time with the help of Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilson, whose obsession with 5.1 sound both expands the band’s sound and weakens the dense low-end that gives metal some of its power—the electric guitar sound, either by circumstance or design, sounds a little flat in parts. And one wonders how much more Wilson can squeeze out of the synthesized mellotron sound and samples he’s been using since the early nineties.
But enough quibbling about production. This is actually a very good album, with a bright, inspired sound that manages to be as convoluted and heavy as any progressive death metal band while sending out feel-good vibes with melodic vocal performances by Kobi Farhi and Shlomit Levi, and wonderful folk instrumentation drawn from Jewish, Arab and “Western” traditions. The lyrics continue Farhi’s inspired—some would say quixotic—syncretic views on religion. In a recent promotional photo, the band appears in Jewish, Muslim and Christian garb, an image that matches Farhi’s otherworldly, spiritual idealism.
Musically, “The Never Ending Way” sounds more like “El Norra Alila” than Orphaned Land’s previous album, “Mabool,” eschewing the streamlined prog metal approach for a more exploratory compositional style, with long, winding songs with several unexpected turns and digressions into pure acoustic folk music (accompanied by the haunting strings of the Arab Orchestra of Nazareth), crisp fusion guitar interludes, psychedelic rock and spacious ethno-ambient sounds straight out of a mid-eighties Peter Gabriel production. Some of the best songs are extremely direct, like “Vayehi Or,” which is short and propelled by a hard-driving, insistent rhythm, a few hazy guitar chords, and Farhi’s strangely winsome, but no less powerful, voice.
Along with the reformed Cynic and Atheist, Orphaned Land is one of the few credible experimental extreme metal bands exploring this cheerful, sometimes sublime spiritual terrain. Few bands are capable of doing what they’ve done here. Their music is too well written and proficient to be dismissed out of hand by skeptical black metal fans, but their lyrical content and folk inclinations seem to run contrary to what much of what extreme metal is about these days. There’s a kind of certainty in what they’re doing, a contagious daringness to stand firm and play music that defies the boundaries of the extreme metal, a style that has made darkness the de facto point of entry.
It’s this tension that makes Orphaned Land so fascinating and inspiring to me. Here’s a band that emerged from a place of near continuous conflict, an epicenter of religious and sectarian strife, creating heavy music with a utopian spiritual message. In the United States and in Europe, where secularism is taken for granted, rebellious bands reach for atheism and pagan gods. But Orphaned Land has done something more radical and extreme: they’ve made music for secular people, Muslims, Christians and Jews. Their music calls the bluff of religious fanatics by locating the universal in their faiths, and moreover, in their music. This is why Orphaned Land is important.
01 – Sapari
02 – From Broken Vessels
03 – Bereft In The Abyss
04 – The Path (Part 1) – Treading Through Darkness
05 – The Path (Part 2) – The Pilgrimage To Or Shalem
06 – Olat Ha’tamid
07 – The Warrior
08 – His Leaf Shall Not Wither
09 – Disciples Of The Sacred Oath II
10 – New Jerusalem
11 – Vayehi Or
12 – M I ?
13 – Barakah
14 – Codeword: Uprising
15 – The Never Ending Way (Epilogue)