Forming in the early nineties, the Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land have crafted a rather extensive and well received catalogue of albums, touching on a diverse set of folk, progressive, and oriental metal sounds within their music. That last category itself is one that this act is considered a pioneer of, with overt west Asian influences and a strong sonic identity helping them stand out and garner a dedicated following. January 26th will mark the sixth full length release from the band after a five year-long wait. Let’s dive into how Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs holds up to old and new fans alike.
Orphaned Land dazzled me ever since their masterpiece concept album Mabool came out in 2004. I had never encountered music like that before; their blend of West Asian folk influences and metal was quite endearing. Since then, the Israeli band has undergone some lineup changes, but their uniting spirit has remained. Now Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs is upon us and it’s their most affecting and purposed album yet.
It’s quite apparent from early on that Orphaned Land set out to make music thematically marred by the treacheries and tragedies of war, injustice and other ills of humankind, past, and present. These aren’t new concepts to the band (let alone metal), but the way in which the band’s music approaches it is unique and powerful. Vocalist Kobi Farhi confirms, ‘our music has always been a combination of anger, tragedy, protest and joy. We feel that this album takes our feelings to a new level of anger, protest and tragedy’. And does it ever. This is perhaps their most overtly political album so far, even down to the cover art which is punctuated with a clenched fist posed over the Eye of Providence flanked by guns, bullets, and fire.
“The Cave” opens the album up wonderfully with choirs and evocative clean singing from Farhi. The scale is grand and the production is tighter than ever. “We Do Not Resist” is one of the most aggressive and fiery songs Orphaned Land has ever written. The drums are warlike, Farhi uses his polarizing harsh growls throughout the song with lyrics that tell a tale of violent oppression and resistance. It’s also very catchy.
“Yedidi”, a Hebrew word meaning ‘my well beloved’, showcases the regional folk rhythms that the band does best. It’s sung entirely in Hebrew, so I admit I am lost as to its meaning, but it appears to stay well within the brotherhood lyrical theme of the album with other songs like “My Brother’s Keeper”. Guest singers Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) and Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) are welcomed additions and work a lot better than I thought they would, as does a nice guitar solo from Genesis’ Steve Hackett. I won’t give away the ending to the story itself, but the album signs off with a famous George Orwell quote that is a little heavy-handed in its application, but nonetheless relevant to the themes.
Orphaned Land are in a league entirely of their own. There’s an unparalleled beauty in their songs. You can feel the culture, spirituality, and message envelop you. The video of “Like Orpheus” even made me tear up. This album is definitely a product of its time, one of great uncertainty especially when you consider the band’s origins. There’s a pretty clear message here, one that the band wishes us all to heed, and I’ll always respect the band for using their platform to unify people with their monumental music. Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs may not bring about world peace alone, but, if only for a moment, hopefully we can all enjoy the music together as one.
Personal Score: 9/10
I should start by clarifying that I hadn’t delved into much of Orphaned Land‘s previous releases, and as such, my perspective here is primarily focused on the tracks alone, and less so on the band itself or the implications of the narrative. Initial impressions of the album gave me flashes of what I imagine Myrath would have sounded like if they had grown up exclusively on 90’s era Blind Guardian and Dream Theater. Elements of a more traditional progressive metal outing and strong overtones power metal flow through each track, building on the distinct middle eastern vibe that the instrument choice and melismatic vocals provide. The result is a surprisingly cohesive combination that chips away at a distinct identity that is unmistakably Orphaned Land.
Cohesive really seems to be the most apt way to describe Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, with tracks ranging in structural composition and tone still managing to fit together in a way that doesn’t feel out of place. Even the addition of guest musicians in the form of Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates), Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis), and Hansi Kursch (from the aforementioned Blind Guardian) feel right at home here. These additions make for some of the most diverse and engaging elements of the record; Hackett’s guitar solo towards the end of “Chains Fall To Gravity” and Kursch’s piercing vocals in “Like Orpheus” (as below) being particular standouts. That isn’t to say that the songs themselves are weak without them, there are more than enough strong moments sans guests to justify your purchase. From the opening moments in “The Cave” as a melodic voice and keys lull you into the first of many power metal-esque riffs, to the powerful choral arrangement in “Chains Fall To Gravity” that feel especially grand in scope, even further to the thoughtfully written “The Manifest – Epilogue” that contains many elements from the earlier stracks, each song has a place in the whole with moments that shine through.
It’s a shame, then, that some aspects of the record don’t quite shine as brightly as the rest. The narrative elements spread through the album’s runtime are the kind of cheese that will either strike a beautiful chord for the listener, or have them rolling their eyes. It’s competently delivered, beautiful in meaning, but does come off a bit ham-fisted at times when some of the spoken lines come in. Moreover, while Kobi Farhi does a fantastic job on vocals (as do the rest of the musicians on their respective instruments) – contributing a not-insignificant part to what gives Orphaned Land its identity and soaring in all the ways you could hope for in this style of music – the softer, quieter moments (often coming in the form of the first verse) unfortunately feel weaker and less refined by comparison.
Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is the kind of album that scratches a particular itch. It’s a very well delivered set of tracks that cater their appeal to a specific sound, one of a more traditional styling. The chances it takes when it decides to be more progressive (such as on “Chains Fall To Gravity”) elevate it to be more than a run of the mill effort, and the sound productions used make it a very easy and comfortable listen. If you enjoy any sort of power metal, or an older sensibility to your progressive metal, this is something that will satiate your aural appetite.
Personal Score: 7/10
Overall Score: 8/10
Notable Tracks: “Chains Fall To Gravity”; “The Cave”; “We Do Not Resist”
FFO: Blind Guardian, Myrath, ONE MORE