Orphaned Land

The Beloved's Cry
(Demo - 1993)
Their demo, re-released and remastered on CD. 6 songs, 4 of which were reupholstered for the debut Sahara. As compared to that album, the focus here is more on doomdeath metal with less oriental dabbling, and the male vocalist actually doesn't sound bored with his job, growling and singing with more energy and freshness than in the debut. The two extra tracks are heavier than the others, with more death metal content, which is why they probably skipped them to match their new direction of folk doom. If you are looking for the Mideast sounds of the debut then you probably won't be impressed with this release. But if you liked the last four songs in Sahara, and only found them lacking in energy and metal gusto, you can try these versions. Even the remastered sound here is an improvement over the debut.
(Holy Records - 1994)
Although Salem experimented with injections of Mideast sounds in metal before Orphaned Land, it's this band that not only made a big splash in the worldwide metal scene, but also took it much, much further. Orphaned Land incorporates various Middle-Eastern and some oriental sounds with doomdeath, splicing them together at the core, resulting in very unique sounding metal that excited many listeners. With most of the songs clocking in at about 8 minutes, these religious doomsters wander in epic style between My Dying Bride inspired doomdeath (old and new), melodic but wistful NWOBHM with Eastern scales and noodling, and pure Mideast music complete with wailing vocals and percussion mixed with metal guitars. The exotic sounds may all sound the same to outsiders but they are actually from various sources such as Morocco/Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern countries like Syria and farther eastern countries closer to India. The members are into religion, and the lyrical sources as well as folk melodies are taken from both Jewish and Muslim traditions. So, as you can imagine, their emphasis is not always on metal and they truly plant their feet in both worlds, winding back and forth when it suits them. The integration sometimes succeeds nicely and other times comes off as gimmicky or awkwardly out of place, so musically this is a mixed bag. Compositionally, the songs keep things dynamic with many changes, good riffs and interesting arrangements, but rarely build up structurally, resulting in too much meandering and, therefore, wandering attention. Instrumentally this is quite good, but the production is pretty thin. What really sinks this album however is the vocals. Kobi has a good, strong death growl as demonstrated on the demo and in many sections on this album, but he seems to be holding back often to the point of timid, wispy growls, and the doomdeath suffers as a result. His clean vocals (with a heavy accent) drone monotonously without passion of any form, and the female performing some backup vocals is so tone-deaf her vocals make me physically cringe. So all in all, there are some good things about this album, but the flaws far outweigh them.
El Norra Alila
(Holy Records - 1996)
Folk-metal from Israel, like a Mideast version of Amorphis, except the concept is taken further a few steps and the sources are more eclectic. Orphaned Land takes the Mideast folk sounds and melodies to such extremes that the music sometimes sounds like folk-music played on metal guitars, and the album includes several interludes of pure traditional music. Various sources and sounds are spliced together, Orphaned Land trying to bridge them all together like multi-cultural ambassadors. Jewish religious prayers on Middle-Eastern instruments shift to Arabic sounds and arrangements, traditional Eastern European tunes, oriental noodling, Mediterranean influences, etc. Various instruments used include the kanun, oud, darbuka and other Middle-Eastern percussive instruments, a violin, and more. The metal is often progressive and includes heavy metal, doom metal, and melodic Scandinavian death metal, often playing traditional tunes on guitars mixed with the metal. The variety on this album is astounding, with every song featuring dozens of types of arrangements, with well-integrated folk elements this time, many of them interesting and well done. But that's where the good stuff ends: Compositionally, the music never builds up, lacking structure, theme recapitulation, development of riffs, consistent rhythm or styles, or even emotional buildup, merely shifting from one arrangement to another. There are no songs on this album, only spliced riffs, arrangements and orphaned musical phrases. Additionally, the vocals are a problem again: Now featuring more vocal performers and styles, and some are a big improvement over the previous album, but the majority are the same old droning chant, wispy growls or even off-tune male vocals. The vocalist is still severely lacking in conviction and is simply too self-conscious and restrained to give the music the passion and strength that it needs. This together with the lack of musical structure converts the richness of the music into an insipid, uninvolving experience. That said, do try this out if the idea interests you, as this doesn't seem to bother many people and it is definitely miles above the debut.
(Century Media - 2004)
What a surprise. I could almost swear the whole band went to music school in the 8 year interim since the last release and the result is a completely different band. But their more extreme metal side also went out the window, resulting in a very unique sounding folk version of Symphony X by way of Elegy-period Amorphis, with the occasional death growls. The first thing that pops up is the music: melodic, structured, flowing, eclectic, full of variety and very full-sounding. At the same time the vocals shock you, Kobi now singing in a wide variety of styles, many of them quite good, not only with a newly discovered singing voice, but also with conviction and vocal control, and only the occasional off-tune moments and heavy accent. The styles vary a lot in every song but nicely and naturally. For example, melodic heavy-metal guitar soloing flows into growling Middle-Eastern melodic death, syncopated prog riffing can change to choirs, fading into female Yemenite vocalizing, Arabic wailing or folksy singsongs, Symphony X keyboards play oriental tunes with crunching guitars, before taking a break with Arabic percussion and Hebrew choirs, etc. Kobi chants, sings melodically in at least three different tones, growls, recites Biblical passages, and more. The latter half of the album really dives deep into its concept of Noah's flood with slightly overlong atmospheric songs as the climactic storm arrives, grows calm, rages, then recedes. In short, a very rich, different and quite progressive album that is recommended despite some flaws, but only if you are open to melodic progressive metal, a wide variety of musical styles in a single song, Biblical themes (without preaching), long concept-albums, and a lot of Middle-Eastern music. The only issues are personal, keeping in mind that one person's exotica and inspirational folk tunes is another's local bumpkin music, but objectively and musically, this comes recommended.
The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
(Century Media - 2010)
A follow-up to Mabool with a very similar sound and range of styles, this time produced by Steven Wilson (Opeth/Porcupine Tree). The concept this time is about the coming warrior of light, presumably inspired by various sources and religions. Songs vary widely again: There's Yemenite singing driven by crunching guitars, a song that is part In Flames death, part prog-metal, Turkish noodling, folksy guitar interludes backed by Arabic percussion, Maidenish guitars with Middle-Eastern keyboards and instruments, some amusingly (given the producer) Opeth-sounding Middle-Eastern prog-death-metal and a couple of acoustic tracks, Moroccan metal, and much more. Swedish melodic death seem to pop-up often this time, but the eclectic influences are so equally balanced and strongly fused together, it is impossible to pinpoint a dominant sound. Taken as a whole, the impression I get from this album compared to Mabool is that it takes its time and feels much longer, with a few overlong meandering songs, more instrumental sections, the rich compositions exploring sounds that are already familiar and less inspired, written and performed professionally, but not as exciting or as excited. I would have trimmed this album down some to make the songs tighter. All that said, it's very lightly recommended as a Mabool sequel, as long as you can take very long conceptual albums.

The Last Exit 1996-

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