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Review: Orphaned Land – ‘Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs’

Orphaned LandOn ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’, Therapy? famously sang, ”The world is fucked, and so am I, maybe it’s the other way round, I can’t seem to decide”. On their first album in five years, Orphaned Land seem to concur with Andy Cairns, but frontman Kobi Farhi offers up an interesting argument on who is to blame for the state of the world. ”A lot of thinking made me realize that despite the politicians, religious leaders or the media, we, the people, are the only ones to blame – we are the ones that know who Kim Kardeshian is and seem oblivious to such facts as that 70,000 kids being kidnapped in India every year”. Strong sentiments indeed. ‘Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs’ is a concept album, based around the allegory that Plato wrote after the Greeks killed Socrates. Plato couldn’t understand how the Greeks could kill Socrates, and came up with the allegory that humans don’t want to leave their caves and break free from their chains. Orphaned Land have taken this allegory and formed a sixty minute plus album around it. In layman’s terms, 2,500 years ago, someone realised that the problem was burying your head in the sand and hoping it would be all right in the end. Kind of sounds familiar, eh?

‘Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs’ is not an album to drop in and out of. Sure, there are standalone moments such as the singles ‘Like Orpheus’ and ‘Chains Fall To Gravity’, but this is an album meant for hearing start to finish in one sitting. The mixture of melodeath, orchestral and choral arrangements that soar and swoop over the listeners head, and the arabic/oriental atmospherics that Orphaned Land are famous for, all make for an enthralling and thought provoking hour or so. The playing is exemplary, especially since the band have gone through some changes in personnel in recent times. The riffs from new guitarists Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem are top notch and drive the album along at a fair old pace. Couple this with the pounding rhythms from bassist Uri Zelcha and drummer/percussionist Matan Shmuely (especially on ‘We Do Not Resist’), and there is enough metal to satisfy the headbanger in all of us. Farhi sings (and growls) in many tongues; English, Hebrew, and Ancient Greek (I believe). His heavily-accented vocals are stunning and full of life, with no attempt to disguise his Middle Eastern brogue, and why should he? With an endless amount of fellow artists behind them in the Hellscore Choir and The Orphaned Land’s oriental orchestra, make no mistake, this is a massive production… that’s without mentioning the special guest appearances from Steve Hackett (‘Chains Fall To Gravity’), Hansi Kursch (‘Like Orpheus’) and Tomas Lindberg from At The Gates, who barrels through ‘Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of The War’ with the gusto you would expect.   

There are so many influences at play here. The prog leanings of Genesis and Pink Floyd are stamped all over the album. The sheer scale of ‘Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs’ just screams Floyd. Moments on the likes of ‘Poets Of Prophetic Messianism’ could easily have come from a Broadway production. The haunting female vocals live on long after the song fades out. This review began with a quote from Therapy? Here’s another quote, but this time from George Orwell, and lifted from 1984… “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.” These evocative words are spoken as the closing track, ‘The Manifest – Epilogue’, begins to fade out. It’s a stunning, bold album that gets better with each listen. It took Farhi two years to come up with it, and will be interesting to see how Orphaned Land tackle it live. It’s strong enough to be played in it’s entirety, but would the band risk sixty minutes of new music in one fell swoop? as Del Boy would say, “He who dares, Rodders“, but would the Orphaned Land faithful go for it? Only time will tell…

The final words are reserved for the stunning album cover artwork. Each visit delivers something missed from the last one. From the guns pointing directly at your face, the bombs falling onto an open book, the wheels and cogs turning, and the globe on fire, to the solitary raised clenched fist, this is a stunning piece of art. The font used for the album title… is it just me, or does it look uncannily like the same one used on an American dollar bill?

Available now through Century Media, more details here.

Review: Dave

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