Since forming in 1991, Israeli metallers Orphaned Land have gone from strength to strength, peddling their self-labelled “oriental metal”, fusing the more usual sounds of melodeath and power metal with the unique flavours of traditional Israeli instruments and middle Eastern melody.
Twenty-plus years into their career and the band have amassed quite a following thanks to their positive message and ability to unite fans across the spectrum of many different nationalities and faiths; even earning them the Global Metal award from MetalHammer in 2014.
Come 2018 and the band are gearing up to release new album Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, a concept album five years in the making that draws inspiration from the writings of Plato and the idea of peaceful revolutionaries having been silenced throughout history for their ideals. The album marks a return to form and one of their most expansive works to date, given that its thirteen tracks clocks in at over an hour.
Opener ‘The Cave’ is a clear nod to the theme throughout the album, being named directly after Plato’s famous cave analogy about the oppression of people and their fear to step outside the comfort zone as well as the methods used to control them. The song expands across eight minutes. Traditional instruments lead in with a faint vocal melody before moving into the band’s trademark sound, this time sounding not too far removed from German power metal stars Blind Guardian. This is perhaps not a coincidence given that Hansi Kürsch himself puts in an appearance on the record alongside other luminaries such as Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates) and Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis). The choice of guest is certainly not a strange one; across the album’s runtime, Orphaned Land marry progressive influences to melodeath as well as power metal elements, all seasoned with their unique blend of traditional instruments as well as using folk song structures. Here, ‘Yedidi’ deserves special mention as the song itself is a more traditional song written and sung entirely in Hebrew; however this isn’t a recurring motif for the album and serves more as an obligatory use of folk writing.
‘We Do Not Resist’ and ‘Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War’ are also amongst some of the heaviest material Orphaned Land have committed to tape, with nods to old-school melodeath in the former and despite the acoustic intro to the latter it descends into air-raid siren guitars and seriously heavy riffing, coupled with the track ending with the sound of a body hitting the floor. There’s also some Dream Theater influences during the theatrical ‘Chains Fall to Gravity’, a nine-and-a-half minute epic that features a very Portnoy-esque off-kilter time signature that recurs a few times throughout.
Given the themes of Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, one of the main recurring motifs throughout the album are various different sounds of censorship the band have used to further the concept of oppression and censoring peaceful revolutionaries. This includes the aforementioned body hitting the floor in ‘Only the Dead…’ as well as bleeps to obscure messages such as in ‘We Do Not Resist’. The band also employs white noise and recordings of speeches such as with closer ‘The Manifest - Epilogue’ which utilises both and ends the album with a screed against a vision of an oppressive future, leaving the listener with the simple phrase “don’t let it happen”.
It’s clear that the five years taken to craft Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs has paid off in a massive way for Orphaned Land; the lush instrumentation and peerless fusion of middle Eastern and Oriental influences alongside power metal, melodeath and prog rock underpins the album’s deep lyrical content and the band’s themes of peace and unity. The sixty-plus minutes move past gracefully and the songs create both desert as well as urban, dystopian soundscapes without losing sight of the band’s overarching message.