Monday, September 2, 2013

Orphaned Land - All Is One

Orphaned Land
All Is One
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Israel based outfit Orphaned Land returned to the music scene in 2004 (The band initially started out as Resurrection in 1991, but changed their name to Orphaned Land in 1992, before folding in 1997), they certainly made an impact – both on a musical and conceptual level. The band’s third full-length effort ‘Mabool - The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven’ (Released in 2004, and their first for Century Media Records) may have fallen under the progressive rock/metal genre tag, but encompassed almost everything one could think of in terms of the progressive tag’s far reaching influences. In other words, the album was near impossible to pin down to any one particular sound, and it was a sound that worked in the band’s favour. But outside of the music, it was the conceptual theory behind the group’s thinking and lyrical themes that stood out, with the band deciding not to take sides on the endless religious debate that exists throughout the Middle East. Instead, the band took on a neutral role, with the message of peace and unity regardless of religious outlook being the central theme throughout the album.
With the album establishing Orphaned Land on a global scale, expectations were high when it came for the release of their follow-up effort. And while 2010’s ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ did live up to some follower’s expectations, there were some who felt that the band’s move away from the sound of the former album into a more streamlined and melodic direction left the band sounding like they’d lost a little of their unique identity. I for one wasn’t completely satisfied with ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’, especially given how much I enjoyed ‘Mabool - The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven’. So when news was announced about the impending release of their fifth full-length effort ‘All Is One’ after a relatively short three years between releases, I was curious to see what the band had to offer – but no getting my hopes up too high. And that was a good thing, because while I think ‘All Is One’ is a much stronger album to their last release, it still falls well short of eclipsing the brilliance of their classic ‘Mabool - The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven’.
The opening title track ‘All Is One’ is undoubtedly one of the album’s real standout cuts. It’s clear right from the outset that the symphonic influences heard in the past have taken on a much greater role here, which allows the song to take on a grander epic scope than anything the band were able to produce in the past. But underneath the symphony, the band themselves (Lead vocalist Kobi Farhi, new guitarist/backing vocalist Chen Balbus, guitarist Yossi Sassi, bassist Uri Zelcha and drummer Matan Shmuely) have still managed to put together a heavy sounding track that bears some progressive rock influences, but with a decidedly catchier and melodic slant, and with Farhi relying solely on clean vocals. While the changes are in line with the progression the band have been maintaining from one release to the next, it has to be said that ‘All Is One’ is a great song, and the lead guitar work and the use of choir really giving the song it’s defining features.
‘The Simple Man’ may be lacking the progressive rock sound of the band’s past, but is strengthened with its straight forward and direct song writing, effective use of orchestral themes and strong melodies, while ‘Brother’ (The first single lifted from the album) sees the band fuse folk and orchestral elements to perfection to create a stirring ballad with a an equally inspiring message that calls for unity amongst brothers in a time of constant war.
Both ‘Let the Truce Be Known’ and ‘Through Fire And Water’ are solid enough tracks, but lack that something special to really make them stand out as much as the former tracks. The same can’t be said for ‘Fail’, which is a throwback to the band’s past with Farhi complimenting the heavier melodic death metal guitar direction with his growled vocals and spoken word narration. As you would expect, the track is another of the album’s stand out tracks.
After the impressive Middle Eastern/guitar driven instrumental piece ‘Freedom’ is given a run through, the album once again falls into a bit of a lull, with the Hebrew sung ‘Shama’im’ and the Arabic based ‘Ya Benaye’ sounding like radio friendly tunes. Both tracks are O.K., but there’s little going on instrumentally to make them stand out from the ordinary, which is a shame given that Orphaned Land are more than capable to giving the listener something unique more often than not. Granted, the latter is a little guitar driven than the former, but it’s just not enough to just play some heavy guitar over traditional Middle Eastern influenced music to make the listener stand up and take notice.
‘Our Own Messiah’ does lift up the tail end a little with a return to the progressive tendencies within the band’s song writing guiding what could have been a fairly ordinary track into something a bit more interesting, while the closer ‘Children’ manages to finish the album on a higher note – even if the track is essentially a sweeping ballad that hinges primarily on Farhi’s emotive vocals rather than the music making a statement of its own.
Overall, ‘All Is One’ is a likeable album, and the kind of album I enjoyed far more than ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’. But if I were to be honest, I still rate ‘Mabool - The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven’ as Orphaned Land’s true masterpiece.
‘All Is One’ isn’t so much terrible, but bland at times. Personally, I’d like to see the band shake up their sound a little more over the course of an album, and perhaps inject a little more of their older progressive influences into their song writing. Only time will tell if they do that, but until then, ‘All Is One’ is a welcome return to form for the band, even if it isn’t anywhere near as much as I was would have liked.

For more information on Orphaned Land, check out - http://www.orphaned-land.com/

© Justin Donnelly