When they toured with Palestinian act Khalas a few years ago, Orphaned Land‘s Israeli frontman, Kobi Farhi would joke on stage every night about how, considering the two bands were from two Middle Eastern countries divided by a brutal and long-standing conflict, the only time they would actually argue with each other was over whose turn it was to buy the beer.
While the band’s message on the previous album All Is One (Century Media) was one of unity and harmony, their stance this time (while still promoting those values, obviously) is a little more combative. Inspired by Plato‘s The Allegory of the Cave – a story in which the Greek philosopher claims knowledge gained through the senses is nothing more than opinion, and that to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning – the band contemporise the tale, updating the story about a group of prisoners believing shadows cast on the wall by their captors to be real, by drawing parallels to the brainwashing and disinformation tactics used by the media and certain governments.
After the surprise departure of guitarist and co-founder, Yossi Sassi in 2014, it’s fair to say that not many people would have predicted a fully-fledged concept/protest album based on the teachings of Plato, but clearly not a band content with playing safe, that is exactly what Orphaned Land have done on their sixth full-length release, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs (Century Media).
And with it, they have already surely produced one of the best albums of 2018.
Beginning with a mournful female vocal coupled with a melancholic orchestral introduction, opener ‘The Cave’ soon moves up a gear, and with the band’s signature sound of choirs and swathes of traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, it immediately creates a comforting feeling of welcome familiarity. Having already employed a noticeably more aggressive vocal style on the opening track, Farhi completely reverts to his old Death Metal vocals on ‘We Do Not Resist’, one of the album’s angriest moments, with its politically relevant lyrics based around the media and “false news”.
Featuring some enjoyably intricate runs on the Saz and Bouzouki, ‘In Propaganda’ delivers its message by switching between the soulful and sombre to bouncy and upbeat using traditional Israeli rhythms and scales. Things slow down a little with ‘All Knowing Eye’, a downbeat song featuring a quite superb guitar solo, while the traditional sounding ‘Yedidi’ has Kobi singing in his native tongue.
‘Chains Fall to Gravity’ is an ambitious, near ten-minute epic which features a guest spot from former Genesis guitar legend Steve Hackett, undoubtedly returning a favour after Kobi appeared on his album The Night Siren (Inside Out) last year. With its mid-80’s Iron Maiden intro, and guest vocals from Blind Guardian singer Hansi Kursch, ‘Like Orpheus’ is one of the album’s more instant moments, while ‘Poets Of Prophetic Messianism’ is a semi-instrumental piece led only by choir.
Although neither ‘Left Behind’ or ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ remotely qualify as poor, they do unfortunately fail to hit quite the same heights as the rest of the record. Following on from those, ‘Take My Hand’ possesses a powerful groove, a simple but effective central riff, a strong beat, and yet another superlative vocal performance from Farhi.
‘Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War’ is another strong entry, this time featuring a reliably gruff guest vocal spot from Tomas Lindberg of Swedish Death Metal legends, At The Gates. ‘The Manifest – Epilogue’ closes the album, and contains yet another impressive guitar solo before eventually fading out to the George Orwell quote lifted from his classic novel, 1984 – “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever”.
With new guitarist Idan Amsalem slotting in like a glove, and Kobi Farhi delivering one of the best performances of his career, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is a more than worthy successor to All Is One, even if it might not be as instantly gratifying to some.