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Exhibit 74: An extreme progressive metal band get older and stops being extreme.
How many times have we seen this before? Anathema, Katatonia, Amorphis, Paradise Lost, Opeth, etc... Sometimes this works out great, and the band is talented enough to keep making good mellow rock music. For instance, I think most of the early doom stuff Anathema and Katatonia did sucked compared to their later works, so I'm not just against metal bands mellowing out. But other times, it just feels like you're left with half of what the band was before. Orphaned Land is clearly still very talented, and this album isn't bad, per say, but it's also not nearly as good as their previous works.
Orphaned Land has often been called a Middle Eastern Opeth before, and unlike the reviewer below, with whom I mostly agree, I feel like Opeth comparison can continue. I really didn't like Opeth's Heritage and felt it was quite boring relative to their earlier works. When a band masters a style that skillfully transitions between different genres (death metal, prog rock, folk) and gains a large fan base for it, they ought to be very careful when they stop including one of those genres in their music. Like Opeth, Orphaned Land has just become rather bland when they remove the heavier elements from their music.
The two early Orphaned Land albums were very creative, but a bit raw and left room for improvement. With Mabool, Orphaned Land created a masterpiece with an excellent balance of prog, death, and folk influences. It had quality songwriting, memorable riffs, and transitions between radically different styles that kept your mind engaged and always interested in what came next. ...ORWarrior had great songs and was a fairly solid album overall, but I sometimes found myself getting bored when it settled into a comfortable prog folk groove and went too long without any metal parts.
All Is One continues the trend and virtually the whole album remains in this comfortable mid-pace prog folk groove. Yes, the growls are gone from all but one songs. But the real problem is that the aforementioned 3 things that made Mabool great are gone: the songwriting isn't as creative, the riffs aren't as memorable, and there are few interesting transitions to keep you engaged. Oh yeah, and another huge loss is that Shlomit Levi, who provided the female vocals and ethnic chants, is also gone. What they did add were more symphonic layers and choirs, while expanding the folk influences. However, this isn't enough to make up for the loss of growls, fast death metal riffs, and Levi's female vocals.
The lead-off/title track is kinda lame compared to "Sapari" from the last album. The guitars just go "d-DUN DUN DUN" over and over, and the addition of an entire choir doesn't make up for the loss of Shlmoit Levi. "Simple Man" has some good chugging riffs in the verses, but the simple poppy chorus annoys me too much to be able to enjoy the song. "Brother" is a very mellow song, but actually one of the highlights of the album. It's an emotional song with powerful lyrics pleading for Jew-Arab unity, and has a great solo in it. "Let the Truce Be Known" also really picks up steam as it goes, and you may find yourself banging your head a bit by the end. "Fail" is the only song with growls and the only one reminiscent of their earlier works. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the best on the album. The instrumental "Freedom" also has some great riffs.
However, the rest of the songs are just kinda boring. "Through Fire and Water" passes by unremarkably. "Shama'im" does indeed sound like it might make it onto an Israeli soft rock radio station. "Ya Benaye" has unique Arabic vocals, but the song gets pretty repetitive. "Our Own Messiah" has a memorable instrumental break, but the rest of the song still plods along at that familiar mid-pace groove. "Children" is a decent slow closer, but you may just be bored of the album by this point.
Basically, what I feel like happened here is that Orphaned Land started taking their role as Jew-Arab peace envoys more seriously than their role as a metal band. Instead of abstract mythological lyrics, you get stuff like "It doesn't matter if you're Muslim or a Jew!" I'm glad a bunch of atheists can get religious idiots to quit killing each other and listen to the same band, and I wish them the best of luck with that. Unfortunately, it seems their music has suffered as a consequence.
Yossi Sassi stated that they were making the music "more accessible" on this album, and that they certainly did. There's nothing extreme about this album, other than one song with growls, and I'm sure those will be completely gone by the next album. It's still metal I guess, but the kind that people who've never heard anything heavier than Metallica or Dream Theater can get into. I'm sure they can get even more fans if they stop playing metal altogether and become an Israeli U2 or something. It's too bad we have to lose a unique metal band in the process.
If this had been the first album I heard from this band, I'd probably give in a few listens, but it wouldn't be enough to really get me into the band. I have in fact listened to it several times to see if it grows on you, but instead I just find it getting more boring. These guys are obviously still very talented, but the music on this album just isn't as well-written and progressive as the albums that came before it.
Verdict: If you really like polished, easily accessible ethnic prog rock/metal check it out (i.e. if you liked Opeth's Heritage). If you'd prefer more varied extreme prog metal, go get "Mabool" instead.
Highlights: "Brother," "Let the Truce Be Known," "Fail."
What is it about almost all of my favorite bands that they feel the need to royally fuck their formula? Wait, I'm sorry, let me start at the beginning. Orphaned Land is a Middle-Eastern progressive folk/death metal band - or, at least, they were - that is known for taking an excessive amount of time to release albums. Like, a six to eight year wait per album. However, it's a justified wait, because this time is dedicated into forging an utterly legendary album. Their previous efforts Mabool and The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR are flawless masterpieces. So naturally, when they're coming out with something after only three years, one might be a little concerned. The likely scenario is they're releasing half-assed, undeveloped material. Still, being this is Orphaned Land we're talking about, I had faith in them. Even when Kobi Farhi announced there wouldn't be growling on All Is One, I wasn't worried. The growls were never a deciding factor of their music, anyway.
I believe an album's introductory track should set a mood for the album or show right off what to expect, and "All Is One" does exactly that. There are two initial things the song shows off: new symphonic textures used to an extent less emphasized in the past, and you'll be hearing these symphonies all over the album. The next is a complete eschewing of the previous Orphaned Land progressive song format.
What we're instead exposed to is a simplified groove spiced with aforementioned symphonies (which do the album great justice) and a reliance on slick, catchy folk hooks. We'll be repeatedly treated to variations on this formula through the album - this song is an enjoyable experience and successful at what it does, but within this formula lies the problem. Orphaned Land isn't about to be called the "Middle-Eastern Opeth" with this album as they have been in the past, because the progressiveness of their music has been radically toned down. One of the things that made their music so great was the journey-like flow of their songs, conjoining a variety of riffs, melodies, and styles without overly relying on one element - and All Is One isn't just over relying, it's out right abusing them at times. There are only two or three songs here I'd dare label as progressive - one of which being "Fail," the only song on the album to contain growls and something more reminiscent of their past efforts. The rest have varying levels of progressive tendencies at best and are straight up commercialized folk rock at worst.
So with the death metal essentially gone and the progressiveness so drastically reduced, what's left is some really played up Middle-Eastern folk heavily accented by the aforementioned symphonies; these add a certain drama at times, such as in "Brother," which works as an open letter from Isaac to Ishmael - there's a humble poignancy when realizing this is being sung by an Israeli. The symphonies and piano are woven together and emphasize the oriental atmosphere, producing a tremendous, sobering, and moving ballad.
The folk has been emphasized in other ways as well; most notably the back-to-back "foreign" songs - that is, sung in Hebrew and Arabic - "Shama'im" and "Ya Benaye," which are borderline boring. Orphaned Land isn't foreign (pun unintended) to the highly oriental use of Hebrew and Arabic languages in their music, but their past albums generally used them as interludes (see: "A'salk," "Olat Ha'tamid") or tastefully interwove it into their songs (see: "Disciples of the Sacred Oath II") rather than making it such a major element. This wouldn't be a complaint in and of itself were it not for the fact that it sounds, honestly, like a gimmick. I want to say that over in the Middle-East, these songs could be entirely radio friendly.
Between these radio friendly "oriental" songs and the massively reduced progressiveness in most the rest of the songs, this is their most accessible album by a mile, and one gets the feeling that was the entire intention of this album, especially considering they threw out the concept of a concept album and gave us eleven individual songs pleading for peace in the Middle-East. I will openly admit this isn't entirely a negative, because the songs do have some really catchy hooks that are likely to please the lover of the Oriental folk sound for which they're known ("All Is One," "The Simple Man"). With simplification of music comes simplified enjoyment; while these songs aren't likely to hold up as long, they might strike you as more initially pleasing without requiring a lot of "growth." None of the tracks are "bad" and most are quite good, despite everything.
In fact, All Is One is very good to great, and I'm simply more-or-less angry that this album isn't what I wanted out of it. It's full of great songs - "Brother" and "Fail," representing the two polars of the album, standing out the most. "Let the Truce Be Known" and "Our Own Messiah" sit in the middle stylistically bringing out the progressive side just a bit more and are excellent, as well as "Through Fire and Water" employing the highly exotic flair more impressively. The problem is that the album seems undeveloped - most of their great ideas have been watered down by being simplified, forced, or gimmicky. There's wasn't a long enough gestation period, and this means what could've been another legendary entry in their catalog just comes out "an enjoyable experience."
When a band like Orphaned Land manages to ensnare listeners with a formula that's successfully and groundbreakingly diverse and eclectic, altering this formula at all seems like a foolish move - simplifying it is almost downright ignorant. I wouldn't care about them fucking around so much if they managed to succeed in the end results the way they have in the past, but they didn't. ORwarriOR, which unashamedly sits as my all time favorite album, was significantly longer at 78 minutes, but it's the archetype by which I hold all long albums to. It was incredibly diverse, hitting many different styles and themes, and never once became boring through the entire album. All Is One is shorter, yet less diverse or creative and because of this feels longer than its predecessors. Just once I'd like a band to come out and say, "You know, our new album really isn't as good as our previous stuff. We just weren't really feeling it this time. But we have our label on our collective ass to not take another six years releasing an album, so you're stuck with this I guess." I have good enough reason to think this album is a labor of label pressure, and they sure as hell weren't feeling it this time. That said, only Orphaned Land could release an album that feels so rushed yet still sounds better than almost anything else released yet this year. Not like that's saying much though, cause 2013 has fucking sucked so far.
Orphaned Land is becoming one of the most important Oriental metal bands in the world today because their spectacular music that sums up the elements of progressive and death metal with the Middle Eastern folk music are getting more professional with every full-length album. After the successful material that the band released on the albums "Mabool" and "The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR", the new album, "All Is One", became one of the most anticipated albums in the global metal scene nowadays. The high quality mixture of the tasty Oriental-charmed music can't let the listeners down anyway, especially when a professional band like Orphaned Land is creating it. If you're ready for some melodious musical structure and some catchy growling moments, then you have to start this Oriental experience now with this album.
First of all, before even listening to the album I've noticed something strange about the artwork, as it has the same symbolic concept of the artwork that has been designed for the album "Believe" for the American band Disturbed (released in 2002). The new sound that has been created on this album doesn't sound totally different from the previous work of Orphaned Land, and the Middle Eastern flavor of the clean vocals on this album has the same smell of the album "El Norra Alila". The guitar progressions remind me of the album "Mabool", but the choirs and the Oriental fabric of the keyboards are more mature and grown than the previous albums, so this album definitely is not copying the previous sound of Orphaned Land.
Though this is the first full-length album with new guitarist Chen Balbus in Orphaned Land's discography, the result was really successful (though we sure will miss the guitar touches of Matti Svatizky). The tracks "Our Own Messiah" and "Let the Truce be Known" were the first singles from "All Is One" and the influences of the previous albums are clearly obvious in the structure of these singles, but the progress that the band created here made the riffing and the singing memorable and catchy, especially the lead guitar sections and the keyboard efforts. There are many fascinating slow-paced tracks on this album such as "Children" and "Brother", both tracks presenting excellent bass performances and both tracks used many folk Middle Eastern instruments like bouzouki, oud, and chumbush. The creative drumming of Matan Shmuely blew every track on this release, and the Oriental-styled procession has made the fabric of the tracks bend toward the folksy Middle Eastern sound and showed some professionalism (hear the tracks "Freedom" and "Through Fire And Water"). There are some harsh vocals in the track "Fail", but that wasn't what I've expected from this album. I didn't want Orphaned Land to get softer with every release, so some harsh vocals are required for the fans of death metal here!
This is not a simple release, and only those who're interested in Middle Eastern culture and music will enjoy listening to the tracks of this album, but if you're searching for an aggressive metal release, then you're in the wrong place. I liked the elements of this record a lot, but I can't hide my anger against the softness that the band has reached on this record. I wish the band will satisfy the extreme metal fans on the next releases without giving them smooth musical structures only. "Mabool" is still my favorite record for Orphaned Land even though I was expecting this fact to be changed with this record, but anyway, "All Is One" is a good album and it's recommended to all the worshipers of Oriental and Middle Eastern metal music.
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