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A Clenched Fist Becomes an Open Hand - 85%

Chernobog, August 1st, 2014

Orphaned Land have risen to the forefront of the small but strong middle eastern metal scene, being one of the progenitors of the "oriental metal" genre. In addition to this, they're sort of a heavy metal version of diplomacy: although they are Israeli, their chief fan base in the east are Arab metalheads, who have taken to the band's message of peace between the faiths. In spite of a reputation for taking forever to release albums, their newest effort, "All Is One" came out only three years after their previous, which could mean two things: they finally have the necessary funding to put out an album, or they've been rushed into the studio by the pressure of fans, the label and the heat of creative confidence. Unfortunately, it's a little bit of both. "All Is One" is the cleanest sounding of all of Orphaned Land's albums, and they still have the songwriting chops that drew so many people to them. What they lack, however, is the epic sweep that came with their previous work.

Listening for the first time, it took me a while to figure out why the atmosphere of this record seemed so different, and after I finished the album, it eventually occurred to me what has changed. Obviously, if you look at the song lengths, you will notice that "All Is One" contains shorter songs than their previous work, but this is not the major change in the songs. Rather, the change is not the length, but the structure of the songs. "All Is One" has taken a more traditional verse-chorus route in the songwriting, in contrast to the progressive tendencies of their earlier work, which jumped in tone and rhythm, giving you the sense that you were being taken on a wild ride across some eastern desert. The songs on here are less a wild ride, and more a calm, risk free ride: you have your rockers, ballads, two folk songs and an instrumental, with not much of an attempt to cross any of them in one song.

The other big change is the lack of harsh vocals, with the exception of the song "Fail" (more on that later). This isn't too much of a loss, since my attraction to Orphaned Land was mainly their fusion of middle eastern and metal music, not the extreme metal influences. Nonetheless, vocalist Kobi Farhi is capable with death growls, and I can't help but feel that his ability to go from growls to singing added something to Orphaned Land's formula. If one element has been increased rather than decreased (or eliminated altogether), it's the emphasis on choir vocals and orchestra strings. From the opening title track, we are blasted with choir vocals that sound more like western church vocals than anything middle eastern. At times it works, such as in the aforementioned title track. Other times, such as in "Shama'im", it feels out of place in a song that is all in Hebrew and is attempting to carry a folk atmosphere. Finally, I can't help but miss the Yemenite folk vocals of female singer Shlomit Levi. No, she was not technically a member of the band, but her beautiful and uplifting voice provided a great counterbalance to the harsh metallic elements of Orphaned Land's sound, and gave it an added sense of authenticity.

This doesn't mean that there aren't good songs on here, of course. In fact, what this album lacks as far as a consistent sense of grandeur, it makes up for with the strength of individual songs, the absolute best on here being the aforementioned "Fail". Here, the band strikes a good balance between their more aggressive side and their folk influences. The guitar parts are moving and Kobi Farhi reminds you that he is just as capable of growling as he is of melodic singing. The title track sets the tone for the album nicely, guitarist Yossi Sassi (who has recently left the band) shows off his ability to pour emotion into his solos, and in in "Freedom", the album's instrumental, he continues to display his skill against the background of a well utilized rhythm of traditional drums. "Ya Benaye", which is all in Arabic, has probably the best balance between metal and middle eastern influences. "Our Own Messiah" is the other song, along with "Fail", that calls back to their earlier work, with it's shift from low range, chanted vocals to melodic and highly impassioned vocals from Kobi Farhi. For a band whose lyrics bring a message of peace, the softer, ballad like songs are the weak spot. "Brother" and "Children" both have great lyrics, and the use of orchestral strings give the songs give both songs a very old, movie soundtrack feel to them (not to mention the great lead guitar parts on "Children"), but "Let Thy Truce Be Known" just seems to lack the same emotion that the previous songs had.

"All Is One" satisfies most of the basic requirements for an Orphaned Land album: a fusion of metal and middle eastern folk music (with the occasional use of middle eastern instruments), English, Hebrew and Arabic vocals, and lyrics promoting peace in the mid-east. What the album lacks is the consistent sense of sweeping grandeur that defined Orphaned Land. In spite of this, there is still enough strength in some of the individual tracks to satisfy the fans, and the album is accessible enough for non-fans (whom the album is most likely aimed at anyways) to enjoy what they hear. If they do enjoy it, hopefully they dig backwards and discover what they have been missing.

The Nobel Peace Prize of the metal world - 99%

kluseba, May 29th, 2014

Orphaned Land is an ambitious band from Bat-Yam and Petah-Tikva in Israel that started as a death and doom metal band back in 1991. As time went by, the band shifted more and more towards Middle Eastern folk metal and developed a musical and lyrical approach that tries to unite the different cultures and religions of the Middle East. The band plays folk music with a heavy twist inspired by many intriguing subcultures. Their songs feature lyrics in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Latin, Turkish and more. Above all stands the clear message that people should unite and live peacefully together instead of fighting each other. All these elements caracterize this motivated and unique band. Some fans even started a petition to help the band getting the Nobel Prize for their commitment to allowing the Arab World to listen to their music despite ongoing conflicts and to spread their peaceful message. If you buy a new Orphaned Land record, the concept always plays a central role and you should be aware of that fact, have a minimum of knowledge about the different cultural and religious conflicts and be in favour of the message of peace to fully enjoy what the five band members and their high number of guest musicians on different exotic folk instruments, choir duties or orchestral arrangments do. To spread their message, the band has also become more and more accessible and soft without losing a certain progressive and symphonic inspiration. The band though quit growling passages apart of one short exception, brutal riffs or all too dark atmospheres in their sound. The music has become as positive as the message behind without sounding vapid but rather liberating and magical. "All Is One" is definitely the band's most accessible record and old fans might feel a little bit disappointed about that development but anybody else should immediately dig this release. Personally, I don't miss the band's earlier sound on here at all because these musicians have developed into something better and more important over the last ten years.

On the other side, the songs on here are catchier and less challenging than ever before. The epic half ballad "Brother," the symphonic folk metal opus "Let The Truce Be Known," or the joyful and danceable "The Simple Man" are instant hits and kick off the record on a very high note. My favourite song is though the opening title track "All is One" that isn't a far cry from Therion with its majestic symphonic arrangments, positively overwhelming choirs and charming Near Est folk melodies. This song is probably the best song the band has ever written.

The greatness doesn't stop after the first four tracks. An absolutely outstanding highlight is "Fail," one of the most thought out songs ever written in any musical genre. The track combines gripping narrative passages and dark and slow growls with enchanting clean vocals. Musically, the song includes dark and slow passages but also many melodic guitar riffs while the drumming turns out to be quite dynamical and diversified. The epic story that is told in six unique minutes is also worth some attention. This song doesn't stop creating colourful images in my mind. These six minutes definitely have more content than many entire albums, books or movies but it all sounds so light, peaceful and relaxing at the same time. Later on we get two duets with clean male and female vocals in Hebrew with "Shama 'Im" and in Arabic with "Ya Benaye." Both songs are exotic but accessible and transport a dreamy, positive and spiritual atmosphere. Both songs impress me much and are absolutely authentic and very interesting for those who are interested in foreign cultures and languages. For the very first time in the band's career, there are no unnecessary lengths and no filler tracks on this album. The album gets more and more experimental and progressive as it goes on instead.

In the end, these entertaining fifty-four minutes are a stunning and intellectually appealing discovery of different cultures, languages and even music genres that all are an essential part of the heart, mind and pulse of the Middle East. This record tells you more about this fascinating region than many documentaries I have watched. When you really take your time to listen to "All Is One," you can feel this certain kind of magic that only a few records have. This record is about more than just music because it builds a bridge between all these different cultures and despite this noble attempt, the music itself still remains catchy, emotional and innovating. That's where Orphaned Land become authetntic and sympathetic in comparison to the Bonos and Geldofs of this world even though I respect what these guys have done and are still doing. Orphaned Land though come directly from a place that is not always easy to live but they concretely try to make things better and they surely love their origins more than anything else. This album even beats the band's own groundbreaking 2004 progressive folk metal opus magnum "Mabool – The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven." Along with Amorphis' emotional firework "Circle" and Stratovarius addicting hit album "Nemesis," this album is definitely the best of the year 2013 on my list. There is no excuse for you to not try this record out right now.

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Old people hate extreme metal - 70%

Djavul, July 20th, 2013

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."

The Orphaned Land feels a little more barren. - 82%

eyes_of_apocalypse, July 14th, 2013

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.

The orphaned sound - 90%

lordazmolozmodial, June 26th, 2013

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.

Originally written for:
www.jorzine.com