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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."