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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.