Here is our first edition of Breakdown of the Band, where we’ll analyze and rate the discography of a group who has had great significance and output through their career. We hope to continue this series and while we currently have a few bands in mind of who will be next, feel free to comment which other musical acts you’d like to see also included in the series.
My own personal discovery of the Israeli progressive/oriental metal project Orphaned Land admittedly came late as it was during their 2017 US tour with Pain and Voodoo Kungfu. While I was thoroughly entranced by their powerful performance, I became an even more passionate fan when they released their Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs LP the following year. As I dug deeper into the catalog, I was fascinated by the band’s roots and evolution. Below, you can check out my thoughts on all six of their full-length studio albums.
Released via Holy Records in 1994
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Yossi Sasi (guitar, oud), Matti Svatitzki (guitar), Uri Zelcha (bass), Itzik Levi (keys, sampler, piano), Sami Bachar (drums)
All bands must start somewhere and Orphaned Land‘s first full-length album is a decent debut. There’s many innovative ideas happening here, which subtly foreshadow at the group’s future succinct oriental metal identity, yet the material mainly sticks to death-doom. Yes, there’s many moments showing Eastern musicalities and the intent of fusion is present, however the concept often gets muddled by both the production and composition to the point where the two genres of metal and Eastern folk aren’t fully or successfully conjoined. It’s not an awful record by any stretch of the imagination, but it hasn’t exactly aged well. Although I don’t find myself revisiting this LP due to the lengthy, directionless songs, if you’re a fan of old Opeth and Paradise Lost, you may find Sahara to be a worthy listen.
Notable Tracks: “Ornaments of Gold”
El Norra Alila
Released via Holy Records in 1996
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Yossi Sasi (guitar, oud), Matti Svatitzki (guitar), Uri Zelcha (bass), Sami Bachar (drums)
Immediately, there’s a surge of confidence across the board by the band from Farhi’s vocal range and delivery to the tighter rhythm section. While not by a huge amount, progress is made regarding interesting and engaging compositions. In certain songs, a greater inclusion of progressive metal is shown as well as oriental metal fusion, yet they are still usually buried in the over-indulgence of death-doom. Nonetheless, we see the band becoming more comfortable in their skin and developing a clear and concise identity for themselves, even if not fully actualized.
Notable Tracks: “Find Yourself, Discover God,” “Thee by the Father I Pray,” “Of Temptation Born”
Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven
Released via Century Media Records in 2004
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Yossi Sasi (guitar, saz, bouzouki, oud), Matti Svatitzki (guitar), Uri Zelcha (bass), Eden Rabin (keys, synths, piano), Avi Diamond (session drums)
With an eight year gap since the previous record (granted, there was a hiatus during half of that), the elongated time that went towards the writing process on this LP shows immense, rewarding improvements to a focused sense of songwriting, technicality both instrumentally as well as vocally, and the ability to create music that is undoubtedly pushing the boundaries for stylistic fusion. It might not be an absolutely perfect album, but it’s darn close and overall a huge milestone in the band’s career, shifting away from the death-doom subgenre and embracing a more unique progressive death metal approach. Furthermore, I think this is the first release where they hit the nail on the head in terms of a balanced oriental metal fusion.
Notable Tracks: “Birth of the Three (The Unification),” “Ocean Land (The Revelation),” “The Kiss of Babylon (The Sins),” “Norra el Norra (Entering the Ark)”
The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR
Released via Century Media Records in 2010
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Yossi Sassi (guitar, saz, bouzouki, oud, chumbush), Matti Svatitzki (guitar), Uri Zelcha (bass), Avi Diamond (session drums)
Continuing down the path of oriental and progressive death metal, Orphaned Land begin to explore and expand their experimentation. With Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) at the helm of production and contributing keys, the material is more refined, melodic, and again sometimes showing resemblance to Opeth. With that being said, this is a fairly long album and there’s some less than memorable pieces.
Notable Tracks: “Sapari,” “From Broken Vessels,” “Barakah”
All is One
Released via Century Media Records in 2013
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Yossi Sassi (guitar, oud, saz, bouzouki, chumbush), Chen Balbus (guitar, bouzouki, piano, xylophone), Uri Zelcha (bass), Matan Shmuely (drums)
As founding guitarist Yossi Sassi departed, we see the group making yet another large stylistic shift. Instead of pushing further musical extremes and experimentation, they transition towards a straight-forward and accessible approach, for better or worse. Not to infer that unclean vocals equate to heaviness and quality, but the fact that only one song on this album includes death growls is a noticeable detractor. While some fans may have disagreed with the polished production and simplistic songwriting, this definitely allowed for their lyrical storytelling and overarching message to come across much clearer. Additionally, this LP includes a few of the band’s more impactful singles, even if the remaining material is pretty skippable.
Notable Tracks: “All is One,” “Brother,” “Let the Truce Be Known”
Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs
Released via Century Media Records in 2018
Lineup: Kobi Farhi (vocals), Idan Amsalem (guitar, bouzouki), Chen Balbus (guitar), Uri Zelcha (bass), Matan Shmuely (drums)
The simplicity that dulled the last album flourished into something far more grandiose within this thoroughly proggy follow-up. Although, alike All is One, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs may also be quite divisive with its rock leanings opposed to the death metal-driven music on Mabool or ORwarriOR. Melody and folk fusion is proven to be at the top of the band’s priorities on this record, however if you’re concerned about Orphaned Land losing their edge, I can assure you that there’s a decent amount of “heavy factor” as death growls surface on several tracks. An influence of classic rock and grunge also is revealed through the lead guitar licks showing parallels to Pearl Jam or Pink Floyd. Overall, this LP is without a doubt their strongest showcase of songwriting being complex, aesthetically pleasing, gripping, and magical from front to back.
Notable Tracks: “We Do Not Resist,” “In Propaganda,” “Like Orpheus”
Comparing their debut Sahara with their latest LP, the differences are vast. Yet, as I listened to the band’s entire catalog chronologically, their gradual transformation feels natural and is inspiringly impressive. With over two decades worth of material, there is plenty to enjoy from the group whether you’re a fan of death-doom, extreme, folk, progressive metal, or some fusion of all. Not only were they able to pioneer and evolve the subgenre of oriental metal, but they also brought awareness and unity to differing religions and cultures. Through analyzing the Israeli oriental metal’s discography, one thing became clear. The storm that is Orphaned Land still rages on.
Side note: We didn’t include it on the list, but if you’re a dedicated enough fan, we also recommend their collaboration album with Amaseffer titled Kna’an. It’s an enjoyable continuation of both bands’ prog/folk metal style.