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Orphaned Land – live review

Their dramatic and complex weaving of Arab folk and neo-prog rock is a thing of wonder, and shows that music reaching across cultures really does have the power to change us, writes Mark Craig

Orphaned Land

From the unique position of being Israelis playing to thousands of Arab fans in Turkey to a damp Tuesday evening in Bilston is, for many bands, a big step in the wrong direction. And coming to the Black Country via sold-out gigs across Europe wasn’t the best preparation for a disappointing turnout for Orphaned Land’s second-ever UK gig.

Nonetheless, that was the lie of the land as the band and their three terrific support acts prepared to take the stage.

First up was French band The Mars Chronicles, whose intense but melodic, and exceedingly well-rehearsed, metal was a tasty opener. Next up were the quite fascinating Khalas (‘enough’), a four-piece subset of the Palestinian Arab Rock Orchestra. You rarely see a band having quite so much genuine fun on stage, and it’s even rarer to hear the sublimely-enmeshed Arab rhythms and metal riffs that they produce.

Welcoming Uri from Orphaned Land to join them on stage, there was the unlikely sight of a Palestinian metal band being driven along by a crazy Israeli bassist. Minutes after their set, they were happily standing amongst the crowd, talking, sharing a beer and manning the merchandising stall.

The surprise of the evening were the final support act, Klone from France. Dispensing with their previous Tool fetish in favour of an altogether more interesting mix of prog influences, metal riffs and an amazing new lightness of touch, they were a revelation. Yann Ligner is a totally magnetic frontman - his slo-mo dancing in the teeth of immense chunks of riffery was simply entrancing, and his command of the music through his vocals was quite unique. Simply breathtaking, with Rocket Smoke being an absolute, stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks stunner.

And so on to Orphaned Land, five Israelis on a mission to demand of Christianity, Judaism and Islam whether there isn’t a better way than ‘sharing our faith at the barrel of a gun’.

Their dramatic, complex weaving of Arab folk music, rock and neo-prog into their patented ‘oriental metal’ was a thing of wonder. Judicious use of backing tracks allowed them to keep the choirs and the orchestrations from their storming new album All Is One, and as they ripped through the 13 song setlist, they showcased both their vastly intricate prog roots (Sapari and Barakah) and their new, melodic and accessible grooves.

With bassist Uri Zelha looking for all the world like a granite-hewn Easter Island statue and master guitarist Yossi Sassi creating huge rhythms founded on Arabic, Turkish and European scales, their sound is simply enormous, most notably on The Simple Man.  And with lyrics sung in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Yemeni and even Latin (‘minor sum cunctis miserationibus quam explesti servo tuo’ – Genesis 32:10, if you’re interested), this is a cultural tour de force.

Presenting the gentle song Brother in the context of brothers in the Abrahamic faiths, Khalas guitarist Abed Hathout joined Kobi Farhi (whose Jim Morrison lyrics tattoo was neatly captured by my colleague Dan McDowall) on stage, with the Israeli and Palestinian brothers rendering the song’s emotions beautifully (‘that kid on the mountain – what was his name?’). They’ve known each other for ten years, and as Kobi says: ‘if music is harmony, it should be played louder in places of disharmony’.

The evening was closed with the gentlest of touches though, as one by one Orphaned Land left the stage, leaving Kobi on his own conducting the crowd acapella in 2004’s Nora el Nora (‘Entering The Ark’), ending with a whispered ‘you’re beautiful’.

What a night - of contrasts, of languages, of bands moving on, of gentleness in the midst of musical thunder. And most of all, a celebration that music reaching across cultures really does have the power to change us all.


Related: Crossing borders with Orphaned Land - an interview


Mark Craig is Communications Director at BMS World Mission

Baptist Times, 16/01/2014
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