Thursday, January 28, 2010

Orphaned Land interview

It was nigh-impossible to schedule a time to talk with Orphaned Land's lead singer Kobi Farhi, what with the 10-hour time difference between Los Angeles and the band's home base of Israel. Eventually we settled on 10am on a Sunday morning (8pm Jerusalem time) for our interview. While I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, Farhi spoke with the articulate loquaciousness of a guy who's done a lot of explaining over the years. Orphaned Land is certainly an anomaly -- a world-class progressive death metal band from a region that doesn't produce much metal at all (and, as Farhi explains, is often opposed to it), a band of Jews with a huge Muslim fanbase, a sextet of outspoken Israelis without a political agenda to push. Farhi was promoting Orphaned Land's new album, The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR, set for a US release of February 9 via Century Media. It's a big album full of big ideas, conceptually and musically. Farhi conveys the vastness of Orphaned Land's visions in his remarks.

An abridged version of this interview can be found in Decibel issue 65 (Fear Factory cover). Click here for an abridged version of the abridged version.


Orphaned Land is known for taking its sweet time in between records. Why the long wait since Mabool and the Ararat EP?

I guess it’s a combination of a few things. I should say that the first thing is that our music is very complex, very layered and if you take the new album, it’s a three-chapter story reaching a total of 78 minutes long. So the amount of information inside of that album -- we could easily make three albums out of it. We do let everybody wait, but then we give them, let’s say, something to eat for a few years.

This is who we are. We can definitely write more catchy songs, more poppy kind of songs, and that would take us a shorter time. But that’s not what we’re all about. We are very much devoted and faithful to what we do. We take good care of it, and it’s a huge responsibility. Some people and record companies say that we take too long, and they are right -- from a commercial point of view, it’s not really good. But this is who we are. We always try to go as fast as we can, and it takes time. This is the first reason.

The second reason is that living in our region was never easy. We always have to struggle a lot in order to keep the band alive. Because most of us also have other day jobs, and we have to struggle with a lot of things. Everything in terms of normal living here is very stressing, and all the time there is a war, there is a threat, you read about a nuclear weapon, this is just the routine here, since we were born. I guess it is sad, a little bit. We cannot be fully concentrated on creation. On the other hand, it’s also one of the most inspiring places. So I don’t think a band like Orphaned Land can emerge from a place which is not the Middle East. So it’s a two-way conflict between the two. But I guess these are the main two reasons. The complexity of the album and the fact that we live here in the Middle East. And not like in Europe, where things are much easier in terms of society.

Americans, and westerners in general, have a pretty skewed vision of what happens in Israel and the Middle East. As an Israeli artist with a worldwide audience, do you ever feel pressure to use Orphaned Land as a platform for “explaining” or “translating” the Middle East for the West?

I wish the government of my country would adopt Orphaned Land harder than they are. Because Israel is always struggling to explain its bad image towards the news and the press. And I think that Orphaned Land is some kind of good news coming out of Israel, being very caring, very peaceful messengers of harmony and synergy between cultures and religions. So for us, it’s fun to tell our story everywhere. The fact that we have a huge Arab fanbase – it’s a miracle in itself. Everybody is familiar with the Israeli-Arab conflict. But you actually have to live here in this region in order to understand how bizarre it is that an Israeli band has thousands of Arab followers. It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, it sounds very hallucinative (sic), and not very connected with reality.

The fact that the music has succeeded to do it – succeeded where politicians failed – and the fact that it is actually happening, and some of them even have tattoos of the band – this is a story that we wish to tell. It’s a story of hope. The most amazing thing is that it’s not a new age, white or “shanty-banty” band that is doing it. We’re a metal band, at the end of the day. Which is an added value to the whole thing, I think.

I’ve never heard that term “shanty-banty” before.

Well, “shanty-banty” is slang for…you know Indian music which is very Shanti and peaceful? Spreading the message of love and harmony?

Okay, so it’s sort of “head in the clouds."

We do have a very peaceful and spiritual message, but at the end of the day, this is a metal band. I’m screaming this message into a microphone with growls. And this is the amazing thing, I think. That a metal band has succeeded. I don’t want to sound like I’m very proud, or megalomaniacal. But I truly think that this is more successful than any other style in our region, that’s succeeded to unite Arabs and Jews altogether.

Would you say that it’s the mere act of combining so many of these different musical styles that gives it that impression of unity? Or is there something in your lyrics where you’re addressing situations politically, in a very direct way?

I would say both. Of course the music is definitely synergy between cultures, and if a Middle Eastern guy or an Israeli or an Arab will go to Ozzfest or to the USA and he will hook up with some local US metalheads, he can definitely pull the CD of Orphaned Land and play it, and say “This is a metal country. This is coming from my region, and reflecting inspirations from my region and my culture, as well.” Because we are Jewish, and we are Israeli, but it doesn’t say anything on a political term. We are not politicians. We don’t take any side. We are actually sick of this circle of bloodshed and war that never ends. Even 18 years ago, we sang the same songs, the same messages. So we’re pretty sure that people here are trapped in some kind of magic circle of killing each other, and confusement (sic), and raising their children to even hate more, fight more. And you can see the outcome by the development of mass destruction weapons, and stuff like that. And every once in a while, yeah, we kill each other once again.

Orphaned Land is a completely different thing. And I think both the music and the lyrics, what we say in interviews – in all channels and platforms of the band, we always say we don’t take a stand. Because we should stop doing it and really understand that everybody is the same. And it’s okay that if someone else is different than you. You shouldn’t avoid yourself from hooking up with them. It would be interesting for every culture to learn about the other culture. And I think that if I lived that way, I’m a very rich man. Because I have friends from so many countries. I get to eat so many kinds of food from so many variations of cuisine. The languages, the music, the instruments that they play. The way they dress. All these things. If I don’t avoid them, if I’m not afraid of them, I’m becoming a rich man.

And this is our music. When you listen to our music, you can definitely see that from a musical level, it is heaven on earth. And we wish that people will live that way. I mean, you shouldn’t give up your culture. It’s okay. I’m Jewish, I’m Israeli, I like it. But being a Jew and an Israeli doesn’t necessarily have to mean that I hate Arabs, or that I want to kill them, or that I want to steal from them their land, or that they’re my enemy. I don’t want to agree to that. And every day that it’s going on, I see that it’s actually working. I get shitloads of feedback from Arabs, despite my being an Israeli. This is definitely the proof of it.

We published a photo on our Facebook fan page, and it was simply amazing. It was like comment after comment. The first comment was by a guy named Muhammad. The next comment was by a guy named Yossi, which is an Israeli name. The next was from, I dunno, Jonathan. And you see a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, just writing one after another, “Wow.” “Unbelievable.“ “Amazing.” Peace to the Middle East. No politics whatsoever, and they don’t even fight with each other. It’s amazing, you know? It’s definitely like a miracle.

You approach religion in a very, very different way than your average metal band. Obviously as you’ve said, you’re a band of Jews, and you don’t make a big deal about it. Your music tends to engage the stories and traditions of the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Judaism, Christianity -- and not in a critical way. Do you see the place for organized religion in the traditionally anti-Judeo-Christian metal world?

Well first of all I must just say, because people sometimes tend to confuse. We are not a “white metal” band, the way the metalheads tend to call it. We don’t preach, we’re not missionaries, we don’t say to people “Go to pray to god, go to church.” This is not what Orphaned Land is about.

No, of course. I think you engage Middle Eastern and biblical mythologies in the same way that Unleashed or Amon Amarth deal with Viking mythology.

Yeah, yeah. We definitely use mythology, but we like to (blur) the line between the white and the black, between God and the Satan. So on one hand we use religion, on the other hand I can growl, and really connect myself into black metal elements. Everything is okay. We call it “tango between God and Satan.” So it’s just important to say that Orphaned Land is not any kind of religious or orthodox metal band. We just use religion the same as we use growls, or electric guitars, or many ancient instruments. It’s just one of the motives.

On a conceptual level, I have a lot of criticism to religion. I do believe in god, at the end of the day, but I do think that monotheism, and what it was supposed to bring to the world, and the fact that the three Abrahamic religions are just killing each other for decades, not to mention that they do it in the name of god, is one of the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean you want to do it? Go ahead and do it. But why do you do it in the name of God? Who is the god that told you to do it? I don’t know this kind of god. This is definitely not the god that created this world – the trees, the birds, and the love and our ability to bring children into the world. This is not this god. You’re not doing anything on his behalf. And I’m speaking to all religions. If it’s inquisition, if it’s the Jew thinking he’s the chosen one, the Muslim thinking he has to fight with the Jihad against the whole world.

I’m usually a very peaceful man, and I don’t tend to judge people, don’t tend to prefer any culture than the other. But I do have a problem with people that they are sure that they are holding the absolute truth in their hands. And they have to force you to believe that. And it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you have to say, or what your beliefs are. They don’t want to listen to you. These are the people that I’m afraid of the most. It’s extreme people. It could be from any kind. It could be neo-Nazis, it could be Muslims, it could be Jews. It could be Christians. It doesn’t matter. It could be the guy that listens to jazz music, and thinks that the only music that exists is jazz. I have a problem with these kinds of people because they are not willing to listen to me, to my points of view.

Tell me how this idea integrates with the concept behind the new album, The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR. There was definitely a guiding concept behind it, right?

Yeah. The concept is the basic thought that the spirit and inner forces are sleeping. And every one of the listeners of the album is actually the Warrior of Light himself. We truly believe that we create our own reality by our choices. We truly believe that this is not some kind of a god above us that is shaping the world to be the way it is. This is all in our hands, and we are responsible for it. And we shouldn’t be dependent or put the responsibility on some other mighty force. And the purpose of the album is actually to awaken this warrior that is within each and every one of us. This was also one of the themes of the last album. Are you familiar with the album Mabool?

Yeah, I’ve listened to it. I understand it’s about the Flood, yes?

Yeah well Mabool was about the mythological flood in a way, but we created new heroes. So we made up the flood according to Orphaned Land. And the three heroes in the spiritual level, they were some kind of a soul that was divided into three. And that transformed itself into planet earth as a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim. They were all spread out to a different culture of the Abrahamic religions, but at the end of the day they were from the same source, the same soul. And the new album speaks about the same thing. When your warrior is awakened, you can see that everything is connected to one. You can see that “Yeah okay, the guy is a Muslim.” And “Yeah okay, I’m different.” But we are not different at all.

Our head is so full of media bullshit and political manipulation because the people tend to react and to believe like they were sheep. And people always need some kind of a shepherd, and people always tend to believe the one that has charisma, the one that knows how to manipulate them. So they brainwash our minds. It could be with TV commercials, it could be with kids eating McDonalds. It could be with Jews hating Muslims, and Muslims hating Jews. The Warrior of Light, the one that we are trying to awake, he definitely knows to see what is right and what is wrong. He definitely knows to see when he is being manipulated, and when he is trapped in a circle of never ending evil. This is something that we are trying to awaken simply by music and lyrics. And the hero for the album, the Warrior of Light actually believes in himself. This is not some kind of messiah that would come through the sky with, I dunno…a ring of fiery pegasuses or something like that. Each and every one of us is the small Messiah of its on life. And if you would look at our life, most people live in desperation and sadness and disappointment. They are being betrayed. They don’t really understand this world, and why we’re living here, and how come things happen the way they happen.

It’s interesting, you couch so many of your songs in religions themes. I remember hearing the phrase “Crown of thorns” a few times. And then just the notion of the Warrior of Light…I immediately jumped to Jesus, who I know is often called the Prince of Light.

We use it all the time, motives from this religion in our lyrics. We can also say in one of our songs, “Father thou art here in heaven, they kingdom cry.” We changed it to “cry” instead of “come.” And we always like to play with these texts. Because we do like to touch these religious themes, but we don’t have anything against religion in terms of the religion which came to bring us morality. Religion in basic came to bring us morality, and to teach us how to be better human beings. So this is what we are trying maybe to teach -- the way we see religion. And we use this motive so that we will be able to speak to all people from all kinds. It could be a Christian, it could be a non-Christian. We think they are all our brothers, so we like to use it. It’s very sad to say but, religions are having a terrible failure in delivering what they were supposed to deliver.

Tell me a little bit about the research that went in to the story and lyrics on the album.

I think that we wanted to get more personal this time. As I told you in the previous album, it was the Flood story. And we had the heroes, which were as I said the Muslim, the Christian and the Jew, but it was all about the Flood story and whatever goes around it. And in this album we wanted to be more personal, to approach each and every one of the listeners in a personal way. So that they will listen to it, and they will know that this is truly about themselves. This is like the good friend that came to talk to you about your inner self, how much he believes in you. How much power he knows that you have within yourself, and you should get yourself aware of it.

So we really wanted to make it more personal. And this is why we’ve focused it on the hero himself. And since this is such a strong, hard and long journey, to reach this understanding and knowledge, we made this album very long, and we called it The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR. ‘Cuz it’s a huge struggle. I see my parents, I see the people over here, they are living in the same loop, over and over and over again. And it’s hard to me to see it, because it’s like…you suddenly awake yourself, and you see that everyone is sleeping. And you succeed to live good, and you succeed to laugh, and you enjoy life, but you see everyone around you is suffering, and you want to help them. I don’t think we are gonna bring salvation to the world or anything like that. But I definitely think that we can be a good friend that can bring some hope and relief to people. And this is what I think music and art is all about.

That’s a beautiful idea. Was there a process that you went through looking through texts, or researching specific story elements as you were putting together the story for ORWarriOR?

I would say that I tend to meet some people that they are awakened warriors of light. But it’s not really a specific story that I read or…people get to think that maybe we speak about Jesus, which is not true. I mean I do tend to look like Jesus in these photos, or in general. But being serious now, everybody back then looked liked that. And Jesus was the only icon that remained famous. I don’t wanna offend no-one, and I truly appreciate Jesus, and even connect with his ideas, and messages. He was definitely a warrior of light at the time, and I definitely think they crucified him for it. I have a lot of fights with my orthodox Jewish friends, that they are not willing to listen to anything about Jesus. Because for Jews, Jesus is a false messiah in a way. But it’s really a mixture of so many things, and nothing in particular. This is definitely reflecting our life in the Middle East, and take every story of life that we know and we try to enlighten the listener. Not being influenced by any specific story like the previous album which was influenced by the Flood story. This is a very personal – our own kind of story that we created here.

I wanted to talk about the recording of the album itself for a bit. This is the first time you’ve had Steve Wilson as producer. What would you say he brought to the new album and the recording process?

Well first of all, the guy is a genius. And we’re very big fans of what he does. We’re fans of the guy in terms of music, but also on a personal level he is so down to earth, and very humble. Such a nice guy. And he really is an inspiration, by all means. We were privileged to work with him, or maybe to be the second band he chose to work with after Opeth. Another great band. So definitely amazing. He’s not forcing his ideas upon us. Orphaned Land is very busy the way it is, already. We pretty much know who we are and what we want, and we just need some kind of an added value. We don’t need to become something else. Sometimes producers come and they turn you into a completely different thing than what you are. And this is not the case here. We just needed to upgrade. And it’s some kind of small touches, or keyboard sounds, or the way he mixed, the way we gave him the sources and the way he mixed it and the way it sounds now…everybody that listens to the album that knows our previous albums says that this is like Orphaned Land 2.0. A new version of Orphaned Land. And this is Steven I think.

On a musical level of course, we also upgraded ourselves as musicians. We always develop, and play better as the time goes by. But in terms of style and putting sonically everything together, Steven really did a tremendous job, and he really knows how to understand progressive music. We were privileged to work with him. I mean, I’m a fan of the guy. I was at his house, I even met his mom. It was amazing for me as a fan to work with the guy and to bring him in as an added value. The fact that he is even playing on the album was great.

I was listening to Mabool and ORWarriOR back to back yesterday. You’re still the same band – it’s still Orphaned Land playing this. But it’s brighter, more colorful, texturally and sonically.

I think, if I could go back, I would definitely bring Steven on all of our albums. I am happy with them the way they are. I really like Mabool, and it had some kind of success, and people really liked and dig it. But I think that if I remix it some day, I’ll definitely ask Steven to remix it and even bring it to a higher level than we brought it ourselves. Because he definitely knows how to do it. When you listen to a Porcupine Tree album, it always sounds so genius, you know? Even in terms of sound. They are one of the most beloved progressive bands around today. And yeah, I listened to the album and I really like it. Even some stuff in there in the mixing that - I don’t hear it in metal albums, the way he did it. He put some phasing elements in my vocals, but not in an extreme way. It’s like there and it’s not there. He did some really genius stuff in there. When I listened to the final mixes, I was completely blown away. Some parts were much higher than I expected or imagined in my mind.

There’s such a diversity of sounds on this album, and really that’s part of who Orphaned Land is. But I wonder about the composition process. Is there a backbone of guitars or backbone of the song, and then stuff just gets layered on top? Or do you always consider it as a whole from the beginning?

You remember at the beginning of the interview you asked me about why does it take us so long? What I’ll answer now is also a part of it. We never write a song actually. We’re not songwriters. The way we compose our music is like this. First of all we find a meaning – the story, the concept that we want to speak about. Then we collect material. Now this material, usually it’s not songs, it’s just riffs. It could be an acoustic guitar riff, or a distortion pedal riff, it could be like an ancient instrument riff – we always write music in all those instruments. And all of us are doing it. Even if I’m not playing, sometimes something is playing in my head. And I go to Yossi, our guitarist, and I record myself singing it, and we transform it into an instrument.

So we collect this material, and then according to the story, according to the storyboard, the chapters, the scenes and the way the story goes, we start to put the guitar riffs together like a puzzle. Imagine that you have an amount of, I dunno, 100 guitar riffs, because you probably notice our songs begin at one point, then it continues to number three, then number five, eight to ten, and it ends completely in a different context. We barely repeat ourselves. We take this huge amount of riffs, and we start to put them as a puzzle. For example, the album speaks about the warrior. So we look for this heroic guitar riff. Or if it speaks about the warrior being sad, or wounded and broken, and betrayed, we look for this sad acoustic guitar part that we wrote, and we start to build it like a puzzle. On one hand, it’s fascinating, because you don’t even know yourself the picture of your album while you’re composing it. Because you’re busy with the puzzle. You cannot see the picture until you finish. I wasn’t able to see or to understand our album until I got the final mixes. And it’s a very scary process, a very painful process, because it’s a lot like…walking in the dark. It’s like playing a puzzle, you know? It’s very hard, because you try to put it here, you try to put it there. You go to 100 places until you find the right place for one guitar riff. On the other hand, I don’t know any other band that works like that, and I think this is why people can say that our music is unique and different and very complex, and rich, and layered. So this is actually the way we compose. I wonder if we could do it otherwise. I don’t know.

I want to try to do some other things in the future, maybe. Just to try and be more, maybe…maybe we’ll do one album that will be more easygoing. I dunno. Don’t take my word for it.

The first single you’re releasing and the first track on the album, “Sapari,” is an adaptation of a Yemenite folk song, right?

Well yeah. Originally this is a synagogue song actually.

Oh, like piyyut.

Yeah, it’s piyyut. It was written in the 17th century by a Yemenite poet named Assad Ben Amram. And our female singer, Shlomit, she’s originally a Yemenite Jew, and we simply fell in love with everything that she sings from their piyyut. It’s such a fascinating thing – the Yemenite Jews, they were amazing by all means because they kept and preserved the Jewish language in a perfect way. They came after 2000 years of being exiled, and they speak Hebrew the same way that Jews were speaking 2000 years ago. So this song is a fascinating conversation between a poet and his spirit. You could say that it’s commercial…it’s more commercial and catchy than the other songs on the album. It repeats itself, and it’s very uplifting.

You talked about how your process is very different from the standard process of most bands. You and probably Moonspell were the first two bands to incorporate Middle Eastern or Arabic bands into metal. But now there’s a whole lot of them – Nile, Absu, Melechesh, Arkan. Do you feel some kind of kinship to those bands? Or resonate at all with the surge of folk-metal bands coming out of Europe?

Well definitely if you ask me where I put my next bet, I think that the Middle Eastern metal is the next thing. Folk metal which comes from Scandinavia or Finland or stuff like that already made their thing, and everybody’s familiar with that. And I think that this is the time that people are looking for something interesting because they are circulating and recycling themselves all the time. And I think that metal with a Middle Eastern flavor is definitely the next thing. I definitely think that it’s the time for the Middle Eastern metal to take over. And even though we’ve been around for 18 years now, I think that -- now taking into consideration – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Sam Dunn’s Global Metal documentary?

I haven’t seen it but I know you were featured in it, right?

Yeah. We were featured in it and the guy was exploring bands in some unconventional countries. So he was visiting Indonesia, Dubai, Israel, Japan, places like that. And I think that the people in the metal scene are thirsting for something new and something fresh. And we’re definitely the answer for it. And you know the author Mark LeVine, he wrote the book called Heavy Metal Islam. It’s a great story. So you can see that buy these documentaries, by the book of Mark, this is definitely something that is growing beneath the surface. And I think it is the time for it to explode.

There’s that Heavy Metal in Baghdad documentary about that band Acrassicauda. That actually did extremely well.

That’s right. We were even on a TV series of Al-Jazeera. If you Google “Orphaned Land,” you will be able to see Orphaned Land on a series called Playlist of Al-Jazeera. And they explore also some bands from the Middle East, and Jordan and Dubai. So this is definitely a growing thing. I think the internet is a big help over here. Because these Arab countries, they are not democracies. And I don’t think that metal is actually not allowed over there in many ways. I know about an Egyptian fan of Orphaned Land that was thrown into jail for six months because authorities found in his house a song by Orphaned Land where we used a part from the Koran. In a very respectful way, by the way. But the guy was thrown to jail. And this is what’s scary to me, when I told you that I’m scared by people that don’t want to listen. Because they didn’t even check it. The band. What words that they used. The guy actually was blamed for blasphemy and words of Satan. And he didn’t! And even if he did, then he didn’t hurt anyone, so what do you care? This is a completely new definition of the word “underground scene.” The way you and me don’t even know it. But I do think that the internet is doing its job and making everything more accessible. You can reach, you can download music. I don’t think we would have had this huge success with Arabs without the internet. It would have been very like an underground band.

It’s interesting to me that you were doing the job of the internet long before the internet existed. Where attempting this cross-cultural, almost globalized sound. Now it’s a lot easier to come by for the exact reasons that you’ve expressed. Do you feel like the intent behind what Orphaned Land is doing has changed now that it’s so much easier to get eyeballs and to get ears on what you’re doing?

Well yeah, I definitely feel that it’s a lot easier today. Having so many people on Facebook and MySpace, you’re able to communicate with your friends from your home computer, you know? And you know that if we go back like to the year 2000…so the band was not active in those days, and we had a lot of issues between us, and the band was not really successful, and we had to deal with a lot of things. So the band was in some kind of a coma. And after six years of nothing, it was the year 2000, when the internet actually arrived in some places that were not familiar with it yet, I get to check my e-mail this evening. And I open my e-mail, and I see a mail – I started to get some e-mails back then from some Arab guys, like from Syria and Egypt. But it was just a few you know? Here and there. And one evening I opened the e-mail box, and I see a mail from a Jordanian guy, and I see a video file attached. So I open the file, and I start to watch the file, and I hear Orphaned Land’s music in the background. I don’t see a face, but the camera is filming his hand, and he’s like pulling up the sleeve from his shirt, and I see that he has an Orphaned Land tattoo.

Now the guy is Jordanian, and I was Israeli. Back then, this band is in a coma. And right there, in this moment, I understood that something is happening here, and it’s going to get bigger. And being with Orphaned Land, doing what we do, is definitely our mission, our contribution to this region. I don’t know what else I can do to help this region. And definitely I’m helping it much more with my band. And this was the breaking point where personally I understood that I had to take the band from the coma, and to direct it again to being active. So the Israeli Orphaned Land can even say that coming back to life was mainly because of Arabs. I even met the guy. We had a concert in Turkey and I met him. And when we speak to each other, we call each other brother, you know? We don’t even call each other by name. We call each other brother because we are awakened. We know that this is complete bullshit between politicians. And we are awakened. We cannot fall for this.

That’s a fantastic story, Kobi. That almost deserves its own feature.

Yeah you know I have to be honest with you…I tell them the story, and then I tell them if I’m okay with the guy… “listen, I know it’s not up to you, it’s up to the editors, but seriously, between you and me, don’t you think you should give me the front cover?” I mean what else can you do, put Metallica or Slayer again, only this time they’ll be, I dunno, drink the other beer, or holding the other guitar? I mean be brave. And have some courage and break this paradigm of repeating yourself all the time. This is what I’m trying to say. I appreciate any kind of exposure that we get. But I definitely think that this is a story that has to be told loud. Because it’s a metal band that succeeds to create friendships out of enemies. And it’s interesting, and it’s amazing, and it’s a miracle. So yeah…who’s your editor? ::laughs::

Most progressive metal fans can identify some of the rock/metal influences in Orphaned Land’s sound. What music from outside the metal world is most inspiring to the band, and helps in framing your music?

This is really so much, Etan. So many. You know it could be Italian opera by Puccini, it could be Arabian music. We simply admire – I can say that when it’s right, it’s right. If you go through my CD collection, then you will hear music and musicians from all over the world. It could be even a goa trance. It could be classic music, Pakistani music, Indian music. Really, anything.

Was there anything you were listening to more than anything else during the recording process?

I do have my own personal favorite poet, which is Leonard Cohen. He is definitely my mentor and my favorite one.

You’ve been meaning to record songs of his, right? Did you consider one for this album?

We wanted to cover “First We Take Manhattan” by Leonard Cohen but then we decided not to do it because we didn’t have the time. We decided to delay it. But I do admire the guy so much, the way that he writes, and his songs. He is definitely my all-time favorite. I also like Depeche Mode very much, which is some kind of 80s new wave poppy style. And of course I love metal, Israeli artists, Arabian singers, really everything. You name it.

How would you characterize the Israeli metal scene? Is there a supportive network of bands and fans? Or has it been difficult being isolated from the rest of the metal world?

Well, I think living in such an intense place such as Israel makes the metal fans to be one of the best fans around. A lot of the bands that are playing from Europe or the USA always said that the Israeli crowd kick ass. Because they’re very much screaming singing along, hand-clapping, jumping, these things we do – and follow you. This is like their 15 minutes of freedom in this world, in this very harsh reality. And I think that the scene here is great. We have bands of all kinds, from black metal to thrash metal, doom metal and even folk metal. Everything is here by local bands. Yeah, everyone is supporting each other. There are some things that are missing. There were some failures of organizing some metal festivals in the past, the organizers stole the money at the end of the day. So there are some shit going on, but yeah, the scene here is well-developed, and great. Every years hundreds of people are going to Wacken open air in Germany. We have metal pubs over here, some radio stations playing metal. We have a metal shop over here completely devoted to metal music.

Wow, you barely have any of those out in Los Angeles, where I am. There are a couple that have sprung up in the last couple years, but it’s amazing to me to find in such a farflung place a whole shop devoted just to metal.

The one that runs it is Uri from my band. He’s my bass guitar player. He’s not the owner, but he’s the one that runs the shop. People are buying CDs there. They come there to buy tickets to shows. Nevermore was here recently, and they did a signing session over there, and more than 100 people came.

Do most of the bands that develop a large following in Israel end up signing with Israeli labels, or do they end up signing overseas?

I would say that 80 percent of these bands are actually ending splitting up, because of going to the army. Imagine you being a metalhead with your long hair, and then at the age of 18, you have to cut it all off, and then go to the army for three years. So tours are out of the question, not to mention free time to meet each other and to rehearse and everything. So a lot of the bands are splitting up, a lot of them are there to work or to cooperate with bands after the army. Some of the bands that do survive are getting signed -- could be by an Israeli label, some of them could even get signed by foreign label. We had one band that was even signed with Roadrunner for one album, but then Roadrunner didn’t want to continue with them. But these things are happening. I’ve known the scene in the last maybe 20 years, and this is the best situation in terms of bands getting signed. Some of them are really getting signed by indie labels. But then again, it’s abroad, and it’s cool, you know? We also started with a French label (called) Holy Records, which is an indie label. So it’s a good starting point, and maybe the bigger labels will notice you later.

You seem to have some success with Century Media, which is among the biggest indies in the world.

Yeah. Century Media is nothing but great. I really like them. The people here, both in the European and American office, are really great, and behind the band, and really believe in us. And even the owner of the label – I’m really in touch with everyone over there. We are all believing in the same purpose, that Orphaned Land is unique, that we should push it. And they are really behind us. I really appreciate them for that. Hopefully they are for the others bands. You sign with a label, and you can always hear shit. Because you cannot make everyone happy. Some bands are pissed off, some bands are happy. I’m on the happy side. Maybe it’s my attitude. I don’t know. But I really love the guys.

It’s probably a little bit of both. It’s sort of a strange prospect for a label to get behind a band that records an album every four or five years, and has maybe a bigger potential audience than your average metal band, just because of all the styles you do, but it’s still a weird style of music that you’re making, no bones about it. It’s not immediately bankable.

You know that photo that we did, that controversial photo, where the Jews are praying like Muslims and the Muslims are holding siddurs like they’re Jewish…and I’m like the Jesus with Magdalene in the middle? Originally, it was the idea of the owner of Century Media. I mean I had my A&R in both the US and the German office. I know the owner of Century Media, we met a couple times. But I’m not supposed to be in touch with him. And then at one night on Friday evening, I get a phone call from the guy. And he says “Hey, it’s Oliver from Century Media.” The guy’s like the owner of the company, calling me out of the blue, and telling me “Listen, it strikes me like lightning. Because you’re so different, and you’re so strange, and your music is so unique. And we should try to reflect this in a visual aspect as well.” And he was completely right, and we really developed this idea, made it for the first time, the band is transformed on a visual level a bit of our music.

Are you going to tour in the Jesus costume?

During the show I’m doing these things that related to Jesus, with the stand of the microphone, you know? Our show is really like a religious celebration at the end of the day. But a metal celebration. Some friend came to me after our show in Israel one time and said, “Do you know what your show is?” And I said to him “no, you tell me.” And he said “Your show is the synagogue for the metalheads.” And this is definitely it. And when we play in Turkey, it’s like the mosque for the metalheads. That’s the way it is you know? But it’s very important to explain, because some people – I saw some reactions of American people that saw the photo. You really need to get to the bottom of it in order to understand what we wanted to say, the purpose of it. Why did we do it? Because if you don’t get to the bottom of it, it could appear to be like a parody, or just something which is ridiculous. It’s a utopia. It’s something that we really wish to have in our region. Try to put yourself in our shoes, living in a place where the three Abrahamic regions, believing in the same god and killing each other for decade after decade after decade. So this is being ridiculous. And having our picture is being artistic. That’s the way we see it.

Do you have touring plans yet?

We do, and Steve (Joh, from Century Media) in the U.S. is also looking for some cool things. But yeah, we’re looking for opportunities to play to the right audience. The one that will like our music at the end of the day. It will happen. With the help of Steven and Century Media, it will happen in 2010 for sure.


Visit Orphaned Land on the web

Monday, January 25, 2010

CHAINMAIL: Moroghor - Darkness... (self-released, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Instru-metal band Moroghor exists perpetually in between the verses of Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask” and those sections in later Pink Floyd songs where a slashing guitar chord burns out a slow vamp and David Gilmour tattoos heroic solos over it. Throw in some 70s sci-fi synths for extra headfuck. It’s a unique sound, neither depressive enough to qualify as doom proper nor quite loopy enough for a trip down LSD flashback lane.

Guitarist/synth player Ndehatl explains in an e-mail that “Our music started out as sort of psychedelic black-ish metal, and recently took a turn into black/drone/doom in our 2nd album….not sure where we’ll go next. Don’t really care. We’ll end up wherever we end up.” You can sense the indecision on Darkness… As infrequently as we get to hear major-key, modal doom ("Taijitu”), the metal textures tend towards the static. Zombi-fied synthy textures help, but Moroghor’s songs never resolve into anything – they’re mostly endless slow-motion space trudges. Let’s get these guys a vocalist or license Darkness… for a low-budget sci-fi soundtrack, pronto.

Disagree with me at Moroghor's website or MySpace page

Pfffttt. Moroghor are kind enough to post their entire discography for free download right here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Metal Video Roundup

My laptop is now seven years old. YouTube and other video sites are much younger. As a result, my lowly 866 mHz processor isn't optimized to handle streaming video. The frames flow by haltingly if at all; the audio stops intermittently; whatever degree of spontaneity there is in watching a whole series of Slayer videos right after you think of doing it is completely lost. There is a whole part of the heavy metal fan experience that I'm missing out on because of my faulty technology. Really it's no different than my lack of cable TV back in the heyday of MTV. Perhaps I'm lucky though -- might there be something purer about my relationship to the music I hear because I have no visual to accompany it?

Visual aesthetic is of paramount importance to most every subgenre of heavy metal. Maybe in this era where bands can slap together a decent video on the cheap and spread it like wildfire for free, making a video serves a similar purpose as playing live. There's no exchange of energy between band and audience in a video, of course, but the purpose is partly the same: prove that your band is more than just sound. Give the audience an opportunity to connect with you using a different sense.

Enjoy the following recent metal (or metallic) videos that were worth the painfully slow techno-slog.

Venerable death/black metal band Acheron and director Aaron Werner took the road more traveled on their first ever video in the band's 20+ year career. Band playing in studio + bald frontman with hot chick with apple + bald frontman with hot chick with snake = obvious metal video. Sez frontman Vincent Crowley: “The video is about embracing the life of being a Heathen. Many people struggle with what is wrong or right, good or evil. When they go against the norm, the guilt eats away at them. Heathens don’t have negative feeling about embracing their true nature. Temptation doesn’t weaken us because in the end we control it! Lots of the symbolism in the video shows just that.” It's a simple clip for a simple song about simple anti-religious notions. Two band members have no hair; the other two have a lot of it. The synchronized headbanging possibilities are endless! The song comes from Acheron's solid 2009 album The Final Conflict: Last Days of God, out last year on Ibex Moon.

Here's a video for the last song, "Final Breath," off Pelican's stately new album, What We All Come to Need (Southern Lord, 2009). Director Matt Santoro's slow-moving, gauzy imagery perfectly complement the song's repetitive atmospherics and the ghostly guest vocals of ex-Shiner singer Allen Epley. Total side note: I was listening to Shiner's final album The Egg a couple days ago and it still smokes any other rock album from that era. Talk about underappreciation!

Here's a goofy clip from Look What I Did, a cool post-punk/screamo four-piece out of Nashville. These dudes fuse tight vocal harmonies over a base of angular Dischord/DeSoto-style noise rock. "Fade to Daft" ain't that heavy, even within the Look What I Did canon. It's a creative tune though, and it makes me smile that the band members are comfortable wearing hoodies AND tying up their t-shirts all naughty-schoolgirl style. Look What I Did's new album Atlas Drugged is out on 2/9/10 via Modernist Movement Recordings. You can preorder the album for just $6.99 from Smartpunk right now!

Ah, Katatonia, you avatars of noble Swedish depression. You had me at the vomiting goth girl. The saran-wrapped body (very Twin Peaks, no?) is icing on the cake. The romance is a little suffocating in this video for "Day and Then the Shade," from Katatonia's late '09 Peaceville release, Night is the New Day. Quite a color palette though!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Cerebral Metalhead's Adios to 2009 Metal Mix

To paraphrase Kylesa, time will fuse this past year's worth. But from the scant five days' distance we now have from 2009, it smells like one of the best years for new music that metal has seen this millennium. Mastodon and Baroness both made bold, important albums that made waves outside of the metallosphere. Krallice, Tombs and Liturgy all released big beautiful records that helped cement (heh) Brooklyn as one of the world's epicenters of black metal. The resurgence of old-school death metal bands felt more wholesome than the thrash revival of the last few years. Dormant legends like Coalesce, Brutal Truth and Immortal roared back to life with terrific albums, and even some of the old dogs (Slayer, Kreator, Megadeth) put out material that approaches their vaunted oldies.

Only one of the aforementioned bands made it into my top 20 favorite metal records of 2009. That should tell you how crowded the playing field was. The sheer amount of music will only increase in the next decade, as it becomes cheaper and cheaper to record and distribute music, and divergent music forms continue to collapse into recombinant hybrids. If the amount of great metal that came out in 2009 is any indication, I'm excited to wade through it all. The death rattle of the record industry shall be accompanied by blastbeats.
Without further ado: here's a mix (in suggested listening order!) of one representative track from each of my top 20 albums of the year. My FTP client is being a little bitch, so you'll have to download it in two parts, OG YouSendIt style. The below tracklist includes a link to my full-length reviews of these, if available. To read capsule writeups on each of these records, head on over to MetalSucks.

7. Baroness - "War, Wisdom and Rhye" - Blue Record
8. Converge - "Dark Horse" - Axe to Fall
9. Revocation - "Deathonomics" - Existence is Futile
10. Secrets of the Moon - "I Maldoror" - Privilegium
11. Amesoeurs - "Heurt" - Amesoeurs
15. Oranssi Pazuzu - "Myöhempien Aikojen Pyhien Teatterin Rukoilijasirkka" - Muukalainen Puhuu
16. Nile - "Hittite Dung Incantation" - Those Whom the Gods Detest

Download my Adios to 2009 Metal Mix (152 MB)

Please comment if you need a re-up.