Orphaned Land are one of the pioneers of Oriental Metal, a subgenre mixing metal music with influences and traditional instruments of the Middle East. We can safely say Orphaned Land created this genre along with other very early Oriental Metal bands such as Pentagram (aka Mezarkabul, from Turkey) and fellow Israeli band Salem, or at the very least we can call it a fact that Orphaned Land popularized this style of metal with their unique blending of metal with Middle Eastern influences, and their unique concept in which they spread a message of peaceful co-existance between followers of the different Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While metal is often (and often wrongly) associated with darkness and being unfriendly towards religions, Orphaned Land on the contrary chose to incorporate religious influences from all 3 Abrahamic religions into their music to spread their message of peace and mutual respect between followers of the three religions. Their music is a mix of East and West and features quotes from all three holy books, elements of all three Abrahamic religions (an example is the call to prayer in Islam, which is included in the outro of the song “Ocean Land”), musical influences and instruments from traditional Jewish and Arab music, as well as lyrics in English but also Hebrew, Arabic, and occasionally even Turkish or ancient dialects of Hebrew (such as the Yemenite Hebrew). The band occasionally borrow lyrical content from old poems or prayer verses, or old traditional songs.
Both because of their sound, their lyrics and the message they spread with them, Orphaned Land are a truly unique band not only in the world of metal, but well beyond that. They truly build bridges between different cultures and religions, which sees fans of different cultural and religious backgrounds unite both on the band’s online media outlets and during Orphaned Land concerts.
The band was formed in the early 90s as Resurrection, but soon enough changed their name to Orphaned Land. A clear reference to their native country, Israel. The band went through several line-up changes, but two of the founding members are still with the band: vocalist Kobi Farhi, and bass player Uri Zelcha. One of the other co-founders of the band, Yossi Sassi, would embark on a solo career after more than 2 decades with the band, and received critical praise for his post-Orphaned Land efforts too.
Orphaned Land released their first record, “Sahara”, in 1994. The cover art features a beautiful picture of the interior of a mosque, thereby immediately displaying their Middle Eastern background as well as their pledge for peace. “The Beloveds Cry” was also released the same year. “El Norra Alila” followed in 1996.
“El Norra Alila” immediately showed some of the amazing creativity Orphaned Land use to highlight their message, as well as the concepts of their albums which often includes a contradiction such as that between God and Satan, between light and darkness. “El Norra Alila” is a poem sung by Jews during Yom Kippur (Day of Forgiveness) as a plea of forgiveness by God. Hundreds of hidden meanings can be found in each line of the poem, and the name itself leans towards several contradictions: “Nor” means “the light” in Arabic, while “Alila” can be translated as “the night” (and thus darkness). “El” can be translated as “God” in Hebrew (there are a lot of different names for God in the Hebrew language), while “ra” literally means “bad” in Hebrew. The band chose to write “El Nor” in white characters on the album cover, while “ra Alila” is written in black. The album concludes with the track “Shir Hashirim”, which is a very unusual track for a metal band: the sound is almost gospel-esque, with prayers from Judaism, Christianity and Islam incorporated in the track.
In 2004, Orphaned Land released the epic album “Mabool: the Story of the Three Sons of Seven”, an album that took approximately 7 years to complete. “Mabool” is the Hebrew word for the Deluge as described in the Bible and the story of Noah. The concept of the album is that 3 men, each one representing one of the three Abrahamic religions, warn people that a flood is coming and that only by standing united the flood can be overcome. The flood however can also be seen as an enormous power that washes away the differences between the people of different faiths that fail to live in harmony.
The album opens with “Birth of the Three (the Unification)” that summarizes the concept of the album.
“The seventh had seven descendants
The seventh was then divided into three”
Note that 7 is a holy number, representing God. The division into three represents the three Abrahamic religions.
“The Three were one, devided at rebirth
Forbidden to unite,
for fear of their strength”
In the concept of the album, God forbade the three from reuniting, afraid of the incredible strength that this could result in. When the three ignored the devine order, they were exiled back from heaven to earth, devided into three again.
“The devine order was ignored
The three then became one
Their punishment was swift
They were denied and then cast down”
The second track of the album, “Ocean Land”, describes the warning of the three that a flood is coming that could wash away all of mankind if they do not stand united.
“We see an ocean once was land
And so they come to understand
This place where man used to be born
Will be man’s water throne”
“Here are we, servants three, flesh and blood
Poor and weak, hear Thou speak of the flood”
The song opens with a very Middle Eastern sounding intro, and fades out with an outro which is based on the Islamic call to prayer.
Another classic track from the album, which is usually a highlight of every Orphaned Land concert, is the Hebrew language “Norra el Norra”.
For the first time in their career, Orphaned Land had promo videos made, as a video was made for “Ocean Land” as well as for “Norra El Norra”. The video for “Norra El Norra” was filmed in the ancient heart of Jerusalem.
The album was followed up by the EP “Ararat”, and the next full-length album “The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR” in 2010. A concept album once again, the title refers to the warrior of light, as “or” means “light” in Hebrew. The album is split in three “chapters”.
The opening track of the album, “Sapari”, is one of my all-time favourite songs, and is a perfect example of the uniqueness of Orphaned Land’s mixture of past and present and of different cultures. The song is based upon “Sapari tamo”, a poem over 400 years old (!) written in Yemenite Hebrew by a rabbi named Saadiah. The band put the poem to metal music, thereby allowing the poem to be discovered by new generations, and added a small portion of self-written English lyrics:
“It soared from the arc, the dove within me
It sings forever, it flies free
I call to Thee, my torch in darkness, Thou art borne
The song features Yemenite chants by Shlomit Levi, who worked with Orphaned Land also on the “Mabool” album, and a video for the song was created too.
A concert of the band at Reading 3 in Tel-Aviv was recorded and released as a CD and DVD called “The Road to Or-Shalem”.
In 2013, the band released the follow-up album, “All Is One”, again a plea for peace between people of the different Abrahamic religions, this time the album title speaking for itself. The cover art of the album shows the symbols of the three religions (the Star of David, the crescent moon, and the Christian cross) entwined into one.
The album opens with the title track, which immediately describes the plea for unity:
the song describes the conflicts in the Middle East fittingly with the line
“We are the sons of the blazing sun
Sharing our faith through the barrel of a gun”
almost immediately followed by the plea
“Brothers of the Orient stand as one”
A core line as well is
“Evil falls on each of us, there’s nothing new
Who cares if you’re a Muslim or a Jew?”
Indeed, we are all sons of Abraham, so why not live in harmony, regardless what’s your religion?
The video to the song is very Middle Eastern and shows the band playing, followed by shots of belly-dancers, as well as images of God and Satan.
Another core track on the album is the power ballad “Brother”. The song deals with Isaac and Ishmael, and the discussion about which of both brothers was sacrificed to God (an issue where Jews and Muslims hold different believes). The core line of this song is probably
“The Lord blessed us both, but we still fight and claim
That kid on the mountain ; what was his name?”
The message of the song is that maybe it doesn’t really matter who was sacrificed so long ago, and that we should live in harmony here and now.
The song is sung from the perspective of Isaac, stating to his brother Ishmael he forgives him for becoming enemies.
In between the album and the follow-up album, the band collaborated with fellow Israeli band Amaseffer to release the album “Kna’an”.
In 2018, the album “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” was released, featuring a more angry lyrical content, as can be heard perfectly in the very powerful track “We Shall Not Resist”.
The video to the song “Like Orpheus” however once again focuses on the power of (metal) music to unite people and build bridges between people of different cultures and faiths: the video shows a Jew and a Muslim woman united by their love for metal music.
Orphaned Land have succesfully built bridges between different cultures and faiths indeed through their unique music, and have reached audiences of all faiths and cultures who unite during Orphaned Land concerts as well as through the online outlets of the band. Even in some Arabic countries where imports from Israel are still banned, the band managed to build a following, and actively communicates with those fans through internet.
In 2023 a tour is scheduled to celebrate 30 years of Orphaned Land (note that this tour was already scheduled previously, but was postponed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Orphaned Land are:
Kobi Farhi : vocals
Uri Zelcha : bass
Matan Shmuely : drums, percussion
Chen Balbus : guitar, piano, oriental instruments (eg bouzouki, oud)
Idan Amsalem : guitar, bouzouki
Official website: www.orphaned-land.com
Orphaned-Land.com (incl. previous versions)