Orphaned Land: The Hellbound Interview

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By Adam Wills

Orphaned Land is one of the most unique bands to have arisen over the last decade, combining a vast range of styles – with black metal vocals over progressive song structures, layered with a wide array of Eastern European instrumentation. However, their music is only a portion of the story of Orphaned Land. Based out of Israel, the group has been able to transcend their music, and become a sign of hope in the conflict-laden territory.

I had a chance to converse with front man, Kobi Farhi, to discuss their latest release, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR, and the global experience of Orphaned Land. Part of that discussion follows below.

Describe the writing process of such an ambitious album, both lyrically and musically.

The way we write is always bizarre. None of us is actually a song writer. We always collect riffs and melodies so that we have this “bank” of unarranged material. We look for concepts, and themes, and then divide them into a chronological story. Right after that we start to meet in my living room like 3 times a week and we start to build the album as if it was a puzzle, by taking the chronological chapters of the story and putting the riffs [together] – if a song is sad, we go and search the sad melodies – if it’s a war, we search for the extreme parts we wrote. That way, we, the band are as well, unable to see the complete photo of the album. It is like walking in the dark, but the result is always unique and doesn’t sound like anything else. When we have the puzzle near completion, it should reach a level where just the music itself could tell you the story by the melodies. Just check our latest albums and try to imagine only the music with the theme; you’ll hear it fit perfectly. Only in the end, do we start with the lyrics. It’s a long process but it always leads us to creating a musical treasure!

The new album is about harmony amongst the feuding peoples and religions of the world. Do you see any resistance in what you are trying to do in bringing peace through your music?

Of course, we are always trying to break paradigms, especially the ones that trapped us in darkness and magic blood circles for centuries. Music is the strongest weapon to unite people – to wake and shake them. We are not politicians so we are not taking any sides, and that makes us stronger and more honest in the big picture. We prove that heaven on Earth, a synergy of cultures can exist; our reach through music is a proof for that. We are on some kind of a utopian ground and the results are the same in real life – our shows in Israel looks like a synagogue of metal heads which is very much bizarre – and how bizarre should be the fact that we’re Israelis but dozens of Arabs follow our band as hardcore fans. I would say that we succeeded to create a small movement in our tragic region, and we did it with metal music!

What are your thoughts of a North American experience of your music?

We give the opportunity to the listener to travel in the Middle East, to feel the atmosphere, flavours, conflicts, light and dark sides of our magical holy orphaned lands and I hope that we succeed to transfer that feeling to our North American fans.

While there may be some minor religious conflict here, it cannot compare to the conflict in the Middle East. Do you feel that there is less of a connection with the North American audience?

I think that all of us, all over the world are trapped in this spiritual coma, a coma that while looking through it, we only succeed to see where we differ from the other and we are blind to see how we are all the same. It’s true that we are a musical reflection of what is going on in the Mid East but we are not more for Israelis as we are for North Americans. We live in the same world and everything we do affects the ones on the other side of the world as well. We are all on the same ark, and there is a flood outside.

What was it like working with Steve Wilson? How was introduced to Orphaned Land? What did you feel he could add to Orphaned Land?

We are huge fans of SW and of course PT, I was excited and flattered that Steve decided to work with us. He is so talented, wanted and busy. He did a work of genius with mixing our album, for such a complex and diverse music such as ours, it is important to mix it right; otherwise it’ll sound like some wrong salad. And he was brilliant, of course. Having him playing the keyboards as well was a pleasure. He is definitely an added value to our music and sound.

I first met Steve in 2000 when he came to Israel with PT. I was working with a local distributor that time and we had a dinner with SW and his band mates. After dinner, I approached like a well educated groupie and handed over to him a pack with our 2 early albums, and from that point on, we kept in touch. I think he was fascinated with working with us as well, as its unique stuff, with the use of all of the exotic instruments. Anyway, he always claimed that if Opeth would have born in Israel, they would have been Orphaned Land, so I guess that’s a great compliment!

Describe the experience of being a global artist living in Israel.

People are always curious to meet and talk to you, because all they get is just TV bullshit, bad news and stuff like that. Israel is not an easy place for a normal life, but OL’s music can emerge only from a place such as the Holy Land. The multi cultural life here, being a spiritual center, a center of religious wars and conflicts and even being a Jewish back to his homeland after 2,000 years. I’m in a heaven of inspiration.

Being an artist is always a struggle, especially in a country where the army is needed much more than art. Sometimes it’s very hard for us to get support or any attention to what we have to say. It’s a sacrifice and a choice we took, so we don’t complain. At the end of the day, I feel lucky to have a band and to give people some hope and moments of happiness.

What is the current metal scene like in Israel?

Our scene is very much alive, just as an example – in May, Metallica and Lamb Of God will play here. We have a launch party show next week [interview was originally completed in January -AW] and it’ll be completely sold out with 2,000 fans. We have metal bars, a metal shop, and shitloads of metal bands from all kinds, from black, to death, to thrash, folk, you name it.

In 2007, the Canadian documentary Global Metal was released, and Orphaned Land was a large part of the section on Israel – have you noticed any increased attention of Orphaned Land since? Have there been any negative reactions to the piece? What about an increase inattention to the Middle Eastern metal scene?

Sam Dunn did a great service to the metal scene all over with both of his films. We got a lot of feedback, around hundreds from the film; all were saying that we sound so different than the usual metal messages. Most people supported it and we didn’t have any negative feedback. I think that people are fed up with being recycled and always look for new adventures, and metal from the Middle East is definitely something exotic and fresh. We were the pioneers of this genre; back 18 years ago when we started the band, and today it is definitely bigger and gets more attention and we think this all region and bands from here deserve this.

You have 4 North American shows coming up this year – what is the Orphaned Land live experience like? [Interview was originally completed in January -AW]

Our shows are a religious experience, but we are not a white metal band nor are we missionaries. It’s a spiritual experience, fitting to the metal head, we are taking our fans to a journey, to the Promised Land, and it also turn out to be a big celebration at times – we are looking forward for the shows in NA!

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thank you too for your support, we send all the warriors of light in North America our warm greetings from the Orphaned Lands of Israel!

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.