Orphaned Land are better than John Lennon. This Israeli metal band completely subverts conflict in the Middle East.
Their third album, Mabool, focused on the underlying unity of the three Arbrahamic religions, and The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR continues this exploration.
Prior to releasing Mabool, the band had been dormant for seven years; so what encouraged them to end this hiatus?
Vocalist Kobi Farhi was driven to resurrect the band after receiving photos of three Arab fans adorned with Orphaned Land tattoos. This took him by surprise as Orphaned Land had never toured in these countries – indeed, listening to metal music of any sort in the Arab world is “underground in a way you never imagined”, as Kobi puts it. Some Arab fans of Orphaned Land have been jailed for listening to metal music. Kobi realised that his band’s music was communicating something powerful despite – and perhaps in powerful subversion of – these political and apparent cultural and religious boundaries.
So how does it work? How does an Israeli metal band have such a devout following across the Middle East and beyond? In short, they make amazing music by combining influences from a range of different cultures and religions. By bringing these all together in a coherent, beautiful package, they utterly refute any suggestion that conflict is the necessary state of affairs. The elegance of Orphaned Land’s music makes it clear that divinity is not sided with division and dischord.
The act of combining cultures and religions in one place creates music that transcends each of its components. You might not understand each element – I can’t follow the Arabic, Hebrew or Yemenite lyrics, for example – indeed, they may be distinctly foreign to you, but that’s the point. Some of the components are familiar, others are thoroughly alien and beyond your understanding and comfort zone; but what you do know is that it all fits together and that the end result is one of rare beauty.
This is an order of magnitude more powerful than John Lennon’s Imagine. In that track, the vision of unity is evoked, but nothing is created, nothing is solved. In Orphaned Land’s music, the united reality they seek to achieve is created and its majesty is conveyed directly to the listener. When you listen to Orphaned Land you don’t have to Imagine a better world because it’s right there. As Kobi Farhi puts it: “We always look to combine as much as we can. We want to show to people: look what happens when you take so many conflicts, and you combine them together. If you find the right channel to combine them together, the result is peace. It’s rich. It’s harmony.” The album uses a wide range of instruments, and features The Arabic Orchestra of Nazareth, vocals in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Yemenite, and other Oriental [sic] instruments such as the saz, santu, arabian flutes, middle-eastern percussion, cumbus, bouzouki, violins, guitars and piano. The same bringing together of different influences is apparent in the calligraphy in the album sleeve: “the main idea was to take words in Hebrew and Arabic and to combine them all together in harmony”.
Of course, different listeners will have different understandings of Orphaned Land’s music depending on their own background. To me, the harmony between the different components seems completely natural, but to someone more strongly rooted in Arab or Israeli culture, hearing the intertwining of influences that they have for so long been taught are irreconcilable must be an incredibly powerful experience.
Orphaned Land have made sure that their music is available to those in Arab countries where their music is banned. The Metal Army International website allows free download of the latest Orphaned Land album to people in these countries.
Of course, this art leads Kobi to visionary thinking – “Imagine how rich you can be if you have friends from all religions and cultures. Imagine the types of food that you get to eat, the types of music that you get to listen to, the types of girls that you will get to meet. You will be a rich person. Why should you close yourself only with your own community?” – but it is crucial to remember that these are not idle daydreams but hard facts articulated through music. Give Orphaned Land a listen and reconsider whether there is any cultural or religious necessity to conflict in the Middle East.