Sunday, January 20, 2013

Orphaned Land - Mabool (2004)

Orphaned Land are certainly different - in a similar vein to bands like Paradise Lost - the later Doom Metal bands, the ones that were merging closer to Death Metal but without the horrible vocals. Orphaned Land have some guttural vocals, but also a number of melodic bits too, intermingled with the use of traditional, folk instruments to give them a Middle Eastern vibe. They are from Israel, which explains why their English seems to be pretty good.

This is a concept album - the story of the Flood, from the part of three sons (one for each religion) who tried to warn human kind of the encroaching flood. The packaging looks much as you would imagine such a CD - all sepia toned surging waves, rising up to engulf the rather decorative logo. A sticker proclaiming "Exotic mysticim meets Middle Eastern Metal" just begs for this CD to be picked up and listened to.

And it is well worth it, to immerse yourself in the primordial sound.

It begans with the "Birth of Three" and opens with chanting children before the heavy riffs charge in with a jolt, engulfing them. Low vocals, with a hint of menace and a lot of gravel, mystical music dancing alongside. The lyrics introduce us to the three sons - magic (Snake), strength (Eagle) and Lion wisdom - three human souls, merged, as in heaven. Interwoven with the low graveller roars and snarls are a rather sweeter, more welcoming voice.

We are ushered into "Ocean Land" with some kind of tambourine, a traditional "guitar", and a grunt. I regret not knowing the names of the instruments they are using, but I am certain they are traditional Middle Eastern instruments. The songs hold the desert in their notes, the voices alternately low and guttural, and higher and sweet. With its constant changing rhythms, it is like the sand itself, shaped with the wind. Or perhaps it is also like the waves, but there is something very golden and dry about this music.
"Here are we servants three, flesh and blood. Poor and weak hear thou speak of the flood."
 The three, speak forth their prophecies, but it appears that the greed and sin of man has grown too strong, and their pleas go unanswered.

"The Kiss of Babylon" is a song of wrath and betrayal, twisted vocals snarling forth the approaching fate. The songs are so multi-layered and rich that it is impossible for them to exist on their own, but more as part of a continual whole. The use of Hebrew (or Arabic, they use both and I don't know enough to tell the difference) in the lyrics (plus translations) and the singing, increase the power and mystical feel, combined with the sweet, waterdrop tones of some kind of instrument, concluding with the wailing of a woman. Her rich and mournful voice carries on into "A'salk" where it blends with tribal ryhthms.

A declaration in Hebrew sends a shiver down the spine. The voice is deep and strong, reverberating deep inside. "Halo Dies" is another aggressive song as:
"Hell hath no fury as a God scorned. Unleash his wrath he will let death be adorned..."
 Snake, Eagle and Lion go forth across the land with  "A Call to Awake". They urge people that "Gods rage is true. He urges you to awake..." To surrender their pagan gods and repent and be saved from the wrath of God. This is an angry song, ending in the three sons being warned away and their words discredited. The music speaks for the people, frenzied in anger, the synth soaring out their fury and their confusion.

Disappointed, the three sons return home. God, meanwhile, directs in "Building the Ark". Far more tribal feel here, the music doing inspirational little surges and the vocals are low, rich hymn, intermingled with a chorus of females and invoking direct quotes from the Bible (Genesis) in Latin.

It is time now for a hymn, a prayer to the God that will save the faithful from the coming tide. "Norra El Norra" is entirely in Hebrew, but has a convenient translation. It is very tribal and holds with it a promise of the future, and the strength of faith and power of hope, as those that are destined to survive enter into the Ark.

A soft and gentle instrumental gives us "The Calm before the Flood". A slow and gentle reprieve before we must weather the storm. Thunder rumbles, and the downpour begins.

"The Flood" is of course another aggressive song as the violence of the skies reverberates through the music  and the world is shattered:
"Oceans rise an rage as we watch the world powers fall, redeeming their sinful ways with their souls..."
Vocals are vicious and unforgiving, snarls and growls as the punishment is bestowed by the vengeful God.

"The Storm Still Rages Inside" returns from the lost to the saved, as they float:
 "Like Jonah in the belly of the beast. Inside the ark, the sound desist."
Whilst still a furious, aggressive song, there is the promise of peace here.

With "Rainbow" we see the resurrection, the promise of hope across the horizon, the waters receeding as the birds sing in the new dawn, the new world. A gentle, soothing piece, a piece that promises a bright future for those who have survived.

It kind of makes me feel like we could use another flood, right now - a chance to have the slate wiped clean and for us to start all over again.

There are more facets to the album than can  possibly be realised on one listening. I have spent the last two days listening to this album at least three times, before I even made an attempt at writing the review. It is rich and powerful, the mix of vocals superlative*. The combination of classical instruments, synthesizers and guitars seems to enhance the music, to lift it up onto another level of transcendence. It immerses you, shifting you back into another time and place - engulfing you in its midst. This is an album to be taken slowly and savoured, the lyrics to be read and pondered, their meaning portrayed not just in the lyrics, but in the deep core of the music itself.

I'm never sure how I feel about religious songs, or albums, I do resent being preached to and if I were any religion, I am closer to Pagan than Christian. I'm not even sure if this counts as religious, or if it is just a concept album based on a popular story. Mythology, if you like.

Here's an interesting article on the political and religious influence of this band:
Israeli band Orphaned Land unifying religious groups

Overall, this is a damned fine album and a beautifully structured masterpiece. It deserves one, two... ten listens and should be appreciated by anyone who enjoys a finely crafted concept albums. And metal, of course.

What the heck, let's give it 10/10**!

* The similarity of this word to "superfluous" or "superficial" always makes me feel a little reluctant to use it. But it means really, really good things about the music, okay?

** If I'd reviewed it yesterday after the first listen, I probably would have rated it an 8, after the second a 9 - I believe this album is too immense to truly appreciate with one listen. And I'm not usually a fan of guttural vocals, either.

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