Preliminary Album Review: The Never Ending Way Of OrWarrior by Orphaned Land

25 Jan

Well, it’s the big day. 25 January 2010. After waiting six years for Israeli folk/death metallers Orphaned Land to follow their masterpiece Mabool, an album I christened one of the best metal albums of the 2000s, they have finally put out another album. The Never Ending Way Of OrWarrior (“warrior of light” in Hebrew) was originally tentatively slated for a late 2007 release, but given the band took eight years to put out Mabool after 1996’s El Norra Alila, I suppose it is just par for the course that it did not come out until now! Those of you in the US still have a tad more of a wait ahead of you: the album isn’t out there until the 9th of February.

This album is astonishingly complex and dense, both compositionally and thematically. I am currently on my fourth listen, but it is going to take longer than that for the album to fully sink in. The following represent just my earliest impressions.

Thematically, the album continues in the usual Orphaned Land vein, using metal as an atypical vehicle to connect the conflicting religious and ethnic groups in the band’s homeland. The band address both external, social violence and internal, personal conflict in lyrics laden with multiple applications. This is in many ways less primal than earlier releases, and reflects a very nuanced, cautiously optimistic perspective that acknowledges the dark but perseveres with hope. Whatever your opinion on Orphaned Land’s music, it is hard to deny that they make truly thoughtful, intelligent albums, deeper than most bands. There are unfortunately a few cliche moments here and there, but with topical material such as this, it’s hard to avoid the occasional slip over a full album and they do not detract severely.

The musicianship is the most technically and compositionally complex that Orphaned Land have ever released. There are subtle hooks and understated melodies lying all over the place that you simply miss on the first listen but reveal themselves as you revisit the album. In this sense, the opening track, Sapari, is a bit of a tease, as it possesses a very powerful, overt hook. It does, however, introduce the usual Orphaned Land compositional whirlwind of death metal mixed with traditional Hebrew and Arabic folk music. They remain just as talented as ever at seamlessly synthesising this music, weaving metal riffs with gorgeous Middle Eastern strumming, drumming, and vocal techniques. The lyrics are predominantly but by no means exclusively in English – no surprises there.

Speaking of the composition, the band have sacrificed absolutely no emotion in making this their most complex work to date. I admit, I’m tired of technical metal. Indeed, on my first listen to OrWarrior, significant passages sort of let me down because I felt “oh they’ve just gone too fucking technical on us”. Too much technical metal is pointless instrumental wankery that says nothing and expresses no emotion. In Orphaned Land’s case, coming from their origins amidst conflict and intolerance, they have something to say in response, and extending their songwriting is merely a vehicle to say it with more eloquence and nuance. In other words, the technicality works. A rare feat, but past works have proven this is a band of extraordinarily talented musicians. Two of the most emotive moments on the albums are extended guitar passages in The Path Part I and The Warrior.

At this early stage, I would identify individual song highlights as Sapari, New Jerusalem, and the Epilogue. The “ornaments of gold” verse in Sapari (incidentally referencing my favourite Orphaned Land song from 1994’s album Sahara) is in my top three favourite Orphaned Land moments, right behind the outro of Ornaments Of Gold itself and the moment when Norra El Norra on Mabool really takes off. I can’t wait to get further acquianted with this album over the coming weeks. For now, 4.25/5.

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