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Interviews : “Metal is definitely a religion, but a great religion.” – an interview with Orphaned Land

By on March 8, 2014

Orphaned Land, intriguing as it is, are an Israeli band, but what is more intriguing is to hear the story, that spans 23 years, about their contribution to the world wide metal scene.

“We thought we could bring a band that would make the metal scene wider as we established a new genre.” They combined oriental elements and instruments and brought together all the different religions that co-exist in their part of the world. In their music are the voices of the Jewish people, Muslims and Christians.

With five albums under their metal belt and having played in over 40 countries, Kobi Farhi, the frontman, refers to his band as being “like the Metallica of the Middle East,” and that there are “many fans in Arab countries despite them being Israelis.” After 23 years of carrying a message of unity, no matter what race or religion you are, they have produced their latest offering to the world of metal, ‘All is One’.

Kobi, however, acknowledges how he as a metal head came to be. “The first time I heard about metal music was when I was 15 years old.” This is a very familiar start to the tale, yes? “There was an article in the daily newspaper about a soldier who committed suicide listening to a very mystic rock band named Iron Maiden.” Not so different to most other old school fans and certainly some of the younger generation when it comes to recounting their first exposure to something that would blow their minds, no pun intended. “And I was curious from those mysterious words ‘mystic music’, they made me very curious. I knew about Michael Jackson and Dirty Dancing as mystic music so I went directly to the record shop and bought a tape of Iron Maiden,” Kobi reminisces. “It is an album that changed my life.” Funny how you would hear almost the same story from someone on the other side of the globe because, as Kobi states, “That’s how metal heads are born.”

Heavy metal never needs translation. It is a universal language that brings people together because of their love of the music and its way of life. Kobi describes an Orphaned Land show as “extraordinary” because, “it is like a big party where the crowd is participating with us and many people who have seen our show say that it’s the best show that they have seen because we took them on a trip all over the world.” But this is not to say that where they come from has no impact on their music. Some would assume it would convey messages of hate, but this would be a grave stereotype.

“We are the most uniting element in the Middle East these days and we’re just a metal band! There are fans from Syria, Iran and Lebanon, where those countries are political enemies. The people from those countries are brave enough to come and see our shows when we play in Turkey because they cannot come to Israel and we cannot go to their countries as Israelis.” This message of peace and unity has been at the heart of Orphaned Land. Taking songs from their latest album ‘All is One’ as an example, their lyrics may speak of the atrocities and tragedies that are part of everyday life in countries in conflict, but they also promote how their music can “break barriers” without the use of violence.

“We are a political band, but not in the way of taking sides. I wouldn’t say we are right wing more than we are left wing. In order to fly, the dove needs both wings.” In Australia, you hear about terror and war, but you never hear about the people, Israelis and Palestinians coming together to watch a heavy metal band. When a “Palestinian guy and a Syrian guy listen to Orphaned Land” and finds “a piece of himself” that is a beautiful thing. Kobi says that, “every metal fan, even in Australia, should know this story and they should be proud to know that in the Middle Eastern conflict, the thing that brings people together more than anything else are metal dudes”. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, however, as Orphaned Land have been awarded four peace awards and they have been the first Jewish band to play in Muslim countries.

Kobi draws a picture of their music as “a Utopia” of different cultures, East and West. But there is still a duality in their music. Alongside the messages of peace and unity are the tragedies that conflict bring. In the song entitled ‘Fail’, “manifests the failure to realise that all is one.” Conflict propagates hate and stereotypes, but Orphaned Land strive to bring together groups of people raised to hate each other by drawing on the tragedies that can occur if they fail to see the truth; the consequences of violence if they fail to see the people before the stereotype. In ‘All is One’, they have aimed to make this message more upfront.

In comparison to their previous albums, that Kobi suggests were more progressive because of their “longer songs and complex lyrics.” This time they have chosen deliberately to incorporate a choir and full orchestra and employ clean vocals to give voice to the same message they have been spreading since they started. Although some old school fans haven’t taken to this new sound and have articulated their opposition with the metaphor of “eating a sandwich with mayonnaise and mustard and having the mayonnaise taken out.”  But on the other hand, some fans, along with Kobi himself, have said it is the band’s best album to date.

Kobi, not a stranger to stereotypes, says that, “in Israel the metal heads have always been called Satanists and cat slaughterers.” Heavy metal is our religion and going to gigs, the closest thing some of us will get to a spiritual experience. Kobi agrees with this notion and names Ronnie James Dio as one of the saints. “Metal is definitely a religion, but a great religion. It does not force itself or claim to have an ultimate truth.” Orphaned Land stand as an antithesis to the common misconception that metal spreads hate and violence. They are the “people you thought were killing cats”, instead they are the “ones who have united people and brought them together more than politicians, more than your leaders. More than any other author, movie, documentary, director or poet,” they are the “ones that succeeded to make peace.”

Orphaned Land are excited to be heading to Australia for the first time. Kobi ends with describing the upcoming Orphaned Land show as being “something you will not forget, something different to the traditional heavy metal shows. It will be different, but in a good way,” and to, “come see a band that makes wonders in a conflict zone on the other side of the world.”