Orphaned Land - Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs

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Century Media Records
Produced by Orphaned Land | Mixed by Jens Bogren

Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs, the latest album from Israeli band Orphaned Land is a weighty piece based as it is on the writings of Greek philosopher Plato, particularly his 'The Allegory of The Cave'.

The idea behind it, on a very simple scale, is how people prefer to stay trapped, chained in their cave, attached to their beliefs, and how they react to those thinkers and explorers who move away from them, and when they learn and experience what are truths unknown. The answer often in these occasions is "kill them!" Whether it be religious teachers like Jesus, through philosophers like Socrates, through to civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, there tends to be an ending of life through executions or assassinations. Not all of the thinkers and prophet-types featured here are killed, as the words of George Orwell are spoken at one point too, and on the basis of '1984', he certainly could be considered a prophet.

That then, is the basis of the story. As for the music, it has that identifying sound that makes Orphaned Land what they are; at times gentle acoustic and reflective, through jaunty Eastern folky dance, orchestral pieces with choir, and of course metal with death style vocals where it fits the scene. There are two or three tracks which are longer, several numbers around the four- or five-minutes mark, and a few shorter linking pieces that hold the story together, as it is a concept album. As a whole piece, it hangs together beautifully. There is great passion and emotion throughout, with plenty of haunting melodies which float in and out making it musically, as well as lyrically, work conceptually.

Starting with the second longest song on the album, The Cave sets the scene. Opening lines include "In the dark I live, without any freedom in life, the cave is all I breathe," yet the protagonist has a burning desire to see more, learn more, having lofty dreams like Icarus wanting to fly high, although of course that will mostly mean death. The choir chorus is sumptuous sounding and wonderfully uplifting melody wise, and the guitar solos hit the spot, blending in and enhancing the song, capturing the moods.

The longest track, Chains Fall To Gravity, features guitar work and a solo from ex-Genesis legend Steve Hackett. Lyrically and musically to start with, it's reflective and contemplative, with a well-balanced mix of Eastern melodies and orchestration, one particular melody a couple of times which is very reminiscent of one of the orchestral melodies on Stargazer by Rainbow, and a vocal moment from lead singer Kobi Farhi which is stunning near the end. The power and emotion as he sings "I thought that I'm insane, I always knew there has to be more than this" through to "no longer the slave," where he realises that he is "not afraid of the light" is wonderful. It's a real spine tingling performance, which is matched by the music that is being played at the same time.

There are so many lovely moments on this record, including the way they float between the many styles that they are capable of. As a couple of examples of that, there is the way they go from the very Eastern sounding In Propaganda into the more acoustic, classical sounding All Knowing Eye without it sounding disjointed at all. Or the riff that permeates Take My Hand - is the best on the album - and the way it interplays with the Eastern melody. Lyrically the main character is trying to ask those in the cave to come with them to experience the outside world or a different life based on new learnings.

The ending quotes are from George Orwell, who says "if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever," with a retort of "the moral to be drawn from this nightmare is a simple one, don't let it happen" - words which again, thinking of the world right now, is good advice.

With some fine guest performances as well from the aforementioned Steve Hackett, but also Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) and Thomas Lindberg (At The Gates), along with an impressive debut from new guitarist Idan Amsalem who replaces original member Yossi Sassi adding to it, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is possibly the most complete album Orphaned Land have made.

Tracklist: The Cave / We Do Not Resist / In Propaganda / All Knowing Eye / Yedidi / Chains Fall To Gravity / Like Orpheus / Poets of Prophetic Messianism / Left Behind / My Brothers Keeper / Take My Hand / Only The Dead Have Seen The End of The War / The Manifest – Epilogue

Written by Tom Cornell
More: 2018, Albums, Progressive,

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