By Carl C. Sundberg
If you’ve never heard the sound of missile alarms, you should be thankful, you’ve lived a pretty sheltered life. When this sound is a routine in your day-to-day existence, it’s not hard to wonder how heavy metal could seduce a young teenage boy growing up in a region where war and violence is the way. For Orphaned Land frontman, Kobi Farhi, these alarms were commonplace in his hometown of Tel Aviv, Isreal in the early 90s. “Back then it was the first Gulf War; Saddam Hussein was throwing all these missiles in Israel,” Farhi recalls. “And every time we had the missile alarm, this sound was part of our daily life. And if you listen to Metallica’s Ride the Lightning - I don’t remember precisely which song it was - but one of the songs, the ending of it is like this siren going off.”
Ride the Lightning was the first metal album Farhi purchased. He was 15 years old and still listening to Michael Jackson, Wham and George Michael. One day he stumbled upon an interesting piece in the daily newspaper about a band called Iron Maiden and their album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and it’s influence on someone. “There was a story about a guy whom they suspected committed suicide because he was into Satanism. Which was very untrue, but it was enough to draw my attention,” Farhi says. “I’m growing up in this very tense region asking myself questions about life, and everything is looking fake to me. And I’m seeing this metal band, and everything [about it] looks like some kind of rebellion. It’s maybe the only true thing I can find in this stinking world [at the time]. I was fascinated and I really had to check it out.”
He ran to his local record store that day to buy the album but he couldn’t find Iron Maiden. Instead he found Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. When Farhi got home and listened to it, the album changed him completely. “I can divide my life in two,” Farhi says. “Before and After. I had shivers all over my body. I felt like I discovered the Treasure. Like I discovered a secret world. Like I’m aware of the secrets of the universe.” He grew out his hair, he cut up his jeans, and from that day on, Kobi Farhi knew what his destiny would be.
He soon started a band, called it Resurrection, and it started off sounding like the death metal bands of Tampa, FL, ala Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. “Everything that was coming out of Tampa back then was like the thing.” Farhi says. “But being from the Middle East, its kind of boring to try to be this Tampa, FL wannabe band, because at the end of the day, we’re not from Tampa, FL.” Within six months the band realized that being from the Middle East, they should incorporate more traditional Middle Eastern sounds into their music. “That was the point where we decided to change the name of the band to Orphaned Land,” Farhi says. “We see Israel, or all these holy lands, we see them pretty much as orphaned lands.”
They began to combine a multitude of Jewish and Arabian melodies, languages and themes into their metal band’s sound, creating a powerful cross of progressive death metal with authentic Middle Eastern folk music, instrumentation and story. “We found ourselves, very fast, at the age of 18, sitting in the studio recording our first album [Sahara],” Farhi says. “I remember looking at one another, and we had the feeling that we were doing something very much unique.”
Six years and four albums later, Orphaned Land has returned to the metal world with the epic masterpiece The Neverending Way of OrWarriOR, their second release on Century Media, and their first album mixed by Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree. With 15 songs - in three parts - the album fills a CD at just under 80 minutes. Years in the making, it tells the tale of the Warrior of Light, first born as an orphan who emerges a powerful being, yet one who still constantly battles darkness, in any capacity. “We live in such a darkened world,” Farhi says. “And if you are a warrior of light, you have to go through the never-ending way of fighting, or trying to enlighten your people or your surroundings. The warrior of light is not some kind of heroic messiah that is going to come and rescue us. It is simply me and you. Every single one of us is a warrior of light.”
Combining everything from Yemenite folk music, Jewish and Arabic melodies into their unique blend of progressive death metal, Orphaned Land also utilizes a plethora of instruments on this album, ranging from standard rock instruments to saz, bouzouki, violins, shofars, santurs and pianos. “This is really fascinating to work with these instruments,” Farhi says. “I really like synthesizers and everything, but if you have the real thing, then this is an added value.” Not surprising, due to the complexity of this album, as all Orphaned Land albums, it was a long, arduous process to create. And one that is virtually impossible to recreate live. “To perform everything we do onstage, we need twenty people,” Farhi says. “And this is pretty much impossible to do in terms of budget. We really need some kind of millionaire to get behind us, and I’m still looking for that guy. But when we play live, most of these elements, you do hear them, but they simply come from the PC computer.”
Since 2001, after their first show outside of Israel, Orphaned Land has become a powerhouse in many Muslim-based countries, like Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and much of Eastern Europe and Russia. And while they are not allowed to tour most of the Middle East, they have a strong fan base throughout the Arab world, albeit hidden under strong censorship laws, war torn regions and brutally oppressive governments.
The only place in the world that they seem to have a poor response from is the United States. But Farhi believes it because it’s easy to misinterpret the message of the band, perhaps because of their album artwork, or the overall sound of the band. “You always need to dig deep to get to the bottom of things and sometimes the fans in America just don’t bother,” Farhi says. “They see our photo and they immediately label us, like ‘What is this religious crap?’ or ‘Why the hell do you think you have the right to combine religion with metal music?’ It’s like they see us as some kind of missionary, which is completely untrue.” And while Farhi doesn’t take offense to this kind of criticism, he does want people to understand what he’s actually doing with his music. “We’re coming from the Middle East. We’re living this conflict of Christians, Muslims and Judaism. I really don’t see any sense of us taking a photo with a Lamb of God t-shirt, sunglasses and having this very tough, rockstar face. This would have been much easier for us to do that. You see, these three Abrahamic religions [from the cover of OrWarriOR], these religions that are supposed to be about charity and tolerance, all these groups are killing each other in the name of God - for centuries - and we have a lot of criticism against it. We’re not religious, we’re not preaching. We have a lot of criticism about religion and what it has made. This is a simple photo saying to people, ‘Why can’t you just get the fuck along’.”
Orphaned Land is determined to change the view of their band in the states, one show at a time. “We’re really happy to come to the states,” Farhi says. “It’s a start, and for a start, it’s very good. And the plan is to tour as much as possible. USA. Europe. Wherever we’re wanted, we’ll go. We want to film a DVD in Israel, maybe next year. We want to continue to make music and to help our region with our music.”
And when it takes years to complete an album, it should be no surprise that Orphaned Land has the patience and the determination to carry on with touring, recording music and essentially carrying forth with the never ending way of the warrior. Perhaps one day, this world of darkness - of critical metal heads, of holy lands filled with the sounds of missle sirens - won’t be so commonplace, or won’t exist at all. Or perhaps it will always be this way, and that, precisely, is why the way of the warrior is never ending. And why Orphaned Land will play on for as long as they shall live.
Originally published on 101d.com