First and foremost, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs”’ dichotomy is the Holy Grail of modern times: it makes older fans remember how good “Sahara” or “Mabool” were and explains to new fans why Orphaned Land are an unparalleled band, still musically interesting and relevant. Music wise, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” is an extravagance reserved for elite bands not only for matters of status, but also because of its creativity: it took the band 5 years to release it, it has 40 (!) guests, among which luminaries like Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates), Steve Hackett (Genesis) and Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), it presents endemic instruments such as the bouzouki, bendir, darkuba, saz, oud and zither, as well as a 31-member mixed vocal chorus that enhances the experience of listening to Orphaned Land and, finally, a delirious, symphonic charge derived from the synthesizers, piano, and organs. Now, just imagine all this on stage.
The record starts off with “The Cave”, an 8-minutes long epic that deals with the eternal struggle between darkness and light and that so well represents the Orphaned Land of yesterday and today, with large doses of oriental music, the vocal range of Kobi Fahri that ranges from lyrical singing to death metal (this time with those gnarly “Sahara” grunts, i.e., much more aggressive than most of their previous works), and that typical catchiness at first listen. They lead on with two shorter tracks: “We Do Not Resist” points the compass to a harsh death metal, while “In Propaganda” is an oriental music orgasm from start to finish with Fahri returning to properly singing. Still on the topic of oriental music, “Yedidi” raises the ante again by referring to the spiritual side, which is one of the Israeli’s most important facets:
“Then, upon an orphaned land have I not chased after you?
Seir, and Mount Paran, and Sinai, and Sin – my witnesses “
However, and if what you like most about the band is the oriental factor, “Take My Hand” takes the trophy in the categories of Heavier Track, Catchiest Track and Best Oriental Track. The record is mainly divided in unusually short tunes, some of which seemingly looking like transition moments (e.g., “Poets of Prophetic Messianism”). Just before the last track, “Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of The War” sees the band return to death metal without ever neglecting the melodic, folk, and oriental side. In nearly six competent minutes, Fahri bows to the Spanish philosopher Santayana and skepticism, while the legendary voice of Lindberg reaches the pinnacle of screaming, always accompanied by synthesizers that create a perfect choir for two. Finally, “The Manifest – Epilogue” delivers a feeling of psychological malaise thanks to the final quotes directly drawn from “1984”.
Orphaned Land’s career wasn’t always brilliant, “All Is One” being a clear example of that. In addition, the replacement of the previous guitar players could have been a monumental shot in the foot. However, their replacement and the steer of direction of the band has borne fruit – both Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem deliver riffs that put “Mabool” to shame: progressive and sophisticated, mature, sometimes sounding like Liquid Tension Experiment or Gordian Knot. Then there’s the happy marriage of the rhythmic section, such is the chemistry between Uri Zelcha’s bass and Matan Shmuely’s fluid percussion. The production is perfect, albeit the last two or three seconds of the last track seem to have been omitted since the song ends abruptly; however, it could have been a conscious decision.
In short, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” is a record that presents Orphaned Land doing what they do best, or maybe in a way that no one dreamt the band could ever achieve again. It does not have the same impact of “Sahara”, but asking a band to top the record that created a new metal subgenre is unfair. Notwithstanding, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” not only succeeds “Mabool” splendidly as it easily overruns it. Heavy metal will continue to evolve and amaze thanks to works like this. Paramount.
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