Interview with Orphaned Land’s Chen Balbus and Concert Review of Týr, Orphaned Land, Aeternum and Ghost Ship Octavius – Toronto, May 09th 2018
It’s no secret to our readers that we’re avid fans of Orphaned Land here at Lotsfmuzik. We interviewed their singer Kobi Farhi just before their new album “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” was released, and still think this is a strong candidate for album of the year. Therefore, when we heard they were coming to Toronto, home of one of our main collaborators Rodrigo Altaf, we just had to make sure we witnessed their live show. Even better, they came to town in support of Scandinavian metallers Týr, who brought the house down on a warm Wednesday night at the heart of the city.
Rodrigo was able to secure a face to face interview with their guitar player Chen Balbus – the interview and concert review are shown below.
Part I – Interview with Chen Balbus
I arrived at the Velvet Underground around 5pm for my interview with Orphaned Land just before they finished their soundcheck, and was able to listen to the fine tuning of the mix while they played a couple of songs. Until then there was no definition of who I’d be interviewing, but catching up with their guitar player was a great way to get more insight into the current state of things in the realms of Orphaned Land. Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Is the reception to the new album “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” exactly as you expected?
Chen Balbus: It’s even more than we expected, actually! We worked five years on the album, it took us a lot longer than we thought it would, but we really took the time to make the best of it. We knew our fans would love it, but it would be hard to get used to the new members of the band – you can call it the “new generation of Orphaned Land” – but apparently the album exceeded its predecessors.
LOM: We’re already seeing comments here and there about it being the album of the year.
CB: I guess you could say we’re on a roll so far! (laughs)
LOM: You’re touring together with Týr, and it’s a somewhat odd pairing. How did that tour come to happen, and to what extent does a band have a say in picking tours, opening acts etc?
CB: In most cases, we try to pick bands which are somehow related to our kind of music. When it comes to opening acts, we receive hundreds of requests and tapes, but it’s important for us to choose bands that have an affinity with us but which are also different from what we do.
LOM: Very often people ask “hey, why don’t you play in my country”, not realizing how little influence you have on that, right?
CB: We almost have NO choice on that! We get offers from many countries, and sometimes the offers are simply ridiculous. We have to make sure that promoters accept our terms and conditions, our requests in terms of equipment, sound and accommodation. It takes a lot of effort and time to book a proper tour, and sometimes the fans and promoters tend to forget that or maybe they’re even not aware of that.
LOM: Is touring exhausting for you in particular, or is it something you look forward to?
CB: I’m 25 years old, so I’m still very enthusiastic about being on the road, but it does get tiring. We’re carrying equipment here and there, we’re in different conditions and different places everyday, so it’s almost like being in the army! (laughs). Everyday you’re expecting a new surprise – sometimes a good one, sometimes a bad one. I honestly love it, life isn’t always perfect.
LOM: What are the best and worst parts of being on the road?
CB: I would say the worst part, or the most unpredictable part is the food! You get to some places where you don’t get a good choice of food…sometimes you get to places where they don’t even give you water, we have to pay for it! The best part of course is being on stage.
LOM: What can you tell us about the setlist on this tour?
CB: Since we’re special guests with Týr, we’re doing an abbreviated set, focused mainly on the new album but with some of our “greatest hits” so to speak.
LOM: I don’t think you’re playing songs from the first two albums though, right?
CB: We play an extract of “Ornaments of Gold” from “Sahara” at the end of the show, but no songs from our second album “El Norra Alila” this time.
LOM: What’s the typical day to day routine while on tour?
CB: If there are no interviews, it’s a very basic kind of day. We arrive at the venue at around noon and have lunch, do the soundcheck and then you’re free until showtime.
LOM: Are there any particular bands you’d like to tour with that you haven’t yet?
CB: We want to have a tour with Ghost, which we love. Personally, I got into them not too long ago, probably around their second album. At first, because of the imagery, I thought they were a death metal band, but when I heard them, it blew my mind! They certainly don’t play what they look like (laughs). I love their show and their music, and I think this would make a great double bill – with our concept and their Satanism, it would be a fun show for the fans to see.
LOM: Orphaned Land’s big break was when the movie Global Metal (directed by Sam Dunn) was released – actually I don’t think you were in the band when it came out, but do you still get recognized by people who see the movie?
CB: Technically I’m in that movie, but as a fan! If you look very carefully, I’m in the crowd. There are still many people who come and talk to us and mention that movie, so thank you, Sam Dunn!
LOM: You’ve all been very vocal about how angry the new album is – was there an intention to convey that anger in the live setting as well – the lights, stage clothes, the live arrangements of the songs etc...
CB: Yeah, particularly in the way we dress these days. We were very plain in our previous tours when it comes to how we dressed, but now it’s a bit more aggressive, more “bad boys” (laughs). We want to provoke and we want people to open their eyes, so we try to show something that’s much stronger, not only musically but also visually for sure.
LOM: On the song “We Do Not Resist” off the new album, you talk about how brainwashed by media and stupid shows we are. How does it feel to be in North America, basically the TEMPLE of crappy TV, reality shows, junk food and junk entertainment?
CB: Personally for me, if you disregard that aspect of the entertainment, I love America! I always wanted to live in Los Angeles or New York…I understand that it’s a different lifestyle than what I’m used to, but as long as we have some fans here, it’s worth playing here, for sure.
LOM: Like Orpheus obviously has a different arrangement live because you don’t have Hansi Kusch with you tod o the vocals on tour – how did you guys solve that?
CB: We just told Kobi “you MUST sing that!” (laughs). He can’t avoid it, because there’s no chance of us bringing Hansi with us on tour to sing just one song. So he really pushed his limits and he’s trying to do his best version of Hansi.
LOM: What’s the song off the new album you like playing live the most?
CB: I love playing The Cave – it’s the opener of the album, and it opens the show as well. It’s my favourite of the new album too, because it has everything – it more or less summarizes all we wanted to say in the album in just one song.
LOM: Do you feel 100% comfortable interacting and singing in English on stage, or do you think you would convey your message in a different way if you spoke in your original language?
CB: I don’t really talk on stage, but in Israel most of us are fluent in English – I don’t think Kobi has an issue to convey our message anyway.
LOM: In 2012 there was an online petition for Orphaned Land to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Has there been any situation where your presence was not so well received, and generated protests or anger?
CB: I wouldn’t say there was a time or place where people were against our message, but there’s been times when they just didn’t get the hang of it. They’re in a different kind of dimension or headspace…not that they don’t understand it, they just don’t see it. Sometimes it seems they are brainwashed to hate and that’s all they know.
LOM: Orphaned Land is known for addressing some humanitary and political themes, and that is addressed of course in a very serious way. But do you think there’s room for lighter topics in your music? Maybe a ballad sometime?
CB: I wish there was…there are of course many happier topics to talk about, and we sometimes try to show that in our music here and there, but it’s kind of difficult to show a lighter side when our reality is what it is.
LOM: What else is planned for Orphaned Land on the second half of 2018 and onwards?
CB: We have a few European shows, one show in Puerto Rico, and we need to debut our live show in Israel – our last show there was delayed due to rain. It’s a busy year for sure.
LOM: Thanks again for your time Chen, and enjoy your break until showtime!
CB: Thanks, and I hope to see all of you on the road this year!
Part II – Concert review – Ghost Ship Octavius, Aeternam, Orphaned Land and Týr
While the crowd was still finding their way inside the venue and hitting the merch stands, Ghost Ship Octavius hit the stage. They had some technical issues, but presented a heavy and energetic set comprised of five songs that showcased their proggy roots with significant distortion and influences of doom and gothic metal. The best songs in their set were “Saturn and Skies” and “Alive”, and for relatively newcomers in the scene, it was reaffirming to see some fans in the crowd who knew the lyrics to many of their songs.
Coming from Quebec City and with three albums under their belts, Aeternam came next and certaintly raised the bar, from a sonic and energy level. I had no idea what to expect, and must say I was absolutely floored with the dedication those guys put in their performance. Vocalist and frontman Achraf Loudiy summoned the crowd, and it suddenly felt like I was witnessing an early Opeth show. Their unabashed death metal roots were clear on songs like “Esoteric Formulae” and “Hubal, Profaner of Light”. As they left the stage, audience members were looking at each other saying “what the fuck just happened?” – that’s all you can ask when you’re still not that well established. A few more years on the road and this band can surely aim higher.
Orphaned Land hit the stage, and singer Kobi Farhi intantly won applause by screaming “Shalom, Toronto!”. Their set started with “The Cave” from the new album, and followed with the title track of “All Is One”. Up next were the frantic “The Kiss of Babylon” and “Ocean Land”, both from “Mabool”. Kobi summons the crowd and commands clapping and screaming, in true messianic form. Before “We Do Not Resist” he explains that Orphaned Land is not just about “peace and holding hands”, and it’s palpable how the band’s message resonates with the fans. Their sound mix was clearly (and deservingly) a step ahead from the bands that came before, and Uri Zelcha’s tasteful bass notes were clearly heard, along with Matan Shmuely’s solid drumming.
The most challenging song on their show was “Like Orpheus”, where Kobi plays to his strengths and wisely does not try to emulate Hansi Kürsch’s performance, but delivered his own interpretation. Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem provided razor-sharp guitar work throughout their set, and the newer songs truly gained a new dimension live. Screams of “album of the year!” from the crowd were heard more than once, and clearly they’re ready for bigger stages.
With a set that balanced old and new but tilted slightly towards the most recent album, they triumphantly closed the proceedings with “In Thy Never Ending Way” and the heavy and poignant “Norra el Norra”. Going against the norm seems to be finally paying off for these Israelis, and they managed to reach the mainstream in a way that doesn’t deny their roots or ideals.
I must admit that I wasn’t sure that pairing a Middle Eastern metal band with a Scandinavian one was such a good idea, but as soon as Týr hit the stage, I was sold. Their blend of power metal with viking mythology worked incredibly well in a live setting, and such a diverse musical pairing proved bigget than the sum of their parts. Kicking off with the new song The Gates of Hell was a rather bold move, and the Faroese band made it clear from the onset they’d hold no punches on the show.
After playing in Toronto recently as a supporting act, Týr made a triumphant return, and in the words of muscular singer Heri Joensen, “now we can play more than just 25 minutes for you”. And play they did, with the crowd of poutine enthusiasts being transformed into Scandinavian warriors, if only for one night.
By the time the one-two punch of “Mare of my Night”/”Grindavísan” was played, all one could see in the house was a sea of avid headbanging fans. The haunting and Celtic-tinged “Flames of the Free” was another fan favourite, as well as the quasi-thrash “Lady Of The Slain”, with a galloping pace and epic chorus.
Celebrating 20 years of career, Týr are clearly proud of their roots, as evidenced in song titles such as “Regin Smiður” and “Gandkvaedi Trondar. The latter has a long narration in Faroese and culminates in an intense and heavy instrumental march. At some point during their set I was expecting a horde of savages to invade the stage, but instead the audience was greeted with grinning smiles from mainman Heri Joensen and bassist Gunnar H. Thomsen. And with the Viking theme permeating their lyrics, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a couple of mentions of a hammer are made – both “Hail to the Hammer” and “Hold The Heathen Hammer High” had great live renditions, gathering a great response from the crowd.
Between shouts of skohl and singing as if he never stopped grinning his teeth, Heri commanded the show from beginning to end, but the contribution of Terji Skibenæs on guitar was just as pivotal to their set. Check out live versions of songs like “By The Light Of The Northern Star” and “Wings of Time” on YouTube and you’ll soon realize why my ears kept ringing even days after the concert. Týr’s encore consisted of “Shadow Of The Swastika” and “Ramund Hin Unge”, and it was time to bid those warriors farewell. Exhausted and with ears ringing, the fans made their way out of the venue with plenty of souvenirs from the intense night – most bands were kind enough to pose for photos at their merch stands, and weren’t shy to throw picks and drum sticks from the stage. Judging by their performances tonight, all four acts deserve better luck and bigger stages to play next time.
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