Oriental Metal pioneers Orphaned Land are back with a new album, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs”. With lyrics fueled by anger at the current state of humanity and opening fire against governments, the media and the educational system, it will likely be one of the most acclaimed releases of 2018.
We had the privilege of talking with vocalist Kobi Farhi, and discussed not only the new album, but his views on the issues faced by humanity today.
Lotsofmuzik: Congratulations on the new release, “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs”. Tell us about the process to compose and write the album, and what´s the intention with the title?
Kobi Farhi: It was a long process, because we always take a lot of time to write the albums, and since we write conceptual albums, it´s always a very chaotic way of working. First I need to find the concept, and only then we can take all the guitar riffs that we have and we start to build it like a puzzle. Then we build the musical puzzle of the album, because according to the concept of the album, I know what every melody could reflect in the story. If it´s extreme metal, it could reflect the rage or the bitterness or sadness. So we build the puzzle of the music, and only then I write the lyrics. So it´s a chaotic way of working, but the result becomes very eclectic and epic, I think.
Lotsofmuzik: “Epic” is certainly a good way to describe it! Is there a common thread between the lyrics?
KF: It is a concept album, and we used the allegory of the cave, by the Greek philosopher Plato, as its main theme. Plato was writing is after the Greeks killed Socrates, and he couldn´t realize why they killed a person with such wisdom, knowledge and light. But he realized something about human behavior when they did it. So the album is telling the allegory of the cave with every aspect of that story, but in a way it´s also an allegory of our lives today, because it´s a pattern. Plato wrote it 2500 years ago, but you can see that even today, when someone is revolutionary and comes to our society to bring us light, or to change our ways or to take us to a better place, he´s always been assassinated. Look what happened to Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, JFK, Mahatma Gandhi, Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat or even Jesus Christ. Those people were revolutionaries at their time, and they were assassinated. The same thing happened to Socrates, and 2500 later, we are aware of this pattern and it still goes on and on. Those people who were assassinated are the “Dead Messiahs” of our album, and the “Unsung Prophets” are people like Plato, who wrote the allegory, and others like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley etc. The things that they have written as fiction are now happening in reality. So we are taught to think that the prophets belong in the bible times, but there are prophets amongst us even today, and we fail to acknowledge that. So the album is about the allegory of the cave and how it is still relevant in our daily lives.
Lotsofmuzik: It seems like a natural progression from the previous album “All is One”. And while a lot has changed in the world and in the band since that album was released in 2013, the changes we expected to come, in terms of peace and politics, seem far away. How do you think we could contribute to that in an effective way? It seems that only voting has not led us to the unity and progress that we want.
KF: One thing that really fascinates me is that the progress in terms of science and technology is incredible, but in terms of humanity, why are we still in the dark? Why do we continue to have wars and dark regimes, and why is there still so much corruption and crime? Technology has advanced because of human beings, but why has humanity not progressed because of human beings? It doesn´t make sense that we are now talking on Skype and we can see each other on video, but when it comes to human beings, we are still centuries behind. I think that the key for me is that the education system is wrong. As Janusz Korczak said, “If you want to change the world, change the education system”. He also said that “a better future for humanity does not depend on political groups or parties, it just depends on us creating a better human being”. And again, it´s education! What are the first toys that parents buy for their kids? It´s toy guns. And you play computer games where you shoot everyone, and only then you can go to the next level. So they put violence in your head since you´re four or five years old. Then you watch TV and see all the famous people, and all you want is to be famous. All of a sudden, all boys want to be Justin Bieber and all the girls want to be Kim Kardashian, and that´s all they care about! What about the serious problems in the world…nobody mentions that there are poor kids in Brazil, Syria and India dying. Why can´t we help them? Newspapers can talk for three days about the son of Princess Kate, but they will not talk about poor kids who are dying from hunger and thirst. So this is all about education. If you look at useless things we learn in school…why can´t they teach us about how to be better human beings and be more sensitive towards world problems. Why can´t they teach us about yoga and how to breathe, or how to talk and listen to each other, and how to solve problems! For politicians, it´s easier when we are divided, when we are fighting each other, when we´re stupid! It´s just easier to control us and manipulate us that way. A few kids met me in an event a few months ago, and knowing I am in a band they asked me if I was famous. I said that “I´m an artist, and my work is appreciated”. And they asked “Yeah, but are you famous?”. These are kids, and they´re a mirror or our society.
Lotsofmuzik: The new single “Like Orpheus” is out, with Hansi Kürsc from Blind Guardian as a guest. How did that collaboration came to be, and what about Steve Hackett and Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates), who also make guest appearances on the album?
KF: We met Blind Guardian for the first time at a festival in Brazil. We met their guitar player, Markus, and he was a fan of Orphaned Land. He´s married to a Brazilian, and she introduced our music to him. We became friends and toured with them in 2015, and Hansi Kürsc (vocals, Blind Guardian) was also attached to our music and our message. When we recorded the album, the song “Like Orpheus” describes the moment when the hero is going out of the cave of Plato, and he sees the world for the first time. The way he describes what he sees for the first time – the sky, and the earth, and everything around him – he sings about it, and he sings so beautifully that he signs like Orpheus. In the Greek mythology, Orpheus sings so beautifully that they say that even the stones, and the sky and the birds like what they listen to. I needed a modern Orpheus, and Hansi Kürsc is exactly that, because he is a great singer. With Tomas Lindberg (vocals, At The Gates), I needed someone with a voice of a lunatic, because it´s a song where the people of the cave are about to kill the hero. I´m a big fan of At the Gates, so it was great to have Tomas over there.
With Steve Hackett, it´s an outstanding story. I´m a big fan of Genesis, and Steve Hackett is a rock legend. He contacted me, because he wanted me to sing on a song that he wrote for peace. Of course I agreed, and the song is on his solo album, “The Night Siren”. So he asked me if I wanted to be paid for it, or if I preferred that he played a solo for Orphaned Land. I told him “come on, Steve, what would I do with the money? I would forget about it, but if you played a solo for us, this would stay forever!” So he played a solo, and for us it´s like a dream come true!
Lotsofmuzik: Tell us about the cover art for the new album. You guys seem to work with different artists on every release, and we never know what to expect from Orphaned Land in terms of album cover. And I noticed you also have a new logo – is this one to stay?
KF: It´s hard to tell if the logo is here to stay. And the new cover art is trying to reflect the world´s chaos. You can see two guns pointed at your face, bombs falling on a book, the globe, the wheels of the system, the all-knowing eye and the pyramid and the hand of resistance. So it´s everything that´s happening in our world today in one painting. It´s a tribute to the way that governments design money. It has elements of the American dollar in it. Money is what makes everything move in our world. People worship money more than they worship God or good deeds. In summary, the idea is to show the world´s chaos.
And everytime we release an album, the cover is something new and completely different. We think that an album cover is an art form, and you should always try and generate surprise with it, and don´t make it too predictable or obvious. We try to use that visual element as well as the music, to make good art.
Lotsofmuzik: What are the touring plans for now? I noticed you have an European tour booked for early next year. Is there a country you haven´t played in that you want to go to now?
KF: Every show in every country is a show that I´m waiting for. We have an upcoming European tour, and shows in Russia and Japan, and there are talks about North South America, I hope it will happen, Brazil included. I really love South America, we visited Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Mexico, and it was amazing to see that despite people there being so poor, it was the place where we were given the biggest amount of gifts. That was something I cannot forget about South America: the good heart of the people and the generosity.
Lotsofmuzik: You are the self proclaimed creators of “Oriental Metal”, or as a friend of mine says, “Old Testament rifferama”. What originated this idea to combine Arab motifs with heavy metal, and what were your influences when you first started – as a band and as a singer?
KF: When we started the band, twenty six years ago, we thought about doing just death metal. But then, we asked ourselves “how can we contribute to the metal scene if we´re just doing death metal?”. And really, why shouldn´t we add something related to our roots to the music that we want to play? If Sepultura was doing it with Brazilian rhythms, and if Norwegian metal bands are incorporating Scandinavian culture into their music, why can´t we do the same with Arab motifs? I think it´s a way of making the metal scene wider, bigger and more interesting, because when they listen to us, metalheads are taken on a journey to the Middle East. And we changed our name too. When we started we were called Ressurrection, because all the bands that we listened to were called Benediction, Mortification, Suffocation etc. But after six months we decided to change it to Orphaned Land, because Israel is an orphan land, due to all the wars and the bloodshed. And we though about combining all these folklore elements into our music. If you look at our posters from the 90´s, they all have written at the top “the first oriental death metal”. We wanted to invent a new genre in the metal scene, and we did. And now many other bands are using these elements, and it immediately put us in the spotlight and we stood out. We didn´t sound like any other bands at the time, and we immediately got signed by a French label, and when that deal finished we immediately got signed by Century Media.
Lotsofmuzik: Does it bother you that bands like Melechesh and Aeternam are now also combining the same elements you mixed when you first started?
KF: It doesn´t bother us – this is not exclusive for us! This is our culture, and everyone can use it. To have multiple bands doing it is a blessing, and I´m not the owner of oriental elements or Arab motifs. Melechesh are good friends of us, and I think the more bands that do it, the better!
Lotsofmuzik: These days, anything associated with the Middle East is met with distrust. What would you say is the biggest misconception about Orphaned Land?
KF: I think the biggest misconception is that people think we are a religious band, because we use a lot of symbols from religion. I used to go on stage dressed like Jesus Christ, for example. Sometimes people think we are a white metal band, but we are not religious. In fact, we have a lot of criticism towards religion.
Another misconception is that people believe that we sing about people hugging each other and be united. Of course, one of the messages of the band is of brotherhood, friendship and unity, and making peace between enemies, but that´s just one side of it. When you look at the cover art of “All Is One”, you see the symbols of all religions together. But when you read the lyrics, it´s the complete opposite! It´s like utopia on the cover, and dystopia on the inside. People sometimes don´t get that idea, they simply look at the cover and think that we sing just about harmony and peace, but we sing about tragedy! Read the lyrics, listen to those songs and find out the real message.
Lotsofmuzik: Are you a man of faith in particular?
KF: I am a man of faith, but more than anything I believe in good people. I see God in good people, more than in holy books. Those are the people I wake up for, and those are the people I want to “copy and paste” into the world.
Lotsofmuzik: Is there a particular question or approach in an interview that annoys you or gets you tired?
KF: I usually talk about politics, but then people ask me “what do you think about Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?”. That question really annoys me, because politicians are so stupid, that I don´t know how to comment about it. Why doesn´t he say anything about kids dying in Africa, or kids being kidnapped in India? Why doesn´t he comment on the poverty of South America? Who cares about Trump talking about Jerusalem? This is just the circus of politicians, and this type of question sometimes annoys me, because I don´t get the logic of it, and I don´t know how to answer it.
Lotsofmuzik: What can we expect from the new tour in terms of setlist and performance?
KF: I used to dress like Jesus Christ on stage, but this time I´m not doing that, I´m going back to my metal costume. Usually we have video art behind the drums, and that along with the light show adds another dimension to the whole performance. It´s usually images from the Middle East and its conflicts, and our protest as well. We´ll play a lot of our new songs of course and bring different instruments on stage. Our shows are usually a celebration of happiness and sadness, which is, in a way, a form of life.
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you for your time Kobi, and I hope to see you guys on the road some time soon.
KF: We have a lengthy tour in 2018, so I hope you all enjoy our new album and come see us live!
Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs comes out on January 26th via Century Media.
Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs comes out on January 26th via Century Media. The tracklist is:
1 The Cave
2 We Do Not Resist
3 In Propaganda
4 All Knowing Eye
6 Chains Fall To Gravity
7 Like Orpheus
8 Poets Of Prophetic Messianism
9 Left Behind
10 My Brother’s Keeper
11 Take My Hand
12 Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War
13 The Manifest - Epilogue
Orphaned Land are:
Kobi Farhi - Vocals
Chen Balbus - Guitars
Idan Amsalem - Guitars
Uri Zelcha - Bass
Matan Shmuely - Drums
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