ORPHANED LANDSahara (Holy Records, 1994)

Ok, hands up. How many bands do you know that hail from Israel, have Jewish and Palestinian members in their ranks and play a mix of Death and Oriental Doom Metal with a healthy dose of oriental melodies?

Not many?

I thought so. This is most likely caused by the fact Orphaned Land are one of the very few bands that do that, and do it very well indeed. Originality is certainly not a feature lacking from the band’s repertoire.

Sahara is their first full length record, which at the time of writing celebrates a decade of pleasing music fans worldwide. It shouldn’t be surprising that it only took the band a year to sign a deal after releasing their first demo (Beloved's Cry). Holy Records was at the time a label with a knack of picking up unusual and unusually skilled artists. Sahara was released in 1994 to an extremely enthusiastic reception by European underground press and fans. I still remember the review that the album received in the Aardschok magazine that gave it 89 points. Now, that is some achievement for a debut of a band that absolutely no one in the underground was yet familiar with. Remember, this was before widespread use of the WWW and for obvious geographic reasons not many metal maniacs have had a chance to attend one of Orphaned Land's shows.

I have mentioned the rather unorthodox setup of the band. Thankfully this setup does not result in a bland record that uses a few oriental hooks and an interesting bio as its only selling point. The guys play a very technically proficient brand of metal with truly interesting compositions that I still enjoy after hundreds of listening sessions. The oriental melodies and hooks fit in seamlessly with the more traditional sections of the songs and never give the feeling that they were added as a gimmick. Rather they come across as very true and purposeful.

The opening track 'Sahara's Storm' starts out immersing the listener in an oriental atmosphere only to evolve into a moderately aggressive death metal sound with some spoken word parts. Actually this and the next track 'Blessed Be Thy Hate' seem to draw most heavily on 'Turn Loose The Swans' era My Dying Bride but at the same time giving them their own distinct twist.

The highlight of the record to me though, is the brilliant 'Aldior Al Mukadisa'. This song starts out in Arabic ends in Hebrew and even includes live-coverage from a synagogue and welds all of this together with a relatively simple instrumental section. Not only is this a great piece musically but it has a lot of added emotional/historical value, especially in view of the recent unfortunate events in the Middle East that we hear of on the news almost daily. If this quintet managed to put this together maybe there is hope for a resolution of the mess going on in their home country (no I am not a hippie). The band further exhibits their creativity and proficiency during 'Orphaned Land, The Storm Still Rages Inside', here they play with many tempo-changes, spoken, clean, Death Metal- and female vocals and confront us with a complexity recently only matched by the likes of Opeth.

If you, like me are always hungry for new sounds and musical experiences you should give this record a definite try. It never ceases to amaze me how many great and undiscovered gems come out from countries we don't usually associate with the Heavy-Metal scene (at least here in Europe). I think that this is partly due to the fact that they are not burdened by a history of illustrious predecessors. The 'heritage' often forms a conservative harness that is difficult to break out of. Its lack enables bands in ‘other countries’ to provide us with very refreshing and original sounds. Orphaned Land are an almost exemplary band in this respect.

Orphaned Land - Sahara

  1. The Sahara's Storm
  2. Blessed Be Thy Hate
  3. Ornaments Of Gold
  4. Aldiar Al Mukadisa - The Holy Land Of Israel
  5. Seasons Unite
  6. The Beloveds Cry
  7. My Requiem
  8. Orphaned Land - The Storm Still Rages Inside...
  9. Above you all
  10. Pits of despair
  11. The beloved's cry (remix)