Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Orphaned Land - Mabool

Genre: I'd actually just write "grand great music", but on second thoughts, label it as progressive middle-eastern folk metal. The wrong thing about this tag is that it only describes half of the album's content. The other half is just, well, music!

Rating: 10 on 10. No doubts about that!

Commentary: To start with, let me state that I generally abstain from death metal, especially the brutal/technical death metal genre. Fine, they are very accomplished musicians, just that such extremely intense music is not my cup of tea exactly. Till this day, I've been able to appreciate only a select few death metal bands, and all of them are in my favourites list only because they are progressive in nature. So their kind of music is a mixture of fast and slow, intense highs and soothing lows-- basically, contrasting styles, and because these bands incorporate elements from various genres of music (folk, jazz, blues, classical et al); blending everything perfectly to give a nice enjoyable product. Opeth is one such band, and so is Cynic and Atheist. And well, if you didn't figure out, there's Orphaned Land. Also, the lyrics these bands write are a lot more meaningful in nature than the lyrics typical death metal bands write-- which almost always revolve around blood-and-gore, to my extreme distaste.

It took Kobi Farhi and Co. almost seven years to come out with Mabool in 2004 after their 1996 album, El Norra Alila (which, I must add, is also quite brilliant). Must say that the wait for old-time OL fans must've been quite fulfilling. The reason for this long production period is explained by the album itself-- the music unfolds itself in so many different layers that it's quite amazing how you hear something new everytime you give the album a listen. In the period between El Norra Alila and Mabool, OL got Eden Rabin on keyboards. This inclusion was crucial because Rabin gave the album the whole ambient/symphonic background with some very commendable keyboard-work.

The lyrical theme of Mabool centres around The Great Flood-- the Lord's wish to purge the Earth of it's sins with a sweep of divine retribution. The story revolves around how three brothers belonging to the three main Abrahamaic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) try to warn their own people of the coming flood, in vain.

The reasons for Mabool being a great album are many. Firstly, maybe this is the only album that mixes genuine middle-eastern and oriental jewish folk music with heavy metal riffs (okay, Melechesh does this too; but only upto this! Not the next part) as well as western classical music (no, not your neo-classical music; but proper classical music sans those "neo" influences!). This unique combination of very different musical styles often in the scope of a single song is a great advantage to the album. Then there are the vocals. Admittedly, I was never much of a fan of growly vocals. This was probably the first time when I became a fan of growled vocals. But umm, maybe, that's because vocalist Kobi Farhi's growls are never unbearable in the way, say, a Lord Worm or "Corpsegrinder" song is. But wait, not unbearable is not a reason good enough for one to actually love Farhi's growls. Truth is that there's a certain sweetness or grandiose (I am not quite sure which!) in the way he growls that makes me like him. Besides, his use of growled vocals is situational-- they are there only when the growls make sense in the context of the song. And on second thoughts, maybe his growls are more like him speaking in a somewhat hoarse way. Anyway, did I mention that the album has possibly the widest range of vocals ever seen in any album ever done! There's Farhi's brilliant clean vocals (actually, I am quite confused how one man can have such a nice low-end voice and also a brilliant high-register. And he uses these two vocal styles almost alternately in some songs. Wow!), and choir passages (both oriental and english), and spoken recitations from the Bible. Not to forget splendid female Yemenite vocals (wait, I'll get to her soon!) and some local chants too. Quite some range surely. Lest I forget, possibly this is the only album where you get to hear middle-eastern folk instruments (like the oud, saz and bouzouki) duelling with guitars! And the output is, quite simply, mindblowing.

Okay, enough in praise of the album. Let's get to the songs. I have so much to say about them, I'm afraid people may think that I have literally put the whole music translated to words-- that is, if that is quite possible. But believe me when I say that my review would seem incomplete to me if I don't explain why I love this album so much. So here's it. Please bear patiently with me.

The album starts with the song Birth Of The Three (The Unification) which is an out-and-out death/doom metal song with lots of prominent folk influence. Lyrically, it signifies the birth of the three brothers-- each one into a different Abrahamaic faith. The song starts with a middle-eastern female distantly chanting some oriental melody and the song suddenly (but not abruptly) changes into a dense metal riff playing in absolute sync with a middle-eastern folk instrument (don't know which one). The song flows rather smoothly with folk interludes between death/doom parts and midway through the song the whole riff takes the form of beautiful chug-beat rhythm which keeps on mesmerising me for reasons I am unaware of. Farhi's vocal variety on this song is absolutely mindblowing-- from his throaty growls to his highest vocal registers to mid-range crooning. First ball and I'm bowled out! Oops, I forgot to mention that this song has one of the catchiest guitar chord progressions ever. And there's also a choir singing to metal riffs somewhere in between. The best possible way the album could have started.

Next on, there's Ocean Land (The Revelation). Which starts with a folk instrument playing a very nice and instantly likeable riff. And then comes that duelling of folk stringed instruments and downtuned Sabbath-ish guitars. Also, this song has some of the best guitar solos on the album. By now, the lyrical context has switched to God wishing for divine intervention seeing that His hallowed land is marred by the sins of men-- and He chooses the three brothers to dictate his Holy decree. The song ends with it suddenly (again, but not abruptly) switching to a man plaintively crying out to the Lord in Hebrew to purge the land of it's sins-- along with, I must add, some really commendable oriental percussion adding to the pathos in the man's voice.

The Kiss Of Babylon (The Sins) is the lament of the three brothers as they walk through the land seeing the terrifying state it has been brought to. Inspite of their attachment to the land, they concur with the Lord that divine retribution is sadly required-- there's no other way that the earth can be purged of wrongdoing. Musically, this is one of the most interesting songs in the whole album. Probably, the most pure doom-metal offering here-- it has it's moments of superlative brilliance. Some rather nice folk-instrument-guitar duelling again; as well as backing arabic vocals. A complete mystic experience. Farhi and the backing choir abandon lyrics for a long stretch just doing vocal calisthenics with a simple "na-na-na" being chanted on and on. But strangely, that does not get boring. The best thing about the this song is it's ending though-- the chug-chug doom metal riff slowly fades away to the gradually rising voice of Shlomit Levi singing a plaintive hebrew folk tune.

A'salk is in complete continuation with the flow of The Kiss Of Babylon, and has the most amazing vocals in the whole album. Yes, Shlomit Levi is completely mindblowing. There's possibly no voice as divine as her (maybe, just maybe, she beats Lata Mangeshkar too!), at least from what I have heard till now (though Paula of the Brazilian folk metal band Ashtar comes a close second there!). This is the only out-and-out mid-eastern folk song in Mabool, accompanied by eastern percussion and strumming. One thing is guaranteed-- any, and I mean just any, music lover in this world will love this song. Lyrically, this song is a sad prayer repeated over and over again to God by a devotee who seeks forgiveness for all the sins of mankind.

Halo Dies (The Wrath Of God) is the most dense of all songs in this album and yet is enchanting in it's own way. Again, some beautiful folk strumming from Yossi Sharon. As well as Kobi Farhi at his growling best: a friend compared his vocal delivery aptly with a lion angrily roaring. There's his clean vocals too-- brilliant and other-worldly as they are! The story has advanced to the Lord showering his anger; hence the aptly growled curses... (remember something about situational vocals?). Some memorable downtuned riffing and blistering guitar solos are, of course, there for people who enjoy metal. And there's also Rabin adding his ambient keyboard work. All in all, a great track representing the metal half of the album's music.

Next up, A Call To Awake (The Quest) is the last song of the "heavy" first half of the album (save A'Salk). Starts with a nice memorable guitar solo. But to be frank, my least favourite song in the album. Not that it is bad-- it has it's moments (nice vocals, the by-now-common folk-instrument-guitar duelling, doom riffing, good solos, nice keyboard-simulated ambience et al), but just that I would have preferred a soothing song after the very heavy Halo Dies. Anyway, not a skippable track by any means. (Heck! Skipping even a single track on this whole album means losing out on a whole lot of great music.) One can call it the least among all the great songs on offer in this album. Meanwhile, the three brothers are roaming around the land warning the people of the coming flood. (a funny way to put it, I know! :D)

Whoa! Now the second soothing half of the album begins (which, though, has heavy parts too!). Building The Ark is a very easy-on-the-ears song, with a choir singing in Hebrew and English to the background of a superb acoustic/folk melody and keyboard/light percussion ambience. The classical influences show prominently here. The story has meanwhile proceeded to the Lord ordering how the Ark, for carrying the lone survivors of the storm, should be built.

Norra El Norra (Entering The Ark) is one of the best songs on this album. Starts with some acoustic strumming and gradually skips to metal mode with downtuned guitar riffing; but for a surprise, accompanied with fullblown choir vocals instead of Farhi crooning. And then, the song leaves metal mode and enters classical mode. Rabin's classical piano solo accompanied by acoustic guitar and light percussion is one of the watermarks of this whole album. The piano solo keeps playing on in my mind even when I am asleep these days-- yes, it's that enchanting and addictive! Oh yes, there's Shlomit Levi doing some soulful background vocals (yeah, I am smitten by her voice-- if you can't make that out till now). And well, you should be able to interpret the lyrical theme from the title of the song itself.

The Calm Before The Flood is, as the name suggests, a rather quiet song. No drumming or percussion. Just a minimalistic instrumental with a long acoustic guitar passage accompanied by, I suppose, a keyboard too! And oh, there's a strong gale flowing in between. In short, sets the mood for the upcoming disaster-- naa, not a musical one! :D Really love the sound of rain and splashing water at the end of the track.

And with that we move on to the title track, Mabool (The Flood)-- a brilliant song depicting the Great Flood. Starts with a burst of thunder, and violins playing an epic classical tune which has the essence of a catastrophe in the brewing. Love the way the violin riff slowly fades away giving way to the same riff played on guitars with the tempo rising by the second. The whole song depicts the storm in it's rage and magnitude-- the downtuned doom metal guitars do exceptional justice to the mood of the song. A storm could not have been signified by music in a better way, honestly. Ah, then there's the ever present voice of Kobi Farhi giving voice to the ferocity of the flood-- again a nice melee of his growls and clean vocals.

The Storm Still Rages essentially continues in the same way as the title track (by the way, the two songs are even musically connected-- The Storm Still Rages picks the cue up from where Mabool (The Flood) left off); just that it portrays the human side of the catastrophe while also describing the flood in detail. To accentuate the feeling of sadness and pathos, Yossi throws in the best guitar solos (there are at least five or six of them!) of the album-- all of which I will remember for a long time, I can assure you. "Moving" is the right word-- the guitar literally weeps in prayer to the Lord to take care of His orphaned child. The lyrics portray much the same. Quite some vocal variety in here too-- and, possibly, my most favourite choir passage of the whole album. The best track Orphaned Land have ever done, period.

It's Rainbow (The Resurrection) now-- a fitting last track to a classic album like this. Like The Calm Before The Flood, it is also a soothing instrumental. Just that while the former was a dark one signalling the advent of a disaster, this one is an uplifting one. With birds chirruping in the background, new life is seen again. The earth is on it's way to resurrection. The Flood is over. The wait begins yet again.

(And I patiently wait for the next OL album coming up in 2008. Yes, I am pretty excited!)

Last word: If you are an open-minded music lover even remotely accustomed to heavy metal music, this is the album to have. If you aren't, sigh!

P.S.-- First music album review. Hope it's not that bad! By the way, for the lyrics, visit this site. Quite some amazing poetry there... You'll be in for a pleasant surprise seeing that even metal musicians can write really commendable literature.


Sudipto Basu said...

First comment from myself: I know that none of my readers listen to music like this; and yet I wrote this review. Just because I felt like doing it-- I just couldn't rest before I wrote down all the emotions clogging my mind about this musical masterpiece. So, sorry for being a bit whimsical there!

Anyway, for the interested, here's the album download link:

A tip for downloaders: the Rapidshare server tracks downloads by IP address. In between downloading two files, you are required to wait for a considerable amount of time. A nice way to skip that is to disconnect your net and relogin. In most cases, at least in India, Internest Service Providers allot dynamic IP addresses-- i.e. your IP address changes each time to login. So this trick works. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sudipto,

I restrained myself from commenting on this post of yours for so long only because (sadly enough) I haven’t got the gift of hearing and appreciating a music which is so much deep and involves the usage of such diverse musical components. I’m hopelessly limited on this fa├žade, friend. I just hear light Indian music (especially oldies and classical), few ghazals and Rabindrasangeet. In fact, I wouldn’t even have heard two of the western maestros if it hadn’t been for your friendship (Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan: you know that, of course! :D) and you know that they have already turned out to have elongated the list of my favourites. Well, there’s still much more to learn from you, I suppose, friend. But, that was quite a brilliant (and detailed) review of a music album. It’s more appreciative actually that you’ve managed to note the philosophic luster from the music, which few listeners do and that made my read more enjoyable!

I hope people who have listened Orphaned Land – Mabool do find some words to write in here.

Keep writing! :)
With best regards,

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you've brought back the label 'Music'! (Music undoubtedly had been one of the reasons that initiated our friendship...) Keep writing more and it doesn't matter really if you don't get comments flooding in...