ORPHANED LAND: IN CONVERSATION WITH KOBI FARHI ON ‘UNSUNG PROPHETS AND DEAD MESSIAHS’
INTERVIEW: JULY 2018
The originality and musical talent, with the fusion of Middle Eastern sounds with classic and Death Metal quickly saw them become a leading band in their home country, retaining that position ever since and also gaining a worldwide following.
Interview: Liz Medhurst
Pictures: Ash Phoenix
The band’s prominence is not only due to their music, but to the simple yet radical and courageous message that they bring to a world torn apart by strife. The message is of unity, that we are all brothers and sisters together; let’s respect each other and not fight. It’s no happy-clappy utopia, but a solid blueprint.
Today Orphaned Land is comprised of founder members Kobi Farhi (vocals) and Uri Zelcha (bass) along with Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem on guitars and Matan Shmuely on drums, and tonight’s set forms part of the massive ‘Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs’ tour.
“I feel when I was working on this album and got to listen to it, we succeeded in bringing things to a new level,” Kobi tells me. “That’s what bands want to do, you always want to take it further, how can I make it stronger, how can I attempt it from a different angle, how can I find a stronger concept? It takes a lot of time because we really want to bring the best out of ourselves, so a twenty-seven year career and only six studio albums, but the result is that you get the best.”
The bloodline of ‘Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs’ can be traced through the previous albums and this time the imagery and concept is not only confined to the three Abrahamic religions but broadens out to include Greek mythology and Western material too.
The main concept is built around Plato’s ‘Allegory Of The Cave’ and also weaves threads from two of the most influential modern dystopias, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984’, and Kobi reflects on if things have really changed that much:
“Look, The Allegory Of The Cave, was written two thousand five hundred years ago. I mean if you take any aspect, take technology, agriculture, science – everything is so advanced. Human behaviour – stuck at the same point where we repeat our mistakes again and again. Someone once said the only thing we have learned from history is the fact that we didn’t learn anything from history.
“I mean, what does it take for us to understand? I mean if spaceships can fly, if satellites can fly out of space then why can’t we learn to live peacefully; how hard is it? And the thing is, I think it’s a mind control with politicians, that keeps it eternal like that – the empires still exist, they just changed, transformed into a way that they make us feel like we have this spectrum of freedom.
“Every country’s story is very similar. They have their own revolutionaries and they have their own difficulties and it seems like we really behave the same. Of course, some places it’s easier, some places it’s harder, but I did the research and that album, it approached the whole world, not only the Middle East.
“It seems like everything is getting really bad, everywhere, none of it’s been amazing before but I mean, I’ve seen a movie that tells one story of a child that came to work and disappeared, and his parents start to look for him and they are so poor they don’t even have a camera to take a photograph, they cannot even provide a photo of the kid.
“The story ends and they don’t find the kid and then it says that at least ninety thousand kids are being kidnapped in India every year.
“Now the tragedy of the story, apart from the fact that these kids are being kidnapped, is that we are not aware of it, so I ask myself who is responsible for me not knowing about that? And hearing about the ass of Kim Kardashian ninety thousand times a year – who is managing that?
“In Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ he speaks about the drug called soma. People go to protests and soma is in the air, you smell it and suddenly you are all happy and go home. This is what they give to us with Kim Kardashian, with reality TV. Kids are being kidnapped, bad things are happening, there’s a Big Brother starting in ten minutes, and that’s our problem, why we do not progress, are not conscious, why we do not resist, cos we’re trapped in this bullshit, brainwashed.”
In Plato’s cave, the hero realises that the shadows on the wall are illusions, escapes to discover the real world and then returns to educate his fellow prisoners into a much better, expansive way of life. They are so threatened by the prospect that they kill him. Again, this is a recurring motif in human history. It must be possible however to not be a prisoner of the past, or like the prisoners in the cave. Kobi believes that the key is education.
“People ask me, ‘why don’t you vote in the elections’?” he says. “Cos I never vote, it’s a sad story but I never vote. I say to them our situation now is a compilation of all parties being on regime and taking the seat, and here we are today, and it’s still shit so who shall I vote for? And the ones that I admire they always end up being dead. Dead Messiahs like we say on the album.
“We need to change the whole education system, all over the planet. No-one teaches us about the human behaviour, as much as they teach mathematics. People say ‘hello’, say ‘thank you’ – ok but why don’t you teach us how to avoid wars or having conflicts. Why don’t you teach us about how to get along, how to talk, how to listen to each other?
“They don’t teach us that human life is sacred, and a gift, they give us toy guns when we are kids and we kill all the characters in a game and we move to the next level only when everyone has been killed. So death is acceptable, it’s a part of life, that’s how it is.
“No – that’s not how it is, if you look at, let’s say, Tibet, let’s really try hard and find a Tibetan asshole, it will be very hard to find. They stand for compassion, for tolerance, for acceptance, for embracing, for meditation, for all these things. It’s all education. If you take an Israeli and a Muslim kid and put them with Tibetans, they will grow up to be Tibetans. Put a Tibetan with Israelis and Muslims, he will either be Israeli or Muslim. We all will be like that because we are like plasticine. You shape yourself with the education. That’s the only way to do it. Education sucks. That’s my conclusion.”
It’s an excellent point. The more people that rise up and proclaim the truth, the less they will stand out as being lone Messiahs and thus less likely to be killed.
During tonight’s gig, there may not be the space to fully absorb the message, but the huge symphonic pieces translate stunningly to the compact confines of the stage, where the Metal comes to the fore. As the opening notes to ‘The Cave’ sweep over the crowd, attention is immediately grabbed by the choral swells and the growls of “Gods, Blind, Death. Chains, Dark, Bravery”. It sets the scene wonderfully and the thousands packed into the tent are one in our appreciation with happy faces all round – a mood which is definitely not soma-induced.
The setlist comprises six songs from the new album and the remaining seven a selection from ‘All Is One’, ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ and ‘Mabool’. Orphaned Land are worthy headliners and it’s a reminder of the prodigious musical talent of all the band. The composing is a joint effort and incorporates choirs, orchestras and a range of instruments.
“We all do it, the guys are writing riffs, I’m bringing the concept, then I’m building chapters to the concept so it has to have this chronological way of telling a story,” Kobi says. “We never write complete songs, we write riffs, and build it like a puzzle so we don’t see the picture ourselves while doing it. It’s like a surgery, put that there, put that layer here, you need the music to tell the story.
“Before I put one word in the album I want the instrumental music to tell me the whole story. Only then I know that this is ‘The Cave’, this is ‘In Propaganda’, but I only start to do it when the music is finished and I need to get myself to the state of goosebumps and tears – it’s the only sign for me to know that it’s touching.
“We use a lot of very skilled people, I instruct them of course with guidelines of what we need, where we need it, what’s the main melody and then they take and add their soul and energy to that.”
There are some very special guests on the new album including Steve Hackett’s blistering solo on ‘Chains Fall To Gravity’ and Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch providing awe-inspiring vocals on ‘Like Orpheus’ – a song that comes vividly to life in the powerful video.
“Steve Hackett was the one who wrote to me actually – he wanted me to do a guest vocal on his last solo album,” Kobi explains. “And then he asked me, would you like to get paid or would you prefer me playing a solo on your next album? I was like, ‘you know Steve, what will I do with the money?’ I mean none of us is rich, but what will I do with the money, buy pizza? Shoes? I’ll have your solo on my album that is eternal.
“We toured with Blind Guardian in 2015, and we became really good friends, their guitarist Marcus is a big fan of Orphaned Land and that’s how we got together. Hansi is just such a gentleman, no rock star attitude or anything, just did it. I would assume it would be a pain in the ass for him to do it because it doesn’t contribute anything to his career, but he was so connected with our message and with what we do, he immediately said ‘sure’, and he didn’t ask for anything, didn’t ask for money, he just did it.”
The five-piece have no guests tonight, and easily manage to keep the crowd engaged, all bound together by our love of Metal. The set flies by, remarked on by Kobi as he addresses the audience saying that it’s time for their last song, but he has an idea.
“I’m Jewish, I will do you a deal,” he declares to the tent. “A good deal, very cheap. If you sing along with me well, we will play some more songs”.
We are going to bite his hand off on that one, and he leads us through the delicious phrasing of ‘In Thy Never Ending Way’, and true to their word the band return for a majestic ‘Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War’ and ‘Norra El Norra’.
Orphaned Land are the real deal. Kobi himself is the living proof of how people can change, and his message is stronger due to his personal experience. Growing up in Jaffa, a relatively diverse area of Tel Aviv where he heard the prayers of both the mosque and synagogue mingling in the air, he still became brainwashed himself against the Arabs.
In ‘All Is One’, a documentary about the band released earlier this year which can be seen below, he explains fully what happened, and why, but the point is – he changed.
“It was literally Orphaned Land who saved me,” he says. “Because writing, composing, you have to think, you have to observe things, and you really have to look at them like some sort of Buddha and look and ask yourself questions, and look and find the answers so that research brings you very fast to see that there’s more than meets the eye.
“And when you don’t think, when you are brainwashed it’s like the nothing from ‘The Never-Ending Story’, it’s just nothing, you are just brainwashed, you go with the flow and that’s it. Why would I search for an innocent Arab… why would I hit someone who didn’t do anything?
We have a lot of Arab fans but sometimes we have Arabs who are bashing us, ‘why are Israelis doing this and that?’ And I say ‘well I’m not the one doing it, I’m not pulling the trigger, I’m not Prime Minister. I don’t even vote, I can only write songs’, but they blame me.
“And that was me back then – I’ll find an Arab and I’ll hit him, but he’s not a terrorist. I grew to get out of this stupidity, luckily. It took me years to actually say it, I never said that I did this graffiti and that I looked for an Arab to hit up until that movie. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, but today I’m strong enough to realise that was a part of my way and I think it made me even stronger, to get out of it.”
Orphaned Land – come for the music, stay for the message or the other way round – they will both get you.
There are a lot of parallels with ‘Scream For Me Sarajevo’, the film about another part of the world that was war torn and where Metal was a unifying voice. Could it be that drop by drop, ripple by ripple we are starting to build momentum that will finally get us out of this cycle?
Till then, there is always Metal.
And here’s the Orphaned Land ‘All Is One’ documentary: