Home > Music > Orphaned Land – Sahara (1994)

Orphaned Land – Sahara (1994)

No, these guys are not the first metal band from Israel. That would be Salem, as far as I know, who formed in 1985 under the awesome name “Axe Metal”, but didn’t release their first full length until 1994, the same year as this.

Where as Salem apparently played a sort of 1st wave black metal back in the day, Orphaned Land plays a melodic death/doom variant with tinges of Middle Eastern folk music. On later albums, the latter would be emphasized at the expense of the former, but this full length debut is pretty heavy, if not necessarily ‘brutal’ or all that aggressive. Now, at this point, the main appeal of this band is their unique riffing style, which actually goes significantly beyond “Middle eastern scales ‘n’ shit”. It entails a lot of odd, dissonant intervals like 2nds and 9ths used to create a mostly consonant effect, backed up with a good deal of ornamentation and some phrases with more Western sounding harmonies. In short, it’s actually a lot like At the Gates‘ debut, although that band relied more on Western classical music and such to inform their chord patterns.

Add to this the overall long song lengths and high riff count, and you have a rather entertaining album on your hands. While the overall speed rarely rises above mid-paced, the variety of riffing ensures a high deal of rhythmic and tonal diversity. Case in point – the second track (“Blessed Be Thy Hate”) goes through 8 riffs in only the first three minutes (by my count, and not counting micro-variations within repetitions), contains a few key changes, and showcases most of the vocal styles of the album. More importantly, Orphaned Land seldom repeats a phrase once they move on; in the discussed track, only a few of the early riffs return, and even then only in substantially mutated forms. The rest of the tracks, even including the folk interlude follow this general approach. Key here is the ‘journey’ that these tracks take. Narrative composition (protip: it’s the variation of song structures to suggest ideas, as opposed to relying on songwriting formulas. I have to help newbies get into the know) is nothing new, especially in metal, but the average band that uses it (like Immolation) aims each riff, each section, each song to create some overarching idea or set of ideas that compliment the lyrics they wrote. On this album, however, Orphaned Land is seemingly more interested in the journey than the destination, which shows in how the songs play out slowly, explore various musical ideas, occasionally show their folk garnishing, and allow plenty of time for recapitulation after they hit their climaxes.

Other aspects of the album are effective in the context the band hopes to achieve – the production is relatively crunchy and abrasive, but the tone of instruments is very clear, allowing the melodic nature of the music to shine through. The aforementioned tinges of traditional Middle Eastern music (drumming, certain types of singing) aren’t forcibly shoehorned into the album, keeping them welcome when they do arrive. Compared to the next album, El Norra Alila, things would seem fairly typical; on that album, Orphaned Land stripped out a good deal of the doom and replaced it with more folk elements, while still keeping the moderate level of aggression they had shown – it actually doesn’t work as well, suggesting that the band is better off when sticking with the death/doom. Whether they got better at combining the two between that album and their 2004 effort Mabool is up for debate, but by then a whole scene of metal had associated itself with the Middle East, be it the Egyptology of Nile, the blackened assault of Melechesh, or the thousands of songs with lyrics about the area’s culture and history, and etc. Orphaned Land started out fairly isolated, and then gained international recognition. Sahara is definitely a good start.

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