|Review: Orphaned Land - Mabool|
Label: Century Media
Year released: 2004
Review online: April 13, 2008
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Rated 4.32/5 (86.4%) (25 Votes)
More proof that progression doesn't always make something better. Orphaned Land are an Israeli Progressive Metal band who really don't sound like anything you've ever heard before, and they've been getting a lot of press for this album in particular. However, like most bands of their ilk; those Super-Prog outfits who sacrifice integrity and staying power for things such as originality and conceptual plot lines, Orphaned Land fall short of the immense praise bestowed upon them.
Don't get me wrong, this is very involving and challenging music, with layers upon layers of dense musical mastery, and pretty much everyone here is giving a 100% performance - this IS a Prog album, and thus it would not have been let out of the recording studio without every single note polished to perfection. There are a lot of Middle Eastern folk instruments here, and a lot of different vocal styles - ranging from a one dimensional blackened rasp to a choir of clean male voices, some deep voiced narration, and finally to the ever-original Clean Female Vocals™, which seem to be a universal mark of the "Progressive" bands of today (you're not a member of the club if you don't use 'em!) - along with a lot of time changes, bouncy Folk Metal riffs and guitar-less atmospheric sections that make me wonder how this is even considered "metal" in the first place. The whole thing is extremely sterile, though, sadly enough, and completely lacking in balls or heaviness, clashing with the wide array of instrumentation utilized here. This is still a metal album, so what's the deal, guys?
My main problem with Mabool is that it is boring and unmemorable. There are no choruses here, for one, and anyone who loves a good, juicy hook or a catchy riff will be starved while listening to this album. Orphaned Land have tried so hard to create an epic, stirring masterpiece for the ages, yet in doing so they have forgotten one of the key elements in Heavy Metal music: the hook. This album is ornate and at least somewhat beautiful, and it has diversity and progressive tendencies throughout its entire duration (and this is a long fucking album), yet I cannot remember even one note of it after the last song finishes. Even that could be excused if the music here was energetic and soulful, but it isn't! Mabool sounds contrived and stale, despite the obvious good intentions of the band members, and the pre-processed, squeaky clean production job doesn't help. The songwriting here is just too meandering and uncatchy, even for Prog. Too many songs here just drone on and on without anything exciting happening at all. I used to wonder why I never got the incentive to play this album more often, but now there's no doubt about it: Orphaned Land are simply a lackluster band.
People will flock to bands like this as if they're the reincarnation(s) of Jesus Christ, but why? People will act as if bands like this are the saviors of modern music, as if the metal scene is so starved for originality that it needs bands like this, who pile on so many outside influences that the band in question no longer even sounds metal a lot of the time. Pfft, the metal scene doesn't need bands like this, no matter how far from the norm it sounds to some people. "Unoriginality" is marketed as an unforgivable sin by many, but is it really that bad? It's like how we're taught to fear the Bogeyman as little children. We fear blindly, and we fear without questioning, but as we get older, how many of us retain this childlike mental block? We grow up and we learn about the world, and we're not afraid anymore, as we can see that there is nothing to worry about. I sure wish the modern metal community would do the same, or at least the portion of it that blindly worships anything "new" sounding, without actually stepping back and objectively viewing the quality of the release in question. Maybe then we wouldn't have so many bloated carcasses of albums like this one.
This album doesn't sound like all that much else, musically, but when you get down to brass tacks, Orphaned Land are not actually doing much new or exciting, contrary to popular opinion. They're a metal band disguising their music with odd instrumentations and time signatures and varying vocal approaches, so what's exactly "original" here? The approach is different and pretty cool (with the aforementioned Middle Eastern instruments used instead of the regular old "spacey keyboard" approach or the "Tolkien fanfare" one), but that just means Orphaned Land is using a slightly different path to reach the same destination, if you catch my drift. They're not aiming for anything here that hasn't already been done. This is a familiar style dressed up in a new outfit, but it doesn't fool me one bit. This album sounds like Anubis Gate, Ayreon or Pain of Salvation with folk elements instead of the "cleaner" Prog approach used by those bands. And their folk influences have been done way, way better by Angra in recent years, too. And Angra knows how to write good hooks along with their Prog, which further renders this obsolete.
All that aside, Orphaned Land is a pretty decent band, not terrible, yet certainly unworthy of the praise they've been receiving. Mabool might be a choice cut if you can't get enough of this style of Prog, but do not expect anything too mindblowing or "out there," and even then, you could do far better when looking at Prog bands. Perhaps they will improve their songwriting faults next album, as all the pieces are certainly there; only time will tell. I do hope they don't get arrested at an American airport, though.
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