Orphaned Land Interview

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On the eve of their forthcoming Australian Tour, HEAVY gets heavy with Orphaned Land…

What are your expectations of touring Australia? Have you visited before?
I’ve never been to Australia. I’m almost certain none of my band mates have been there as well. We expect a very nice place! We’ve heard a lot about Australian people, the scene in Australia and the bands that have played shows in Australia. Discovering a new place is always interesting, because you want to meet your fans, see the place and see how they live.

Let’s jump to your recent tour with Khalas. I think this tour really demonstrated that Palestinians and Israelis or Arabs and Israelis can look beyond the situation and get along through the power of music. Do you bring a similar message with your tour to Australia?
Definitely! If everyone checks the Orphaned Land album covers, lyrics and those kinds of things it is never about our personal lives. It is always about the macro situation of the middle east or human beings in general.

We are living in a terrible mistake, probably anywhere! It is made by the wrong education, by politicians and advertisements…we are brainwashed in so many ways. It could be from the toy guns we get when we are very young; it can be from the newspapers and TV.

We are simply here to show it is very easy to overcome. People think it is very hard because every time you read the papers in Israel, you see that in order to bring an Israeli and Palestinian leader to the table it takes six months of early conditions for them to talk to each other, while we are the common people, and we easily do that.

We don’t say that it is hard to share a land or a city with the Palestinians – we share a tour bus with them! We lived together in a bus! That stands out more than a thousand words of a newspaper and the bullshit we are fed.

It is funny, because in Israel they used to call metal people “satanists” or “cat slaughterers”. And today it is a fact that we are the most popular Israeli people among the Arabs, more than any politicians, writers, movie directors or anything like that.

People in Israel really respect that, they stop us in the street and say “Listen, I don’t really connect with heavy metal music, but I am really proud of what you have done.”

We are artists so we are about peace an co-existence, we use a universal language which is music. Music is like a cure: the two worst enemies can share the same music taste without even knowing that. If I have to make a dialogue between two enemies, I will ask them about music before I bring them together because that will be the easiest way to find out what they have in common.

As you say, it is easy to build these bridges. But in your journey as band you have had problems. In 2000 you guys had to step back from the scene – was this perhaps because of the situation in Israel?
Well, it was a combination of many things. We started the band when we were 16 years old and got signed by Holy records in France and our first album was released when we were 18 years old. Then we got another album, but then reality hit us in the face. We are not in Europe, we are not in The States. Every time you want to tour or stand out it is very hard because you are not in the centre of things.

A band from France who want to tour Europe can just hop on the bus and start touring, but we have to take expensive flights; the starting point is always more difficult. On the other hand, our music is very exotic and different to European bands, so we stand out.

A combination of being young, unexperienced, plus the situation of Israel and the fact that some of us have to go to the army or just deal with stuff had made some of us decide to invest in other things. So the band went on a seven year hiatus – seven years of nothing.

Then we had a life changing moment. I got an email out of the blue from a guy who said he was a Palestinian from Jordan and said he “sent me a gift”. The email had a video attachment. I thought maybe it was a virus, maybe a hacker or something, because Palestinians and Israelis are enemies – that is what they have taught us, that is what we see. For those reasons, it is true in some cases, I don’t think ever Israeli and Palestinian is in love.

But I thought “I’m going to open that email” I don’t know why. He referred to me by my first name and something really felt okay with it.So, I opened the video file. There is Orphaned Land music in the background. I can’t see the dude’s face but I can see him pulling up the sleeve of his T-shirt, and I see a tattoo of the Orphaned Land logo.

I was leaning back, completely shocked! That was in the year 2001! I don’t know how much Australians are familiar with the conflict, but I’m right here living that and I know that a fan of Liverpool will never get a tattoo of Manchester United! So, a Palestinian with a tattoo of an Israeli band? That was something.

I always knew music was powerful and has the ability to change and influence, but I never realised up until that moment the responsibility and strength I have in my hands. That happened after 7 years of nothing. What will happen if I am active for 7 years, 24/7?

I gathered all the band members and showed them the video and just asked them “What is it you can you do more important in your life? You want to make money, you want to build buildings? That’s fine, I respect every profession, but what will be more important to inherit to your children than trying to create a better reality for them?” That’s the basis of everything we do in our lives: we want to create a better world.

From that moment up until now, we’ve never stopped. We constantly do that.

This is today a phenomenon of dozens of fans from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran – all those countries we cannot go because we don’t have diplomacy connections with them. They don’t care we are Israeli because they see from our music that we represent the same ideas. We are for Syrians and Palestinians as well as Israelis – and metalheads from Australia!

It is an amazing story and has been all over the news in Israel. Everybody is really proud, but what we are saying is we aren’t geniuses: we didn’t discover any secret, it is just a simple truth that the common people can get along and the politicians are brainwashing us. That is as simple as it is!

With the latest album, how has the band evolved from the beginning to now? You’ve said back in the old days it was about being in a metal band and kicking arse, but now the message has become really important. How has this impacted the music?
Even before that incident with the Palestinian dude, we were still on those topics. Very early in the 90s we understood that if we tried to copy American bands or try and sound like a European band…I never understood Israeli bands that wanted to sound like Norwegian black metal. They can do it if they want, but I think Norwegians do it better!

We came to the conclusion that we can make the metal scene bigger and wider if we take elements form our region and put them into metal, so that will make metal more global and that will be interesting for people from Europe, or Australia, or the US or anywhere. Our music can take you on a journey to the Middle East.

We decided we would use all those ancient instruments, as well as Middle Eastern rhythms and lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Ever since then, we’ve been into that concept.

Still, the band is divided into two periods: the period before the break where we did two albums and never toured anywhere, and the period after that Palestinian wrote to me, up until the latest album where we’ve really realised the power of music and have taken all our elements even further.

We’ve started to emphasise a lot of motifs and the lyrics are stronger. If you look at the last album, everything is more upfront than in the past: the album cover, the album title. We used to have complicated song names like “Disciples of The Sacred Oath, Vol. II” for example. On the new album we have songs like “Brother” or “Children”. We’ve made it more simple.

If you take a song from Sahara which was twenty years ago and take “Sahara Storm” and the song “All is One” from the new album, those are the same topics but the latter is more upfront and to the point.

It is a necessity, I think. We are doing wonders in the Middle East, but the bottom line when you think about it? We’ve changed the slightest movement in the fucked up situation. Despite the fact we are the most famous Israelis among Arabs, how much have we changed on the conflict? It is a movement of dozens, but hundreds of millions are living in the Middle East, so we are always trying to find ways to make it stronger.

The reason we started the band? Yeah, it was just to shout into a microphone and play metal, we thought it was very cool and very sincere. I’ve felt things that I’ve never felt when I listen to metal music. But I never realised those wonders that I can do with metal music – so every album is stronger than the other and we are always figuring out how to make it stronger every time. We started to use it visibly as well, so we are trying to emphasis those ideas in every aspect: musically, visually and lyrically. My dream is that the movement of dozens will become millions.

I am not naive to think we will change the world, but I definitely think as musicians we can influence others to try other ways, or to take inspiration from stories that we tell, and that is important.

if someone could say “I’m not into all these themes and stuff, I just want to listen to the music,” that is fine as well! Without going into the themes and lyrics, there is great music there, too.

I like what you said there about influencing. One thing that I really notice about Orphaned Land is how you don’t necessarily take a side on these issues. You really deliver a snapshot of what is happening.
Exactly! We use a lot of allegories. We come as neutral and we never take sides. I think that living in Israel, there are a lot of movements calling Israel ‘Apartheid’ or saying artists should boycott Israel.

I’m not naive to think everything is great in Israel, of course there are many fucked up things going on, as well as in every place! But people forget Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

I really think that nothing is perfect, not even here. By saying that does not mean I am right-wing, or pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. I am just saying that music can bring people together. If I stand out for something, and if something really pisses me off? It is those artists that decide to boycott Israel. Not because of the government or the situation, but because I genuinely think musicians are the messengers of harmony, especially in places of disharmony.

I think that if you have freedom of speech in Israel, you should come here, do interviews, bring us your two cents. If we are your fans, we will listen and take inspiration from what you say, and you can still come and play your songs.

That is something that really bothers me, especially about Roger Walters from Pink Floyd who decided to be a hero and is standing against Israel and convincing artists to boycott Israel while a hundred thousand people just died in Syria and he isn’t doing anything about it. That makes me wonder what really moves this dude as a musician to be so against Israel.

Of course, nothing is perfect here, but what about Syria? What about Iran where they can kill a woman because she was wearing a skirt or something – what do you do about those places?

I deliberately don’t take sides, because I think that policy in Iran doesn’t have anything to do with my fans, why should I boycott my fans? If I boycott a country, my fans are the first to suffer because they care about my music, they care about what I say. The government doesn’t really care!

I don’t think we should take sides. I see our Iranian fans or our Syrian or our Palestinian or Israeli fans as our fans! I see us as a big family. According to history Israelis and Arabs brothers: sons of Abraham.

Even in our beliefs, we call the Arabs our cousins and vice-versa. So, I don’t see a point in taking sides because I am constantly reminding myself we are brothers. I want to love my brothers; I have brothers who I love very much and I want to love Arabs as brothers. I want us to establish a realm of light for our children. I want Palestinian and Israeli children to learn about each other whether it is the language, the habits or the food. I want us to be rich and I want the boarders to be open.

It shouldn’t be such a hard dream, that should be the way we live. So I don’t see a reason to take sides. Taking sides always creates separation, and I don’t want that.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to welcome our fans in Australia to our shows. I promise an amazing show – a Middle Eastern experience, party and a journey. A very important show, which will demonstrate the power of music and the wonders that heavy metal is doing in the Middle East. I would also like to invite all metalheads, even those not familiar with what we are doing, to give it a chance and come to see something really special. I am looking forward to it and we will have a great time together!

Words By Cameron Cooper
Photo By Ami Bornstein

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