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Chen Balbus (Orphaned Land): I truly believe music is the strongest form of sharing a message

Chen Balbus (Orphaned Land): I truly believe music is the strongest form of sharing a message
BANDS : Orphaned Land

 It was 12 years ago when Metalfan took an interview of Orphaned Land for the very first time. By that time, my interlocutor was guitarist Matti Svatizky. In the meantime, both Svatizky and Yossi Sassi, who was one of the founding members, left the band and this raised many voices which expressed their concernment regarding the band’s future. However, all questions withered by the beginning of this year when Orphaned Land released the exquisite “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs”, which is the sixth album in the band’s career. I had a talk with Chen Balbus about this disc and many other topics. 

© Zoha Ron Photography
Metalfan: Welcome to Metalfan, Chen! Orphaned Land has just released “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” and first of all, let me congratulate you for this opus. We, at Metalfan HQ, believe this is an amazing record with a profound message and a serious contender for the Album of the Year!
Chen: Hey, hey! Thanks for having me and thank you for the kind words! We worked hard exactly for THAT kind of reaction. [Ed. Note: smiles]
Metalfan: How are things in the Orphaned Land camp? Did the public and media reactions regarding the new album meet your expectations? 
Chen: So far, too good! We had this goal (we have it every single time, but now more than ever) to bring out a super-mega-great album this time that tops the previous ones. I can gladly say that we nailed it! People love it and claim all over the place that it’s our best work yet. Feeling proud here! [Ed. Note: smiles]
Metalfan: Since “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” is a concept album, let’s focus a bit on the story behind it.  Why did you choose Plato’s “Allegory Of The Cave” as the main inspiration theme?  
Chen: We chose to go back to concept albums this time, unlike “All Is One”, since we figured out it works best for us to tell the music with a story behind it, from the beginning to the end. The hardest part is of course to fish out which story will resemble the idea of the events we experience in our daily lives. Since day-one Orphaned Land had this subject about acceptance and unity regardless of belief, religion, whatever. Suddenly, after lots of digging into it – the “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato fitted perfectly to our idea and it reflects till this day how we as humans behave. And that one is maybe 3000 years old. 
Metalfan: We can easily imagine who are the dead messiahs, but who are the unsung prophets? Do you think there are such prophets in our present times?
Chen: Those Unsung Prophets are those who spoke the voice of reason, a voice of peace and acceptance, unity. They tried to rise up against the big machine and wiped out. People like Victor Jara, Martin Luther King and more. Every time someone tries to revolutionize the world, he gets assassinated. If there are prophets living these days? Probably, but... You never get to hear about them when all the media cares about is Kim Kardashian and such.
Metalfan: Orphaned Land has never been just an ordinary metal band. Without exceptions, all of your albums brought to life strong messages and bold ideas. As a musician, and being part of this band since 2011, what is more important – the music or the message behind it?
Chen: I would say they walk hand in hand. There are many ways to send out a message, but I truly believe music is the strongest form of sharing a message. I would tell about myself that when I’m listening to music, I barely pay attention to the lyrics and mostly focus on the melody and the whole act, but when a melody grabs you so good, eventually you dig deeper into it and wonder what the guy is talking about in that song you really like and repeat every day.
Metalfan: The vocal complexity on this album is quite amazing and we can even hear Kobi growl once again, like in the old days. Was it something natural or did you really want to bring back some memories from your death metal past?
Chen: Not really a walk down memory lane… [Ed. Note: winks] But a more natural thing. Even with “All Is One”, when we decided to drop the growls, they were still present in at least one song. The way we compose and produce music is a natural way, we feel what is necessary for a particular song. For this album, most of the songs even without the growls are very pushing and angry, so with the lyrics coming in, those songs were just calling for growls.
Metalfan: I also think that the guitar work reached new heights with this record. You and Idan managed to lay down some gorgeous leads, beautiful riffs and emotional solos. From where do you draw your inspiration? Who was in charge with the writing of the guitar parts for this album?
Chen: I’m honored. [Ed. Note: smiles] Thank you! I do feel that in this album I brought the best of my guitar playing, personally. Where does the inspiration comes from? It varies around, it sometimes drops out of nowhere on the road (there are always melodies playing in that box) and sometimes it comes from a more traditional place where we want to emphasize a more Middle-Eastern traditional part or a heavy metal trashy kind of riff. Other than that, certain instruments can bring totally different things out of you. Both Idan and I composed the music, some songs are mostly mine, some songs are Idan’s. The thing that really makes it best is to have Kobi and Uri nagging us on choosing the best ones out of what we compose. [Ed. Note: smiles]
© Zoha Ron Photography
Metalfan: All your albums have a special song taken from the Jewish synagogue prayers and this time is “Yedidi”. Did a biblical prayer inspire this song also?
Chen: This is a hundred-years old ode! And yeah, like with every album we have, it’s the one which fits straight into the concept. For “Unsungs Prophets & Dead Messiahs” it fits in a way that it’s about the fact that God has forsaken the believer, and thus the believer asks God: have you forgotten me? As in the concept, the believers are left for a life of slavery in the cave.
Metalfan: How did you come up with the idea to have Steve Hackett, Tomas Lindberg and Hansi Kürsch as guests on “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs”?
Chen: Kobi recorded a guest singing part in Steve Hackett’s album and he asked Kobi if he would like to get paid or have a guest solo instead – of course, by now the answer is obvious. [Ed. Note: smiles] It’s better to have a piece of history rather than money for nothing, we love Steve’s music and this track was the right one for him, we could imagine him playing there. As for Hansi, he is... Like Orpheus. [Ed. Note: smiles] Orpheus, according to the Greek Mythology sang so beautiful and charmed the earth and its surroundings and for us Hansi is like a modern Orpheus [Ed. Note: smiles]. Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates sings this part where the hero is being killed by a lunatic. We always thought Tomas’ voice was of lunacy and his growls are broken and sick. He’s really one of a kind.
Metalfan: I know it is hard to highlight a song on a concept album because all the songs work together like a journey or a soundtrack, but if you had to pick a particular song to represent the whole album, which would it be?  
Chen: Incredibly difficult question… But! I would totally say that “The Cave” sums it up [Ed. Note: smiles] 8:30 minutes of all you need to know about what’s gonna be on “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs”. 
Metalfan: Two years ago, Orphaned Land released “Kna’an”, some kind of side project together with Amaseffer. Can you tell us how this album came to life? How is it different from your other albums?
Chen:That was... An unexpected album. Like, we didn’t plan on making anything else till the next Orphaned Land album, and then we got this offer from Walter Wayers, the producer that wanted both us and Amaseffer to compose something together for his play. Thus most of this album was written live in the studio, unlike any other Orphaned Land albums that we compose and take the time to process everything.
Metalfan: You are a well-known band both in your country and beyond its borders. Do you think you belong to the mainstream or do feel Orphaned Land is still an underground band at its core?
Chen: I would say that as a metal band we’re always somewhat underground. Although we do reach more heights that metal bands does not reach. [Ed. Note: smiles]  But we’ll see what happens the more we grow!
Metalfan: Do you believe there is a solution that could put an end to the conflict in the Middle East? 
Chen: There’s always a solution, but it’s a dream. People will always have their differences and some won’t accept what you say even if it’s for a greater good. I think the key and main idea is to keep trying to fight for a better good, even though most of the world is not standing by your side. You need to do your own part if you want to live and you want your kids to live in better world. It’s all in the education.
Metalfan: How is the metal scene in Israel nowadays? Can you recommend us some good Jewish bands, beside Orphaned Land, of course?
Chen: The biggest metal scene in the Middle East is from Israel since it’s easier for Israeli metalheads to talk freely about that music. There’s a lot of bands from many styles in Israel. We have black metal bands like Arallu. We have bands with female vocalists such as Scardust. We have bands more into Pantera like Shredhead. There’s a band called Tomorrow’s Rain, which is more doom. Every style out there from doom metal to black to folk metal, we have it. Many bands are playing in Israel. Metallica played three times, we supported them in 2010. Just recently, Kreator played here, that’s how we filmed our music video. Carcass and Paradise Lost just played here in Israel.
Metalfan: Orphaned Land will play in Romania once again next month, as part of your European tour. Any clues for the playlist, can we expect something special from this show?
Chen: Oh yeah! [Ed. Note: smiles] We will make you shed a tear, smile, belly dance and even more! Of course we’ll feature songs mostly from our new album “Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs” along with the best ones from the previous albums.
Metalfan: Thank you very much for your time… Any last words for our readers?
Chen: Thanks again for having me. [Ed. Note: smiles]
Be good people, show respect to one another... You don’t have to be best friends, but the least you can do is learn to live in harmony as humans on the same planet! Peace out.
Autor: Dragos P.
Vezi galeriile trupelor: Orphaned Land

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