Ah, the church; once a place of theistic worship, now the ultimate go-to place for a cool gig. In London, Islington’s Union Chapel has ruled the roost, but tonight we realise that a little place in Bethnal Green is just as atmospheric.
St John On The Green is beautiful, in a distressed, unfussily stylish sort of way. It bodes well for both the metallic darkness and more rustic folk metal elements of Orphaned Land’s formula.
We arrive to find the church priest serving wine and beer, with German opera metallers Molllust at the altar. Dressed like a gothically lavish Tim Burton-meets-Nightwish cast, they essentially do one type of song (emotionally-charged metal theatre, set to operatic vocals), but they do it well. In fact, the loss of electric guitars in favour of strings, organ/keys and acoustic guitar makes them more sophisticated somehow. And their closing piece, stemming from Bach’s Prelude In C Major, is gorgeous.
We’ll be honest, we expected Orphaned Land to be fairly solemn. They sing messages of religious unity, and upon forming in 1991, they were initially called Resurrection. So you can imagine the happy guffaws when tonight’s backing voices, Berlin’s Stimmgewalt Choir, launch into an a capella take on Rammstein’s Engel, plus one of their own called The Beer Song. We can’t believe it, the priest can’t believe it, nobody can believe it. It’s daft and utterly delightful.
Frontman Kobi Farhi glides out, looking very Jesus-like with long white robes and a benevolent expression. Leading with an exquisite cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, complete with eight-part harmonies, it’s a pretty celestial first impression. Not to mention a classically churchy one, with Farhi’s elegant Eastern tones (and hearty deployment of hand-clapping) flanked by that commanding choir.
Tracks from latest album All Is One dominate the first chunk – including a stunning Brother – with older numbers filtering in across the set. Let The Truce Be Known pays homage to soldiers uniting over music at Christmas in World War I – progressive music with traditional roots, and a reverence for history.
Stripped down to drums, acoustic guitars, bouzouki and voices, Orphaned Land tease out an organic, spine-tingling side. Numbers like New Jerusalem, not normally featured in their live shows, are given rousing treatment tonight. From sombre meditative moments to the more foot-stomping end of Middle Eastern music, suddenly an acoustic performance from Orphaned Land seems ingenious. Farhi instigates an audience boogie for closer Ornaments Of Gold, and everyone has a thoroughly good time.