Orphaned Land live review - The Underworld, London

Orphaned Land bring heavy riffs and a positive attitude to London

Orphaned Land on stage at the Borderline
(Image: © Will Ireland)

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Popular music in China is dominated by saccharin Mando-pop ballads, but Voodoo Kungfu annihilate every preconception about Chinese music in mere seconds. Frontman Nan Li looks like the final boss from a fighting game and possesses an inhuman vocal range, growling, screaming, singing and – this is the real kicker – performing Mongolian throat singing. When he’s not doing any of those, he twitches and grimaces as though his inner demons are making a very determined escape attempt. It’s impossible to take your eyes off him.

Opening track The Mongol sets the tone with nu metal breakdowns overlaid with extreme progressive metal and Chinese folk music. The crushingly heavy Tibet makes good use of The Devil’s Interval for added menace, Born On June 4th is a venomous declamation on the Tiananmen Square massacre, and they conclude with a demented blast through Slayer’s Raining Blood. Mongolian/Chinese extreme progressive metal – the next big thing for 2017.

Where Voodoo Kungfu are a whirlwind of fury, Orphaned Land are a feel-good Middle Eastern progressive belly-dancing party. It’s the final night of a non-stop run of 18 shows but the Israelis flood the Underworld with energy as they celebrate 25 years of their self-styled oriental prog. Frontman Kobi Farhi is doggedly determined to involve everyone in attendance: “I need you to sing your guts out!” he commands, and the Londoners duly oblige.

There’s no new album to promote and the set draws from across their catalogue, omitting only their 1994 debut. Lacking a legion of guest musicians, much of the Middle Eastern instrumentation is supplied via backing tracks, which gets the job done but is never as compelling as experiencing the sounds live in the moment. That doesn’t stop drummer Matan Shmuely from playing up a storm though, particularly in Olat Ha’tamid.

With song lyrics often in Hebrew or Arabic, it helps Farhi’s enthusiasm for singalongs that so many tracks feature ‘na-na-na’ and ‘hey-la-la’ sections. Ocean Land (The Revelation) is a case in point, balancing a healthy dose of ‘oh-way-oh’ choruses against Farhi’s growled vocals, although he’s a stronger singer than growler, more in the James LaBrie vein than anyone else. Newest band member Idan Amsalem has his spotlight moment with his bouzouki solo, but Chen Balbus handles the bulk of the guitar heroics, smiling all the while. It’s refreshing to see a band playing heavy music with such a positive attitude, rather than the grunting machismo that dominates the scene.

Norra El Norra (Entering The Ark) concludes the festivities, and Orphaned Land depart London promising to return – perhaps next time they’ll bring a new record.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.