Yossi Sassi, the co-founder and principal songwriter of progressive rockers Orphaned Land has had an interesting career. After building his band to commercial and critical success, he left in 2014 to pursue other projects, and the Yossi Sassi Band is the result. Roots And Roads is his third full-length release, following on from 2014’s Desert Butterflies and Melting Clocks in 2012, the inaugural release of the Band.
Little out there covers so much ground on a single release.
Though Sassi appears somewhat obsessed with the notion that his music falls into new genre called ‘oriental rock’, for all its eclecticism a new genre tag isn’t called for. Sassi’s music is a blend of various tendencies in modern progressive rock and metal, though unlike Orphaned Land’s earlier music, there’s no hint of the death and doom metal influences that once formed part of his stylistic repertoire. Instead, there’s a strong current of world and folk music, drawn from a wide pool of Middle Eastern styles, while employing both traditional instruments and harmonic hallmarks. There’s a lot of pentatonic and angular chromatic riffs, explaining why fans of guitar heroes like Satriani and Vai have pricked up their ears to Sassi’s playing, as in their search for new adventures on the guitar both have dabbled in the harmonic structures of folk music from all over the world. As one might expect, there are also strong stylistic similarities to 2013’s melodramatic All Is One, the final Orphaned Land album that Sassi appeared on.
The album’s opening track, Wings, is typical of the folk side of the record, and segues into the almost Tubular Bells-esque eccentricity of interlude Mr. NoSoul. Madame TwoSouls and Stronger Than Ever are at the other end of the spectrum, trading in robust progressive metal, echoing both Dream Theater and early-2000s P-Tree. Winter, taking some stylistic cues from Joe Satriani’s The Extremist in terms of atmosphere, confounds expectations with a glorious double-time legato lead break that may be the best single moment on the album. Road Less Traveled is the closest Sassi gets to his old band; though it does display one crucial difference, namely that when identifiably Western-style harmonic intervals appear they generally feel major, whereas the opposite was true of Orphaned Land. A late highlight is the ballad Bird Without A Tree, which builds to a gentle, swung crescendo with tight harmonic interplay between the instruments and vocals.
A capricious, yet ultimately rewarding listen, Roots And Roads is an essential release for the adventurous prog fan simply because there’s little out there that covers so much ground on a single release. Dense and powerful, Sassi should be commended on creating such a curiously beguiling record.