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Yossi Sassi: Desert Butterflies

The guitarist proves there’s life beyond Orphaned Land.

Yossi Sassi’s departure from Orphaned Land earlier this year was an unexpected blow to those who have adored his work with a band who have excelled at mixing progressive metal with Middle Eastern influences.

It remains to be seen how they will react to losing a core writer and co-founding member, but Sassi – who resigned with the bold words “The best is yet to come, I guarantee it to you personally” – has wasted no time in launching into a fully-fledged solo career.

The guitarist had of course released Melting Clocks in 2012, which perhaps hinted at dissatisfaction with the band and suggested a potential route which was less metallic but still incorporated the Israeli and Arabic attributes that defined his sound. Desert Butterflies continues in that direction, and is an equally ambitious and enthralling collection.

Sassi is able to introduce more exotic stringed instruments and add them into a traditional rock backdrop without them ever becoming incongruous. Take Azul, which sounds like a Joe Satriani track interchangeably performed on guitar and bouzouki. Indeed, Sassi’s creation of his ‘bouzoukitara’, a double-necked instrument which combines the two, has been pivotal to his unique approach over many years, and remains a core of his inspiring performances here.

The gutsy Fata Morgana moves through a typically Arabic introduction before morphing into more trad, prog metal riffing. Musicianship aside, what is particularly startling is the sheer diversity of approaches he’s crammed on to one album. There are moments when it almost comes across like some greatest hits album – even more commendable given that the vast majority of tracks are instrumentals.

The opening to Desert Butterfly bizarrely sounds like a Mediterranean-tinged rendition of the Peter Gunn TV show theme, before it transforms into a frenzied solo that few guitarists are capable of adeptly pulling off. Shedding Soul is more relaxed, with a brooding acoustic guitar proving a neat interlude between the attractive complexity that typifies Desert Butterflies. As if to reinforce that versatility, the elegant Cocoon, with its English lyrics, poise and retrospective feel, has the undeniable feel and grandeur of Pink Floyd. There’s also a transitory excursion into jazz during Inner Soul.

There are few artists whose approach to music is truly progressive, demolishing boundaries and creating something truly original. Yossi Sassi is one of them, and for once a resignation statement filled with promises of future musical peaks has really delivered. RICH WILSON