Every metalhead can most likely remember the exact moment they discovered their one true genre love. Kobi Farhi is no different – although the circumstances in which he discovered what would eventually become his greatest passion are significantly different to his Western peers, having grown up in Jaffa, a port city in the north west of Israel.
“In the newspaper, there was this article where folks were concerned that people were killing themselves because of this ‘mystic’ music,” he explains. “I remember that I was thrilled by the idea, the definition of music being ‘mystic’. In the article, they had the album cover of [Iron Maiden’s] Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. I immediately went to the record store and I bought the cassette tape. It was a life-changing moment for me – the lyrics, the cover, the sound, the power that was in the music. I was changing my skin in that very moment – heavy metal became a religion to me.”
It was this teenage obsession that led Farhi to start his first band, Resurrection, in 1991. A year later, the name was changed to Orphaned Land – and the rest, as they say, is history. Orphaned Land have become one of the most notable acts to ever emerge from the Middle East, with their distinct brand of ‘oriental metal’ serving as an influence to countless acts, both native and from the other side of the globe. Their sound was not always this distinctive, however: Farhi admits the band’s initial approach was simply to mimic their heroes like Iron Maiden.
“When we first started, we thought to make very traditional metal music,” he says. “We realised quickly that we will contribute nothing if we just imitate American or European bands. We have a great advantage, coming from a different place with different stories, a different climate. We should combine motives from this place into metal music – we will make the metal scene bigger, we will make it wider. We will take people on a journey through the Middle East. I’m sure it’s the same thing in Australia, too – you can take bits and pieces from other cultures, but music is all about bringing something from your own environment.”
In their 20-plus years as a band, Orphaned Land have performed shows and festivals in 39 countries. Farhi enthusiastically notes that the Australian tour, due to begin in a matter of weeks, will mark the 40th country that the band visits. The extent to which Orphaned Land’s fan base spreads is something that is not lost on them – and certainly not something that anyone in the band would dare take for granted.
“I don’t care if we go somewhere and play to 50 people or to 500 people,” says Farhi. “The fact that people – people anywhere – would leave their homes just to see Orphaned Land… that’s something that gets me every time. The most amazing part is the fact that, despite the fact that we are Israelis, we have dozens of Arab fans in places like Syria and Lebanon and Egypt. Even Iran.”
“I’m sure you’re aware of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he continues, providing some context to what their support means. “Each side of the conflict is raised and educated to hate one another. There are Arabs living in countries that are nowhere near what you and I would call a democracy. Metalheads are targeted, they are hunted down. If you have long hair and black t-shirts, you could get tortured for even that. So, the fact that these people would be a fan of and support an Israeli band – it’s simply an outstanding thing to do. We have been all over the news in Israel for being the most popular Israelis among Arabs. When I think back to when I first started listening to heavy metal, there was so much stigma surrounding it – that listening to it meant you were a Satanist, a cat slaughterer, things like that. And here we are – a metal band is succeeding more at creating peace in the Middle East than any politician.”
The band is eagerly anticipating its maiden voyage to our shores, which will see Orphaned Land performing a lightning-quick run of east coast dates in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. They are looking forward to experiencing what Australian metalheads have to offer them.
“Coming from Israel, a place of conflict and disagreement, it will be interesting to come to a place where one of the most-used phrases is ‘no worries’,” says Farhi with a laugh. “A land of positive people expressing themselves, going to concerts and having fun, just living their lives. That is something that I would love to see and I would love to learn from. I would also like for Australian audiences to give us a chance – we are bringing something very different from a very interesting region. We are bringing the story of Utopia from a very disharmonic area. This is going to be a very interesting meeting, and I look forward to it. I want to try traditional dishes, meet Australian music fans, hear Australian music, meet Australian musicians. I have not anticipated a visit to a country this much in a very long time.”
All Is One out now through Century Media.