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Video of Orphaned Land in Times Square Monday night courtesy lindersgirl, whomever she is.

The thing about Times Square is, it’s a total dichotomy of a mind fuck. It has absolutely nothing to do with what New York City is really like, but it’s one of the most recognizable and visited areas in NYC; great art is produced there every day, right across the street from cynical garbage cash-grabs; it has some really amazing restaurants, all right down the block from a Forest Gump themed eatery, Applebee’s, and the world’s most obnoxious McDonald’s.

Perhaps no venue better exemplifies this neighborhood’s tension between worthy endeavors and soul-sucking wastes of space than BB King’s. It’s named after one of history’s most revered guitar players, it’s clean, ticket prices tend to be reasonable (all things considered), and they host an abundance of metal shows, when they’re not busy with Beatles Brunch (yes that’s a real thing and yes a cover band in mop-top wigs is involved) or whatever. They also feature the city’s most dickish security staff (no moshing allowed), beer so expensive that even the bartenders will readily admit that the prices are stupid, and an incredible inability to produce decent sound for a place that is allegedly a music venue.

And somehow, it’s fitting that this is where I saw the Israelis in Orphaned Land and the Germans in Suidakra play Monday night.

Suidakra actually bill themselves as “Celtic German,” and that’s fair enough; their music is rife with the kinds of Celtic melodies that are so prevalent in pagan metal and folk metal these days, and there’s really nothing about their sound that would ever indicate they’re of German descent. Which is kind of their problem; their music is good enough, and they certainly put a lot of energy into their set (the crowd was definitely into them big-time), but nothing really sets them apart from the dozens of other bands who all sound exactly the same as they do. I could never fault anyone for liking them, but if someone told me that Suidakra was their favorite band, I’d probably scratch my head and wonder, “Really? Them? Hm.” Put more simply: I’ll stick with Eluveitie.

And then there was Orphaned Land. I have to admit, when they first took the stage, I thought “Oh well, this is gonna suck.” For one thing, they were all wearing matching flowing white blouses, save for drummer Matan Shmuely; for another thing, two members were wearing fedoras, in case we didn’t know the band was Jewish (really, I have a lot of pride in my people, but I don’t need to be thinking about my Uncle Schlomo at a metal concert); and, finally, they opened “Sapari,” the first single (and opening track) from their new album The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR. This was problematic for many reasons: a) it’s not really indicative of the rest of the band’s music, b) it’s easily the weakest song on the otherwise-excellent release, c) opening with your new single is kinda lame, and d) without a woman on hand to help duplicate the song’s female vocals, the band was forced to use a pre-taped recording for these parts. And while that might not be so bad if the female sections were shorter (see Devin Townsend’s recent live shows), in this instance it often meant that front man Kobi Farhi was dancing to a recording for long stretches of the song. Which isn’t exactly why one goes to see live music.

But the band recovered pretty much immediately thereafter, and all my fears were quelled. Unlike Suidakra, Orphaned Land have incorporated a great deal of their ancestry into the music, so that what might otherwise be pretty standard folk, power, and melodeath suddenly feels new and unique. It’s not a gimmick, though: while anyone could put on make-up and be Kiss (and that band has proven that the fans literally do not care who is wearing the make-up), if a non-Israeli band tried to do what Orphaned Land does, it would feel like schtick. If you think about it, Orphaned Land are really taking a page from the Sepultura playbook, drawing on their own culture to make their music stand out. And it works.

So you can’t ever really forget the religious implications of Orphaned Land’s music (Farhi, who unlike many of his peers performs with a graceful sense of calm, looks and moves a whole lot like the classic Hollywood portrayals of Jesus Chris) but that’s part of what makes them great. Otherwise they might just be another At the Gates clone. Instead, their melodies are soothing, moving, even, and when they give way to the ROCK, it’s very hard not to bang your head along with them.  In the end, it seemed like Orphaned Land represent Times Square the way New Yorkers would like it to be, and Suidakra represent it the way it is.

Orphaned Land are playing a handful of more North American tour dates before they head to Europe. If you have the chance to check them out, it’s definitely worth your time. Get dates here.

Last thing: Gwynbleed opened the show. Like a schmuck I missed them, but I hear they were great, and I wanted to make sure they got their shout-out.


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