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Orphaned Land - Only Jesus would say, he isn´t Jesus

The first time STALKER got in touch with the Israeli band “Orphaned Land” and put them on a pedestal, was at the Wacken Open Air of 2006. In their home country the band is already the biggest local metal band and most likely also the most unusual one. With their music, which they label as “Middle Eastern progressive metal,” they were able to win fans of different religions and cultures. We talked with Yossi (Joseph) Sa´aron-Sassi, composer, choir singer and the man on guitar, saz, bouzouki, chumbush and piano, about their fourth studio album, their 20th anniversary and their message to the world.

Could you tell me something about the meaning of the title of your new album “The
Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR“ and the story behind it?

“Or” is the word for “light” in Hebrew. “Orwarrior” is the warrior of light. The concept behind the album is the life story of the never ending way of the warrior of light, who could essentially be anybody; it could be you, him, it could be any person. Just simple people, who want to wake up every morning, do what they like, love and be loved back, not hurt anybody, and not to be hurt. In a paradoxical way and ironically enough, the simple life is the hardest path to choose. It is filled with a lot of disappointments, pain and struggles; ups and downs. That is basically the basis and the concept in “The
Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR.”
The tracks take you through the different points of the ups and downs of the life of a warrior of light. Basically the story begins in our early childhood. “Sapari,” the first song is the poet´s soul speaking to itself and finding strength within itself. That is the most innocent form of being born into this world.
Then we´re born through “Broken Vessels.” Life is not perfect and that is the first thing we meet. We meet duality, opinions, and points of views and we recognize faults, and incompleteness and complexities throughout the different changes we have to go through, as youngsters even.
This goes through the first crises, where we find ourselves really in the depth of our despair. In the third track its “Bereft in the Abyss,” where the hero finds himself in a certain rock bottom and from there starts the climb back to a peaceful, light full way.
It takes you through all the different tracks until around the last two songs. There is an actual war of light against the dark and this is where you confront yourself. If you lived this far and you´ve chosen the path of light – you´re safe. But you have to make this struggle. Some people may choose to neglect the ways of the light, the inner light, your inner voyage; the thing that you´re destined to do. That is the main struggle. If you want to continue to pursue your inner light and what you´re born to make out of this world, or if you want to listen to other voices, or something this is really not you in a way.

To take that one step further, is your message for the upcoming generation which still is up to the point where they choose the path they want to continue going on, or is it also for those who chose the dark path to turn around, go back and reconsider?
The main vessel that the adults have is choice. The thing is, when we are young we´re not aware of choice and the power of choice. Choosing your attitude is, for example, a very crucial tool in order to be happy in life. But when you are a child, you are so innocent, you´re not exposed to many things you have to face as an adult, which makes it hard for you to choose your attitude each and every morning and they way that you look at things really reflects everything. It´s your thoughts, whether they are positive or negative. They turn into words, words turn into actions, actions lead into personality. Your personality really makes your destiny in the end of the day. I think you can get back in any stage, if you work enough on this process.

Orphaned Land exists now for 20 years. Do you think that your music was able to change something?
I think so, because 20 years back… I begin to look now from my thirties which are closer to the forties. So, 20 years ago we were in high school and I was always a big believer. I never thought about the dreams as sand castles, that the children build on the sea and the wave forces them away. I believed in a Disney-way: if you believe it – you can do it. For example I can tell you an anecdote:
I left High school to go and sign the band with the first label. I didn´t have my matriculation certificate. The principal of the school said to me:
“You´re doing a big mistake. You have no future!” I said:
“Its fine!” Because I knew that is my path in life. I have to do this. I know I caused some pain to my parents and stuff like that, because I was a very good student and didn´t finish high school ever. Later I found the band having recognition; we sold a quarter million copies of the last few albums and stuff like that. Almost 15 years later, after I finished all my studies, I did three degrees in different subjects like economics and law with honours and distinctions. I found myself being a group manager in Microsoft cooperation and still with Orphaned Land. One day this guy came to me for a job interview and he looked so familiar to me. I asked him:
“Do you have something to do with the principal at that High school?” and it turned out, that he was his son. I told him in the end of the interview to say a big hello to his dad. And then two things hit me. I just sat there, smiled and said:
“Don´t pass any calls.” (laughs) One: it´s about connecting the dots. You can never connect the dots forward. It´s one of the challenges of life. You have to believe that the dots will connect somehow, somewhere along the road. You have to know that you will only be able to see it 5, 10, 15 years from now, but you have to believe that the dots will connect. The second thing is the role of people that go against your dream, against your quest as a warrior of light. That principal actually did me a great favour, because if he would have said:
“Okay, go ahead and quit. I don´t mind.” I would say:
“You´re not going to fight for it, or say something?” And maybe I would have reconsidered and stayed. He did exactly what he needed to. He was the other side of the mirror, telling me that I will fail. With this, he actually gave me the motivation I needed, because I wanted to see myself succeeding with my music. So, essentially this was a great lesson in life.

You represent the three big monotheist religions on stage. Are there members of all these religions in the band itself?
Not really. We are all born Jews, but we have a mix of cultures. For example, one of us comes from Ukraine and Poland, my roots are from Iraq, Northern Africa, and Greece, others are from Bulgaria, from Egypt, and so on. Because Jews come from all areas of the Diaspora, and we made it from the exile back to Israel, we immigrated. So, we are exposed to all the different heritage and culture of the Arabic nations and European nations. In this way there is a big diversity inside the band; coming from a lot of different cultures and backgrounds. It´s not that we represent the religions; it´s more that we accept them as they are. What we are trying to say about religions is, that all believes are legitimate and it´s okay. In the end of the day, all is one. And it doesn´t matter if you call it Allah, or God, or the Trinity, or yourself. We all mean the same thing; we just call it different names.

For some more fanatic believers, this statement could be seen as a provocation. Also, your singer, Kobi, looks a lot like Jesus Christ on stage, which he uses to clear off by saying “I am not Jesus!”
(Laughs) Yes, he looks a bit like him.
Do you have to face trouble from people feeling offended?
Basically I think people know by now, that we just use our examples from the different religions; just to show an example of what we mean by the concept of unification, that all is one. Well, it´s normal that there are always some people, who might feel offended, when we´re presenting thee different topics. We had that a couple of times, that some people contact us and they are not too happy about it, but when you do your art, you are accepting by default on yourself, that things like this will happen. We respect the other person´s opinion and sometimes we have to explain that we did it as a form of expression. We don´t mean to offend anyone and really just want to make the emphasis about it.

What impact is there to the band if there is a setback in the peace process between the Israel and Palestine?
We don´t expect the world to change because of us. We do want to set an example. We are somehow agents of change and as such we have to accept that we can not change everything. But you can light a fire, you can start a wind. And if it´s turning into a big fire or a huge storm, it will only happen later. You can see it with Bob Marley, for example. Bob Marley, at a time in the 70´s and all, when he began to play and send his message to the world, he would have never believed that 20, 30 years after what it did to the world. But he could never see the fruit in his life. I think it´s the same with us, coming back to connect the dots. The real achievements of Orphaned Land will be when we´re very old, or after we´re gone. And that is cool, because it takes time for a change to be absorbed. And we are already happy with the little achievements we have had so far. For example I met with some students from Saudi Arabia and Jordan and they told me:
“You know that I was raised to kill you and I was ready to do it. Now I´m standing with you in the same room and I don´t do it, because of Orphaned Land. Because I heard your music and I said, that the person who wrote it, reminds me of my childhood music with metal. He can not be this bad.” In the end he hugged me and said, thank you for making me open-minded. If I did that to one person… - and I know we did that to more than one person – it´s an achievement.

What is the standing, which Orphaned Land has inside the Israeli Metal scene? Is there a bonding between for example you and Betzefer, or do you have an outstanding status there?
I think we´re quite a strange bird in Israel and in general inside the metal world. In the metal world we´re a white sheep inside a black horde. I mean we are not a white metal band in any way, but we´re kind of the good guys in a dark world. In the normal Israeli music scene, we are the metal heads, the tough guys, the black sheep inside the white and pop world of the Israel music. This is kind of the strange mix we take in the local scene in Israel. Because we´re quite known in Israel – we´re the biggest metal band there. Metal has still the prejudice opinion in Israel that it´s all about black and Satanism and 666 and sacrificing cats and stuff like that; but luckily it changes with the years. But there we´re really a black band. (laughs)

Which band inspired you to start a metal band anyhow back then?
I think it wasn´t a single band, as we come with many different influences. For me it was through Iron Maiden, though Dead Can Dance, but also Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd… and many more. Even some folk traditional singers from Egypt, Turkey, and Greece and also some Opera singers. Like the music we do ourselves – a lot of diversity and colourful. Also when I compose it on acoustic instruments, it´s a very classical arrangement; later I add the distortion. So in a way maybe you can hear sometimes all the melodies coming out of the metal. They are very melodic and original – only later they get the stiffness and core feeling of the metal. But they are originally very nice melodies… (laughs)

If you could create a law in Israel, what would it be?
I would rephrase the laws of education basically. Because if there is one thing you can do as a country to your citizens, it´s investing in education. Learning about the right things is the most important thing. To begin as an early child and to teach people about the false values of hatred, how to accept what is different from you and… just to be more open minded to dissimilarities, to different believes, religions, people, different looks, different exterior, different interior and of aspects. If it would be up to me, there would be a series of education related changes.

You don´t strike to me as a person who would get meaningless tattoos. Is there a link between your tattoos and your music?
Yes, quite. This one here is in a way my warrior of light. As a warrior of light my way is music, so I chose the guitar. The logo was there before, but the guitar here is new. The strings turn into the helmet of the warrior. These dragons are the keys of tuning the guitar. This writing says in Hebrew “Warrior of Light.” Here is my sign in the Mayan calendar, which is Akbar, it´s about acceptance of others – this I learned really lately (laughs), but it fits. Kobi has tattoos which, for example say in Hebrew “You have put me as a mark on your arm and as a seal on your heart.” This means to be one with what you do and one with what you think. Because with your mouth you can do a lot of things and not be the same with your mouth and your mind. But with your actions and your believes you have to be one. Just to be coherent with yourself. In a sort of integrity and completeness; because that is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Now something more funny for the end. Could you finish this sentence… A priest, a rabbi, and an imam go to a bar…
(laughs) I´m not really a bar-person, but sure. A priest, a rabbi, and an imam go to a bar and the rabbi goes to the priest and the imam and says:
“It´s boring here, let´s grab some instruments, and go to jam. What do you think?” And they say:

Thanks a lot!

Author: Samira Alinto & Ozzy Aikas
Date: 2010-11-10

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