Orphaned Land is a band that is famous for its unique blend of Oriental sounding Metal and the high energy performances that they have been giving ever since they first came together as a band twenty years ago. In view of the recent release of their quite impressive DVD “The Road To OR-Shale” and still riding high on the success of their last studio effort “The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR”, the Israeli sextet found itself once again into the United Kingdom, this time headlining what will be put down in history as the first ever Oriental Metal tour. After greeting each other in our native languages, guitarist and leading member Yiossi Sassi and I had a very enjoyable discussion involving not only Orphaned Land’s current tour and its latest releases but also his first ever solo effort entitled “Melting Clocks” – an effort that seems to be quite an interesting musical offering indeed!

By Yiannis (John) Stefanis

Metal Church - The Present Wasteland

• Hi Yossi – Barur haba (note: ‘welcome’ in Hebrew) in London – did I mess it up?

Yossi: It was very good (laughs) – Efxaristo poly (note: ‘Thank you’ in Greek).

• It is an absolute pleasure having you here! Nobody summed up things better than your female dancing companion Johanna Fakhry who referred to you and your bands using the terms ‘true artists’ and ‘real people’ and I have to agree with her as both seem to characterise you perfectly. That is what I get every time I see the band live and that is why I am happy to see you guys again here in London!

Yossi: Efxaristo poly! Thank you very much!

• “The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR” has been out for more than a year now and you have had the chance to perform its material in many prestigious festivals like Wacken Open Air and Hellfest, with yours being amongst my personal favourite performances of the festival. You have then had the time to sleep, live and breathe it as they say so, based on all that, I guess it is fair to say that it is your best release to date, right?

Yossi: First of all, thank you very much for all your kind words! As the person who is the main producer of music for the band, as I do most of the compositions and arrangements in Orphaned Land, it feels me with great pride to see that “…ORwarriOR” was received in such a way because Orphaned Land was always a guitar-based band. You know it when you feel the riffs coming more and more in each song. I think that in “…ORwarriOR” we kind of went back into the ‘place’ that we were in 1996 when “El Norra Alila” was released which is that we basically kept the Prog stuff that were also featured in “Mabool” (2004) and our maturity both in terms of the way we play and sound but we went back into playing our aggressive riffs and doing a lot of guitar sequences that are entwined together without having a formal A or B Part, first chorus then verse etc. Really the reviews we got for “…ORwarriOR” were amazing! We got hundreds of reviews, all of which were very good and, as you said, we toured a lot. We did the US twice, Europe three times, did all the major festivals, opened for Metallica, filed our DVD (note: “The Road To OR-Shalem”), so it’s been really busy (laughs)!

• Now this is pretty funny indeed. Everyone who knows the story of Orphaned Land is aware that there was a time when you guys all kind of gave up on the dream so to speak, so to come up with such a strong album after having been through such a phase is a quite remarkable thing indeed!

Yossi: Yes (laughs)! We are not the normal kind of band that releases an album every one or two years. Orphaned Land is a band that is known for being quite loyal to its art and to me, the guy who is responsible for the music and the production side of things is how it should be. I am composing music constantly but I like to take my time with things. Sometimes the label doesn’t like my approach that much but, as I said, we are very loyal to ourselves and when we feel that the time is right to release an album, we do. The big thing that happened is that two years ago I quit my day job and so I am now a 100% musician. I also work on solo material which is going to be released very soon (note: “Melting Clocks” – see www.YossiSassi.com) with Marty Friedman and other very interesting guest musicians! So really what I do now is play music 100% and that is one of the main reasons why the last two years have been so full of activities following the release of “…ORwarriOR”.

• You are a family man so making such a step into a full time involvement with music should not have been an easy thing, right?

Yossi: Yes it was! I have two daughters the eldest of which is ten years old. She comes to our shows and all but…yeah; it’s hard to make a living out of music but during the last two years I made the decision to quit my day job, to focus on the music and to found my own solo group parallel to Orphaned Land and whose debut album will be released really soon. I expect it to be available during the first two months in 2012; that is the time frame that you should expect to find it available on the record shop shelves and on the Internet. This really made a big difference for me because I began to believe that even as a family man I can make a living out of music and so I am working towards that goal. It is really hard; I will not lie by saying that things are easy for me, but I am really doing everything that I can and I hope not to return to a day job because people will see a lot of good music coming from me individually and from Orphaned Land collectively if I continue doing things the way I do.

• If someone was to ask me what it is that I like about Orphaned Land, apart from the obvious unique cultural elements that you incorporate into your music, I would mention the fact that you seem to have such a great time, so much fun when you are on stage and that is something that is being transmitted to us in the audience! Your approach is not the typical ‘Rock concert’ format; people participate in the proceedings with plenty of energy moving backwards and forwards!

Yossi: Yes! To be in an Orphaned Land show is really to be at a party! It’s not just a show; it is a real experience which is shared with all the people that show up and so you should expect to find yourself jumping and dancing around being all happy while at the same time seeing the creation of a mosh pit near you or having people stagediving towards you. All these things are happening in one place and it is really what we call a celebration – not a concert, because what we try to do is to mix many different sounds and elements together and have people treat our show as a unique experience!

Metal Church - The Present Wasteland

• I also very much enjoy the fact that, through your music, I get to learn quite a few things about the culture of the area that you come from. Take for instance the song “Sapari”, a song that is based on a Yemenite Jewish traditional theme – one that is not even located in Israel itself, the place of your birth! How amazing is that?

Yossi: It’s true! In our music we combine a lot of traditional elements and we are always looking out for different cultures and beliefs and we ‘interrogate’ them to get inspiration! I personally explore different sounds from different cultures around the world and I am also looking into different texts from different religions and even tribes and that is why we end up presenting some very interesting things to our fans such as this Yemenite poem that was first created centuries ago but which, when you present it within a Progressive Metal arrangement, ends up sounding both unique and relevant to this date.

• Looking back at the Greek Metal scene of the early 90s, I remember that most people tended to be quite reactionary towards the attempt by any Metal band to incorporate traditional elements in their music – a classic case of the scene not being too open minded back in the day. I know that you guys had to face similar problems in the past so I am interested in your opinion. Do you find that, on average, you gain by having such elements in your music? Are there still people out there, you reckon, that remain reactionary towards the band as a result?

Yiossi: You know, as an artist I never decide what I am doing simply by what I think that people will think. You should never question people’s reaction towards your music never say to yourself ‘if I do something unusual, what will people say’. What you need to do is to create your art; if people like it they will consume it by either coming to your shows or by sitting home and listening to your albums – if they don’t like it, they will do none of those things and that is fine! There are many people in this word that have many different tastes and opinions and that is cool. I do believe that Orphaned Land do benefit from one main thing and that is that we did what we believed in when we were young, twenty years ago, and the same time when Greek bands like Nightfall and Septic Flesh were doing their own thing. At that same time we did things that were weird for many people – things that they did not fully understand or accept, but things that we really believed in! This was music from my childhood, music from my father’s house! I do my music the same way that I did twenty years ago; I combine things that I heard in my childhood when I was a small kid living in the Middle East, that being Arabian, Egyptian, Turkish and also Greek music, with my Rock guitar playing, and the result is what you hear. I think that one thing that we did gain, even if we were not that popular back in the day, is the ability to stand here today and claim to be the pioneers of this genre. Today you see the existence of a huge following and the existence of many bands like Artweg and Arkan…the names of similarly influenced bands are endless – bands that make Middle Eastern Metal music by using Arabic scales. For the first time in the history of music we are doing this tour, a one month headlining European tour, featuring only bands from countries like Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon. We are doing this Oriental Metal tour with Muslims, Christians and Jews that are all sharing the same bus! This is a proof that what looked twenty years ago as a dream or something that most people did not care of, is now a reality and it is happening in venues around Europe.

• You mentioned your father earlier on and I have to say that one of the most heartfelt moments when watching the “The Road To OR-Shalem” DVD was when your father came on stage and sang with you guys. Now, that must have been a really proud moment for you, right?

Yiossi: Yes! My father is very dear to me and my name Yiossi Sassi is actually the name of my grandfather from my father’s side of the family. I am named after him and he was also a musician, a big singer and a poet. He used to sing orthodox poems many years ago but he has now passed away and I carry his name. My father, also as Sassi, but David Sassi, is also a singer and he used to sing to me when I was a little child. He comes from a family of ten brothers and sisters and that is really hard, you know (laughs)? So he has ten brothers and sisters and still each and every one of them is involved one way or another with music; one plays classic guitar, one plays the accordion and three or four of them are singers, etc. I feel very lucky to have been born to such a family and have such a father and that is something that I never forget whatever I do!

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• As mentioned before “The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR” was released almost a year and a half ago so I hope that you do not plan on keeping us waiting for much longer prior to the new one coming out.

Yiossi: Like I said I have quit my day job and that is both good and bad news! The bad news is that I am currently not making enough money to pay the bills (laughs) but the good news is that I am now totally dedicated to my music and so you should expect the new Orphaned Land album to be out in a little more than one year, not longer than that. Be sure, however, to check out my solo album which is called “Melting Clocks”. This is my debut solo album and it will be out in two or so months.

• Will you be releasing it through Century Media, the same label that is handling the affairs of Orphaned Land?

Yiossi: No, it will not be released through Century Media because I do not think that it is the appropriate label for what I do. It will be very soon that I will announce the distribution company that I will be working with, as this is a deal that is in the closing stages these next few days. I aim to have a good European distribution and so fingers crossed. This album is not going to be like any Orphaned Land release, it will be very different. If I wanted to do something that would sound like Orphaned Land then I would do that through the band! My solo album will be Middle Eastern Rock but with more Prog and less Metal elements. It will be semi instrumental and quite unique indeed; you cannot put it under a specific genre! It is hard to say what it is other than a very unusual Rock record with many Middle Eastern and Progressive elements.

• I know that it will be interesting as this is the case with everything that you do.

Yiossi: Thank you! It features many talented guest musicians; Marty Friedman is playing in this album as well as a big piano player from Hollywood from the movie industry (note: Roy Zuarets) and a Ukrainian female singer named Marina Maximilian Blumin and many other talented people. I will also be singing on this album so it is something really extraordinary. Like I always do; I am always very loyal to my art and I always like to do something different each time. I don’t want to present the world with something that he already knows simply under a different name! This project will be quite extraordinary just as Orphaned Land was in the very beginning.

• Well, that is indeed what we are expecting from you and that is what we hope that we come across every time we hold in our hands an album that features your name. The doors are just about to open and I am sure that you need some time to relax prior to the show so I will let you go now. Thanks for this lovely chat, thank you for all these years of beautifully crafted music and may you continue to do that for…

Yiossi: …many more (laughs). As long as I am healthy and I am able to hold the guitar, I will never stop making music. Efxaristo poly!