Review Summary: El Norra although suffering from medicore production and the fact that it may bore some who aren't used to Doom metal is still is another testament to the creative force known as Orphaned Land.
Orphaned Land are one of the most original bands in the metal genre, and their style is best described as progressive, middle-eastern-influenced death. Each of their albums features a unique concept, usually based on religious beliefs or the Bible itself, often fusing the three main religions (Islam, Christian, Judaism). They are definitely innovators in metal, singing in many different languages, playing with many, many guest musicians, and featuring two different vocalists (Shlomit Levi and Kobi Farhi). With their first album released in 1992 and a new one to be produced by the amazing Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield), their future is bright.
When El Norra Ailia was released, Orphaned Land were already becoming innovators breaking down boundaries between genres, and becoming appreciated, not only by metal heads but by music fans in general. The name El Norra Aila refers to the name of a song sung by the Jewish people on the festival Yom Kippur asking God for forgiveness, and this album, like many of their others, covers the three monotheistic religions. This theme is present throughout, even featuring a guest musician singing Arabic vocals. The preaching of peace between Arab and Jew is a common topic, and gives El Norra Ailia its prevalent theme. Despite this religious background to the album, it is quite heavy, and, if you choose to, you can ignore much of the concept if it doesn't interest you (More on that later). El Norra Ailahas a really creepy depressing atmosphere, mostly due to the heaviness and Kobi's frequently spoken-word vocals. Speaking of Kobi, his brutal death vocals and clean melodic singing is amazing not only in the studio, but also live (I've seen them play, brag, brag). The only thing I really miss here in comparison to later albums is the addition of Shlomit on female vocals.
I know people are often surprised to hear that behind such heavy-sounding music is a message about religion and the background to the Bible. Despite being based on religion (it interests me but I don't know about death metal fans!), this should satisfy any metal listener's black heart. However, you will also find a good amount of originality, making it interesting for anyone, despite being one of their heavier cds. You can hear Arabic vocals, violins, acoustic guitar (courtesy of guitarist Yossi), and the beautiful sound of the Shofah (hard to describe, think of someone blowing like a ivory tusk or something) featured on the instrumental track 'Takasim'. Track times are generally shorter, and, for me, a bit less progressive than the newer OL recordings, but I still find myself singing along after a few listens. El Norra Aila features the almost instant classics 'The Never Ending Way,' 'Find Yourself,' 'Discover God,' and 'The Evil Urge,' all of which are live staples (and appear later, improved, on the bonus disc to Mabool, now featuring Shlomit singing female vocals).
El Norra Aila has a mix of traditional lyrics and just plain metal badass. One thing I really like about Orphaned Land is their ability to write really interesting music which actually makes you sit down and read the lyrics booklet, rather than just ignore it and enjoy the sound of the music. That's nice, since lyrics are one thing that a lot of metal bands are lacking. These lyrics, combined with Kobi's passionate singing, make you believe everything you are hearing. I've once heard singing described as somewhat romantic, and I can actually agree. Why" I don't know!
Although more Doom-y and not as accessible or progressive-influenced as Mabool, El Norra Aila is still a great album and a worthy purchase for any fan of the band or just good music in general. It's not their best work, but then again, Orphaned Land have never made a bad album, so El Norra Ailais definitely interesting and an album I'd be proud to recommend.
"And so we must wonder what shall be the faith of the man / Who destroys one and embraces the other..."