Monday 24 April 2023

Yossi Sassi & The Oriental Rock Orchestra - Prediluvian (2023)

Country: Israel
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Mar 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

I hadn't heard of Yossi Sassi before, but I've heard his work because he's one of the founders of the Israeli progressive metal outfit Orphaned Land, who notably combine eastern and western music in their sound. If you don't know them, you should. Check out the double whammy of Mabool (The Flood) and The Storm Still Rages Inside from their 2004 album Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven. He's released solo albums, whether as Yossi Sassi or Yossi Sassi Band, and at least three albums as this side project, Yossi Sassi & The Oriental Rock Orchestra.

While Orphaned Land are prog metal, the Oriental Rock Orchestra play prog rock, so the sound is less crunchy and completely shorn of harsh vocals, with the world elements even more overt. That starts with the intro, On Shoulders of Nephilim, which is played on a stringed instrument that I bet isn't a guitar. I don't know which, but he plays seventeen different varieties, including one that he invented himself, the bouzoukitara. There are acoustic sections in Orphaned Land songs, and some acoustic songs. If you were blown away by the two tracks I mentioned above, keep listening for the acoustic outro after them, Rainbow (The Resurrection), and it'll work as a good transition to this.

That's not to suggest that this is an acoustic album, because it isn't, outside equivalent sections or songs, but it is very much rock rather than metal, even in its heaviest moments. It's also primarily instrumental, built out of what sound like folk tunes and ethnic instrumentation, but played in an obviously rock fashion, with a full band including a rock drumkit. Uriel Machine is led by guitar, as we might expect, but with plenty of flutes above it and hand drums below. It's almost slow shred, if that makes sense, a virtuoso guitarist on best behaviour, perhaps to emphasise what he's doing to the children staring wide-eyed at him in a classroom. Check out this next bit, kids...

If Sassi shows off here, it's primarily by finding a broad variety of tones. While Uriel Machine is an impactful piece that hints at metal without quite going there and Sirius does much the same later on the album, Oopart is a funkier piece, with Sassi teasing his guitar into generating neat sounds the way that someone like Jeff Beck would. Atlantis kicks off tenderly and, while it bulks up, it's to an introspective guitar piece that brings to mind a few guitarists who see the notes not played as being just as important as the ones that are. One tone that doesn't come from guitar is the intro to Architect of the Stars, which is electronica. Are those trap rhythms? I'm no expert in that side of music, but someone who is would be able to call out a lot on this piece.

The only vocal track here is Armoros Fall, in the sense of a song with a singer delivering lyrics. Both are provided by a guest, Ross Jennings, a British vocalist best known for prog metal bands Haken and Redados. This is softer than prog metal but it's the most obvious rocker on the album, with an arena rock feel when it's not working jagged rhythms. It's a vibrant song that often suggests that Jennings is stalking the stage and the entire band is following him step for step, like a pantomime entourage. And, of course, it also has an eastern section, because it can.

There are vocals on Anelo too, but no lyrics, because they're vocalisations, sustained repetitions of a single word that doesn't seem to be quite the title. While Sassi leads the way on one of those many stringed instruments, an acoustic one this time, it becomes a song for the flute. That's been evident from the opening but, the longer the album runs, the more prominent the flute becomes. It's played by Yossi's daughter, Danielle Sassi, and she's comfortable not only providing texture or taking part in instrumental call and response sections, but also becoming the lead, as she does on Anelo and especially Kumlar.

All in all, this is a tasty album. It's an easy and accessible listen but there's a lot going on if you're wanting to dive in deeper. For instance, while it's primarily guitar or other stringed instrument—Sassi also plays bouzouki, charrango, saz, ukelele and bouzoukitara here and Sarel Ha'cohen adds kanun and Ben Azar contributes further seven and eight stringed guitars—there's that flute and other instruments fleshing out the sound. Emil Guseinov plays viola and Roei Fridman a variety of percussion that goes beyond the traditional rock rhythm section of bass and drums.

It all combines to provide something unique and, while nothing stands out above anything else, it all sounds consistently good. It could serve as an excellent rabbit hole to dive into Sassi's music.

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