Back from an extended, eight-year hiatus many thought would never come to an end, Israel’s Orphaned Land finally completed their third album, the extensively titled Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven, for new label Century Media in 2004. Thankfully, the album’s impressive — at times unprecedented — achievements in expanding the boundaries of heavy metal go to great lengths in justifying such a long wait. Indeed, with their ambitious, at times even improbable, efforts to incorporate native Middle Eastern musical styles into the heavy metal template, Orphaned Land stake a claim in the largely unrecognized “World Metal” subgenre, also encompassing the percussion-infused efforts of Brazilians Sepultura, the folk-dependent death metal of Finland’s Amorphis, and, hitting closest to home, the “Mesopotamian Metal” of countrymen Melechesh. And yet, Mabool is arguably more diverse and experimental than many of the above artists’ wildest efforts — so eclectic, in fact, that some might argue it barely qualifies as heavy metal anymore! A concept album, no less, Mabool takes a swing at setting the Noah’s Ark biblical myth to music (Mabool = “the flood,” get it?), and the stage is set by the opening tandem of “Birth of the Three” and “Ocean Land,” which marry beguiling Arabic melodic nuances to crushing death metal riffs, drums, and cookie-monster growls. Very interesting, to be sure, but it’s on “The Kiss of Babylon” where things really start getting freaky, thanks to increasing use of exotic sonic elements, ethnic instrumentation, the introduction of “clean” singing, and an eventual descent into two minutes of acoustic guitars and solo female vocals in Hebrew on the prayer-like “A’salk.” From here on out, dynamic examples of truly progressive metal such as “Halo Dies,” the title track, the epic “The Storm Still Rages Inside,” and the absolutely awe-inspiring “Norra el Norra,” continue to rub shoulders with far gentler and relaxing material like “Building the Ark,” the soothingly ambient “The Calm Before the Flood,” and the evocatively sweet closing theme, “Rainbow.” Of course, to some listeners, all of this variety might seem more fit for belly dancing than head-banging which brings us back to the only major caveat of Orphaned Land’s brave experimentation: does Mabool traverse so vast a range of styles that less-sophisticated heavy metal fans are doomed to get lost in the sand dunes? In a first instance, the answer is probably yes, but with repeat performances, any confusion duly gives way to astonishment and revelation, marking Mabool for possible inclusion in the pantheon of albums representing the aforementioned “World Metal” category. As an added bonus, Mabool also featured a bonus CD containing live acoustic renditions of Orphaned Land songs, both old and new.