AMID the storm of anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred, a Swedish heavy metal band is one of the few rays of sunshine.
Sabaton are regular visitors to Israel and even wrote a song about the 1967 Six-Day War called Counterstrike on their 2006 album Primo Victoria — which also touted the reunification of Jerusalem.
The song became an underground hit among Israeli metal fans and helped generate a following for Sabaton among young metal heads in Israel.
On a trip to the Jewish state seven years ago, Sabaton spent their only day off at The National Memorial Site and Museum for the Heritage of the Battle and Reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
The band also regularly praises Israel on its website and posts information in transliterated Hebrew.
Bassist Pär Sundström describes Israelis as one of the best crowds for metal concerts.
And the band has Maor Appelbaum to thank for its initial popularity in Israel.
The 44-year-old, who has mastered Sabaton’s new album The Great War — released next Friday on Nuclear Blast Records — was the first DJ in Israel to play their music in clubs and on radio.
“I have known them for some years and it is always great communicating with them and knowing they are big fans of our country and its legacy,” Maor told me from his home in Los Angeles.
“They speak highly of Israel and praise it in their songs and when they are being interviewed in the press or on their social media.
“I feel a personal connection with them. They are great people and the band has always shown supportive interest in Israel.
“When they perform in Israel, they always make it a great event for their fans and make sure they have a great time.”
Maor has mastered recordings for major international acts such as Faith No More, Meatloaf, Yes, Eric Gales, Walter Trout, Matisyahu, Limp Bizkit, Rob Halford, Sepultura and Yngwie Malmsteen.
But his work with such names is as long way from his early years in Ra’anana.
Maor said: “In the 1980s, Ra’anana was much different than how it is today. Back then it was a lot of orchids, crop fields and not as many houses as today.
“I was always listening to the radio a lot and to our family music collection.
“We had a lot of vinyl records and cassettes and, later on, CDs.
“I was getting into music very deeply so I had my own personal collection of the music I liked the most as a teenager
“I was fascinated by music and felt a deep connection to be part of it in anyway, whether that be writing, composing, arranging or on the technical and production aspects of producing, recording, mixing and mastering.”
The married father-of-two also worked as a music journalist for Metal Hammer Israel, Dofek and Alternative-Zine.com before becoming a club and radio DJ.
After the army, he studied sound engineering and worked in a number of music studios before he learned to be a broadcast engineer.
Maor, whose father escaped his native Poland during the Holocaust, explained: “I was only producing my own bands and projects. We released albums, EPs and singles.
“It wasn’t as accessible as nowadays and the amount of educational information was very limited and hard to come by — not like today where you can find it all online very easily and the technology is super cheap so that everyone can get hold of it.
“When it came to practice, it was a lot of trial and error and figuring out what we don’t know and assuming the things we know.
“As much as I had studied in a formal audio education, it was still limited in the experience and the equipment we had worked on was limited in options and in sound quality.
“It was not easy, but it gave me the experience to understand the process first hand and to collaborate with others as well.”
His work got him noticed, however, and he moved to America in the summer of 2007 to work for the iconic producer Sylvia Massy at her studio in Weed, California.
Maor recalled: “It was a new experience for me working under such a big producer in an amazing and super-equipped recording studio with all the gear I could only dream of working with.
“The professional music production here is invested in terms of the facilities, the skills and the profession.
“It is also relaxed and chilled compared to what I was used to in Israel.”
A year later, he moved to Los Angeles and opened his own mastering facility, Maor Appelbaum Mastering.
He has remained connected to his roots, too, making friends with members of the local Israeli community, while his children attend a Jewish school.
A number of Israel-haters in the music business have regularly called for a boycott of the Jewish state, as well as coercing some artists not to visit Israel.
It is something which Maor describes as an “act of selfishness”.
“They are trying to manipulate people by punishing them for the land they had chosen to live in,” he added.
“It is a shame that people believe that boycotting them will help make a difference, whereas it is not.
“I try to show the good side of humanity and to be helpful and kind so, hopefully, I prove them wrong.”
Music production has changed over the years, none more so in the fact that more and more musicians are putting out music as it is more affordable for them to create and distribute it worldwide.
“In a way, it became easier to do, but harder to get something in return as the market gets overwhelmed with the amount of music being generated on a daily basis,” Maor said.
“It is hard to keep up with what is out there and the competition is getting bigger and bigger on all sides of the production.
“You have to work harder as the music needs to stand out even more due to the ever growing amount of content being released.
“There are more players in the game as the technology has become more affordable for new people in the business to come in and also cutting down the work time.
“The competition is now bigger on the service providers side as we all are part of an ever-changing industry, where technology meets the creativity in a way that is becoming a household thing at a fraction of the original cost.
“Because the artists make less money, it becomes harder for them to make a living and that can affect their decisions and actions in terms of the quality of the product.”
Maor has not been back to Israel for nearly 10 years, although his wife and kids visit annually.
“It has been down to work obligations, but I hope to visit next year,” he continued.
“I also want to expand as much as possible and to keep working in the audio field for more years to come and to keep working on great music with great bands, and making a living doing what I enjoy so much.”
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