Saturday, 21 March 2009

ANCIENT TALES

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Ancient Tales
Format: Released on both cassette tape and CDr format in 2000 on the W.A.R. label (WAR011)
Edition: Tape limited to 100 hand-numbered copies. CDr format limited to 300 pieces, of which the first 100 contained a poster

Track Listing:

Cassette version:

Side 1
1. March Into Battle 1.38
2. The Riddle of Steel 8.23
3. Fire and Ice 8.11
4. Heroism (tape only bonus track) 3.38
5. Mjölnir 8.45
6. Hel 4.07
7. Song To Hall Up High 2.44
8. Blood on My Sword 6.14
9. Weltenbrand (tape only bonus track) 2.16

Side 2
10. Born in the Fight 9.39
11. The Unknown Land 5.39
12. The Eternal Halls of Valhalla 5.37
13. Ancient Tales 3.40
14. Myrkvid 1.59
15. Riding the Wind 2.50
16. Triumph in Every Fight (extended version) 7.06
17. The Gates Of Mordor (tape only bonus track) 8.31

Splendidly presented in tape format (I've not yet tracked down the CDr pressing), this has a hand-drawn colour cover with good old-fashioned typewriter-typed inlay, an extensive credits list, and a photo of Hugin freezing his backside off in the Austrian mountains. Hand-numbered in tape format (this is #23) and notable for being printed 'in reverse', so the case opens left-handed style (like the tape version of Iron Maiden's 'Piece of Mind' did, trivia fans).

Clearly an epic undertaking in all senses, a full-length album presented on tape is no small undertaking. There's a lot of music on this release, notwithstanding the 4 bonus tracks crammed into the tape version, so fitting everything into the available space must have taken some thought.

If you'll indulge me with an analogy, you could (if so minded) think of Hugin's releases as meals - the 1 track promos might be the appetizers for example, the 3"CDr and short tape releases the starter, the longer CDs the main course, and the multi-CD compilations (e.g. Elisabetha's 'Eternal Deathvastation' 3CD or the reissue of Uruk Hai's "Upon The Elysian Fields' 4CD) representing a multi-course feast.

I'm sure you're keeping up with this!

Now, the lengthy tape releases could be said to be the dessert course - you're quite full after the preceding dishes, yet there's still plenty to eat before the end of the meal. Difficult to do in one sitting, better broken into chunks for ease of digestion, but not aided by the fact that being tape you can't easily jump from track to track to spread things out a bit. End result - you wade through all of it in one go, and come out of the other end feeling satisfied yet bloated...you've just had too much Hross' in one go!

Now, that was a rather roundabout way of saying that whilst this is a good Hross' release, the sheer volume of material on the tape means that I find it best to listen to side 1 on one day, side 2 on another. There are a lot of similarities in the construction of the songs - almost all have some combination or other of the same basic elements (and whilst this might be said to be true of most releases from any band, it seems to come across more in this release). After a few tracks you just know that the next song is going to involve some combination of wind/thunder/water sample, growled vocal, splashy cymbals, a barrage of drumming and/or pseudo-Gregorian chanting.

In itself, this is not a strong criticism, more of an observation. This would, perhaps, have made two very palatable releases rather than one long album. The songs are fine (although the vocals at times let down the atmosphere that the music creates, which is why I suspect subsequent releases were predominantly instrumental) and include a Bathory cover (track #7) and a guest appearance - for the first and only time - of Sabine as female vocalist.

There are some interesting moments throughout - the film sample on "The Riddle of Steel" we've come across before during the history of this Blog (and I must find out which film it comes from), and the use of acoustic guitar over sampled natural sounds does invoke an atmosphere reminiscent of middle-era Bathory, which is clearly a good thing. 'Weltenbrand' contains a traditional studio-created battle scene and an extract of classical music that - Philistine that I am - I only recognise as the 'Old Spice' music from the TV commercial! So much for a classical education....! 'The Ancient Halls of Valhalla' is always worth a listen, as the drums remind me a lot of the start to Deep Purple's "Black Night" before the track explodes into what sounds like three different songs starting at the same time!

Other tracks on this release are definitely worth hearing: I particularly enjoy 'Hel' for its majestic synth parts, the barren windswept atmosphere created at the start of 'The Unknown Land' and the way that the male chanting on 'Heroism' helps lift the song to a higher plain.

If you've been reading this Blog over time you'll have seen my previous entry for "In Durin's Halls" and the effect that a focused remastering and remixing had on that album by it's third iteration. I'd wager that were Hugin to dissemble this album and perform the same magic on it, it would be an absolute beast!

p.s. If anyone has a copy of the CDr version (preferably the poster version) and might like to sell it to me, please drop me a line.....

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