Tuesday, 10 March 2009

IN DURIN'S HALLS

Band: URUK HAI
Title: In Durin's Halls
Format: Cassette-tape only release. Originally released as a self-titled demo in 1999 [top inlay], then remixed and reissued by Eclipse Of Live Promulgation (Germany) in 2004 [middle inlay]. Further remastered and reissued in limited edition on Smell The Stench (Australia) in 2008 [bottom inlay].
Edition: Original 1999 tape limited to 33 hand-numbered copies. 2004 reissue limited to 300 hand-numbered copies. Final limited edition 2008 reissue restricted to only 50 hand-numbered copies.

Track Listing:
1999 and 2008 versions detail:
1. Luthien
2. Kortirion
3. Durins Halls
4. Uruk-hai
5. Moria
6. Nordhimmel
7. The Unknown
2004 reissue has the track listing:
1. Einleitung
2. Kortirion
3. Durins Halls
4. Uruk-hai
5. Nordhimmel
6. Moria
7. Ausklang

"A portrait of the artist as a young man..."

Legend has it that Hrossharsgrani - the epic, battle-machine of Viking and Tolkien influences - made a demo tape in 1999 that was so left-field of what the band had previously been doing that it was never issued under the Hross' name. This demo, provisionally called "Uruk Hai" instead became a more ambient project in its own right, and a new star was born in the heavens that day...

I have the three versions of this tape that were released over the years: the original self-titled and self-released 1999 demo is #31 (and kindly signed on the case by Alex); the 2004 EoLP reissue is #011 of the 300 produced, whilst the 'Stench edition from 2008 is #21 of the 50 and is dedicated on the inner sleeve "Hailz to my brother in arms, Hugin"

To listen to all three back to back makes for a fascinating experience. The original 1999 demo is as basic and honest a demo as you could imagine - on the one hand, the simplicity of the keyboard play and the sparsity of production make it seem like a real backroom project. On the other hand, you have to remember that this was an evolving sound and moved into pretty much uncharted waters for A.W. at the time. To point out the weaknesses on this tape would be a fairly swift process, but that's hardly the point - as a historical record of where the Uruk-Hai sound of later years would come from this is both interesting and important, if musically naive.

Pop in the 2004 remixed edition, and things are significantly cleaned up and streamlined. The overlaps in sound between Hrossharsgrani and the fledgling Uruk Hai have been edited (there is, for example, a battle scene in the original demo that could be straight off a Hross' release) and the sound is fuller, the songs better presented.

Jump to the 2008 limited edition 'Stench remaster and it's a different animal altogether. For one thing it's much louder than the original on the same volume setting - so much so that if you play them back to back you'll be blown out of your chair by the '08 version, as the original tape needs turning up a bit to hear properly. The other unmissable element is that the songs have been taken by the scruff of the neck and whilst the essential synth melodies have been retained the pieces have been reworked with additional samples and instruments to bolster the sound.

I would imagine that Hugin reworked this demo until it sounds now as he would have intended it to be at the time, had the technology and experience been available to him. whilst moving away from the naive simplicity of the original, it has created a wholly new and improved Uruk Hai experience and as a process has been a remarkable success.

To judge which one of these tapes as best is hard - they are all different and somewhat unique in their own way, despite ostensibly being the same album underneath. The chances of finding all three available for sale to draw your own comparisons are, however, pretty remote (although a search on Google will throw up a few distros with copies of the EoLP version in stock).

As a regular listening experience I'd go for the 2008 edition I think, as it has such a lush sound it brings out the original themes and melodies of the original edition in a much more rounded way.

Incidentally, the Durin referred to in the title seemingly could be one of two: in the works of Tolkien, Durin was the name of no less than seven of the Dwarf kings (each named in remembrance of Durin The Deathless, one of the founders of the Dwarf race). Tolkien, however, took the name from the Norse mythologies, where Durin (another dwarf) forged the magic sword of Tyrfing. Which is correct - answers on a postcard, please...?

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