Thursday, 5 March 2009

...OF BATTLES, RAVENS AND FIRE

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: ...Of Battle, Ravens and Fire
Format: Limited edition numbered 12" picture disc on vinyl and original 7 track CD EP - both on CCP Records (Austria) - released 2000, cat refs CCP 100223-1 and 100223-2 respectively. Re-issued 9 track CD released 2005 again by CCP Records, cat ref CCP 100253-2. Photo shows original EP on the left, and reissue to the right.
Edition: Vinyl limited to only 300 hand-numbered pieces

Track Listing:
Original vinyl / CD EP tracks
1. A Legend... 02:53
2. Preparing For Battle 02:34
3. The Prayer 07:23
4. March of the Einherjer 03:50
5. Ragnarök 01:26
6. The Ravenfight 02:17
7. Gjallarhorn 01:01

Additional tracks on reissue
8. Fimbulwinter (demo, 2000)
9. Der Pfad zum Tor der Toten (rehearsal, 1999)

Another Viking epic in film-score style from the Hrossharsgrani battle-machine! Three nice formats for this release, courtesy of Austrian label CCP: my favourite is the original CD EP with artwork reminiscent of Bathory's "Blood Fire Death" release (this also has full lyrics in the booklet), whilst the CD reissue uses the atmospheric cover that originally appeared on the original 2004 promo-only Uruk Hai "Upon The Elysian Field" DoCDr release. The limited edition vinyl (a split EP with Austrian label-mates Mittwinter) has a good, if rather irrelevant, swords & sorcery style illustration and only 300 were pressed (my copy is #201).

Whilst we're doing this round-up, the CD-reissue (with all new artwork) bolstered the original 20 minute EP with two epic bonus tracks (which double the length of the music). The first track is 'Fimbulwinter', which was originally due to be a 7" EP through CCP but was never released. The artwork was completed though (there's a photo on the Metal Archives pages), and the paper inlay is in exactly the same style to the 12" pictured above. Whether the EP was pressed and not released, or plans never progressed that far, I don't know....but I know a man who will.....! [Indeed, Alex has just emailed to say that whilst he has an edited version of the track (of around circa 8 minutes) it never was pressed on vinyl] The second bonus track is the lengthy rehearsal track 'Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten', originally released on the 1999 demo of the same name.

Now, this particular album has a fair degree of critics when you look online. Taking the Metal Archive reviewers comments as representative, the gist of public opinion seems to be this:

"Alex Hugin is a strange character. He has naught but the utmost devotion for epic and fantasy lore, utterly dedicated to Nordic tales and all aspects of Tolkien, and he certainly has talent for portraying them in music – but at the same time, he nearly never reaches his full potential"
Durandal1717

"This is the first release with a full band, actual production standards, and dare I say it…quality? Not much, but it’s there, and unfortunately so are some strains from the old days of the band. Most of the songs are simply boring, minimalist “ambient” pieces that serve as narration for the story, if story there indeed is beyond a general feeling of vikings and battle.There are indeed good parts, but too many parts, which while not exactly bad, are entirely pointless, and could’ve easily been left out"

Durandal 1717

"There is nothing very metal about Hrossharsgrani, at least with this EP anyway. Rather Hrossharsgrani fill this EP up with sound effects, epic soundtrack-esque synths, hypnotic hollow bassdrum beats, cheesy voiceovers almost as narration and lengthy samples of battles"

mz_412

I mention this for context, as I'll freely accept that others will have different opinions about the music that I enjoy, and I'm sure Alex would be the first to admit that in retrospect some songs/albums he would have done differently.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this album, in as far as it's true to the well-trodden Hrossharsgrani tradition of being a sample-heavy mixture of battle sounds, spoken lyrics (deeply accented), occasional bursts of epic musical glory (tracks 4 and 6 in this case) with booming war drums and percussion-led pieces, and simple, repetitive ambient passages. It all adds up to what I call a "film score experience" and you can't really approach it in any other way. To do so and expect a 'classic' Viking-metal album - and given the Bathory-style cover I suspect many paying customers did - may well lead to disappointment overall.

The original EP and the reissue are very different beasts. The 7 track original version plays for a little over 21 minutes and, with a couple of fine guitar riffs on two of the tracks and a superb battle scene in the middle (as mz_412 himself noted, "this band certainly knows how to stage a battle for radio") you can digest it in one go, spit out any unpalatable bits, and savour the sweet aftertaste of bombast and heroism.

The reissue, on the other hand, adds in a couple of monster bonus tracks (both well over the 15 minute mark each) and this takes things to a different level in the listening stakes! 'Fimbulwinter' is a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair really, with samples galore, wind, wolves, trademark Hross' synths and lots of spoken word samples from one (or more?) movies. It would have been one hell of a 7" EP, I can tell you. Second bonus track 'Der Pfad zum Tor der Toten' somewhat outstays its welcome with some very long ambient passages, but as a snapshot into an earlier demo-only era of the band it would have been of value for someone without access to the hard-to-find demo tapes.

At the end of the day, it's not the best album Hrossharsgrani ever put out, but as a main label pressing (with some care lavished on it from CCP) it must have helped to raise the profile of the band. Trouble was, it may not have won it many new converts. Although perhaps in some strange ways it did....

"I can't really recommend '...Of Battles, Ravens and Fire" for it's music. However, I do feel an odd pride in owning a CD by an obscure band with an unpronounceable name and some of the oddest content I have ever heard."

Byter

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