Sometimes referred to as a 'best of' collection, sometimes as simply a collection of early work from a variety of demos and other recording sessions, "Battle Yells" is one of those unmissable items in any serious collection of Uruk Hai.
For a start, you get that over the top Manowar-esque artwork, all barbarian wrath and nubile maidens in shiny pointed bikinis! It's also in the classic Werwolf format of a limited tape-only release (my copy is #38 of the paltry run of only 66 made). Also of interest is the track listing, which contains reference to demos to my knowledge never officially release, and therefore tracks quite probably unique to this release despite it being a supposed 'best of' compilation. Of course, as the history of Hugin's releases unfolds on these pages there may be more to some of this than meets the eye, and Nazgul will do his best to keep you up to date with developments!
So, from the top: 'In Durin's Hall's' is the synth-driven piece that we know and love, and that has recently made a reappearance on the tape pressing of "Lost Songs From Middle Earth" as recently noted in this Blog, and has also been released in a number of tape pressings over the years. I like that demo a lot, and no collection of early work would be complete without something from that period on it. Listening to it in isolation from the rest of that demo it holds that naive magic that early Uruk Hai songs had - simple rhythm, a few sampled effects to lend atmosphere, 'big' pounding drums and flutes to give a medieval tinge, and simple yet effective keyboard play. Great stuff.
'The Unknown' on the other hand is an airy keyboard passage that wafts gently on the outset into a world of enchantment, fantasy and mystery. It's never going to be confused with a virtuoso keyboard performance, but serves its purpose well and is one of the highlights of the 'Elbenwald' demo.
The Darkness tape demo lends us "Kor" for this compilation, which is again an excellent example of early Uruk Hai - quite delightful and expansive keyboards with an overlay of harsh vocals. Starting off very gently with a piano based introduction, we're soon off into what could almost pass for an Orcish ballad. Kor, incidentally, may well be named for the Tolkein poem of the same name....
'Shadow Of The Orcs' is up next, and this again was one of Nazgul's favourite moments from the "Orcish Battle Hymns" demo, previously covered in this Blog. From the chimed bell start through to the rhythmic drumming and frenzied finale, it's a gripping track and worthy of a place here. The end part in particular would lend itself well to a live environment, guaranteed to get you bouncing around.
A more gentle song to follow - 'Der Elfen Tod' is a very pleasant listen and contains a mature melody and is not over-burdened with effects. A simple song played simply - sometimes less is indeed more.
The next couple of tracks are interesting, in as far as they are titled as appearing from two demos that Nazgul has not come across and which, most likely, are either locked away in the vaults of W.A.R. Studios, or which were reworked and released within other releases and not formally issued in their own name. The 'Elysium' track, certainly the sampled element, does make an appearance in the "Lost Songs of Middle Earth" release in reworked format but in this version was a new track to Nazgul. Similarly, I'd not come across 'Dark Riders' before this release so that was a pleasant bonus too! The main riff of 'Elysium' is simply brilliant, I have to say, and is one of those pieces of music that leaves you convinced you must have heard it somewhere before, so catchy is its refrain.
The more professionally produced 'Elfenpath' from "A Night In The Forest" follows in edited format from the original third track on that mighty opus. Still sounding as fresh as ever, it's a very different Uruk Hai sound from the raw, early vocals or simple syntheziser demos, and as an example of how the band grew in this time period is a great reference point. This track was clearly already recorded by 2003, as the full "Night In The Forest" recording wasn't released until 2004, as is as effortlessly relaxing and engaging as ever.
And so to the end - the "Awaken The Dragon" song. Now this is recorded as being from "Dragons Of War", although not in a version to be found on the 2005 release of the same name on Dragon's Breath. It's a more sombre track to finish the compilation with, dark and moody, and in that sense probably what you might expect for a foolhardy individual awakening Smaug from his slumbers...
The one perplexing thing is the extreme limited pressing of this tape. As a collection of the band's 'good stuff', and given that many fans may not have managed to find all of the separate releases these songs were drawn from (and a fat chance you have of doing that six years later in 2009!), you might have imagined there would have been a pretty strong market for this release back in 2003? Certainly 66 copies would hardly have covered the immediate hardcore fan base, let alone given new fans the chance to experience some of the highlights of the band. Ah well, Nazgul isn't here to reason with the Italian economy, that way lies madness!
Should you ever come across one of these then buy it immediately (indeed, Nazgul did manage to find and buy a spare copy - #34 - only last month from Holland, so a few are out there) and you'll not regret the investment.