This is an monstrous release in all senses - 'Morgoth' is not album made up of separate songs but rather one vast, epic track lasting over nearly an hour in duration, split across both sides of the cassette. Equally, the piece is named for the monstrous figure of Morgoth Bauglir, who in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Legendarium is the main antagonist of The Silmarillion (and is mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings).
Morgoth (originally named Melkor) was the most powerful of the Ainur, but turning to darkness, became Morgoth (literally 'Black Foe of the World'), the 'great enemy' and ultimate antagonist of Arda, from whom all evil in the world of Middle-Earth ultimately stems. Sauron, one of the Maiar of Aulë, betrayed his kind and became Morgoth's principal lieutenant. Morgoth was the principal agent of evil in The Silmarillion, and his influence lingered in the world even after he was cast from the world into the outer void. Morgoth's example provided later ages a cautionary tale against pride, wrath, envy, lust for power, and greed.
The Ainu Melkor could initially take any shape, but his first recorded form was "...as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold." At the time he destroyed the Two Trees and stole the Silmarils, he took to himself the shape of a great "Dark Lord, tall and terrible". This form is the one shown on the album artwork.
The diminution of his power in this time and his own desire for lordship destroyed his ability to freely change shape, and he became bound to this one terrible form. His hands were burned by the theft of the Silmarils, and never healed. In his fight with High King Fingolfin, he suffered several wounds; his foot was hewn by Fingolfin's Sword of Ice Crystal, Ringil. At the end of this battle, Thorondor, the great Eagle, swooped down and scarred Morgoth's face with his talons, a wound that also never healed. In battle he wore black armour and wielded Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. The great battering ram of Mordor was named for this weapon. He also wielded a black spear, and in early texts a poison sword.
If you were to continue to play the 'spot the Uruk Hai reference in Tolkien's work' game, Melkor's original fortress in the Iron Mountains was named Angband, which is the name of the new 4-disc box-set of Uruk Hai music issued by Runenstein Records in 2010. More of that release in a future post.
So there you have a little background to the history of Morgoth and the Middle-Earth connections, but what of the music? Well, as you might well expect for a piece of such lengthy duration it is a slow-burner rather than attempting to jam all of the highlights into the first few minutes. Indeed, pretty much the first side is low volume background ambience, which would not be to the taste of many who expect a few more fireworks for their money. Even part-way through side two, when the piece does develop in relatively more flamboyant ways, you're not going to be leaping from your chair and banging your head to it. Oh no, this is a graceful yet quietly insular composition, not particularly commercial and really only of interest to keen fans of the project and/or ambient metal generally (which possibly explains why the original "Orkstahl" release was distributed to just a few personal friends).
It's one of those releases that you can play the first few times and thoroughly enjoy, yet not be able to recall much of it when the tape finally clicks off at the end of either side. Equally, and in contradiction to that last statement, it's also the sort of album that would be excellent heard through a pair of quality headphones late at night whilst in a more contemplative mood, with time on your side to analyse and focus upon it properly. As a soundtrack for elements of the Tolkien written canon it works very well, so grab yourself a copy of something suitably Middle-Earth-ian and wade in!
Nazgul is, of course, honoured that this released was chosen to be part of the Honour & Darkness Series released by Skogen and Alex through Wulfrune Worxx (this copy is #2 of the 39 copies). Hails and thanks, gentlemen both.
Incidentally, the striking cover art of the inlay was adapted from a Ted Nasmith picture, an artist whose work has graced more than a few of Hugin's albums, and is shown in its original colour version below: