Thursday, 19 August 2010

Nazgul's Top 10: Uruk Hai rarities

Nazgul's Top 10 Uruk Hai rarities

Following a few questions on the subject, Nazgul has decided to compile some 'top ten' lists of his most precious items - those rare and hard to come by releases from Alex's bands - that currently exist in his collection in the library at Castle Nazgul. For the purpose of retaining Nazgul's sanity, he is excluding t-shirts, badges, posters etc from this list and is focusing solely on the music! Feel free to disagree with these lists - Uruk Hai being the fifth (and possibly most anticipated) in the series - as they are purely personal observations based on my experiences since 2001 trying to find this stuff! By necessity this list is out of date as soon as it's written, as other items that Nazgul is yet to track down will eventually overtake some of these entries...

Choosing the top ten collectable items from Uruk Hai is a little like trying to choose your favourite child - ultimately a fruitless endeavour that you really shouldn't be trying to do anyway. There are so many items in the band's discography - even omitting the one-off items and 'special/private releases' - that whatever the list produced it will be controversial and very subjective. However, not one to shirk from a challenge, here is Nazgul's personal take on the situation. In order to make something manageable out of this, and not flood it with one-off specials, I've excluded the following categories of items:
  • private pressings (often literally 1 or 2 copies at most) where the item was not offered for general sale - for example "Orkstahl", "Mystic" or "Thousand Lightnings Storm";
  • items where a subsequent re-issue has made the tracks available more widely, even where the original pressing is hard to find - for example, "In Durin's Halls", "Of Gleaming Swords in the Land of the North", "Valkyrian Romance" or "Quenta Silmarillion";
  • oddities - for example, the mis-titled "Schall Und Rauch" split 7" from 2001, which is labelled as Uruk Hai but actually features a Bonemachine track, rare Uruk Hai tracks on compilation CD's (notably the Depravity CDr), and the almost infamous Forgotten Lands/Uruk Hai split that is hard to find only because of poor distribution from the US rather than being 'rare' per se.

So before we hit the official top-ten, let's consider the 'nearly' items that were on the fringes of inclusion but for one reason or other didn't quite make it. Frankly, most of the discography prior to 2006 is pretty hard to find at the best of times, but heck, we've got to draw a line somewhere

The 'close but no cigar' awards:
"Darkness" demo (2001) - one of the earliest demo releases given a wider distribution from the band, but still really scarce;
"Arkillery/Uruk Hai" split CDr (2004) - try and find one of these? There were 50 or so pressed, so you never know your luck...;
"Battle Yells" compilation tape (2003) - they are out there, Nazgul's owned 3 copies over the years and traded 2 away, but again, it's a tough find

But enough of this, let's proceed to the real arguments and invoke Nazgul's official top 10 Uruk Hai rarities! You may agree, you may disagree, but Nazgul would be delighted to hear from you in any event:

10. Lebenin
Well, let's start with a controversial one - this cassette was offered for sale via the band website in 2009 but probably sold out within minutes of being advertised. Only 6 copies of this specially packaged demo were made, and although it's a recent release you won't be finding one for sale anywhere now. The principal difference between this and early demos from 2002-2004 period is that many of the tapes in the early years were produced in the low hundreds, so theoretically (at least) they might occasionally come up for sale. That has certainly been Nazgul's experience in the main, although it's been a painstaking process to track them down. This one, however, is likely to be tucked up safely in collections for good, and thus will be impossible to find in the future...?
9. Ea
A small but perfectly formed CDr demo on the Italian Werwolf Distributions label, released in 2004 in a quantity of 100 copies. You'd imagine therefore that they would be pop up for sale once in a blue moon, but experience shows this to be far from the case. In fact, the only copy I've ever seen for sale is the copy I have in front of me now, and that was purchased pretty soon after it was released. Quite where the others went is frankly anyone's guess - somewhere in deepest Italy there may yet be an undiscovered box containing hitherto untapped "Ea" reserves, but until it's discovered you'll be hunting high and low for this release!

8. Angband (metal box edition)
A sneak preview for you - how many more of Nazgul's forthcoming surprises will be laid bare by this ambitious post? Nazgul can almost hear the sound of jaws dropping open at the thought of how a 2010 release could possibly be in the top ten list of Uruk Hai collectables. God's teeth man, it's only been out a few months so how can it be so scarce? Well, simply because fledgling label Runenstein Records only released 5 copies of the metal box edition of "Angband" complete with the extra goodies, and they've all been sold. Simple. Can you buy one now? I doubt it, and I doubt too that the owners of the 5 will ever be persuaded to part with their copies either. It has 'future collectable' and 'rare' stamped all over it. There were only 21 numbered copies of the release in total, so with just 16 'standard' versions left to fight over I'd head off to the label sharpish....

7. Blutreich
The original blog entry for this CD could have been summarised thus: 'best-of compilation CD in edition of 333 copies on respected label suddenly appears from nowhere' shock! It was an extraordinary thing really, given the years of tracking down Alex's material - this CD suddenly appeared in 2009 on the Uruk Hai MySpace page as a part of the Uruk Hai discography, and following further enquiry on the lines of "what's all this about, then?!" this copy came into Nazgul's possession. It remains as improbable as Castle Nazgul winning a 'tourist destination of 2010' award. But where are the rest of them (the CD folks, not the tourists!)? Why is it so unknown, even on the internet, despite apparently existing in a fair number on a 'known' label? Why did it take until 2009 to be recognised in the discography when is was released back in 2005? Was it, in fact, ever officially released? Have you got a copy? Probably the most bizarre Uruk Hai rarity of all.

6. Long Forgotten Tales
Another pressing of 50 copies on the Werwolf label in 2004, another fruitless 3 year hunt on-line trying to find one having missed the boat the first time around! Against all the odds a copy was finally tracked down, in the Netherlands, and the deal was done. Just goes to show that with a little application and perseverance you too can go to the ball, Cinderella. Oh hang on, went off at a tangent there. The fact remains that this little demo is an early gem from Uruk Hai that any fan would be proud to own.

5. Land Of The Shadow
There have been a few occasions where eBay has been worth its weight in gold. One was the happy day when Nazgul managed to sell a CD for £1,000 to a completely mad Englishman who just had to have it to finish his collection (and before you ask, it was a Radiohead disc pressed in South Africa and - as it turned out - the only known copy in existence...which Nazgul found for £2 in a second-hand shop. Ha!). Collectors, eh? Barking mad, the lot of us. Anyway, that brings us to "Land of the Shadow", which despite it's supposed 100 copies eluded Nazgul for years, until this copy popped up on eBay in America for a scarcely believable buy-it-now price of £3. Was it a bargain - oh yes! Would Nazgul have paid £1000 for it -!

4. Elbentanz
Think of Odium Records: in rapid proximity the words 'Phil', 'Knight' and 'midget' may spring to mind. Also springing forth from this label was a collection of early Uruk Hai demos, released into an unsuspecting world in 2003, in an edition of just 100 copies and titled "Elbentanz". As before with the "Ea" release, however, where the other 99 copies have ended up is impossible to tell as they just simply don't come up for sale anywhere, anytime. After taking pity on poor old demented Nazgul, the kindly Mr Knight plundered the depths of the Odium archive to retrieve this copy, most probably the last one he had and very likely one of the very last few any of us could lay hands on at a moment's notice.

3. Uber Die Nebelberge Weit
Certainly impossible to find anywhere beyond a 1 mile radius of WAR Productions, this demo from 2000 only came into Nazgul's possession (much like the next entry) through the kindness of Hugin himself, who made his own copy available to me. Hand-made inlays add the personal touch to a demo limited to only 6 copies. Borderline private pressing in a way, but then again this was at the very early stages of the project when the market for this material was nowhere near as big as it is today, hence the low volume ('big' in this context being relative, of course, compared to say Iron Maiden!)

2. Gone With The Wind
Another hand-packaged demo, this time from 2001 and with only 5 copies out there rarer than spotting Bigfoot at the Loch Ness Monsters' tea-party. As with the previous entry, this was never going to be something you'd just stumble across on-line and so Nazgul is eternally grateful to Hugin for putting this excellent demo in his clutches. Oddly, not a whiff of Scarlett O'Hara to be found though - what gives? Frankly, dear readers, I don't give a damn

1. Battle Magic
So having reached fever-pitch with this countdown what, you might reasonably cry, is at the top of the list? The supreme collectable, the uber-item in the Uruk Hai catalogue. Well, in Nazgul's humble opinion it is this equally humble cassette tape demo from 2004, with photocopied inlays and released on Werwolf Productions (it's that label again!) in 2004 in an edition of 22 copies and with out-takes from the "Barbarian" album sessions.

Not the smallest limitation we've encountered on this journey, but by George it's an elusive item. So much so, in fact, that absolutely no one Nazgul knows has a copy. Alex hasn't got one, the nice man at Werwolf hasn't any spare, and most depressingly of all Nazgul hasn't got one. It's the ultimate prize in my book, as it appears to have vanished from the face of the earth.

The tiny photo you see here is from Metal Archives, so I know someone out there has one - so step up and make yourself known!

Now, you might consider that Nazgul is cheating slightly here, as the three tracks on this tape were in fact released on subsequent Uruk Hai releases - two ('Varg Riders' and 'Battle Magic') as bonus tracks on the tape version of the "Barbarians" release, and the third ('In The Green Fields') only recently on the aforementioned "Angband" release. But hell, it's Nazgul's rule to break, and as this is (probably) the only known Uruk Hai release not to be securely held in the castle library, it is by default the ultimate collectable. At least, until another "Blutreich" turns up out of the blue....!

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