Wednesday, 27 October 2010

BLACK BLOOD, WHITE HAND

Band: URUK HAI
Title:
Black Blood, White Hand
Format: There are 4 different versions of this release. An unmastered tape release in the Honour & Darkness series on Wulfrune Worxx (France), cat ref WW-G, was released in November 2009 with 10 tracks, whilst the final mastered digipak CD was released on Steinklang Industries (Austria) in April 2010 with an additional song, cat ref Sturm01. Simultaneously, Steinklang issued a limited edition wooden box-set complete with various goodies including a 3"CDr with bonus tracks and a t-shirt. Finally, later in 2010 the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine) released an alternate tape version of the mastered album - cat ref cut084 - with two new bonus tracks.
Edition: Original Wulfrune Worxx tape limited to 39 hand-numbered copies. The Steinklang digipak release is unlimited, whilst their wooden box-set is limited to 150 pieces only. The Depressive Illusions tape is limited to 99 hand-numbered copies.

Track Listing:
01. Fresh Meat (Introduction) 01:34
02. The Fate Of Man 8.57 [not on the Wulfrune Worxx tape version]
03. In Mordor Where the Shadows Are 03:58
04. Farewell We Call 06:40
05. Under the White Hand's Flag 05:37
06. Black Blood 07:51
07. Hidden Path (Heart of the Frozen Forest) 04:53
08. The Dark Lord 12:06
09. ...Does Not Glitter 03:22
10. Tales from the Misty Mountains 05:25
11. Uruk Hai (Part V) 07:59
12. Tales from the Misty Mountains (video) 4.42 [not present on either tape release]

Box-set CD version adds the following tracks on 3"CDr
01. Where No Light Dwells 3.15
02. Hidden Path (different version) 4.25
03. Tales From The Misty Mountains (video edit version) 5.10
04. Shadow Of The Orcs (demo [2000]) 6.14

Depressive Illusions tape version takes the 11 audio tracks from the CD version but adds 2 different bonus tracks:
01. Death Is Just Another Path
02. March To War (edited version)

Amongst a variety of formal definitions, a jubilee can be termed 'a season of great public rejoicing or festivity; an outburst of joy'. This particular album is identified in Steinklang's promotional blurb as the "10 year jubilee album of Uruk Hai" and as a decade in existence is a fair achievement for any band Nazgul thought Honour & Darkness should also push the proverbial boat out for a decent splash of coverage. As such, brace yourself for an unprecedented four different formats of this album being covered in one fell swoop!

To gain a little structure each of the formats above will be covered in its own separate section, following a little piece of background introduction. Joining Nazgul on this voyage of adventure is Blog reader 'Lt' from Germany, who has very kindly contributed some of his thoughts on the album which you can read as we progress.

Introduction:
As history tells us, the first official Uruk Hai demo "In Durin's Halls" was unveiled to the world back in 1999, the tape originating as an unplanned ambient spin-off project of Hrossharsgrani recording sessions. Some 60+ Uruk Hai releases later (!!) the 10th anniversary of that auspicious demo was marked by Hugin with the epic creation that is "Black Blood, White Hand".

It would have been only too easy to knock together a compilation CD for this anniversary, and examples from other bands that litter the record shops show that is exactly what the record labels are prone to do in such circumstances to grab a quick buck from the dedicated fan. Hugin - as we know from past experience - tends to do things a little differently, and with some very supportive labels behind him decided to go down the path of creating a brand new opus to mark the occasion. Indeed, the sheer scale of this recording (and the associated complications and delays) meant that with the exception of the early Wulfrune Worxx tape the actual release date of the final mastered album actually fell into the eleventh year of Uruk Hai's existence (2010) rather than 2009 itself! No matter - for this is an exceptional album that takes no prisoners, and is well worth the wait.

The recording is described by the label as, "...epic/mystic ambient black metal with a heroic martial touch ... from the rage of the Orks to the beauty of Galadriel. "Black Blood, White Hand" is the most varied album and the absolute highlight in the history of the band. Gloomy black metal hymns go along with fairy-like soundscapes and guide the listener through a unique acoustic journey on the most hidden paths of Middle-Earth". That seems to cover most of the bases in terms of musical influences, and when you consider that the credits for contributing artists to this release include Bart Piette (Dead Man's Hill, and the other half of Alex's yet-to-be-released Solid Grey project), Els (last heard on the Hrossharsgrani "Dead:Meat" release), Dimo Dimov (Svarrogh), Pr. Sergiy (Moloch), Chris Huber (The Sounds of Earth), Cz (Vinterriket), Lord Messir (Dark Domination) and Neuf (Neuf Le Muet) you get a feel for why this album had a long gestation period and such a varied sound.

Wulfrune Worxx unmastered tape release

Arriving just in time (November 2009) to celebrate the 10th year of Uruk Hai, this early version of the album was released by Wulfrune Worxx as the third part of their Honour & Darkness series of tape releases, hence the reference WW-G (the series spelling out N-A-Z-G-U-L you see). As previously reported, Nazgul has a soft spot for this particular set of releases, both for the tribute paid in the name and for the limitation of 39 copies per tape (Nazgul's age at the time!). This particular tape is #11 of the 39, and comes with unique cover artwork that shows a particularly rumbustious group of orcs.

For those keeping notes, the title of the album "Black Blood, White Hand" comes from two parts of Tolkien legend: Firstly, the orcs of Middle-Earth are described as having black blood, "reminiscent of reanimated corpses". Secondly, in Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, Aragorn comments that the Uruk-Hai of Saruman were not equipped in the manner of other orcs at all and that amongst other differences Saruman's Uruks used black shields emblazoned with a white hand, a symbol of Saruman.

The Wulfrune tape release has only 10 tracks on it, with 'The Fate Of Man' not being present. The unmastered sound (the final master being done by Cz in Switzerland in January/February 2010) does take some of the clarity and power out of the songs as you might imagine, although not to the extent that the tape is a poor listening experience compared to the CD. It's akin to comparing an orc to an Uruk-Hai I suppose - one is certainly superior to the other but either could take your head clean off given half a chance!

As a taster for the epic ahead, and a timely reminder that 2009 was the tenth anniversary, a notable release.

Standard CD digipak release



And so to the main course, following the 'appetizer' that was the Wulfrune Worxx release. As can be seen by the photographs the quality of the final digipak CD is of a high standard, perhaps the finest to date for one of Hugin's releases, and is very polished in terms of the design and artwork (using purpose-shot images of Luciferia, who has featured on Dimmu Borgir and Danzig albums in the past). This copy has also been nicely dedicated on the inside cover by Hugin.

To offer some thoughts on the songs themselves, Nazgul (N) is joined by 'Lt' (Lt) for a some dual punditry on the music in question:

Fresh Meat (Introduction)

Lt: Huge, impressive war-drums combined with a vigorous melody take us once again into the wonderful yet sinister world of Alexander 'Hugin' Wieser, the mastermind behind Uruk Hai. This introduction ensnares the listener from the beginning and suggests that it won't be a relaxing listen this time.
N: Certainly a lively opener, and although brief you can almost picture hordes of Uruk Hai working themselves up into a frenzy to the tribal beat...

The Fate Of Man

Lt: The second track, "The Fate Of Man" starts of with some drawn-out keyboard passages, but then adds some hard, growling vocals...
N: ...and a positively evil buzzing guitar tone sets of the song perfectly, courtesy of Lord Messir. Very far from the chilled Uruk Hai tracks featured in recent 2010 releases, this one could take a few listeners by surprise when they come across it!

In Mordor Where The Shadows Are

Lt: This song features a beautiful melody (to be honest, it reminds me a bit of a lullaby), covered by dark, whispered lyrics and underscored by a quite gloomy atmosphere.
N: To be truthful, this always sounds quite uplifting to Nazgul despite virtually everyone else I know say it sounds gloomy and sad. Must be Nazgul's odd sense of melody! If this is representative of Mordor, methinks Nazgul could move his castle there.

Farewell We Call

Lt: The fourth track, "Farewell We Call" is more piano-driven, combined with lyrics spoken against a background floating wind and a marching rhythm, with some beautiful female vocals too.
N: Can't disagree with you there, Lt old chap, and an example of how the martial influences sit alongside the ambient ones. After the first two (or even three) tracks where you might suppose an orc-ish concept theme might be unfolding this is the song that appears to be a little out of place, being very ethereal and non-orcish by comparison. Of course, we shouldn't assume this is a concept piece in the way that, for example, Manwe's "First Battle" told a story from an orc's perspective, so perhaps the songs are linked more loosely? In fact, Hugin tells me that this album is a different kind of concept album, focusing on Galadriel's mirror - each track is different to the next one because every time we look into the mirror we see some other part of Middle-Earth. As is written on the inside of the digipak: 'Here is the Mirror of Galadriel, I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.'

Under The White Hand's Flag

Lt: This has a very 'rough' beginning, featuring a sample from Lord Of The Rings of Saruman the Wizard, talking to his master Sauron. While building upon a dark atmosphere, the track is filled with a brighter, hummable melody.
N: And, trivia fans note, this song is not on the Wulfrune Tape of the same name, only on this album: Hugin having a Led Zeppelin "Houses of the Holy" moment here, presumably...

Black Blood

Lt: "Black Blood" starts off with a more lightweight tune, played by chimes and over-sung with a haunting feminine melody. I'm guessing that black blood is a reference to the Orc's blood.
N: An excellent track of contrasting emotions and sounds, and one that grows on you with successive listens. Some interesting lyrics too, Lt?
Lt: Yes, the lyrics appear to be German this time and featuring every mood from rage to despair while being surrounded by vast war-drums and the agonising sounds of battle.

Hidden Path (Heart Of The Frozen Forest)

Lt: A more relaxing track, one of the few on this release. It features some wonderful female vocals and really makes you feel as if you are walking through these woods, following a voice calling you deeper into the forest.
N: What a good analogy. Certainly a mellow and tranquil song, and appearing too in a slightly different guise on the bonus 3"CDr accompanying the wooden box-set release.

The Dark Lord

Lt: "The Dark Lord" seems to be a track in reference to Sauron, the lord of Mordor. Another track starting with a Lord Of The Rings sample followed by a blood-curdling 'Nazgul' cry, taking you into the night-shrouded Mordor with all it's evil creatures.
N: Indeed so. The first time Nazgul heard this he nearly fell of his perch, tea slopping out of his favoured Uruk Hai mug, thinking that Mrs Nazgul was calling for him!

...Does Not Glitter

Lt: This track also features on the Steinklang compilation CD "Pagan Folk and Apocalyptic Psychedelia Kapitel II". It has a rainy atmosphere, again some female vocal-parts and a very serene and beautiful melody, appearing again and again after marching drums and uplifting keyboard parts
N: Lt's on fire again - I suspect there's more to come from him about this one...
Lt: To me it's a bit like walking upon a great mountain and taking a break after every peak, whilst watching the landscape unfold around you.
N: In another random trivia moment, why is it that this track doesn't feature its title in the lyrics whereas the phrase '...does not glitter' pervades track 4, "Farewell We Call"? Answers on a postcard to the usual address...

Tales From The Misty Mountains

Lt: Here we have a reference to the Misty Mountains of Tolkien's saga, one of the most beautiful and interesting areas of Middle-Earth. It starts off with great guitar sounds, which are followed by melodic elements of the preceding track in a very successful combination. If you take a look at the CD cover, it's just like you're flying about in these snowy mountains, trees and valleys, surrounded by a dark sky and a moon-lit landscape with winter's grey cloak covering the whole world.
N: I think Nazgul is becoming redundant with descriptions like that! Incidentally, the video bonus clip shows a grainy blue-black & white set of images of the 'ring' being held and revealed from a mysterious human hand, with plenty of atmospheric shots of the (misty) mountains and forests and the odd direct Middle-Earth reference (a map of the lands, for example) added in for good measure. A nice little bonus to have, presumably shot on location in the Austrian mountains by the ever-versatile one-man-band that is Hugin!

Uruk-Hai (Part V)

Lt: This could be seen as the second of the more relaxing tracks on the album. Also featured on some other Uruk-Hai releases it has been described far better, than I would be able to do.
N: Flattery will get you everywhere! As Lt correctly notes, Part V of the Uruk Hai saga previously appeared on the "Nachtschwarze Momente / The Uruk-Hai" split tape with Vinterriket, featured previously in the Blog on 11 March 2010.

You can find more of Lt's musings via his Blog page (http://blog.215n.de/) and Nazgul thanks this friend of Honour and Darkness once again for his contributions to this post.

Limited Edition wooden box-set

The rather super box-set you see illustrated here is just one of the 150 produced by Steinklang to mark the release of this album. Each box is similar, containing a unique Uruk Hai logo t-shirt in a range of sizes, most of which still seem available to purchase from the web-site (http://www.sturmklang.at/) the album itself the standard digipak), and a bonus black-coloured 3"CDr containing 4 bonus tracks.

The box itself is of impressive quality - real wood, a nice metal latch, and a very professionally printed image on the top making for a tempting package for the fan with a bit of spare change in his or her wallet. Hugin has kindly dedicated Nazgul's box inside the lid. The t-shirt design is unique to this box, black with the new Uruk Hai logo shown in white on the front.

The bonus tracks, however, are not unique, - they were separately issued on another Wulfrune Worxx tape "Under The White Hand's Flag" in January 2010, before this box-set was released. Nazgul could imagine that this might be a little disappointing to someone who expected their investment to give them something exclusive on the 3"CDr, having paid pretty near to 3 times the cost of the standard CD to own this set. The detail on the early advertisements for this special edition didn't give any track details for the bonus disc either, which would have made the matter more transparent.

One argument for this approach might have been that the 3"CDr was to contain the only available digital versions of these songs, with the "...White Hand's Flag" release being on old-school tape format only. Even that is not strictly the case though, as the re-mastered 'Shadow of the Orcs' track also appears on the "Angband" compilation CD and the edit for 'Tales From The Misty Mountains' is broadly the same audio track that accompanies the video clip on the standard digipak (although it won't play purely as an audio track on that release, of course). Incidentally, our friend Lt noted to Nazgul that "Where No Light Dwells" was one of his favourite Uruk-Hai tracks, as it makes him feel like he was walking through a dark cave (like the Mines of Moria) completely void of daylight...

I suppose there might be a few unhappy souls out there who ended up with both items in ignorance, but on the whole the box-set should have delighted more than it disappointed. It would be churlish not to welcome such a lavish release into the Uruk Hai discography and it is certainly a quality item for the collector. Also, as only 39 tapes are out there anyway the likelihood of many people having bought both releases is pretty slim (fellow die-hards out there amongst you all not included, of course!).

Details of the 3" disc are shown below:

Depressive Illusions tape release


So to the fourth and final version of this album - the Depressive Illusions tape release. Mirroring the 'white hand' artwork of the box-set, this tape contains the 11 audio tracks from the standard CD pressing but adds two further bonus tracks: 'Death Is Just Another Path' and 'The March To War (edited version)'. The inlay of this tape is once again on the quality photographic paper used by the label, as opposed to mere folded paper, and gives the final item a professional touch.

So the burning question is would you be tempted into the purchase of this tape version as opposed to the CD pressing? Well, if you have an aversion to the analogue cassette format the answer is probably a resounding 'no', but if you remain open minded to the medium then there is much to be interested in here. For a start, it's the same full album but at about a third of the price of the CD (useful savings in these times of austerity). Secondly, the two bonus tracks are interesting as they are the same songs that were on an exclusive give-away CD (of only 50 copies) that you would only have obtained were you present at the release party for "Black Blood, White Hand", or if you were one of the very first to order the box-set through the label.

That exclusive CD - entitled "Death Is Just Another Path" - will be covered in a separate Blog post, and so the two tracks on offer will also be picked up at that later juncture. However, bear in mind that as only 50 of these CDs were made they are like gold-dust now: Nazgul has seen only one for sale online, with a price tag in the 50 Euros range! For a far more modest outlay you can also find both tracks (with an unedited 'March To War' song) on the split Sieghetnar / Uruk-Hai CD that was released by Nordsturm Productions in June 2010; another example of the extensive and tangled miscellany of Uruk Hai tracks that are now available across a slew of recent releases.

Final Thoughts

So - there you have it, Nazgul's top financial tip to combat the global recession: invest in a decent tape machine and purchase the three tapes mentioned in this Blog - both versions of "Black Blood..." and the "Under The White Hand's Flag" releases - and you'll have all of the music from the box-set and the exclusive "Death Is Just Another Path" CD tracks for a fraction of the price! Seriously - the three tapes might set you back 13-15 Euros all in, whilst the box-set and exclusive "Death..." disc (if you can find one) would be more likely to cost you 100 Euros at current prices....

But I'm sure you've put up with enough of Nazgul's musings, so let the final words about this album come from Lt:

"With this release, Alex has created one of the greatest, but also one of the most complex, Uruk Hai albums. The concept and the appearance of many well-known guest musicians highlights this object as something very special in one's music-collection. But be aware, if you are used to listening to the more 'chilled-out' releases from Uruk Hai, you'll probably be surprised to hear this one. I really enjoyed listening to this album, even if it's not suitable for chill-out. It's something I recommend you listen to when raindrops tap on your window and you're in the mood to go on a beautiful musical journey through the darker parts of the Tolkien universe.

Getting the box-set of this release is really worth the money as it comes in a very noble-looking black, wooden chest with the graceful Uruk Hai logo printed on the top. Besides a nice T-shirt (an opportunity to get some rare Uruk-hai merchandise), you'll find the 3"-bonus disc with 4 new tracks. Already the great black colour of the disc makes it an collector's item not to be missed.

Alex has surpassed himself once again!"

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