This, ladies and gentleman, is "Balrog": the final tape to be reviewed in Wulfrune Worxx/Hugin's Honour and Darkness Series, released into the world in 2009. In the standard Wulfrune presentational format, this particular tape is number 2 of an edition of only 39 copies. Being the intelligent and retentive sort of reader that Nazgul knows you are, you will only need a brief reminder of the other tapes in this series: In no particular order, "Black Blood, White Hand", "Die Festung", "Morgoth", "A Dark Force Shines Golden", and "After The War (Orcish Battle Hymns Part IV)", all of which have been reviewed earlier in the blog.
Balrogs were the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien, who changed his description of the beast a few times in his novels. Balrogs are described as tall, menacing, demonic-looking beings, with the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appeared armed with fiery whips "of many thongs" and occasionally used long swords.
In Tolkien's later conception, they could not be casually destroyed; significant power was required. Only dragons rivalled their capacity for ferocity and destruction, and during the First Age of Middle-Earth they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces.
In essence, therefore, you don't want to get on the wrong side of one of these bad boys...!
In a similar vein to the "Morgoth" release in this Series, "Balrog" is a single, very long track (split across both sides of the tape) and presenting the listener with nigh on an hour of listening material. To attempt a blow by blow account of this track would therefore be futile, and incredibly tedious for you to read. There is a great deal of 'space' on this recording, in that there are periods of silence or near-silence interspersed with ominous rumblings and foreboding keyboards. It is, in some respects, akin to those descriptions of battles of the First World War: there are long periods where nothing much happens, then sudden bursts of frenzied activity.
The outset of the track does, by coincidence, have the ringing sounds of a brief battle before the song delves into the first of its quieter periods with various effects that could be said to emulate the inner rumblings and grumblings of a cavernous mountain space. Such a start may be a deliberate reflection by Hugin on the aftermath of the moment in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf throws the Balrog from the peak of Zirakzigil, and it "broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin".
This sort of lengthy epic is rapidly becoming familiar to Uruk Hai fans, as this 2009 demo has been followed on a number of occasions in 2010 by tapes bearing songs of equivalent length and depth. This presents the listener with something of a challenge, as these are not albums don't contain convenient 'bite-sized' songs that can be played and stopped in convenient places. They represent involved and convoluted musical sagas, best enjoyed when played as accompaniment to some dramatic and (preferably dangerous) weather crashing around you - something like a good thunderstorm should do the trick!
On the one hand such a lengthy immersion into the world of Uruk Hai can be an entirely pleasant experience. On the other hand, unless you are in a position to sit and absorb such an album it can be rather an intimidating thing to approach, the problem being that if you only have an hour to spare (or less) to enjoy some tunes then this sort of album is unlikely to be one of the ones you'd instinctively pick out.
It's quite ironic that looking back to the very earliest Uruk Hai releases circa 2001-2003 most of the demos were packed with very short pieces of music (barely songs, really just ideas). Skip forward to 2009-2010 and quite the transformation has occurred; these long spacious songs are very much the order of the day alongside more 'standard' albums bearing distinct and individual songs. Such is the evolution of any musician and project over time, one supposes.
In 2010 the previously cassette-only "Balrog" was reissued in CD format as part of the compilation box-set "War Anthems", which will be appearing in Honour and Darkness shortly.
The two colour images below show the inlay illustrations in their original glory (and yes, they are reversed on the tape cover!)