On the face of things it would seem positively churlish to complain about a compilation of Uruk Hai material released in such an elegant wooden box-set as this. For many years followers of Uruk Hai would have chewed off their own right arm at the prospect of such a deluxe compendium being released, and in recent months we have been positively spoiled with a veritable cascade of boxed output from this project. The humble wooden box has evidently become one of the in-vogue ways of presenting releases at the premium end of the market, and this first attempt from Polish label Tryby is a well constructed and well intentioned dip into such tempestuous waters.
Of course, your old Uncle Nazgul has a few thoughts of his own about this release, a mixture of both positive and negative. In order to handle this inner conflict, let us therefore proceed along the route of what is colloquially known in management-speak as the 'criticism sandwich': two positives literally sandwiching the negative 'filling' in the middle!
Inside the box the exclusive content has also been well chosen: there is a postcard depicting Sauron's tower with our hero Hugin, a second card showing the Great Eye of Sauron, a small colour map showing the box contents and edition number (Nazgul's is #5/15), an Uruk Hai sticker (modern logo in gold on black background), and a black & white photo card of Hugin in chainmail and with his broadsword.
Nazgul's other moan concerns the lack of any obvious bonus for the fan who already owns the tape versions of these releases. Other than the one bonus song on "A Dark Force Shines Golden" the track listings are exactly as the original cassette releases. And, it has to be said, that bonus song - 'Blood of Heroes' - is not unique to this set, but was the Uruk Hai track on the split CD "Nachtkrieg" released by Dungeons Deep Records in 2009. Now, it could well be that of the 15 customers for this release Nazgul is in fact the only one who owns all the tapes already, and thus the cry of "more fool you, then" rings out from the masses. However, given the cost of this set and the fact that only 15 were made, it's not unreasonable to assume that it is more the dedicated fan who would buy it rather than the casually curious. Would one therefore also reasonably assume that such a fan is also likely to have some of the preceding tape releases already? Nazgul would be interested to hear from any owners of the set about this....
What the assembled releases do have in common are some pretty epic tracks - the "Balrog" and "Morgoth" are each nigh on an hour of instrumental work, whilst 4 other tracks across the box crack the 20 minute mark. Only "Die Festung" and "A Dark Force Shines Golden" offer more digestible songs, and four of these are pushing 10 minutes or more each! The net result is a box-set that you'd struggle to dip into just to play a couple of quick songs before you'd run out of options, but on the other hand Tryby provide enough ammunition for the listener to settle down for a quiet night in with some absorbing listening ahead.
It's a bit of a mixed verdict for this release, ultimately. If Nazgul was new to Uruk Hai and owned little by way of prior material, then I think his opinion of the worth of this set would be somewhat different. It's very possible that such circumstances existed for the majority of customers who bought this box-set, in which case I think you'd have to argue that at an average cost of around £7 per album plus a nice box to house them in, it's far from a bum deal. Longer term fans who already support the band (and underground labels) through tape purchases may have steered clear of this for reasons of economy or lack of necessity. Nazgul, being Nazgul, has one of everything and thus something of an unusual situation arises when it comes to collections like this. All of which is probably a fairly long-winded way of saying "you pay your money, you take your choice!"