Friday, 25 February 2011

GESTALTEN, BERGE & WÄLDER


Band: URUK HAI
Title:
Gestalten, Berge & Wälder (literally 'Figures, Mountains & Forests')
Format: Cassette-only release on the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine), cat ref cut058, released in March 2010. This is a split release with the Austrian Pagan black metal horde, Walpurgi. As with all tape releases on this label, the inlay is in colour and printed on quality glossy paper.
Edition: Hand-numbered to 33 copies only

Track Listing:
Walpurgi
1. Vom Wodansberg 11:44
2. Kamerad 02:28
3. Bergerhof 08:55
Uruk-Hai
4. Schwarzblutork (rehearsal 2008) 21.52
5. Das Auge (rehearsal 2009) 11.05

Regular visitors to Honour and Darkness will have noticed a recurrent theme recently, that of songs being repeated in the same or remixed versions between different Uruk Hai releases. It's not just Nazgul who has picked up on this trend, as a few of you have commented on it in emails sent to Castle Nazgul. Indeed, when the "Gil-Galad" story is fully covered in a future post, you'll see what Nazgul means!

This split tape is something of a halfway house in the present climate. Ignoring the Walpurgi tracks for the moment, the two Uruk Hai songs represent something new - in the form of 'Das Auge' (The Eye) - and something borrowed, with 'Schwarzblutork' being a portmanteau of parts from a few other Uruk Hai rehearsals tracks with some new links and added vocal/musical elements. Various melodies in this song definitely derive from other contemporary band recordings of this period, but as a single long recording in its own right 'Schwarzblutork' is unique to this tape in this version. Such is the nature of rehearsal recordings - by their very nature they are practice pieces, and as such may well end up chopped and changed between subsequent songs on other demos. More interesting to hear them like this, perhaps, as a work-in-progress than to have the repetition of the same song over and over again (but more of 'Gil-Galad' anon!)

A quick observation on the length of the tracks: all online sources Nazgul has seen refer to the 'Schwarzblutork' track being 10:15 in duration, with 'Das Auge' clocking in at 13:00. All I can say in response is that my copy of the tape (incidentally, numbered #1/33 thanks to the kind people at Depressive Illusions) has at least 30 minutes of music on the Uruk Hai side, with 'Schwarzblurork' being by far the longer of the two songs, so the song durations shown above are based on Nazgul's own timings. Either that or there is a hidden song in the middle of the two cited, or something odd has happened during the dubbing process!

So - onto the review proper. Let's start at the end, with the new track, 'Das Auge'. At the the time of writing Nazgul believes this song is only available on this tape. And do you know, it's something of a belter. For a start there's a spiky guitar riff propping the whole song up rather than a keyboard refrain, something we haven't heard in an Uruk Hai song for positively yonks. Add to this some good black metal-style vocalisation, some eerie other vocals that sound distinctly childlike (as in innocent and youthful, rather than crap!) and you have yourself what is actually quite a catchy and certainly unusual song from this project. There's even some spoken lyrics, in a neo-folk vein, partway through the song, and the overall feel of the song is quite Summoning-esque, particularly with the vocals and the main riff spiralling through it.

And "there's the rub", as Wishbone Ash once said (or was it Hamlet)? Anyway, the point ('the rub') is that it's all well and good Nazgul saying what an unusual yet highly decent song this is: on a tape of only 33 copies how widely will it be heard? So, perhaps inevitably, at some point Hugin will want to use it somewhere else and turn it from a rehearsal track to a final song on a full album, perhaps fiddling with it a bit on the way, and then voila! - the debate will begin again about reusing songs on different releases. Really, at the end of the day there's really no answer to this other than the old adage of 'you pay your money and you take your choice', and on a personal level I think there is something to be said for seeing an artist develop idea and songs over a period of time.

The other Uruk Hai track, 'Schwarzblutork', begins with a slow, funereal section that rapidly turns into a percussive beat with distant snarling, giving the impression of a band of orcs on foot emerging fleetingly from a bank of mist or fog, only to return there as the music turns once again to a steady synthesised drone. This pattern repeats over the early part of the song. Further in, and a pause leads to the sounds of battle - perhaps our band of orcs have encountered dinner? - and a familiar keyboard refrain takes over as the song heads off in another direction of majesty and grandeur, with chiming bells and epic visions of Middle-Earth. Atmospheric (weather) effects combine with keyboards in what is fundamentally an instrumental classic!

Turning to Walpurgi briefly, this essentially appears to be an Austrian one-man project (run by the enigmatically named Sad1914) and has been running since 1997 utilizing a host of session and live musicians. One such session musician is our old friend Hugin, who is has apparently contributed keyboard parts to some (?) of the Walpurgi demos, if the Internet is to be believed. Nazgul can smell another mini-interview and some sleuthing required here to track this story down for a future post!

The band name presumably derives from Walpurgisnacht - the 17th century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day, influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th and 16th century literature. 'Walpurgisnacht' (Walpurgis Night) is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Brocken and await the arrival of spring. Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany, noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches revels. The 'Brocken Spectre' is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. All of which, Nazgul now realises (cue sound of penny dropping), helps to make sense of the title and imagery of Fates Warning's 1984 debut album, "Night on Brocken". Of course, the band name could equally have come from Walpurgis, the female saint who converted the Saxons to Christianity, but the other story seems somehow more likely.

Musically the three songs rip along like a well-aimed black metal exocet missile, and are certainly worth a repeat listen or two at high volume.

A word on the cover art, which is rather peculiar in its own special way. The size and scale of that wolf/hound/hairy wee beastie in proportion to the human figure is somewhat alarming, and the perspective of the door in the background compared to the figures in the foreground is rather odd too. The whole thing has something of a fairytale feel to it, nothing being quite 'right' if you know what I mean, and is certainly unusual.

Overall another intriguing Uruk Hai split demo, excellently presented by Depressive Illusions, and containing enough creativity and good music to encourage anyone with an interest in Uruk Hai to want to lay their hands on it. And 32 lucky other souls have done exactly that...

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