Wednesday, 16 March 2011

DARKNESS (PART II)

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Darkness (Part II)
Format: Cassette release on the Wulfrune Worxx (France) label in 2010, cat ref WW166. As well as existing as a unique tape release, the demo is also compiled within the Darkness I-V box-set released through W.A.R. Productions in 2010. The tape comes with a photocopied black and white inlay and is on a C120 tape (1 hour per side), one song on each side. Two versions of the demo exist, the first 16 copies having a unique bonus track.
Edition: 166 hand-numbered copies, numbers 1-16 in the limited two-track edition and copies 17-166 as the 'standard' edition

Track Listing:

Standard release:
01. The Darkness 58.00
Bonus track on first 16 copies only:
02. Darkness 7.46

"One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie."

The theme of 'darkness' runs throughout the Lord of the Rings novels, to the extent that there is many a written word on the symbolism and metaphor behind Tolkien's writing and even the odd YouTube lecture on the subject. While the obvious theme of the books is the epic struggle of good against evil, common to many contemporary genres, it is also profound reflection on what it means to be authentically human: the search for the solution to evil, going beyond oneself for the good of others, sharing what we have been given for the common good (the concept of 'fellowship'), bring hope out of darkness and root out evil in our hearts.

The central theme of the ring is really a symbol for greed, power and personal gain, and the struggle against this. This is where Boromir comes a cropper, Bilbo shows his darker side, Galadriel resists the temptation, Sauron is completely consumed with the ring (dehumanised) and even Frodo is almost overcome at the end. The climactic scene of Frodo choosing not to throw the ring in the fires of Mount Doom has this dramatic sense of Frodo's temporary capitulation to evil. Significantly, the battle between good and evil, personified in Gollum, takes place in people’s hearts. Overcoming resentment, addiction, greed and temptation are what the characters struggle with. Salvation consists in overcoming the 'darkness' within, only possible through faith in the good and help from others.

Just taking a step to one side for the moment, the original demo "Darkness" reviewed on 10 February 2011 really doesn't quite fit into this series of releases as neatly as the box-set might make you believe. It was released 10 years before the other demos back in 2001 as a collection of 10 various instrumental and other songs, including a Motorhead cover. Yes, there was a track titled 'Then The Gloom Gathered, Darkness Growing', but that aside that the subject matter was spread more generally across the Middle Earth domain and was not focused on the one theme alone.

Using the concept of darkness for the basis of a series of Uruk Hai releases - of which this formally is, as the title suggests, Part II (although more realistically it is Part I of the remaining 4 demos through to Part V, if you put the original demo to one side, if that makes sense). It is an ambitious project by Hugin for sure. That is Middle Earth-based is left in no doubt by the cover illustration of the tape - a map of Mordor - and Hugin's own dedication on Nazgul's copy, which reads "the darkness comes from Mordor".

So what does a 58 minute instrumental track called simply 'The Darkness' bring to the table? Quite a few surprises, as it turns out, although mercifully nothing that involves Justin Hawkin's recently reformed Lowestoft mob.

Things begin rather ethereally with a lovely chiming opening passage created on keyboards, all very Elfin and uplifting and with some nice chord changes and progressions. So far, so Uruk Hai. After a few minutes and an obligatory sample from the Lord of the Rings film, the nature of the beast turns and the remainder of the song develops harsher and almost Bonemachine-like passages of discord, tension and unease (fear and loathing in Mordor!) This is unexpected - it brings together elements of these two different projects in a successful manner, but with little advance warning. The imagery seems clear enough, however: the insidious onset of chaos and evil (the 'Bonemachine-esque' instrumental bits) over light, gradually pervading the whole until the darkness has fully spread....

It's a long piece, to be sure, and rather than being a constantly changing kaleidoscope of different parts there are some fundamental riffs and elements to the song that repeated over time and form a consistent and unsettling listen. Is it an Uruk Hai track - yes, but not as we know it!

Happily for Nazgul, he managed to snare one of the early tapes in this series so has the extra track to listen to on side B as well. Oddly, the inlay states that the bonus track is "only available on [the] first 16 copies through Werwolf Promotion", which alludes to the Italian label that released a few very hard to find demos from Uruk Hai back in 2004, such as "Ea" and "Battle Magic". Not quite sure why that reference is cited as opposed to the credit going to Wulfrune Worxx, but let Nazgul get back to you on that one!

Equally oddly, Nazgul has two copies of this tape: one is part of the Darkness box-set and - as all the tapes in that set are except for the original demo - is numbered #1/166. The second copy was bought when Wulfrune Worxx spewed out a glut of Uruk Hai demos at the tail end of 2010, and interestingly that also seems to be numbered #1 of 166 copies! Nazgul can only imagine, with a little squinting at the back of the inlay, that this tape must in fact be #7 and the pen-work is just a tad askew?! Hmmmm...

Anyway, bonus track 'Darkness' is a little under 8 minutes long and takes us into yet another dimension of the Uruk Hai sound, underpinned by what could only be called a low, almost dirge-like drone sound. Think Uruk Hai being whisked off in Saturn Form Essence's UFO and genetically spliced with both SFE* and WACH sounds to get a general overview of what this might sound like. Again, it is a song geared to reflect the dim and murky side of Middle Earth, the shadow spreading across the land and infiltrating all in its path.

It's an eclectic release for sure, certainly not what Nazgul was expecting and not quite what Hugin has put out before in the Uruk Hai name. That said, the musical territory covered here fits comfortably within the blackened ambient genre that the band often explores, and will be familiar fare to follows of Hugin's other projects. No amount of narrative is truly going to tell the story here, this is a release to be experienced on a personal basis.

It took a while to grow on me, I'll admit it, but the tide of pure blackness slowly but surely won Nazgul over...

* As a shameless plug for Nazgul's recent creation, should you be interested in reading more about Ukrainian ambient space drone project Saturn Form Essence then please do take a look at http://voyagesalongtheplutoniumpath.blogspot.com for interstellar adventures beyond the edge of the universe...

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