Saturday, 7 May 2011

ELBENTRAUM




Band: URUK HAI
Title: Elbentraum
Format: Two versions of this demo exist, both cassette releases. The first pressing was on Depressive Illusions (Ukraine) in 2010, cat ref cut51, and comes with a glossy colour cover. The second pressing on Wulfrune Worxx (France) also in 2010, cat ref WW171, has a black and white cover with alternate cover artwork together with a bonus track.
Edition: Depressive Illusions version limited to 55 copies. Wulfrune Worxx pressing limited to 111 copies.

Track Listing:
01. Elbentraum 06:24
02. Laurelin 08:48
03. Baggins 13:51
04. Song Of The Ainur 07:11
05. The Mirror 07:14
06. Uruk-Hai (Part 6) 10:48
07. Hobbiton 05:39
08. The Glory Of A Dragon 24:00
09. The Power Of The Ring 3.34 (Wulfrune Worxx bonus track)

Today's offering from the Castle library is the subject of a joint review with long-time Honour and Darkness reader Morax Draug, flying the flag for international co-operation and cross-cultural appreciation of Hugin's music. And, of course, an opportunity for some trans-Atlantic banter between friends lightly disguised as a review of an Uruk Hai demo!

The demo in question is "Elbentraum"; literally translating from the German as "Elven Dream" and thus promising much in the way of a Middle-Earth listening experience. This is one of the last Uruk Hai demos from 2010 to feature a selection of individual tracks rather than a single long piece of ambient artistry, so it's the ideal release to review in this manner.

In the following exchanges, Morax's narrative is shown as blue text and Nazgul's as black, so you can follow the debate and keep a running tally of who makes the most ridiculous comments or the more trenchant observations...!

General impressions:
The colour cover to the Depressive Illusions release suggests delicacy with a hint of Elven magic, wrapped up in a veil of gossamer thread and sprinkled with a light dusting of Tolkien essence. The Wulfrne Worxx cover, on the other hand, implies a far harder and more forthright experience awaiting the listener with an apparent likeness of the Witch-king of Angmar on the cover, so it's with some interest that the cassette is removed from its packaging and entered into the Castle death-deck.

Living far from master Skogen, no Wulfrune version of Elbentraum has been within my grasp as of yet, and though I may have gazed at the insert online, memory fails to recall. For the Depressive Illusions release, I am a fan of the cover artwork, (a work by Amy Brown, perhaps?) and being a graphics-person myself, I admire the quality printing job as well.

The music:
The dreamlike qualities show in this release which feels almost like an epic continuous track. I am a big fan of this side of Hugin's work, the ambient droning sounds make for great background music while I work and seems to inspire some creativity along with some mellow vibes. The themes are inspired by the earliest recorded history of Middle Earth --- the times of the Ainur. This began as a tranquil time of creation (the Tolkien "Genesis" if you will), which ends with the violent betrayal of the Ainur by Melkor, and births what is recorded as the First Age.

Quite so, and I defer to my colleague's knowledge of Tolkien's First Age in giving us that insight. Thanks! I do my best to find those little tid-bits and references to Tolkien's work echoing in Uruk-Hai's music. There are indeed some mellow vibes on this release, and in actuality it's quite different to a lot of the Uruk Hai canon from the late 2000's in its mixture of an almost ambient-dance theme at times together with the more expected ethereal musical flights of fancy.

One thing that is certain is that elements of some songs recur in later tracks as little refrains or codas, meaning that there is something of a continuous 'theme' running throughout the album. In that regard, Morax's comment about 'an epic continuous track' is an entirely valid observation. The downside of such an approach is that if you have the demo playing in the background and dip in and out of the music periodically, there is a feeling of deja-vu and 'I've heard this before, surely?'.

Absolutely, this release is littered with plenty of melodic and repetitive sounds but luckily some of the tracks vary enough that one could walk away and return without being totally lost. Where as releases like Balrog or Morgoth for me were impossible to walk away from even for a moment without feeling like I missed a possible high-point.

Let's break it down, track by track.

Elbentraum:
The track begins with an almost whimsical music-box which to me sounds reminiscent of some of the earlier Goblin film scores. This fades into a tranquil melodic theme which hearkens back to 80's cartoons such as David the Gnome or the opening theme to Record of Lodoss War. Very atmospheric and 'warm'.

David the Gnome!? This is a new one on Nazgul, so cue a little research to see what on earth my learned friend is on about. Aha - David the Gnome, a late 1980's tv programme featuring the aforementioned David, his wife Lisa and a host of doubtful characters including Swift the Fox. I enjoyed that show as a child, as well as the illustrated gnome books by Wil Huygen. Innocent TV programming at it's best, hehe. Inclement weather conditions around Castle Nazgul rules out all but a few dalliances with the dreaded 'speaking box', and this is one programme that has clearly escaped the fiery eye. There's plenty of gentle instrumental touches in this opening track though, and it is a fine way to start proceedings.

Laurelin:
A great Tolkien-based track! Named after the great Golden Tree of Valinor, which gave shed light on the ancient city of the Valar during the Age of the Trees. The theme is a continuation of the first track which continuously builds in drama. It contains a hint of an almost warlike chant followed by some distant vocalisation seeming to represent Melkor's march on city and the destruction of Laurelin (known as 'The Darkening of Valinor').

The Two Trees of Valinor were Telperion and Laurelin, the Silver Tree and the Golden Tree, that brought light to the Land of the Valar in ancient times. Laurelin had pale green leaves trimmed with gold, and her dew was collected as a source of water and light. They were destroyed by Ungoliant at Melkor's behest, but their last flower and fruit were made by the Valar into the Moon and the Sun. The Two Trees are also reminiscent of the tree of Yggdrasil in Norse mythology (which gives us an unexpected but happy link to Hugin's Viking-based Hrossharsgrani project) in that the trees are cosmic constructs as their essence is what later becomes the Sun and the Moon. Very astute, Nazgul! Why, thank you, my good man...

Baggins:
A very majestic sounding track. Contains vibrant soundscapes that remind me of Gwaihir soaring over high Misty Mountains. Contains a hint of fine cello playing as well. A definite stand-out track that seems a conclusion chapter of the epic themes created in the previous tracks.

The very name 'Baggins' hardly conjures anything epic-sounding in the mind, but on listening to this piece your perception will surely change. I agree, perhaps the theme of this song is from a passage of The Hobbit, when Bilbo & company are rescued from trees surrounded by fierce wolves by the eagles, or years later in the Return of the King when Sam & Frodo are rescued from the savage volcanic eruption of Mount Doom by the same proud group, led once again by Gwaihir. Either way, it is an excellent track!

Song Of The Ainur:
In the beginning of time, it was the Ainur's music that created Arda. It begins with a soft piano introduction which unexpectedly turns into a techno-beat. I enjoyed this track, and I think it would work great as a background track to any RPG video game. It is also said that the Ainur will sing again at the end of time.

And lo, for it is also said that it is never over until the fat lady sings; thus beware, accursed stranger, of portly singing Ainur standing in your path as you stride the dusty roads of time...! This is a strange song. Morax correctly identifies a distinct dance influence within it, and try as he might Nazgul can't quite get his head around the concept of these immortal spirits - beings created by the very thought of God - entering Eä to the sound of a techno beat. Surely they would have come into the world to the strident tones of a band named after one of the most famous of the Ainur, Manwe?! Most perplexing....

Perplexing indeed! Sounds like it came straight from the dance floor of Arda's own Ibiza.

The Mirror:
Featuring a sampled introduction from The Lord of the Rings by Cate Blanchett, this track is named after Galadrial's water basin of visions, from which she sees visions (reflections) of distant times and places. I think this track is a good companion piece to Song of the Ainur, as once again it has a very techno-video game feel to it.

A song based on Galadriel's mirror? Hmmm, methinks we've come across something similar before, and a quick check through the Blog reveals that indeed we have, throughout "Black Blood, White Hand" as an ongoing concept, and also directly via the song 'Into The Mirror' on Uruk Hai's "Lothlorien" release.

Uruk-Hai (Part 6):
It seems appropriate to label this and the previous 2 tracks as very "video game inspired" and here is a good example why: this track contains the exact sound effects used in Super Mario Brothers! I would consider this trilogy Hugin's excursion into the realm of gaming, certainly unique and welcome to my ears. A trilogy of gaming influenced songs?

A drumroll please, for Hugin: Prince of Persia! Removing tongue from cheek for just a second, you can see where the analogy comes from, and whilst the various beeps from Super Mario Brothers are foreign to Nazgul's ears he is quite prepared to take Morax at his word for that reference. Will the emergence of this track lead to a revised pressing of "The Uruk Hai" split tape with Vinterriket is the burning question of the hour, thus compiling all 6 parts of the saga (to date...)?

Hobbiton:
I think the back-story of this track needs no introduction, besides, Nazgul does a great job describing The Shire below! I will simply say I find it to be a peaceful track for a peaceful land, with a building adventurous feel as well.

Hobbiton was a village in the central regions of the Shire, within the borders of the Westfarthing. The village was overlooked by Hobbiton Hill (usually called simply 'The Hill'), in which was Bag End, the ancestral home of the Baggins Family and the famous Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Hobbiton was located on the Water, approximately a mile northwest of the neighboring village of Bywater. After the War of the Ring, Hobbiton was devasted by 'The Scouring of the Shire'. Frodo and his companions were stunned to see their homes, trees and hedges all torn up on their return. Given the various phases in its history, it would seem a fair bet to say that this composition looks upon Hobbiton at a time of peace for it is indeed a pleasant and restful track with narry a hint of an uprooted tree to be found.

The Glory of a Dragon:
Glaurung, Ancalagon, Smaug - Tolkien's universe contains many winged beasts that wreak havoc on the lands of man. So, we obviously need a mighty track for a mighty beast, and this one clocks in at a staggering 24 minutes long! In my mind, I see dragons soaring through the air, and at certain points in the song, you can even hear the heavy wings beating against the wind.

Well put, my friend, and most apposite. The talk of 'heavy wings' reminds Nazgul that it is time to give the Fell-Beast requires another lengthy flight to keep it in shape.

The Power of the Ring:
Alas - here we lose Morax for a second as his version of the demo is from Depressive Illusions and thus lacks this additional track added courtesy of Skogen and the hard working Elves at Wulfrune Worxx. This short bonus track is a continuation of what has gone before, revealing Hugin's playful side in a mini-symphony of metal and melody.

Indeed, I am left crawling in the dark on this one. Yet there seems to be something shiny on the ground, something like a tiny ring of cold metal.I'll slip it in my pocket for now, I'm sure it is not of much significance.

In Conclusion:
I would say all in all "Elbentraum" is a strange mash-up of varied work from Hugin but it is certainly worth checking out! I think this is likely the best release by Uruk-Hai to simply put on while you work. All of the tracks seem full of tranquility, and if your job is as hectic as mine has been as of late - A little tranquility is very welcome and hard to come by! Thanks so much Nazgul for the chance to collaborate with you on this review!

A pleasure, Morax old thing, and long may your ears revel to the sounds of Uruk Hai. Nazgul feels he should point out that Morax has submitted his prose for this review despite being in the heart of the recent upsurge of tornadoes and general destruction in the deep south of America, and such dedication to Honour and Darkness and Hugin's music is marvellous to see. A round of applause please, if you will, for Mr Draug!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.