Saturday, 11 February 2012

IN DURIN'S HALLS (RETURN TO THE MINES OF MORIA)






Band: URUK HAI
Title:
In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)
Format: There are tape and CD versions of this release, released in 2010 and 2011. The cassette version is on Wulfrune Worxx (cat ref WW161), whilst two CD pressings exist, both released jointly through Runenstein Records, Bletchmond Tonschmiede and W.A.R. Productions in 2011, cat ref WAR067. One version comes in a slimline DVD-sized case as a single-disc release, whilst a limited edition metal tin version exists in a double-disc pressing with the original 1999 demo on the bonus disc. The metal tin has different cover art on the box lid, and also contains a badge, a postcard, a band logo sticker, and a hand-signed Uruk Hai card.
Edition: Tape pressing limited to 22 hand-numbered copies. The standard CD is believed to be unlimited, whilst the limited edition metal box is restricted to 100 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
All versions feature the following tracks:
01. Luthien
02. Kortirion
03. Durin's Halls
04. Moria
05. Uruk-Hai
06. Nordhimmel
07. The Unknown

Both CD pressings have the same bonus and video track:
08. Over Old Hills (Summoning cover)

09. In Durin's Halls (video)

Tape pressing has a different bonus song:
08. Mormegil

The metal box edition has a bonus disc containing the original 1999 version of this demo


It was, at best, an inauspicious start to the review of the album: Hugin - as always, very generously - had forwarded to Castle Nazgul an early, unmastered promotional CD of "In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)" ahead of the offical release date. It sat in the Castle library quite a while whilst other reviews took place until, one afternoon, the cassette version of the release on Wulfrune Worxx turned up and it seemed a timely moment to crack open the CD case and see what this revisited affair was all about.

So, settle down after a hard day's work, insert disc, press play. BOOM! Cries approximating "what the fuck was that?!" rang out across the Castle. In short, chaos reigned! It was nothing like Nazgul had expected, and the sheer unsettling nature of the enterprise was enough to lead to the disc being consigned back to it's box until such time that Nazgul's constitution might be expected to cope with it...

You see, there's always something of a risk in revisiting an old work and updating it. It's a bit like deconstructing a classic dish and adding exotic ingredients in the hope that a whiff of white truffle oil and sea urchin will somehow enhance and bolster what was already a classic creation. So it is with music too - witness the ill-fated plan of Axl Rose to re-record Guns N' Roses classic "Appetite for Destruction' with his all-new G N' R line-up. Rarely can an artist capture the excitement, innocence and immediacy of an early recording even when time and technology allows - in theory - for a complete overhaul of the product.

The one caveat to this rule is when an old release is simply re-mastered to bring the sound quality up to date, where the huge advantages in enhancing the quality of sound are both bounteous and welcomed. Adding new material to the original recording is definitely a risky proposition, however, as the distinct risk of alienating the older audience at risk of gaining a new one is a knife-edge best walked with care.

And so it proves to be with the all-new version of Uruk Hai's "In Durin's Halls" demo, now expanded in both music and title to become "In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)". The CD releases come in two versions: a standard 8 song slimline issue, and a limited edition metal box-set double-disc issue that comes with a second CD featuring the original recording of the demo from 1999. That original tape demo had been remastered and reissued a twice since its initial release, once in 2004 by EoLP and the second time in 2008 by Smell The Stench as the Honour and Darkness post of 10 March 2009 identified, yet a proper CD release of those tracks had been long awaited.

Now it's no great secret that Nazgul finds great charm and majesty in the early recordings of Uruk Hai. Whilst it's entirely fair and true to recognise that Hugin's own musical growth has come on in leaps and bounds since those early one-fingered pickings at the keyboard there is still something magical about the early demos - we're talking here about the likes of "Elbenwald", "Uber Die Nebelberge Weit" and "Elbentanz" through to the "Honour" period - that occupies a little place in music history that seems tantamount to sacrilege to disturb. Of course, it's Hugin's own heritage to revisit as he pleases, and given that the release of "In Durin's Halls" (the CD version) comes neatly about 10 years or so after the original was released, it might well have been a timely moment to re-contemplate the origins of the project.

However, the challenge that Nazgul finds here is that the added elements in the songs do not necessarily add to them, and in some cases actively distract from the core of the original. The vast majority of the songs on the 1999 tape were simple keyboard tracks; simple in as far as they were uncomplicated by extraneous instrumentation or effects, had no lyrics or samples to speak of, and were of plain but enjoyable melody and merit. The new versions are an entire world apart from this, and are augmented with all manner of orchestration, new lyrics and samples, and perhaps - most disjointedly - have the unique rasp of Pr. Sergiy (Moloch) punctuating the atmosphere.

On paper this should work - it's a combination that has worked before, as evidenced through the "Iron Age" and "At The End Of The First Age" releases. Yet in this case it's all a bit too much, too overwhelming in the context of the simplicity of the original work. To revisit our culinery metaphor once again, it's akin to someone taking your delicately flavoured pizza of choice and attacking it with handfuls of extra ingedients and a liberal splashing of hot pepper sauce: you know the original classic is in there somewhere, but the subtle nuances are lost amongst the myriad of changes. Or to put it another way, it's as though there were some unused recordings from a past session that have been spliced into the bare bones of the "In Durin's Halls" tracks, presenting the listener with two totally different elements which reside in something of a marriage of convenience.

Let's halt the moaning for a second, to have a quick look at the reverse side of the promo version of the CD, which you will notice has different artwork to the final album and has also been dedicated by our hero Hugin:

There are, of course, some redeeming points to be taken from this exercise: when the melodies from the original material are given enough space to breath and come to the fore, the majesty of the songs is recaptured. The best examples of this come late in the day, but nonetheless both 'Nordhimmel' and 'The Unknown' manage to pull off the feat of remaining true to the original song but updating the context without swamping the material. It's also fair to note that were you one of the 22 souls to lay your hands on the tape version of this release you would have the exclusive bonus track 'Mormegil' to enjoy too. The bonus video track from the CD pressing we'll pick up in a future post of it's own.

Similarly, the inclusion on both versions of the CD of the cover version of Summoning's 'Over Old Hills' is a good cover and a great song, and is suitably rescued from the relative obscurity of the tape-only release "The Songs Never Remain The Same". The metal box version also allows you to enjoy the original demo in CD form (assuming you have contacted the label and changed your disc from the initial mispressing of the album, which put an entirely different demo on the second bonus disc!), and this in itself is as good a reason to purchase the more expensive pressing as any.

Overall, however, whilst this is a splendidly packaged album to Nazgul's ear it is ultimately less fulfilling than the original recording from 11 years before. It's doubtless taken an awful lot of time and effort to pull it all together, and some considerable praise should fall on those (both the respective labels and individuals) who have tried to pull off the nigh-on impossible task of creating a Frankenstein monster from many and varied parts. Then again, perhaps Nazgul is merely being somewhat Luddite in his views, and is consequently overly protective and parochial in his protection of the jewel-like early Uruk Hai demos?

In any event, an album that will doubtless find favour with many and which adds an interesting twist to Durin's legacy as viewed by Uruk Hai. To end, a glimpse of the "In Durin's Halls" family at play in the Castle library...

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