Thursday, 6 September 2012

TEN THOUSAND SPEARS FOR TEN THOUSAND GODS

Band: HUGIN MUNIN
Title: Ten Thousand Spears For Ten Thousand Gods
Format: Self-released CD with full colour covers.
Edition: Presumed to be unlimited as no details to the contrary

Track Listing:
01. Hugin Munin  05:25   
02. Warbound  04:51   
03. Down To Niflheim  05:27  
04. Hel (Orchestral Version) by Hugin 00:35   
05. Ten Thousand Spears for Ten Thousand Gods  06:04   
06. Once in the Grave  04:31  
07. Death or Glory  06:07  
08. The Raven Clan  07:08  
09. Swords Speak Louder than Words  04:39  
10. Ring of the Nibelung  20:10  

With a swift blast on Gjallarhorn and more YouTube videos than seems feasible, Hugin Munin have returned with their first full-length CD (and not their second, as sometimes stated). The discography has caused confusion in some quarters, as an album review further down in this post will attest, but is explained by the fact that an earlier Beverina & War release was a compilation of two separate EPs, Ravens Empire [2008] and Die For Odin [2009]) and was not intended to be their full-length debut.  So there were are, clear as crystal. And Vikings, as we all know, used crystals (well, Icelandic Spar)to navigate their vessels on cloudy days, locating the sun through theoretical properties of polarisation.  Keep it Viking, brother! 

So Hugin rides into battle with his "Viking brothers from the south" once again, as Austria and Brazil continue their unlikely alliance in the global fight to spread death and destruction, although in metaphorical terms Hugin's journey this time is not so much directly to the scene of the battle, wielding his blooded axe astride the mighty BatÖx, but more a case of popping into the melee for a spot of light braining before dashing back to W.A.R. Productions to work on the next Uruk Hai demo.

Nazgul had picked up this album solely because of the Hugin's contribution at track 4.  A quick glance at the track listing on the reverse of the CD identified said contribution as an 'orchestral version' of the song 'Hel' which, in truth, Nazgul had hoped meant a reworking of the song of the same name from the "United"split release with Symbiosis was on the cards.  Not so - the 2:20 version of 'Hel' on that release looks positively epic by comparison to the mere 35 seconds of introduction recorded here, which in essence acts as a brief prelude to the title track rather than standing out as a piece in its own right.

Indeed, the piece is so short that in the online reviews Nazgul has pulled for this album Hugin's contribution largely goes unnoticed, and certainly remains uncredited.  Even the band fail to mention Hugin ("our sixth great member") in their recent online interview for DeathMetalBaboon. For shame.

Goodness knows where the title of this release comes from: there certainly weren't ten thousand gods in Norse mythology from what little history Nazgul remembers, and the only connection to ten thousand spears that springs to Nazgul's ever-retentive mind is a quotation from William Blake's poetic sketch on the life of Samson, to wit: "Ten thousand spears are like the summer grass; an army of mighty men are as flocks in the valleys; what canst thou fear?"  Ah yes, Nazgul possesses a photographic memory...it just needs developing.

It also turns out that the Senpet Empire built a sophisticated civilization around the worship of Ten Thousand Gods, who they believe control all aspects of the world, with each of them attempting to advise mortals on how to live - but then as the Senpets are fictitious characters from the 'Legend of the Five Rings' role-playing game one feels their involvement here is improbable.  Let's chalk up the title to a creative process fuelled by a particularly strong batch of Cachaça, influenced no doubt in the same numerical vein as that other epic cornerstone of death metal anthems, 'Seven Brides for SevenBrothers'.

*Ahem*  Back to the plot!  Reviews of "Ten Thousand Spears For Ten Thousand Gods" have been mixed.  One from Metal Archives reads:

"Three months ago, Brazilian "Viking metal" band Hugin Munin released this album. They are calling it their first full-length, though their Metal Archives profile calls it their second, so evidently there is some disagreement there over what qualifies as an album. As my use of quotation marks probably indicates, there is also some disagreement here as to what qualifies as Viking metal. The logo certainly looks right. The album and EP titles include such solid bets as "VikingBrothers" and "Die For Odin". The Metal Archives entry agrees that this is a Viking metal band. The actual music, however, does nothing of the sort.

I checked this out, thinking to myself how cool it would be to find some good Viking metal from South America.To their credit, they didn't keep me in suspense very long. What I got, far from my expectations, was mediocre deathcore. I was shocked. Here I was, listening on as a poor man's Lamb of God belched from my speakers, trying to figure out how the hell this band got so badly mislabelled. Did their previous releases sound massively different? Were the genre-makers so caught up in lyrics that they ignored the music? Was I just not hearing the same thing everybody else heard? Sadly, I don't know the answer to the second or third questions. As for the first, after quickly checking out some material from their 2009 EP "Die For Odin", I can say that their sound has changed for the worse with surprising speed. Stylistically I'd be more inclined to lump that EP in with Amon Amarth as death metal about Vikings rather than Viking metal, but at least what little I heard of it actually sounded pretty good. Not great, but solid.

What brought about this change, I don't know. What I can say is that this release saw some halfway decent death metal riffs give way to power chords. In the vocals department, Johan Hegg became Randy Blythe. This new album even had generic, chugging, mosh-ready breakdowns. The energy level is decent, but that's about all I can say in this record's favour. This isn't actively obnoxious, but it has nothing of value to offer either."

To be fair, this apparent change in style is partly acknowledged by the band on their Big Cartel shop-site, in which the album is described as "10 songs of pure and brutal death metal"

A second interview, translated froma site Nazgul can no longer remember ther name of, has a different take on the release:

"The band uses a formula well known to have very specific results: Viking Death Metal done right, and with generous doses of a melody, but without losing the aggressiveness and rudeness of the style.  The visual part of the CD is very beautiful and well done, showing an art connected with the musical content and sound.  The CD opens with the track 'Hugin Munin' with beautiful grounds and guitar solos and steady progress, not too fast, to give some variety then the strong 'Warbound', a song that, despite being aggressive to the teeth, has a unique beauty thanks to the melody of the guitars.   In 'Down to Niflheim' (which is the 'World of Mist', the name of the icy world of primordial ice, one of nine that make up Norse cosmology),we have a more rhythmic track, beautifully crafted with absolute highlight for the battery, then comes 'Hel (orchestral version)' (Hel is the world of the dead in Norse cosmology), which serves as an introduction to 'Ten Thousand Spears for Ten Thousand Gods'.

Solid guitars and a drier sound are what is in 'Death or Glory', without losing the strong elements and the same goes for 'The Raven Clan', despite this is being another slower track and heavyweight, with a beautiful guitar solo. 'Swords Speak Louder Than Words' is a beautiful song, worthy of mention, where weight, aggressiveness and melody marry perfectly.  The 'Ring of the Nibelung' is divided into 4 parts (The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods, respectively), and far from being cloying [is] a unique beauty, alternating moments of brutality, melody, harsh, aggressive and more melody, with female vocals. For those who do not know, this song refers to the works of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. 'TenThousand Spears for Ten Thousand Gods' joins the list of best albums of the year easily, and more Hugin Munin is a beautiful and pleasant revelation."

Something of a fan, there, one might suppose - one of the best albums of the year might just be stretching things a tad...!

Let's finish off with a observation, which in fact identifies a random piece of trivia that will doubtless make you the centre of attention at your next soirée: had you noticed that the cover artwork for "Ten Thousand Spears For Ten Thousand Gods" turns out to be the same as for the forthcoming Uruk Hai box-set "Smell The Stench From A Battlefield Without Honour"?  Well I'll save you the trouble of checking: it is, whether by design or accident.  More of that box-set release in due course, as you might suppose....

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