Saturday, 10 August 2013

CIRITH UNGOL

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Cirith Ungol
Format: Many, and various!  The first pressing was as a CDr on Satanarsa Records (Russia) in 2010, which was followed by an extended version released on CD by Nordstrum Productions (Germany), cat ref NSP028, also in 2010.  This latter pressing came in three versions: a standard jewel case edition with black and white inlays and a second data-disc with album artwork; a limited A5 6-panel digipak (with patch); and a die-hard edition as in same format as the limited edition but adding a poster and fabric patch. There was also a vocal-less demo version released on cassette by Wulfrune Worxx (France), cat ref WW165, and in 2012 no less than 2 special box-sets were released on Fallen Angels Productions (South Korea): A 6CD set "The Whole Story" (FAP019) and then a much more limited edition "Tape vs. CD" (FAP019.2) that had fewer versions of the song on it but which also added a woven patch and packaged the CD discs in blu-ray cases.
Edition: Satanarsa edition was limited to 200 copies.  The Nordsturm standard edition is limited to 900 copies, their limited edition to 100 copies and the die-hard edition to just 7 copies.  The Wulfrune Worxx tape was limited to 77 hand-numbered copies. The Fallen Angel Productions "Whole Story" box-set was restricted to 25 numbered copies, whilst their "Tape vs. CDr" release was limited to a mere 9 copies.

Track Listing:
Satanarsa CD pressing
01. Cirith Ungol  57:00

Nordsturm CD - standard edition + data disc
01. Cirith Ungol  78:00

Nordsturm CD - limited A5 version
01. Cirith Ungol  78:00

Nordsturm CD - die-hard edition
01. Cirith Ungol 78:00

Wulfrune Worxx tape pressing (unique first take rehearsal June 2010)
01. Cirith Ungol  60:00

"Cirth Ungol - The Whole Story" box-set
CD1. Cirith Ungol  58:02 
(i) 1st take recording
(ii) 2nd take recording
(iii) Vox only (The Spider)
(iv) Vox only (Kill You)
(v) Vox only (Cirith Ungol)
(vi) Vox only (Eats You)
(vii) Vox only (catch You)
(viii) Edited Version    
CD2. Cirith Ungol (Rough Demo Mix)  51:09    
CD3. Cirith Ungol (Regular Edition)  57:26    
CD4. Cirith Ungol (Extended Edition)  01:07:18    
CD5. Cirith Ungol (Special Extended Edition)  01:18:30    
CD6. Cirith Ungol (Sturmklang Version)  57:26  

"Tape vs. CDr" box-set
Tape 1. Cirith Ungol 58:02
Tape 2. Cirith Ungol (Rough Demo Mix) 51:09
CD1. Cirith Ungol (Regular Edition) 57:26
CD2.  Cirith Ungol (Extended Edition) 67:18 

Satanarsa Records pressing

It's fair to say that if you've managed to emerge from the murky depths of keeping track of many versions of this release, you're doing quite well.  It surely holds the record thus far 'for most alternate versions of the same release to be issued', and given the past and recent history of re-issues of Hugin's work that's up against some pretty stiff competition!  A mini collection in its own right, there was clearly a Red Bull moment at W.A.R. Productions and associated labels when the energy to put this ensemble together occurred!  Hugin acknowledges that this is one of his personal favourites, which goes some way to explain the huge amount of versions of this one!

Nordsturm Standard Edition

Nazgul had been manfully (Wraithfully?) wrestling with the concept of how to intelligently distinguish between the original versions of this demo - there is, after all, limited value in reporting to you that one is nearly 20 minutes longer than the other, that some versions don't have vocals, and that there are more mixes that you can shake a stick at! - before the whole shooting match was thoroughly blown up by the arrival of the two Fallen Angels box-sets, with yet more versions of this mammoth track than you could shake a stick at.  And that's before you remember than an edited version of the piece had already been previewed on the Uruk Hai/Funeral Fornication split release. Hell's teeth, what's going on here?!

Objectively, of course, you would have to concede that a certain amount of madness must exist for anyone to actually acquire all the different versions of this release, let alone actually need every version of the song!  A quick shake of the Castle abacus reveals that you would comfortably spend well in excess of £100 to purchase all the different variations.  From a strictly sensible perspective the Fallen Angels "Whole Story" release would be the one to go for, as it beings together more versions than you might reasonably need to hear and sticks them in a nice box along with a few cards to admire whilst you're listening.  However, as this version is now sold out that might not be the most practical start, so Nazgul would recommend you pick up a copy of the widely available Nordstrum standard edition and see what all the fuss is about!

Wulfrune Worxx tape edition
Commercial songs live or die by their accessibility and ability to be listened to and remembered quickly, which is why Jona Lewie's 'Stop The Cavalry' will be in the Christmas charts again this year, and why 'Cirith Ungol' won't be.  It's just not that sort of a song: in fact, to call it a song at all is probably pushing it.  Really what Hugin has created here is an immersive experience, bringing you his interpretation of a murky part of Middle-Earth and asking you to join him on various treks around the neighbourhood, the length of which depends upon which version you care to play.  And like all lengthy journeys, some will enjoy the experience immensely and others will become bored and ask, "are we there yet?"

Cirith Ungol "The Whole Story"

Witness, for instance, this review of the Nordstrum version of the release found at the German website Voices From The Darkside, included in the spirit of fairness and constructive criticism (even though the reviewer is clearly a bog-sucking hobbit):

"I don't know what is worse, the overplayed Tolkien theme or the fact that ambient electronic albums induce yawning fits. That these two tiresome elements wed together on Uruk Hai's “Cirith Ungol” means boredom in the extreme. Uruk Hai is, as far as I can tell, a one-man band not unlike Drowning The Light and other 'bedroom' bands as they are sometimes referred to. Each year Uruk Hai releases multiple demos, EPs and albums, which in my view seems suspect. While it's certainly possible that each release might be good, the sheer number of them points to a quantity over quality work ethic. Indeed, "Cirith Ungol" has about as much artistic vision as a child’s chalk drawing on a block of pavement. The entire 78 minute song sounds like a cast out Skyrim soundtrack, mean to evoke lofty visions of knights on horseback and crenellated battlements wreathed in the mist of Middle Earth. 

All of which even the most casual Metal fan has heard in one form or another. Added to the absurdly long keyboards, harps, and whatnot, the vocals, which are about the only vaguely Metal thing about this album, couldn’t be more average. It's as if this band's entire modus operandi is to copy Summoning almost note for note, and make a bad copy at that. I can’t think of a single redemptive quality to this album. However, if you’re feeling generous, give this a listen at your own peril - after all, you might fall asleep, fall off your chair, and hit your head."

Suffice to say that the reviewer in question is probably not at the top of Hugin's Christmas card list this year.

Nordsturm Limited Edition A5 pressing

On a more upbeat note, however, there are far more positive responses to be found for "Cirith Ungol" across the web, including comments from the Nocturnal Cult webzine ('Cirith Ungol unites peaceful piano and warming horns while they hover above a battlefield of clanging steel and acidic black metal shrieks. The shrieks continue as insistent beats and crystalline xylophone chimes through the darkness') and Doomantia ('Musically it is blackened, ambient doomy stuff blended with neo-classical influences, it is bombastic yet kind of nerdy music and I say that with all due respect as I actually like most of it. Because of his incredible recording output, I have only heard a small part of what he has done but I can tell this is a huge step-up from what he was doing a few years ago. The production is much better, with more direction and dynamics, but it still an acquired taste. This is the kind of music you either love or hate or have to be in the mood for. No amount of review is truly going to tell the story here')

Nordsturm die-hard fan edition with poster and woven patch
The MetalSoundscapes site had some rather balanced coverage in their review of the Nordsturm version of the release too:

"It's really very difficult to count and name all Uruk-Hai releases and even more difficult to separate them in full-length, collections, EPs, etc. It's not only their huge number and limited releases, but there are also many versions of some songs, some re-used parts from older songs, many re-releases, etc. "Cirith Ungol" is not a new work, since it was released back in 2010 via Satanarsa Records in CDr, including one 57 minute song. Nordsturm Productions re-released it in 2012, including the extended 78:29 minutes version of the song. If you have never listened to Uruk-Hai before, then expect to listen to epic fantasy ambient music. 

In this album the band chooses to emphasise more on the dark atmosphere of Middle Earth and not on its majestic epic side. This ultra long song moves in a slow hypnotizing tempo and almost everything is played by synths. A few distorted guitars and some screaming vocals here and there interrupt the tranquility of the ambient music, adding even more to the atmosphere. Some wonderful melodic piano parts, few flutes and some other interesting instruments and sounds complete this different musical journey. There are also a few electronic elements and an almost jazz mood in some parts, fitting so perfectly with the music, that I wish he used them more! “Cirith Ungol” is a characteristic example of the more atmospheric long compositions of Uruk-Hai, but it's only a part of their music, since there are other albums with more and shorter songs, other with female vocals and many other elements that someone can explore…

Generally Uruk-Hai is a very interesting band, but its big enemy, after so many releases, is the unavoidable repetition. "Cirith Ungol" is a very good companion if you like reading fantasy books, or even better if you are into RPG games. Otherwise it’s very difficult to concentrate and stay interested in a 78 minutes slow ambient song, no matter how good the music is."

As ever, it's a question of personal taste.

Tape Vs. CDr box-set

At this juncture Nazgul realises that he's been rabbiting on without so much as a mention of what the title "Cirith Ungol" actually refers to.  Fear not, stout reader, for it is not a reference to the Californian heavy metal band of the 1970s but is instead an Elvish name from Lord of the Rings meaning "Pass of the Spider" (and is pronounced 'kirith ungol' should you need to ask for directions).  Let us explore further together:

The Pass of Cirith Ungol was cleft through the western mountains of Mordor, and was one of two entrances to that land from the West. The name is Sindarin for Spider's Cleft, or Pass of the Spider, presumably referring to the guardian of the pass, Shelob, the daughter of the ancient spider Ungoliant. In Mordor, the road from Cirith Ungol came down to join the Morgul Road and these routes were guarded by the Tower of Cirith Ungol, built by the Men of Gondor after the War of the Last Alliance, but occupied by Orcs at the time of the War of the Ring.  During the Quest of the Ring Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were led to this pass by Gollum in order to get into Mordor.

Another stopping point on our ambient journey might be the Tower of Cirith Ungol, a watchtower located high in the Mountains of Shadow overlooking the pass. At the top of the pass was a cleft with two great horns of rock on either side. On the northern horn stood the Tower of Cirith Ungol, built up against the eastern face of the rock. The Tower of Cirith Ungol was made of black stone. It had three tiers, each set back from the next like steps. The sheer sides faced north-east and south-east and formed a bastion pointing eastward. At the top of the Tower was a round turret that could be seen above the pass.  And now you know what the album artwork is based upon.
 
A road ran down from the pass and skirted the Tower alongside a sheer precipice before turning southward to join the Morgul Road. The Tower of Cirith Ungol was surrounded by an outer wall that was 30 feet high. The sides of the wall were smooth. At the top was overhanging stonework that prevented anyone from climbing over it. The main gate was in the south-eastern side of the wall. It was guarded by the Two Watchers — hideous statues seated on thrones. Each Watcher had three joined bodies facing inward, outward, and toward the other.

Frodo came through the undergate to the Tower of Cirith Ungol and was imprisoned in the topmost chamber of the turret. Frodo was stripped and questioned mercilessly. Gorbag — an orc from Minas Morgul — coveted Frodo's mithril shirt and he fought Shagrat for it: the orcs of their two companies fought and killed one another until nearly all of them were dead. Sam came to the Tower of Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo and after much buggering about entered the turret in search of him, but he could not find a way to the uppermost chamber until he saw an orc climb up through the trapdoor in the ceiling and saved the day.  Sam returned the Ring to Frodo and they escaped from the Tower disguised in orc armour and livery. They used the Phial of Galadriel to pass the Watchers, and the archway collapsed behind them.  As they fled, a winged Nazgûl descended from the sky and perched on the wall of the Tower of Cirith Ungol, now in charge.  

Quite right, too - bloody hobbits!

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