Friday, 7 February 2014

SOUNDSCAPES OF DOOM


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Soundscapes Of Doom
Format: A split release on CDr partnering Ego Death (Greece).  This was released on Kadaath Records (Russia) in 2013, cat ref Kadaath 52.  The disc is housed in a colour sleeve, inside a plastic wallet.  The inlay states that tracks were recorded by both bands in 2012.
Edition: 20 unnumbered copies only

Track Listing:

Uruk-Hai
01 - Middle Earth Part V (Barad-dûr)  37.09

Ego Death
02 - Ossified Figurine  6.06
03 - The Curse Of Being Greek  4.31
04 - Under Costumes In Panic I Live  4.22

Hurrah!

Another part in Hugin's semi-legendary Middle-Earth series hits the streets, for the first time in digital format as opposed to the original cassette tapes that presented Parts I - IV.  This latest instalment - "Part V, Barad-dûr" - takes as its setting the fortress of Sauron in the heart of the black lands of Mordor, close to Mount Doom.  The name of the fortress - and song - translates from Sindarin as Dark Tower.

Barad-dûr was built by Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, with the power of the One Ring, during the Second Age. The building took six hundred years to complete; it was the greatest fortress ever built since the Fall of Angband, and much of Sauron's personal power went into it.  Barad-dûr was besieged for seven years by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and was levelled after Sauron's defeat at the end of the Second Age, but because it was created using the power of the One Ring, its foundations could not be destroyed completely unless the Ring itself was destroyed.  Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron's hand but refused to destroy it, so the Tower was quickly rebuilt when Sauron returned to Mordor thousands of years later.

The Dark Tower was described as existing on a massive scale so large it was almost surreal, although Tolkien does not provide much detail beyond its size and immense strength. Since it had a "topmost tower" it presumably had multiple towers. It is otherwise described as dark and surrounded in shadow, so that it could not be clearly seen.  That said, The Eye of Sauron kept watch over Middle-Earth from its highest tower so that bit was clearly pretty visible!  There was an "immeasurably high" look-out post, "the Window of the Eye in Sauron’s shadow-mantled fortress", said to face Mount Doom.  From this window, Frodo and Sam had a terrible glimpse of the Eye of Sauron.

The description of the fortress, "..rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr..." would have been an unmitigated disaster for any aspiring estate agent trying to sell the place, but has so many homely similarities to Castle Nazgul that your humble scribe feels positively affectionate towards it.

There also exists a drawing by Tolkien that he titled Barad-dûr but since he did not publish it during his lifetime, it is unclear how close the drawing is to his mature vision of the tower. His picture shows only the left edge of the lower part of a structure that seems to be constructed of immense masonry blocks of some greenish-grey stone. The few existing windows are small and either dark or lighted dark red; one is clearly barred. One high, thin vertical spire is visible in the background. The whole building seems to stand on top of a large monolithic rock with almost vertical edges and a relatively flat top. A narrow stone bridge leads across the chasm to the single visible door, through which flames can be seen inside the tower. An erupting volcano (presumably Mount Doom) can be seen in the background, a lava stream flowing from there past the side of the monolithic rock.

If this is an unfamiliar release then you can check it out on Kadaath Record's Bandcamp page, which oddly has a release date for this music of 11 November 2011, almost two years ahead of the actual physical release on the same label and one year before the recordings were made.  Presumably a typo, or some strange warp in the space-time continuum...

The Uruk Hai song is another lengthy affair, and - as Nazgul found out this week - is almost impossible to listen to whilst driving without having the volume up to ear-piercing volumes.  The beginning of the track is laden with gloomy rumblings and low frequency murmurings, very probably an accurate representation of the desolate wastelands of Mordor but virtually inaudible in the presence of tyre roar and traffic!  No matter, it's the sort of song that is best experienced late on a dark and stormy night (and believe you me, Castle Nazgul has been experiencing a fair number of those recently) when the wild winds howling without meld with the eerie sounds coming from within.

As ever with epics of this nature from Uruk Hai, there's a lot of time spent on painting the canvass in terms of 'feel' and 'atmosphere' rather than establishing a jolly jig or catchy riff.  The adage of "don't bore us, get to the chorus" just isn't in the band's modus operandi.  The issues bourne by such songs is that they are not naturally memorable for much of their duration, but on the other hand manage to create a sense of place during their airing.  You could probably listen to this for half a dozen times in a row and still struggle to actively whistle more than 10 seconds worth of content from memory, but equally you'd come away with a enhanced perception of the blackness and bleakness of Barad-dûr and its environs, which is really rather the point.  There are many film scores that would be equally hard to convert to a hummable format but that can still chill the blood and scare the pants off you in equal measure.  Conclusion, therefore: mission accomplished!

Confession time: Nazgul had supposed that the name of Greek band 'Ego Death' had derived from their own warped imaginations.  No so, oh dear me no.  Ego Death is something terribly profound, if the internet is to be believed, as immense screeds of twaddle have been written about it, with preposterous definitions being used.  Here's a typical one: "Ego death represents the neurodetoxification of fossilized repression, removing the friction and futile cycling of the nervous system, allowing a higher pattern to form."  Good, so that's all cleared up then.  No ... wait ... what was that again?

Actually, I'm almost beyond caring but it turns out that page 14 of Psychological Claptrap For Dummies (a copy of which lies on a dusty library shelf) offers a more basic understanding: "Ego-death does not mean the disintegration of the healthy ego, the ego we need in order to function in daily life. What dies in this process is the part of us that holds on to the illusion of control, the part of us that thinks we are running the show, that we are in charge. What disintegrates is the false identity that operates as though we are the centre of the universe."  Right, so that's what a neurodetoxification of fossilized bollocks is all about.  

Not that you're going to escape completely from peculiar language and odd concepts, mind you, as 'Ossified Figurine' (a figurine that has changed into bone) might indicate.  What is the 'Curse of Being Greek' you might ask?  Hard to tell, unless it's getting prompt service in a Turkish restaurant? Why is there panic under the costumes?  Very hard to know, to be honest.  But that said, it's an experience trying to find out!  

Keeping the psychological theme running, let's disassociate ourselves from the band's name and focus upon their almighty noise, and see what the music's like, shall we?  For Ego Death is an experimental, noise, industrial, drone one-man-project from Athens, Greece, fronted by Manos Michaelides, formed in 2004. The sounds are created with the use of instruments and/or software facilities in various improbable combinations.  They are somewhat legendary in their field and have performed a couple of live shows, one of which featured friend to Honour and Darkness - Nova Sak.

And the results are actually very listenable - more in the realm of power electronics in this particular outing, there are sufficient bells and whistles in the melodies (if melodies they are) to engage your attention, and having 3 relatively short tracks does rather help the listening experience.

Overall this is a well presented physical release from Kadaath, albeit in a tiny quantity.  Whether they were aiming for the hardcore fan market or were just convinced 99.9% of us were going to download the thing (illegally or otherwise) isn't clear, but it's quite disconcerting to imagine that two established bands like Uruk Hai and Ego Death would be unable to ship a fair number of CDs between the two of them.  If this is this a reflection/reaction to the current state of the music industry in a time when downloading is clearly ruling the roost, then it paints a sad picture for those who enjoy getting their hands on a physical release rather than a set of digitised data.

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