Thursday, 30 October 2014

THE FELLOWSHIP

Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Fellowship
Format: Professional CD release on the Metallic Media label (America), catalogue reference METALLIC 023.  This album was released on 20 March 2014 and comes with full colour covers and a picture disc.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01.  The Red Dawn  5:21  
02.  Broken Blade  3:12  
03.  Mordor Coldness  8:12  
04.  Immortal Flame  5:24  
05.  Ring Of Water  3:21  
06.  A Blade Of Fire  4:42  
07.  The Wars Of Beleriand  6:17  
08.  The Great Battle  3:42  
09.  Mirkwood  6:48  
10.  The Stone Of Erech  3:19  
11.  Before The Battle  6:24  
12.  The White Tower  6:06  
13.  The Iron Doors Of Angband  8:10  
14.  Valar - The Rulers Of Arda  7:28  

Recently the delightful Lady Nazgul and yours truly have been enjoying watching the hit crime series The Following (in as far as one can 'enjoy' watching serial killers running amok in the community).  The title of that series bears uncanny similarity to Uruk Hai's "The Fellowship", the 'release of the day' here on Honour and Darkness, and so inevitably in Nazgul's tiny mind the two words have conflated to the extent that they have now become inextricably linked.

Which is all jolly unfortunate, really, as Nazgul had intended starting off this post with the up-beat thought that the wider Honour and Darkness community is something of a Fellowship in its own right, being an informal group of us all sharing a mutual interest in Hugin's projects and allied in the spirit of companionship and camaraderie.  Now, of course, it's become almost impossible not to think of you all as a crazed bunch of psychotic nut-jobs roaming the streets in murderous pursuit of victims.  Which, of course, may be true in some cases, but hopefully not for all....

None of which should distract us from the task at hand, namely giving "The Fellowship" a damn good airing and seeing what this recent Uruk Hai release (March 2014) has to offer us.  And the answer to that simple question is equally straightforward: it has loads to offer us, a veritable cornucopia of Middle-Earth themed goodness that will keep any fan of the project smiling broadly from ear to ear.  Or is that what you get from the so-called Razor Blade Smile, where a poor unfortunately is cut a new (ear to ear) smile with said razor blade?  Oh dear, murderous intent surges to the fore once again, please excuse Nazgul whilst he allows the blood lust to subside....

Ah, that's better.  Now where were we?  Well, first of all let's take a look at the album, with its striking artwork credited to Jaron Evil of Xenoscape.  This, it transpires, is none other than Jaron of Ringbearer and Funeral Fornication renown, who has worked with Hugin on a number of historical and contemporary releases.  Evocative silhouettes, colours and imagery combine to thrust you deep into the heart of Tolkien's realm, with the original literary Fellowship depicted on the cover booklet and led by that wily old fox Gandalf, looking for all the world like a rag-tag procession of ne'er-do-wells stumbling out of a Joe Matara gig.

And you can be certain from the song titles that we remain deep in the heart of Tolkien country, with numerous direct and indirect allusions to places and events across his majestic work.  The inspiration for 'The Red Dawn'?  Very possibly that part in The Two Towers when Gandalf cries, "It is a red dawn. Strange things await us by the eaves of the forest.  Good or evil, I do not know; but we are called.  Awake!"

'Broken Blade'?  Narsil springs to mind.  The 'Wars of Beleriand' would be those fought by the Sindar against Morgoth.  Mirkwood? Well you should bloody well know where Mirkwood is by now, or I'm assuming you've stumbled into this blog by accident.  Mind you, did you know that Mirkwood is a name used for two distinct fictional forests on the continent of Middle-earth: one from the First Age of Middle-earth, when the highlands of Dorthonion north of Beleriand were known as Mirkwood after falling under Morgoth's control; the other - and the more famous of the two - was the large forest in Rhovanion, east of the Anduin. This had acquired the name Mirkwood during the Third Age, after it fell under the influence of the Necromancer; before that it had been known as Greenwood the Great, and it is this Mirkwood that features significantly in The Hobbit.

And we could go on: 'The Stone of Erech' was a great black stone, spherical in shape and roughly six feet in diameter. It was half-buried at the top of the Hill of Erech. The Stone was a mysterious and eerie place, shunned by the people of the valley, who claimed it had fallen from the sky, and was haunted by restless spirits. 'The White Tower' will be the Tower of Ecthelion, a tall white tower (no, really!) atop Minas Tirith, which contained the the throne of the King of Gondor and a secret room housing a palantír.  And you may award yourself a gold star if you remember what a plantiír is, and where we last encountered its reference in Honour and Darkness?! *   

And much like Mirkwood, you'll surely be familiar with the Valar and also with the iron fortress of Angband by now....

So, we've firmly established a very strong Tolkien theme here.  And the music that follows reinforces this initial impression, with a dazzling panoply of styles and range being presented to us by Hugin.  Imagine yourself astride Nazgul's mighty Fellbeast, flying high over the land of Middle-Earth and looking down on it's denizens below.  The music on this album is the perfect cinematic accompaniment to such a journey.  The gentle strings and piano in certain songs bring to mind the countryside of this realm, as if you were looking down on majestic forests crisscrossed crystal-clear babbling brooks, teeming with fish and cavorting Hobbits (yummy - lunchtime for Nazgul!)

Other tracks are bombastic and dramatic, and would be the perfect soundtrack to watching battalions of Elven cavalry in gleaming armour sweeping across windy ridge tops, or to witness the countless hordes of Orc and Uruk Hai hosts swarming the walls of the fortress at Helm's Deep and decimating the armies of  King Théoden.  There's such a breadth and variety of music on offer - all with the hallmark sounds of Hugin's keyboard, guitar and instrumental talents - that it's a pleasure to delve into this album again and again just to re-listen to particular songs.  The album has been on almost constant rotation in the Castle Library these past few weeks, and still it impresses with its depth.

Frankly, if you are any sort of fan of Uruk Hai you need to own this album.  It's not optional - this really can be seen as the definitive statement of the modern Uruk Hai sound and is the perfect example of where Hugin is at the current moment in terms of compositional skill and entertainment value.  By rights the edition of 500 copies should be long sold out, as if that small number can't be shifted by those of us sufficiently interested in this project then God help us all.  If you've not got a copy, email Hugin via his various band/Facebook pages to ask him for one.  Besiege the record label, or if you have to search the depths of the Internet online auctions to snaffle a copy.  This should be a mandatory purchase for any true follower of Uruk Hai, simple as that.

Quite honestly, someone ought to pop a copy of this CD in the post to Peter Jackson ahead of his next Tolkien film project!

As a statement of intent Nazgul would go so far as to say this is the defining album by the band in the last few years, surpassing "...And All The Magic & Might He Brought..." as the epitome of the Uruk Hai sound in 2014.  Complex and epic as that anniversary album was, the contributions from so many other musicians did pull the sound in all sorts of unusual (albeit interesting) directions: on "The Fellowship", however, it's the pure spirit and sound of Uruk Hai that you encounter and the experience - in Nazgul's humble opinion at least - is all the better for it.


* A palantír (sometimes translated as "Seeing Stone") is a spherical stone that superficially resembles a crystal ball, used for both communication and as a means of seeing events in other parts of the world.  Last referenced in the Uruk Hai/Onyx split release, trivia fans....!   

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