Sunday, 22 November 2015

HOLY


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Holy
Format: This is a professional CDr released in 2015 by the Winterwolf Records label (Germany), with no catalogue reference.  The album is a split release between Uruk Hai and Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh (France), the quasi-legendary underground black metal/ambient noise project featuring Luc Mertz. For the purpose of this review, this latter band's name will be abbreviated to ZBT, as seems to be customary.
Edition: Unnumbered edition of 100 copies

Track Listing:
01. ZBT  *  Sadness  4.13      
02. ZBT  *  Black Soul  4.33      
03. ZBT  *  Eternity  4.00      
04. ZBT  *  Dirt  3.09      
05. ZBT  *  Sinister  5.57  
06. ZBT  *  Holy War  4.38      
07. ZBT  *  After the Nightmare  4.49      
08. Uruk Hai  *  Northwards  6.42      
09. Uruk Hai  *  Ringwraiths  13.13      
10. Uruk Hai  *  Of Beren& Luthien  13.54      
11. Uruk Hai  *  Holy Metal  11.30  

Oh. My. Goodness.  

There are those who lurk in the shadowy parts at the bottom of the internet who seem to enjoy nothing more than to pour scorn and bile onto the work of musicians around the world. Hugin has attracted his fair share of criticism over time (particularly in the early years) in being typecast - somewhat disparagingly - as a 'one-man bedroom project'.  It comes with the territory, to an extent.  However, those occasional poor reviews hold nothing to the general abuse and vitriol thrown at French band ZBT, another long running one-man project (2000-current).  Of course, with approximately 2 gazillion demos to his name there is always likely to be a surfeit of product and the risk of low quality control between releases.  But nevertheless, it's extraordinary what you can read out there.  

Let Nazgul illustrate his point with some statistics.  If you take the Metal Archives site, for instance, the first  page of the ZBT discography shows the following review scores (out of a maximum of 100%):  Demo 07 - 'Draft'  (12%); Demo 09 - 'IX' (0%); Demo 10 - 'Satan's Servants' (1%); Demo 19 - 'Dead for All' (1%); and so it goes on.

And as you might imagine much of the narrative is hardly complementary, and these examples are the cleaned-up versions:

Of Demo IX: "This, gentlemen, was the worst mistake I could have made. Through my cheap speakers comes nothing but pathetic noise. Not one note can be told from another. Not a single drum hit can be told from another. It is nothing but pathetic, and useless noise.  In summary, this demo is nothing but complete and utter sh*t. Don't even bother buying it, if you can find it. Hell, don't even f*cking download it. It's a waste of a few megabits. Seriously. Don't."

Of Satan's Servants: "Luc Mertz's body of "work" consists of a (out of tune) guitar playing sloppy "riffs", silly "shredding" solos which make Burzum's "War" solo sound like Iron Maiden, in terms of melody (and I like that one) and "drumming" consisting of different kitchen tools being thrown at an unknown device. There is no structure or coherence to be found, the vocals are monotonous, boring and at times even hilarious. Luc chokes, coughs and spits in various talentless forms, desperately trying to get a few laughs out of the listener, even though I doubt that was the writer's original intention."

and to close, perhaps my personal 'favourite' of the bunch, if only for the effort the reviewer has put into setting out his grievance whilst at the same time drawing unexpected references to Donald Duck:

Demo #28 Sado Ambient - Mind Control Part 5:  "The track starts out with some annoying static noise, with sounds that sound like something dying. After that, a Donald Duck sound signals the change in ambience. The second part has a girl humming (?), I think. Another Donald Duck noise, and the third part begins. It sounds like a giant monster heavily breathing, and then noises a duck would make at night, also what sounds like far off war, and those sounds kids make with their armpit. The fourth part is signalled by another Donald Duck sound, then for about 30 seconds a loud, annoying...thing, goes on. It sounds like some demon dying, with car alarms going off in the background. Again, a Donald Duck noise, with some creepy ambience, which doesn't sound too bad by itself. But it's not by itself, you have some sniffing, and some electricity sounds, and the Donald Duck sound ends the fifth section. By now I wanted to turn it off, but I had to finish it. The final (thankfully) section, sounds like passing traffic, and someone trying to unlock their car, and it ends with a loud noise that sounds like a distorted burp.  I ripped this from the website that was selling it, for 15 cents, judging by the other reviews, that was too much. I nearly gagged from this horrible attempted ambience. Apart from the first 2-3 seconds of the fifth section, it sucks, completely. Overall I give  a 0.5/10 or a 5%. 1% for those 2-3 seconds, and 4% for him keeping a good spirit and ignoring the bad feedback and going strong."

And so it goes.  Wow, this stuff really does polarise opinion and almost universally negatively!

I don't want to labour the point, as surely the guy's had enough thrown at him already, but a quick Google of ZBT brings up another summary which I record below as a pretty representative viewpoint:

"With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown 'recorded through a trashcan on a boombox' aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band."

You will understand, therefore, why Nazgul has been eyeing this split release with some trepidation over the past few weeks!  However, the diary produced a few days with long enough stints in the car to merit popping this CD in the player for a few spins which, if nothing else, promised to provide suitably lively distraction on an otherwise uninteresting journey.  And, of course, with the added bonus of some Uruk Hai tracks to restore sanity at the end of the album.

So, brave pills ingested and speakers adjusted to suitable level, on we plough with Nazgul's first exposure to ZBT with lead-off track, 'Sadness' (if ever a song title was tempting fate....).  Driving down a quiet country lane with this CD about to play, Nazgul had his window wound down on what was a perfectly pleasant warm autumnal day.  Given all the hype around ZBT the very least I expected was for some diabolic noise to commence and immediately thereafter all surrounding vegetation to wither away and for small mammals to drop dead at the roadside.  How could anything less come to pass, given the online build up from the great unwashed?

Well, rather disappointing, let me tell you nothing of this nature happened, even remotely. True, a squirrel had a lucky escape as it bounded into the road ahead of me before thinking better of its suicidal crossing strategy, retreating to the verge pronto, but even I couldn't blame ZBT for that.  The songs - most unexpectedly - actually quite cool, with some punky black metal riffs and some admittedly odd melodies and structures combining to be relatively entertaining.  Of course, you may conclude Nazgul simply has atrocious taste in music in which case I invite you to take your coat and see yourself out!

Incidentally, Luc's wife (Flo Mertz) also has a dark ambient project of her own named Herz Tod, and made an appearance doing the vocals on the ultra rare Bonemachine release 'Dieu Du Tonnere'.  

Whilst I don't wish to sound like I'm damning with faint praise, it has to be said that I've willingly sat through repeated playbacks of ZBT's contribution to this split, and remain sound in mind and body.  Sure, it's not going to trouble the people who decide what gets played on the radio and it is raw and basic to the point of being something you feel you might be able to emulate yourself, given sufficient motivation and a few pints of strong beer.  But what the hell, Odium and our old chum Phil Knight also made a hell of a racket and committed it to tape every once in a while so Nazgul contends that one can get quite into primitive metal if you try hard enough.  I know bad music, trust me: I've endured Kenji Siratori after all, for God's sake....

And so on to Uruk Hai (or UH as I might now have to call them) for their contribution to this release.

Four songs, and a bit of a mixture of the old, the new and the revamped!  A quick recap shows that two of these songs are familiar to us: 'Of Beren & Luthien' was the fifth song on "The Dusk, The Dawn, The Earth, The Sun...", itself a previous WinterWolf CD release.  'Ringwraiths', you will remember, originally featured on Honour and Darkness in what was at the time an exclusive edition of only 2 (different) copies, and for which Spanish uber-fan Zigor contributed our musical review:

"As for the music, we will see that only one song is included in this release, the one that gives the title to the work. It is 13 minutes long and in it, we will find that is composed by some epic parts (with percussion, strings and winds) perfectly merged with parts with guitar and a dark voice. This whole gives an essence which perfectly fits the concept of the box, where the epic part can be related with the white and the guitar and voice parts can be related with the dark."

This is, by the way, a really good example of how Hugin uses music from extreme limited editions on subsequent mainstream format releases, so for all of you gnashing your teeth over the "Durin's Day" tape, be assured that that song will almost certainly pitch up on a CD at some future point.

That leaves us with two remaining tracks.  'Holy Metal' is the easiest of the two to tackle, not least as we've come across it before.  That song was on the Smell The Stench released "Gondor" CDr (you see how Nazgul's successive posts form a nicely linked narrative over time?  No extra charge), in an early instrumental-only guise, running at 11:30 in duration.  This version adds vocals, so is suitably revamped and rebooted.

A review of this particular song will follow in a future post, however, as there's rather an interesting and relevant tape release under which that honour will fall... 

Diving off at one of my usual tangents, I confess I had imagined that the Internet would be awash with songs or albums with the title 'Holy Metal', particularly given the rise of White Metal bands like Stryper et al in the late 80's, but curiously this proves not to be the case.  However, obscure American band Vaughn did call their 1984 12" single 'Holy Metal' though, and for that singular inspired reason gets his artwork shared below for you all to savour.  Similarities to the rest of Hugin's work diminish immediately, however, when we see that the title of the second song on their vinyl masterpiece is the distinctly un-Tolkien like 'Get Down Nancy' ...!

Nothing to do with Hugin, but both relevant and amusing nevertheless!
Which leaves us with only 'Northwards' to consider.  A very interesting track, starting off with some drums and guitar that aren't a million miles away from ZBT, at least not as much as you might have imagined the bands to be different.  It turns out that 'Northwards' is one of those songs where Hugin deploys his black metal rasp alongside a fuzzy guitar attack, and is not at all in keeping with the beautiful trills and keyboard parts of a song like 'Of Beren & Luthien'.  It certainly works well enough, sounding sinister and menacing as it worms its way into your brain.  I'm not at all sure who is moving northwards, nor for what purpose, but trust me - if they cross your path, let them by unchallenged!

It was inevitable that two of the most prolific sole artists' paths would finally cross on a split release: the obvious question really is not 'why?', but 'why did it take this long?'  As it happens, in this shadowy acronym filled abyss, it's something of a triumph that both ZBT and UH can come away not SHAT ON ('Should Have Abandoned The Original Notion') but PROUD ('Promising Release Of Undoubted Distinction')!

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