Wednesday, 9 December 2015

THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS MIST THEY CAME

 
Band: URUK HAI
Title: Through The Mountains Mist They Came
Format: This is a professionally released CD in digipak format from Aphelion Productions (UK) released in August 2015, cat ref AP092.  The release is a split between Uruk Hai and Skoll (Italy). Layout and digital treatments are credited to 'Huginngraphix'.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Skoll
01. Wintry Plane  8.23         
02. In The Mist I Saw  5.44 
03. The Circle Of Trees  8.36         

Uruk Hai
04. A Blade Of Fire  4.42         
05. Reiter Theodens  4.24         
06. Upon White Shores  6.24         
07. Mirkwood  6.48         
08. Days Of Bliss  3.02         
09. Through The Mist Of Night  5.24         
10. Noldor  7.57

Playing a mixture of folk metal with ambient black metal twists and the odd Gothic inspired vocal, Skoll leap out of the blocks on this split release with three lengthy songs that set the scene nicely for some of the themes of this release: mist, trees, and the cold barren plains of Middle Earth.  Or possibly the cold barren plains of Novara, the Italian town in Piedmont from where Skoll originates. Evidently Novara is a foggy sort of a place, as the number of references Skoll make to mist in their discography is quite astonishing.  

A quick skim through it identifies the following releases:

  • " ...In The Mist I Saw..." (1996)
  • "Through The Mist We Come Back" (1999)
  • "Mists Of An Ancient Era" (2001)
  • "Through The Mists Of Time" (2001) with the song 'A Vision Of War Through The Mist' 
  • "Warriors Of The Misty Fields" (2002)
  • "11 Years Of Mist" (2005)
  • "Misty Woods" (2008) with the track 'Mist'
  • and even an album without mist in its title ("Girsera" from 2013) features 'Wolves In The Mist' in its playlist.
Perhaps it should come as no great surprise then that even this split album is not immune from the tendrils of ancient brume, and references the subject not only in the title but with yet another song: 'In The Mist I Saw' (which, as far as I can see, isn't a reworking of a song on the 1996 demo of the same name but a different beast entirely!)   Even Hugin gets in on the act with 'Through The Mist Of Night' in his selection of Uruk Hai songs.  

Well, as an old sea-faring colleague used to say, 'When this fog clears it won't be missed [mist, geddit?!  No?  Oh well, suit yourself....]

At times Skoll remind Nazgul of Tristania circa their 'Widow's Weed' period, principally because of the song structures and the powerful riffs.  This is most evident on opening track 'Wintery Plane' where the vocals are thundered out like Morten Veland in his prime and titanic riffs rend the very air around you.  This is a very good thing, and Nazgul would certainly give a thumbs up to the songs they offer here.  

Should you be wondering about the origin of the band's name I'd guess it is most likely derived from Norse mythology, in which Sköll (in Old Norse, "treachery") is a warg that chases the horses Árvakr and Alsviðr, that drag the chariot which contains the sun (Sól) through the sky every day, trying to eat her. Sköll has a brother, Hati, who chases Máni, the moon. At Ragnarök, both Sköll and Hati will succeed in their quests.  And, to be fair, Skoll does sound more a 'metal' name to take than Hati...!

Uruk Hai's contributions have the additional challenge of posing a puzzle for the listener to solve: that ages-old game of 'what other release(s) in the extensive band discography have these songs been featured on before'?!  A traditional pastime now, of course, but one in which much fun can be had by skilled and inexperienced players alike.  So with 2 x D4 in hand and a blow on the hand for luck, let's roll those dice and see what transpires ... we throw a 7, so clearly the Gods are favouring us and will expect an immediate response....

...So, let's tackle the easiest bits first. 'A Blade Of Fire' and 'Mirkwood' feature on the rather splendid album "The Fellowship" which has only recently been reviewed. That gives just one more familiar song to be accounted for,  which is 'Days Of Bliss' from the tape release "Songs Of Bliss".

Which leaves us four new tracks to consider.  'Reiter Theodens' as a title seems to be drawn from the German film version of Lord Of The Rings, and references Théoden, the King of Rohan in Tolkien's realm.  He led the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and in that battle he routed the Harad cavalry, personally killing their chieftain and banner-bearer in the process. He challenged the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader of the Nazgûl, and was mortally wounded when his horse Snowmane fell upon him.  This song would complement the action nicely as it is packed with snarling and hate-filled vocals. If based on the events of the book it strongly suggests we've joined at a point where the Witch-king is chewing Théoden's arm off and spitting it back in his face, chunk by bloody chunk!

'Upon The White Shores' is one of those lovely ambient tracks with an uplifting chorus based around a lilting female choir.  One of those songs that you imagine playing as some great act of heroism is played out, almost inevitably ending with the willing sacrifice of the hero to save his or her loved ones.  Not entirely sure that the guitar playing over parts of this chorus really adds to this mood that's been created though, as it's a little overwrought compared to the ethereal loveliness that the vocal elements create.

The final pair of new songs bring the album to a close; 'Through The Mist Of Night' is a jaunty piece that bounds along like a hoedown in Bag End, and is both delicate and robust at one and the same time.  'Noldor' has nothing to do with the band of the same name (though who does any more?) and thankfully neither contains nor encourages goose-stepping.  Instead, it's a lengthy ambient track of great dexterity, melding choral parts with instrumentation as it weaves its way in and out of your consciousness.  Today's trivia snippet for you concerns the Noldor: did you know that in the early versions of Tolkien's work, the Noldor were most often called Noldoli, or Gnome. They were still called Gnomes in early editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Strange but true.

Also strange is the fact that despite this album having being plenty to offer the listener, and that in the flesh (well, in the air) it plays well and has a variety of highlights,  it somehow doesn't seem that memorable.  Repeatedly during the course of playing the CD for this review Nazgul got to the end of it, only to think, when looking at the track listing, 'now what did that song sound like again?'  This is probably as much a factor of age and time - most releases take a while to sink in, after all - rather than being an observation on the material on offer though, and to be fair trying to absorb the nuances of songs whilst commuting to work isn't always the most productive process.  

This album would greatly benefit from some quality listening time, as it undoubtedly has hidden depths still to plunder, and Nazgul would recommend it to you unhesitatingly. 

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