Thursday, 25 August 2016

THE BATTLE - update

Title: The Battle
Format: Reissue of this album on CD in 2016 on the Valgriind label (Russia) catalogue reference VG60.  This copy has full colour covers - with different artwork to the original album - and a professionally pressed disc.  It includes a bonus song not on the original 2005 Drama Company CD pressing.
Edition: Unknown - no edition stated

Track Listing:
01. The Battle  0:58  
02. Calm After Storm  1:40  
03. Thunderpower  4:33  
04. Poem To The Dead  10:56  
05. Icy Winds Over Battlefield  8:01  
06. Strength And Honour  1:28  
07. Rabensang  5:04  
08. And The Battle Continues  7:23  
09. The Secret Of Steel  0:57  
Bonus Track
10. Men Of Straw  3.41

In the grand tradition of periodically reissuing old demos and albums lost to history (but kept alive through Honour and Darkness!), here's one of the latest of Hugin's rediscoveries: "The Battle", courtesy of the Russian Valgriind label.

The original review of this album was a very early entry in Nazgul's scribing coming as it did in late February 2009, so it's a rather nice thing to be able to look up an old friend (as the actress said to the bishop) and see what's new after all this time.

The first thing evidently different is the cover artwork, which Hugin himself has orchestrated and it's rather good I think you'd agree?

The songs are the same for the main album, albeit benefitting from a re-mastering for this release, though the 2016 pressing adds a different bonus track from the song 'Black Mountains River (Midgard Warriors Pt.2)' which appeared on the 2005 CD pressing (the tape pressing on AMF that appeared in 2006 just kept the 9 main album songs).  So this time around we get a very different offering for the bonus song: 'Men Of Straw', the duet with Trevor Sewell.

This, you will recall, was the subject of a post in its own right back in July 2015 and was - and indeed remains - an excellent song.  It's slightly out of keeping with the theme and style of the rest of this album though, not least as the preceding 9 songs are all instrumental (bar the odd sample from films), so having Trev's sonorous tones coming out of the speakers at the end of the album may catch the unwary off guard to start with, as clearly this isn't Hugin singing!  A great chance for a wider audience to appreciate this song though, so nothing to complain about at all!

Another thing you'll notice on this reissue is the fact that the parentheses after the song titles are no longer there, as they were in the original pressing.  So, for example, compare the track listing above to that of the original (below):

01. The Battle (Introduction to War)
02. Calm After Storm (Blood on the Battlefield)
03. Thunderpower (Praying to the Gods of War)
04. Poem to the Dead (Remember the Fallen Heroes)
05. Icy Winds Over the Battlefield (The Dead Become Einherjer)
06. Strength and Honour (Preparing for Battle)
07. Rabensang (The Blackwinged Messengers)
08. And the Battle Continue (Only War is Real)
09. The Secret of Steel (The Price of Each Battle)

Not exactly an earth-shaking issue I would concede, but interesting nonetheless as the longer title adds a frisson of epic grandeur to the songs that arguably is missing now they've been truncated.  Perhaps there should be a small competition to find the most suitable addition to the song 'Men Of Straw'?

Also something Nazgul spotted that could be a typo (or if not is a bit of a mystery) is that on the inside of the booklet the liner notes state the original music was recorded in the Winter of 2007: clearly this can't be right, given the first pressing of the CD was released in 2005 and the tape version a year later.  Whether it should be read that this re-mastered version was recorded in late 2007 is unclear, though that seems unlikely as I'm sure it would have seen the light of day a little sooner than nigh on 9 years later!

Listening again to this recording after quite a time brought one thought of crystal clarity to Nazgul's mind: gosh, this is a quiet album!  Really quiet, to the point that trying to play it in the car in normal traffic requires the volume knob to be enthusiastically twisted upwards just to hear the music.  And revisiting the original Honour and Darkness review, not having recalled what I'd written first time around, there in black and white was the original review saying much the same!

"I recall buying this CD, pointedly titled "The Battle", and thinking to myself "well, we're in for some pagan battle music here with plenty of samples, blood and guts drumming, vocal overkill and the works."  Or some euphemistic thoughts on a similar vein.  What this album delivers is very different - possibly the most laid-back and serene album that Alex had put his name to as Uruk Hai at this point. It must have been a bit confusing for any newbies buying the album on the basis of the title, expecting a mix of gung-ho epic swordplay mixed with a bit of black metal!

Despite the powerful descriptive names of some of the tracks - and you can't tell me that "Thunderpower" and "The Secret of Steel" would lead you to assume some ethereal noodling would follow - this is very piano-based, ambient music. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's what the man specialises in after all, but it came rather against expectations for this release and as a result it didn't gel with me first time around."

There's a time and a place for everything, of course (with the possible exception of line dancing) so if you pick your moment and are fully prepared to be wafted away on a gentle journey into the further reaches of your imagination, then this album will work very nicely.  Well, up until Trevor comes along, that is, and rouses you from your torpor.  

So what do we make of this reissue overall?  Well, on the upside it's always good to know that these older releases are still being made available to buy, as the perennial problem of having so many limited edition pressings in Hugin's extensive discography is that they are often unobtainable.  Amusingly, Amazon claim that the original CD release is #2,171,144 on their all-time best sellers list, which boggles the mind and surely must be a triumph of bad data over fact?   Anyway we digress; I would imagine that there are a goodly number of people who have acquainted themselves with this album though re-release programmes like this one.  Approached with the right frame of mind there's plenty to lose yourself in with these songs, and much to commend the musicianship and quality of what's on offer.  So it's definitely a thumbs-up from Nazgul.

There's a general consensus to this celebratory air online too, with various distros and online shops welcoming the return of this release, one noting  it to be a classic of "heathen neo-classical folk darkness. Somewhere between the wide ranging sounds of Amber Asylum, Vinterriket and Vangelis" no less.

Let Battle commence...

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