Monday, 15 August 2016

URUK HAI / HULDUEFNI split


Band: URUK HAI with Hulduefni
Title: Untitled split release (though the back inlay simply states 'Split Album 2015')
Format: Professionally released CDr on the WinterWolf Records label (Germany) on 15 October 2015, cat ref WWP0134, being a split release between Austrian Uruk Hai and Portuguese Huldeufni.  Colour covers, picture disc, comes in a clear jewel case.
Edition: 100 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

Hulduefni
01. Medieval Space  12.42
02. Spring Time  4.40

Uruk Hai
03. After The Fall Of Gil-galad  6.12    
04. Even The First Shadows Were Felt In Mirkwood  2.31
05. The Blood Of Beren  4.38

Another day, another Uruk Hai release on WinterWolf Records.  It's become a bit of a thing recently, in the virtual pages of Honour and Darkness, but if that's where the action is then that's where Nazgul will drag you (kicking and screaming optional).

It's a relatively short release this, between Hugin's best known project and one that was new to me - Hulduefni, of Portugal.  Indeed, so intrigued was Nazgul with this project an interview was set up to find out a little more about it, and that will be gracing your browser soon to complement this post.  Thus any burning questions that you may have about the origin or meaning of the band's name, their inside trouser leg measurements or whatever else it is that you find essential to know will be covered then.

As usual, a nicely presented item greets the owner of this split release (rather uninspiringly titled 'Split'), which is the usual way with items from this German label.  A restrained cover image in pastel hues meets the eye first off the bat, with the viewer's attention eventually drawn to the figure standing rather forlornly half down down the right of the slope, raising the inevitable questions, 'who is it, and what's the silly bugger doing standing there?'  Perhaps we shall never know...

The entry for this release has been added by the man behind Hulduefni (João Simões) and it's interesting to note the range of musical styles that he's put in the descriptor for the album: Electronic, Rock, Classical, Folk, World, & Country, Ambient, Black Metal, Celtic, Dark Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Neofolk, and Neo-Classical.  That doesn't leave too much to chance, does it?! We'll obviously be picking up this eclectic set of influences in more detail in the upcoming interview, but suffice to say being armed with that information one presses play on the death-deck without an awful lot of clues what to expect from Hulduefni's pair of songs, other than the first one might have a medieval twang to it (or not), and the second one might either be about blossom and little flowers, or involve a lot of bouncing around.

Oh, the anticipation is killing me.  Let's get on with it....

Well, as it turns out, Nazgul was half right.  Sort of.  Opener 'Medieval Space' does indeed vaguely invoke a rather antiquated sound, achieved through the apparent use of (presumably synthesised) dulcimer and other medieval instrumentation.  But it's certainly not a feudal battery in the style of what a band like Jaldaboath are knocking out, dear me no.  It's a form of adding some texture to what is otherwise a bubbling medley of ambient and almost cinematic endeavour.  If Flash Gordon had taken a court jester along with him and left old Hans Zarkov behind, this is the sort of thing they might have jammed to on the way to Planet Mongo.  

The song starts out with some distant little 'pings' of sound, creating the idea of being cast adrift in space, before slowly but surely instruments come along to fill the void and bring all manner of interesting little tweaks and nuances to the track, including the aforementioned 'medieval' dulcimer and other sounds.  It's a grower, this track: the more you listen to it the more you hear, which is usually a good sign of a well composed song.

Second song 'Spring Time' is a little more 'normal' in that it is dominated by the lush sounds of strings and keyboards, and has a fine melody that creates an interesting listen full of light and shade.  Definitely more towards the neo-classical end of the spectrum than drone or electronica, it's a pleasant listen although suffers slightly - like many songs in these genres - by being a touch forgettable after the track has ended.  It could almost be the music that accompanies the credits at the end of a BBC period drama, such is the atmosphere created.

In turning to the Uruk Hai side of the disc (not literally turning, you understand, for that way lies madness) the immediate question is simple: which iteration of Uruk Hai will be on display today?  Given the various flip-flops in style on recent releases, ranging from guitar and vocal-laden pieces through to instrumental ambient metal orchestrations, it's anyone's guess what will greet the intrepid listener today.  And the answer .... a bit of both!

Take lead-off song 'After The Fall Of Gil-galad' (evidently a mere contrivance by Hugin in a quest to put together yet another Gil-galad compilation album, following on from the 'presumed-to -be-definitive' compilations "Gil-galad (The Whole Story)" and "Gil-galad (The Ultimate Story)".  Look out for "Gil-galad (The Neverending Story)" for Christmas 2016!?).

It kicks you in the teeth immediately with an evil guitar riff and Hugin on vocals, and barrels its way along menacingly with yet more of the woes of Ereinion Gil-galad, the last Great Elf-king of Middle-earth and the last High King of the Eldar, following the Siege of Barad-dûr.  It was Bilbo Baggins, of course, who translated the popular song about him into the Common Tongue, thus giving the world this splendid little ditty:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing;
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.


Rumours have abounded for years that there was, in fact, a fourth verse which ran:

At midnight, 'neath a starry sky
anguished wails through nighttime fly
They tell a tale, as time doth pass:
Sauron's fire sure kicked his ass


Though to be strictly accurate these rumours may well have just been made up on the spot by Nazgul.

The song kicks ass too, launching the unsuspecting listener into a maelstrom of music and vocals as Hugin holds nothing back and presses the 'kill' button from the get-go.  It's the Austrian equivalent of Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound', creating a dense and impenetrable tidal wave of music set to engulf anything not firmly tied down.  Both alarming and enjoyable in equal measure, and complemented with some varied effects and female vocals too.  Quite the modern Uruk Hai sound.

Which is ironic, as the very next track 'Even The First Shadows Were Felt In Mirkwood' - a short, instrumental piece - feels like a throw back to early days by comparison.  Although, that said, only to circa 2013-14 rather than back to the early period 2000-2005 you understand: there's a lot of polish within this short piece.  It's only flaw - similar to the comment made above relating to some of the Huldeufni music - is that whilst its great fun during playback it does leave you floundering a little after it has ended to recall a particularly memorable moment.  The easiest solution to that, of course, is to whack it onto continuous play and immerse yourself in an endless loop until it's finally gone in!

The concluding song 'The Blood Of Beren' is lovely, though.  I presume the song name may come from the legend of Beren's genealogy and lineage, for Lúthien bore Beren a son named Dior, who was considered to be one of the fairest beings to ever live, "for in him flowed the blood of Men, the blood of Elves, and the blood of the Ainur".

If you take out the almost ritualist hypnotic vocal part, in which the title of the song is intoned in a surprisingly effective manner over a crunchy guitar riff, the remainder of the music is actually something that you can imagine appearing on a latter-day Blue Oyster Cult album!  There's nice guitar riffs, uptempo sections where things get a bit more spicy (think 'Moon Crazy' from their "Mirrors" album), great melody and no little panache.  Probably the stand out track on this little album, I'd say.

All in all then, a worthy purchase and another step on the evolutionary path for Uruk Hai whilst introducing us to the interesting world of Hulduefni.  Which leads us rather nicely in a full circle back to the promised interview, which will be heading your way very soon.

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