The coming together of two underground labels (Wulfrune Worxx and Runenstein Records) produces this enticing morsel: a four-way split tape release featuring - believe it or not - four bands competing for your attention. The tape comes with a classic cover illustration courtesy of Hugin, with shadowy demonic faces appearing atop a snowy copse of trees: an effective metaphor for both the ambient (forests, nature) and the black metal elements of the music.
First up are Erakko, a one-man Finnish outfit affiliated to the Wulfrune label (according to Metal Archives) and apparently a relatively new entity from sole member Neurotic: aside from this release Erakko have released just one other demo, being 'From The Ancient Pagan Forests'. From this title you may not be surprised to learn that their primary lyrical theme is Paganism, wrapped up in a primordial soup of black metal riffage. The name Errako, by the way, translates into English as 'hermit', or 'loner'. The five songs on offer (half of the number of tracks on the release) are perfectly serviceable, although not especially distinctive.
Morgvir are also Finnish and - it transpires - share the same personnel as Erakko in the form of that man again, Neurotic. Including this split Morgvir has around 15 demos and rehearsal recordings to its name. With more of an experimental black metal/ambient sound, the project has been around since 2003 according to online sources, although the 15 demos alluded to above stem only from the period since 2009. Not sure what the project was up to for those intervening 6 years, but the music here is rather more creative than the Erakko stuff so it would seem that the longer gestation period has paid dividends.
Nihiürbtrath are another newish project, formed in 2008 and with a number of demos to their name. Their themes of choice cover suicide, depression, sickness, loneliness and agony - all good cheerful subjects. Despite having a vaguely European looking band name (umlauts and all) this horde actually hails from deepest Venezuela, so we can reasonably conclude it has nothing to do with the so-far ubiquitous Neurotic. Their single lengthy track, 'S.A.D.N.E.S.S' is, as far as I can establish, unique to this release. In recent times Wulfrune Worxx have been re-releasing the bands demos in tape format, so worth checking them out if primitive black metal is your thing. I confess, such was the fuzzy hiss of the instrumentation and the howling wails of anguish from the vocalist at the outset of the song it put Nazgul in mind of a man inadvertently scalding himself in a hot shower, but what do I know of art...?!
And last but by no means least we have Uruk Hai bringing up a rear-guard action with their one song on this split, the 'Battle of the Southern Flame'. This particular track is also the title of a separate Uruk Hai demo from 2010, featuring one additional bonus song, which was released via the HOD label (run by Grav, of Orcrist, you may remember). We'll cover this one in a separate post in due course.
The interesting thing about finding Uruk Hai tracks on compilations and split releases - particularly where the other music is primarily 'traditional' Black Metal - is that they do stand out as being....well, rather 'quiet' in comparison to their counterparts, seemingly out of place. You can picture the scene - a multitude of tracks of venom-fuelled invective pounding incessantly through your synapses like a rutting rhino on amphetamines are followed by the quintessential lush and relaxed sound of Uruk Hai's keyboard wizardry. It's like propelling a neutron or two at the nucleus of a plutonium or uranium isotope - prepare for conflict and consequent fireworks!!
Such was the case regarding the Hexenreich sampler reviewed on xx (well - there wasn't a nuclear explosion, to be fair, but you see what I'm getting at. The extract of 'Quenta Silmarillion' sat rather uncomfortably amongst its peers.) That said, Hexenreich's offering was a freebie given away by the label, so you couldn't really complain too much about the content. This split tape is different, however, in as far as it's not free, so one might reasonably wonder who the primary audience is for such a release is: a hardened fan of one of the bands who collects all of their material (guilty as charged, m'lord)? A fan of the black metal genre prepared to try out some new groups? A collector of either label's output? Difficult to say.
Whilst 'Battle Of The Southern Flame' is an excellent title (and unusually, so it would seem, not a reference to any part of Tolkien's works) the song itself is not, it has to be said, the most captivating of Uruk Hai tunes of recent times. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but one of the issues is that does seem to go on for longer than perhaps it needs to. This could be in part a knee-jerk reaction following on from the blitzkrieg approaches of the songs that precede it (Nihiürbtrath apart, whose lengthy track is a struggle to get through), or maybe Nazgul is just having 'one of those days', but having played this track a few times there is a tendency to 'de-tune' from it a little and to listen to it only as background music rather than something of immediate attention, even after the onset of the unusual drumming patterns or the advent of the rasping vocals later in the song. That may well be the intent of the piece, of course, as most Uruk Hai music is hardly in your face, but there's something a little 'flat' about this track compared to some of the more captivating melodies that other recent demos have produced.
So, to draw some conclusions. The styles of these four bands are not immediately an obvious 'fit' as the material on offer is quite different in nature, with Nihiürbtrath occupying a quite different niche to Erakko/Morgvir, and Uruk Hai being somewhere different entirely. Musically speaking there's nothing massively memorable on the tape, although nothing massively offensive either. It would require a pretty eclectic taste to truly appreciate it all. At the same time, you have to give credit to the labels involved simply in getting some product out there, for there will be fans of all of these projects who will quite rightly ignore all of this review to listen for themselves.
Ultimately, and speaking as a die-hard Uruk Hai fan, Nazgul would suggest that if you must hear this song you would be better off seeking out the HOD "Battle of the Southern Flame" demo as you'll also benefit from its bonus track. Perhaps this 4-way split might yet turn a fan of one of the other bands onto Uruk Hai should they be in the mood for something more peaceful ... and that certainly wouldn't be a bad thing.
As a very 'nerdy' way to finish this post, Nazgul notes that the photograph of the inlay for this release shown on the Metal Archives site shows only the Wulfrune label logo, and has an edition number of 66 copies only. One presumes, therefore, that the Runenstein involvement came after the initial inlay mock-up was done, and increased the volume by a further 33 copies. Quite how the accompanying narrative to the Metal Archives entry manages to give the edition as 100 copies remains a mystery...!?