“Cold be hand and heart and bone, and cold be sleep under stone: never more to wake on stony bed, never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead. In the black wind the stars shall die, and still on gold here let them lie, till the dark lord lifts his hand over dead sea and withered land.”
Tolkien’s writing and heavy metal are a combination that have existed more-or-less since the creation of heavy metal music. Nearly every sub-genre of metal also owes exceptional conceptual and thematic debt to Tolkien’s revered Lord of the Rings material. Of particular reverence to this material are power metal and black metal, and both sub-genres commonly use themes of warfare, magic, nature, and so on. Black metal arose in Norway and its anti-Christian and pro-Nordic Pagan sentiments found themselves at home alongside the themes of Tolkien’s work, which were drawn from Norse mythology themselves. Despite this relation, there’s far and few albums or bands which pay direct heed to Tolkien’s ideas and spirit in such an effective and sincere manner as Emyn Muil have done on their début album Túrin Turambar Dagnir Glaurunga. Those bands that do create Tolkien-inspired music, in my experience, have the ideas but none of the spirit, and the spirit of the work ends up being cheesy and campy in comparison with the lush and noble atmospheres of Tolkien’s stories and books.
The world of Tolkien, filled with noble knights, ghastly goblins, wizened wizards, smoldering battlefields, and tests of honor and virtue, is brought to life once again by Emyn Muil. The band describes their music as “epic black metal”, and the title is not unwarranted, with songs evoking powerful martial atmospheres, the sounds of battle and eagles overhead, swords clashing, and armies rising. There is influence here from the likes of Summoning (a strongly Tolkien-influenced black metal band) and Windir. The strongest possible influence I hear may be Fenriz’s short-lived solo folk black metal project Isengard (again with direct influences from Tolkien), with sounds of wizened men calling, folk chanting, tribal drums, and goblins growling. Isengard’s combination of these esoteric metal elements and folk sounds created a unique blend of musical genres that to this day is considered a cult classic by fans of both folk metal and black metal. Emyn Muil is the only band I have heard since Isengard came and went that sounds particularly similar.
Part of the reason Emyn Muil evokes Tolkien’s material so effectively is by using a large palette of sounds to produce the various characters, sides, atmospheres and situations of the Lord of the Rings mythos. There are flutes, horns, and fuzzy powerful guitar riffs reminiscent of Burzum (again, Tolkien influenced – “Burzum” means “Darkness” in the black speech of Mordor), pounding blast-beat drumming typical of black metal, bird calls as musical notes, and more. The sounds in this album are like a series of exotic spices on a well-prepared dish. The black metal here is good, succulent and full in sound, with surprisingly good production quality considering the genre, and these sounds provide the listener with a truly unique experience and keep their ears open for little musical surprises, which are littered through every song. Each song really stands out on its own two legs and I never felt as though they ran together or became indiscernible from one another, despite all definitely sounding like the same band put them together; I consider this a very good mark on an album’s overall composition. It is all-too-common with a small band’s debut to have one or two good songs, usually right at the front to catch people as a hook, and then the rest of the music is either filler or simply not up to the quality of the better tracks, and usually the musicians know this. Emyn Muil seems to have avoided this lazy approach, and their album is far better because of that attention to detail and consistency of quality.
It’s refreshing to hear music like this in a sub-genre that, especially in the last few years, has become completely overrun with duplicate-sounding and/or terrible bands, and especially remarkable that so few people seem to have heard of Emyn Muil; though, to be fair, their début album was just released this year in January. In a world growing increasingly more dull with lack of important cultural mythologies or spirit, Emyn Muil presents a by-gone adoration of fictional work that goes beyond simple adoration of fiction and evokes the very kinds of spirits that fiction is comprised of. Other black metal bands making any material in 2013 already have a high standard to attempt to overcome, and only time will tell if they are up to the challenge set by this fantastic album.
01) Túrin Son of Húrin
02) Aure Entuluva
03) Arise in Gondolin
04) Mîm’s Betrayal
05) Dark Riots from Angband
07) Path of the Doomed
08) The Sack of Nargothrond
09) Death of Glaurung
10) Hail to the Black Sword
11) When Beren Met Lúthien