Tolkien metal, for obvious reasons, is very important to me. I love albums that get the sound right, the bring a new sort of depth to the world of Middle-Earth and new perspectives on the events that were transcribed by the professor, and on the flip side I hate things that cheapen the legacy and use that world as an excuse to try and tap into a market. I’ve seen both done dozens of times. The list of bands I dislike for it is much longer than the list that I do like. I am very picky when it comes to Tolkien Metal because the music has to match up with the literature. I stumbled across an album by a one-man band in Poland called Erebos while searching through Bandcamp and YouTube. He recently, as in a few days ago, put out an instrumental metal album (styles running the gambit from black to doom to power) entitled Nan iChir Gelair Mordor. It goes without saying that I was intrigued and I was cautious. Bands that one stumble upon have great potential to be gold (as Summoning was for me all those years ago) or they could be a polished turd (and I won’t even begin to list those bands). So what was this Erebos? What did he have to add to the legendarium? What stories can he add layers to? What parts of Middle-Earth can he illuminate? Does he belong in the Tolkien metal conversation in the same way Olvar does? As Varg would say, let’s find out.
To begin with, the album seems a little more inspired by the game “Shadows of Mordor” than the books which might bother some hardcore fans (to be honest it doesn’t win a lot of points with me either) but I encourage you to still give it a shot. Shadows of Mordor might be a noncanonical mess that attempts to tell a story that, in some cases, bastardizes what Tolkien was trying to say in his works, but visually its compelling enough. I’ve not played much myself so I shouldn’t judge it too harshly (I have a very bad habit of judging extremely harsh at the wrong time). With all that being said, I have to ask a serious question about the music before I even listen to the music. Is this really Tolkien metal or is this just fantasy metal? It’s not an easy question to dismiss. I want to, but I don’t think I should. Believe me, I had to really think about this, maybe a little too much. Ultimately, I think it should. I think it should be taken with a grain of salt in the way that Blind Guardian is Tolkien metal but not completely. The intention is clear: this album wants to be Tolkien metal; it just doesn’t use the best source material.
The music, though, is it any good? That’s an easy question. Yes. It has sweeping melodies and heavy riffs that are really reminiscent of Battlelore or the aforementioned Blind Guardian. The music doesn’t really veer into the black stuff like Summoning but it’s heavy enough. The mistake a lot of bands make is trying to copy Summoning while being unable to build the kind of atmosphere that Summoning has perfected. Erebos opts not to try to do that and instead forges their (his own technically) path. It’s all really good. The entire album is instrumental, putting the emphasis of the narrative, rightly, on the music rather than on any sort of vocal accompaniment. After listening to this album several times I think it was a very wise decision to exclude vocals. Why? Because it would be really hard, in my opinion, to find a vocalist that can match the tempo, tone, and atmosphere of the all movements and genres that this album encompasses. The vocals would have taken away some of the power of the music, plain and simple. Without vocals, the music has a much greater range, more room, if you will, to create a unique sound. The band might not win tons of points for originality, I can hear a lot (A LOT) of Agalloch, Battlelore, and Mastodon in the music but the blending is so well done I won’t detract anything. The production is beautifully clear, giving the listener a pure experience rather than a muddled, fuzzy one. I love fuzzy production but sometimes the production can hurt the narrative of any given album.
Nan iChir Gelair Mordor’s narrative is a little hard to find. But don’t let that deter you. You can tell from the titles of the album that the focus is very much on the darker forces of Middle-Earth (they are supposedly the most interesting, right?) which is a bit bothersome because the forces of darkness are seen as “cool” and “trendy” in many places, not powerful or single-minded. Even so, I liked the way each character was framed by the music. Each song looks specifically at a different character, meaning each has a rich, unique sound that separates it from the rest of the album. The music gives these characters sound, a rich headbanging worthy sound.
Ultimately, though, I need to decide if this is really Tolkien metal, or worthy of being in the conversation of what Tolkien metal really is (a conversation for a different date, I think). It belongs in the discussion on sheer talent alone. I would not have been able to tell that this was a one-man project, the music is seamlessly produced and constructed perfectly. If Erebos continues to make music, which I sincerely hope he does, I think finding material straight from the source would make for richer album content. Music truly inspired by Tolkien has a way of being extraordinary. Erebos has great potential and a good path ahead of him.
Highlights: Witch King of Angmar, Tower of the Moon
If you enjoyed this try: Gaoth, Agalloch, Moonlight Guardian
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