Heavy Metal Bvvk Klvb Vol. I: The J. R. R. Tolkien Legendarium
Greetings, flushketeers, and welcome to our new semi-regular feature, Bvvk Klvb ov Hell! In this feature, we, your benevolent toilet overlords, are going to present some of our favorite literature and provide you with an accompanying soundtrack for getting your book-worm on. This week we’ll be discussing the J. R. R. Tolkien legendarium. Of all of literature’s great authors, Tolkien has had one of the biggest influences on metal, perhaps second only to Lovecraft. Masterlord SteelDragon, Stockhausen, and I have all picked out several bands to help you immerse into the world of Middle Earth (Leif Bearikson was going to help, but he’s an illiterate pleb). So come on in, put on your jam-jams, turn on your reading lamp, light up your favorite pipe of Old Toby, and crack open your copy of the Silmarillion.
For those of you posers among us whose only familiarity with the legendarium is the admittedly good Lord of the Rings movies and the admittedly so-so Hobbit movies, you’re probably familiar with the giant, nasty spider Shelob from Return of the King. But did you know that Shelob’s mother was a bigger, nastier spider named Ungoliant? Ungoliant is one of the most malevolent beings in the entire Tolkien legendarium, on par even with Melkor (who’s basically Satan in Middle Earth). Her origins are never truly illumined, but at some point during Morgoth’s machinations to rule Middle Earth, the dark lord allied himself with the insatiable arachnid. However, Ungoliant’s gluttony knew no bounds, and after she consumed the light from the Two Trees of Valinor, she turned against her ally Melkor and tried to consume the light of the Silmarils. Melkor, the quintessential villain of Middle Earth, was so frightened that he unleashed a primal howl, awakening the Balrogs from the depths of Angband. The demons of flame and shadow rushed to their master’s aid and drove the voracious spider away with their fiery lashes. The true fate of the beast is unknown, although it is commonly held that she birthed the devil-spawn arachnids that would go on to plague the good people of Middle Earth before consuming herself to sate her endless appetite.
If none of that means anything to you, Ungoliant was a huge evil spider that tried to (somewhat successfully) consume some of the most powerful and important relics in Tolkien’s middle earth before spawning other evil giant spiders. As an illustration of the monster’s menace, I’ve chosen the band Ungoliant. These Oakland doomsters peddled a lumbering, consuming blend of epic doom metal that sounds at parts Sleep and other times Pallbearer. I’m not always into doom, but I enjoy the ponderous heaviness of these monstrous riffs because they summon in my mind an image of a giant spider swallowing the sun. I can dig it. Plus, that album art is tasty. Bad news: the group disbanded. Good news, you can download the album No More the World of Man for free here.
I’ll again anchor this little piece of Middle Earth history to material with which you are probably already familiar. Do you remember the giant battering ram that the orcs used in the Return of the King to smash the gates of Minas Tirith? Well, that battering ram’s name was Grond, and Sauron’s servants named it after the mace wielded by Sauron’s master Morgoth (re: Melkor). Nicknamed the “Hammer of the Underworld,” Grond was used to devastating effect in Melkor’s war against the elves, earning the fearsome weapon a deadly reputation. So feared was this brute instrument that the devious orcs of Mordor christened their wolf-shaped battering ram after it in an attempt to strike fear into the hearts of the men of Gondor. I daresay they succeeded.
Thankfully, Grond’s namesake band is equally pummeling. This burly crust band from Moscow blasts and beats with hellish force before slowing the punishment down to give you time to relent in fear. Howling from the Deep is a harrowing siege of blackened force and terror wielded expertly like the mace of these Russian dark lords. Download the album here.
Bane of Isildur
I’ll conclude my survey of the evil of Middle Earth with an examination of the One Ring. If you’re even the least bit familiar with Tolkien’s legendarium, you should be aware of Sauron’s ring of power. If you’re not, get with the program! Sauron, in an attempt to secure power for himself, deceived the great lords of the men, dwarves, and elves and tricked them into casting for themselves mighty rings. However, he secretly forged an evil ring to which all the other rings were held in thrall. Into this ring he poured all of his hatred and malice, and it gave him the ability to bend the living and the dead to his indomitable will. The battle over this ring, and its eventual destruction, is one of the key threads of the legendarium. What you may not know, though, is that the ring is sometimes called Isildur’s Bane because it corrupted the heart of one of the human leaders when he was on the verge of destroying it. Isildur, the heir to the throne of Gondor and the would-be-hero of the free peoples of Middle Earth was undone by Sauron’s wicked influence and by the greed in his own heart. The ring eventually betrayed Isildur, and a band of orcs led by its insidious call slew him in the woods. The ring, having betrayed Isildur, slipped away into a river and was forgotten until a certain lowly humanoid found it many, many years later.
I’ve selected the band Bane of Isildur to round out my portion of the Bvvk Klvb meeting. These Australian pagans supply us with a blackened tale of Norse victories and folk traditions. This band incorporates some tasteful solos and melodic influences into their soaring songs, lending the entire affair an air of the epic. Bane of Isildur’s only full length, Black Wings, is music for slaying orcs and hanging out with Ents. Check out “Furious Hunt” below.
Even casual Tolkien fans (known by us nerds as “total fucking posers”) know about Cirith Ungol, though they may not immediately recognize it by name. Here’s a hint, Cirith Ungol is Sindarin for “Spider’s cleft”, from cirith (“cleft, pass”) and ungol (“spider”). Why? Very good! “Something about spiders” is correct. One particular Great Spider named Shelob made this mountain pass her webby death-lair, much to the dismay and probable webby death of Orcs, Elves and Men (and certain known Hobbits) that used it to get in and out of Mordor through the Ephel Dúath. She is the greatest offspring of the enigmatic, primordial Ungoliant, though rather than sucking every last ray of light out of Arda, Shelob is preoccupied with sucking every last blood and guts out of any living creature that wanders near her lair in Cirith Ungol (though Orc apparently isn’t her favorite meal).
“But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.”
Cirith Ungol the band was sporting the Tolkien band name way before those corpse-painted Scandinavian forest prancers ever did. The band was a largely unsung traditional metal hero, and garner far more attention now as a lost relic than they ever did when they were pioneering epic heavy metal with the dudes in Manilla Road. Like Manilla Road, they had a singer that mostly everyone agreed was annoying, but still managed to pen some really killer metal. That being said, I have a bone to pick with Cirith Ungol because they always pronounced their name with a soft c (“see’reeth oo’ngol”), when EVERYONE KNOWS it’s actually “kee’reeth oo’ngol.” Read a Sindarin pronunciation guide, you nerds!
The lads in Summoning were once part of a black metal club for cool kids only called the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate. While the dudes in Abigor were generally busy preaching about Satan, and the rest of the “syndicate” (Pervertum, Trifixion, Pazuzu, and Golden Dawn) were generally busy making comparatively shitty black metal, Prospector and Silenius’ enthusiasm for Middle Earth made sweet, sweet love to their enthusiasm for metal and birthed something reciprocally rad. It’s clear that, unlike those half-assers in Cirith Ungol, Summoning don’t like their Tolkien watered down. I’d be willing to bet that Prospector and Silenius have memorized the entire lineage of the Dúnedain and have full conversations about it in fluent Elvish or Black Speech within the cavernous basementous depths.
A quick perusal of their song names or lyrics will cause the Tolkien-versed to nod in nerdish approval of and appreciation for the lesser-known deep lore of Arda within. The beautifully varied soundscapes that they manage to create with their mastery of keyboard abuse and relatively slow-paced approach to epic/atmospheric black metal is just as indicative of Middle Earth as Howard Shore’s compositions for the film series, albeit in dramatically different ways. Summoning are still forging great music today and last year’s Old Mornings Dawn comes highly recommended to LARPers and non-LARPers alike. Here’s one from what is arguably their best record, Dol Guldur, named after a stronghold in Mirkwood, strategically key in Sauron’s rise to power.
Balrog/Diablo Swing Orchestra
For my section of the Bvvk Klvb, I decided to start off with Balrogs. If you have to ask why, get your weak-sauce poser face out of my awesome metal face. This is a metal blog, so I’m gonna write about shadowy, fiery demon beings. While we all remember the massive, winged fire-beast that Gandalf battled on the bridge of Khazad-dûm (and subsequently vanquished atop Durin’s Tower on Zirakzigil), the exact form of a Balrog is never clearly and consistently described in Tolkien’s writings. Some of you fellow dweebs out there are probably aware of the development and alterations that occurred in Tolkien’s writings throughout his life. We’re going to cut him a little slack if some details shift around, since he was, you know, writing a universe out of his head.
There are differences in Tolkien’s writing as to how many Balrogs there were throughout Middle Earth’s history. In early writings that were eventually published in The Silmarillion, Balrogs number in the thousands. They were fierce and fiery demons, roughly twice the size of humans, who could be killed with great difficulty by elves or men. Gothmog, the legendary Lord of the Balrogs who commanded devastating armies in the War of Beleriand, was finally slain by the great elf warrior Ecthelion of the Fountain, but they both perished in the vicious fight. Balrogs were also known to ride into battle on the backs of dragons.
Let me say that again.
Balrogs. Would ride into battle. On the backs. Of dragons. You can’t tell me your hand doesn’t at least start to grasp an imaginary sword to raise above your head while you roar curses at the weak and foolish hearts of men. Anyway, their characteristics changed throughout different writings, and by the time Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, they took on an even darker, more powerful status in Middle Earth. More than mere beasts of the world, Balrogs were now described as Maiar, angelic beings that existed before the creation of the Earth. Melkor (who, as you know, would eventually be known as Morgoth) corrupted these spirits from the get-go, bent them to his will, and they have been loyal to the darkness ever since. While still described as creatures of darkness and fire, they seemed to have the ability to wrap themselves in shadow, obscuring a central physical form. They are, however, generally thought to be physically massive and darkly powerful, requiring the strength of a fellow Maiar (such as Gandalf) in order to be killed.
And alas, we all know that fateful story of Durin, the great dwarf-lord who bore too deep into the Misty Mountains with his great underground city of Moria. He awakened a Balrog in hiding, who killed Durin and his son Náin, and who pushed the dwarves out entirely. For the next several hundred years, orcs occupied the realm and the Balrog either killed or drove out any other intruders. That is, obviously, until Gandalf came and laid the smack down on that smokestackin’ hack. But, since Balrogs are mean, nasty motherflushers, Gandalf perished in the fight as well. It was a well-earned victory, though, because Gandalf was sent back as Gandalf the White for his troubles.
So that about wraps up our discussion on Balrogs. I chose to put my subtleness to use here by selecting the band Balrog to represent Balrogs. These guys are a black metal band from Belarus-Sweden-Italy-Argentina-France who released three albums in the 2000s, including 2006’s Bestial Satanic Terror. That title sums up Balrogs pretty well, and the song “Give War a Chance” has a healthy dose of death metal to beef up the evil vibes. You can hear Balrogs dismounting their dragons and stomping toward you with clear intentions of consuming everything you ever were in their fiery grasp.
Oh, and if a fight scene with a Balrog ever ended up in a weird musical, the ensuing dance number would most certainly be “Balrog Boogie” by the ever-fun Diablo String Orchestra. It couldn’t be a more different vibe, but these guys rule. I can imagine some fantastic choreography across that tiny bridge, with some fancy stepping from both Gandalf and his foe. Their respective weapons would clearly be used as old-timey dance canes, and surely a whimsical top hat would make an appearance.
Falls of Rauros
I’m going to do this next one backwards and introduce the band first. You may or may not have seen my write-ups foretelling the glories of the upcoming Falls of Rauros album, but here’s a quick update: the digital preorders can be found here ,and the physical ones should be up soon! These guys take their name from the great waterfall in the River Anduin, which separates Emyn Muil above from Nindalf below. The area at the top of the falls is where the Fellowship of the Ring disbanded, and Frodo and Sam pushed on to Mordor by themselves. And, as you (hopefully) know, Boromir’s body was sent over the falls in a boat after being killed in the preceding Uruk-hai attack.
With that definition out of the way, we have to push aside the specifics of the Tolkien realm for a true glimpse at Falls of Rauros. Their lyrics deal with topics of misanthropy and a hint of disdain for humanity; a cumulative cry of “what have we done” echoes beneath their long, stretched out musical wanderings. While it would be inaccurate to force their catalog into a Tolkien framework, their sound is certainly Tolkien in scope. It stretches, develops, meanders, and has an overarching sense of a journey. Listening through their last album, The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood, would be the musical equivalent of taking the High Pass through the Misty Mountains, or perhaps wandering the Old Forest Path through Mirkwood.
One of my favorite parts about the Lord of the Rings series is a sense of the greater history of Middle Earth. It doesn’t jump right out at you, but through references to great old battles, legends of ancient heroes and enemies, and the singing of songs of ages past, you understand that this story arc is a just a small glimpse at the massive timeline of Tolkien’s world. While it’s fun to bust out The Silmarillion or related texts to check out those things firsthand, I really enjoy the sense of wonder from looking at those ages past through the eyes of the characters at hand. To them, those stories have been passed down for thousands of years; the great battles, mighty warriors, star-crossed lovers, and heroic deeds are raised on a pedestal of romanticism. It’s almost a form of escapism within the escapism of the book itself.
So what am I blabbing about here? I feel that the folk-tinged atmospheres of Falls of Rauros’ brand of black metal have that far-off gaze that looks through the fog of our painful present and into a hazy past. That past is sometimes harsh, sometimes melancholy, or sometimes glowingly sentimental, because their broad and complex sound reaches far into influences outside of by-the-numbers black metal. Drift through this YouTube stream of their entire last album, and remind yourself to preorder their new album.