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Morgul has got to be one of the least known Norwegian extreme metal acts to have achieved their level of visibility, had anyone actually been looking. With albums out on Napalm Records, Century Media and Season of Mist, you'd think that they would have stirred up some further conversation, but I am hard pressed to find more than a handful of souls who have actually fucking listened to them, or even heard the name... It's honestly a shame, because most of Charmock's (aka Jack D. Ripper) tunes are honestly quite good for what they are, and Morgul is probably the only Norse band of those early-mid 90s whose interest was strictly in promoting horror concepts through the genre, as opposed to the usual paeans of mythology, sacrilege and Satanic self-empowerment so common among peers.
Granted, black metal is the means to Morgul, and not the ends, and various of Ripper's albums have forayed into realms of industrial, Gothic and symphonic music. Even this debut, Lost in Shadows Grey, has a lot of riffs molded in a pure Black Sabbath vein (like in the bridge of "Hunger of the Immortals"), so that one could make a black/doom argument and not be far from the mark. Like a more Gothic structured, less psychedelic precursor to Furze. It's easily the most primitive of the project's discography, with really raw guitar tone that seems little more than at the demo level, but I have to admit I enjoyed the fuzzy honesty. The keys are incredibly cheesy, from operatic choir pads to the almost John Carpenter-like intro to "Enthroned", they're almost constantly being used to enforce that haunted castle atmosphere of the cover artwork. Jack also uses understated acoustics, samples of wolf howls and other predictable atmospherics, and very impressively, performs all of the instruments himself. And while the bass is not really important here, and his black rasps are status quo for the genre and not all that significant, he's admittedly not a bad guitarist, piano player or drummer.
Overall, the album does not distinguish itself very much in terms of individual riffs or songs, but functions more as a primal span towards fundamental gloom and morbid, rustic and antiquated European horror. There are a good variety of riffs, from the aforementioned Sabbath-like grooves to the faster paced tremolo lines, but nothing really incendiary like what Emperor or Immortal were pulling off around the same era. The tracks are quite long, and there are only 5 of them, ranging from about 7 1/2-9 minutes, but the journey is 100% consistent through its many contrasts, and you feel that solitary, fell grandeur for the full 41 minutes. I love the swarthy symphonic sequences like the opening to "My Bride...", despite their lo-fi nature, and you get the impression Charmock could damn well have written a number of albums in the vein of Mortiis' 'dungeon synth' style and I probably would have bought every one. On the other hand, I'd be damned to actually pick out a particular track as a favorite, the quality is very level throughout and though structured well, there isn't anything here which is novel or unique enough to really rush back to.
Despite the grandeur Charmock was aiming at here, Lost in Shadows Grey manages to avoid any sense of pretentiousness, thanks to the very down to earth production values. I'm sure there were about a thousand black metal demos in the mid 90s which sounded exactly like this, exploring the campier side of the genre, but I have to say I'm just a sucker for the sound. It takes me back to a place well before that scene really burst open, even though the album's chronological placement was not so early. The crudest of Morgul, no doubt, but still worth hearing, especially if you're a fan of records like Old Man's Child's Born of the Flickering, Dimmu Borgir's For All Tid or Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times. An appreciable gloom to accompany that next cup of tea on some misty, morose, overcast afternoon.
After hearing that main band member and chief song-writer Charmock had supposedly slagged it off himself, I initially had my doubts about Morgul’s debut full-length Lost In Shadows Grey, and whether or not it was actually worth listening to. However, following a few spins, I found myself greatly enjoying this obscure offering of Norwegian black metal and its enchanting fusion of synthesised orchestral instrumentation, haunting atmosphere and majestic, free-flowing structures.
Taking rather explicit influence from the likes of neighbouring black metal heavy-weight Satyricon’s mid-90’s output, as well as Old Man’s Child and Limbonic Art’s earlier albums, this release is pretty typical of black metal coming out of Norway at the time, though the progressive song structures and lengthy acoustic interludes give the music an interesting dimension. This relatively stock-standard approach Morgul take however, has still produced around 40 minutes of really killer material, starting out with the imposing beast of a track that is “Enthroned.” An entrancing spell of keyboard melodies kick off the song, which soon builds up into a climatic ascension of thunderous tom fills and cymbal crashes, elevating keyboard choir droning and a surging wall of raw, distorted guitar. Even by now, you can hear how loaded with atmosphere and horrific ambiance the music is, as well as the quality of the production. It’s a little more refined in comparison to the harsh, grating sound of their aforementioned countrymen’s earlier work, which compliments the various synthesized instruments like flute and violin extremely well. The drums also benefit from this clear, yet still slightly abrasive job, with Hex’s tight double-bass work, blast-beats and fills around the snare and toms well-defined and hard-hitting.
With quite an expansive repertoire of techniques, Charmock’s guitar work is surprisingly varied, shifting from melancholic acoustic strumming to scathing tremolo picking onslaughts and just about everywhere in between. Some of the individual riffs really grabbed me by surprise too, particularly the mid-paced grooves with lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs, which have seemed to incorporate a lot more conventional melody into them. The leads and solos are also infused with a rich, melodic flare, making memorable appearances throughout all 5 tracks, although the stand-out is definitely the harmonized lead section during the outro of “My Bride...” Closing with a fucking epic middle-eastern sounding guitar harmony, this brilliant lead work crowns an absolutely magnificent track, although it would’ve been even better if they’d scrapped those goofy half-spoken, half-wailed lines. Fortunately, these are kept to a minimum, and aren’t really that prominent in the mix when compared with the soaring leads, eerie keyboard work and solid back-beat of the drums at the forefront of the music.
Undertaking vocal duties as well, Charmock’s mix of dry, raspy shrieks and piercing high-pitched screams are also very well executed, delivering a commanding and extremely vicious performance from start to finish. It is his work with the acoustic guitar that I always seem to find the most impressive though. His ability to interweave these beautiful passages almost seamlessly throughout the album is just astonishing, whether it be following a full-fledged section of blast beats and piercing tremolo picking or layered together with the mournful baying of wolves like in “Hunger of the Immortals.” Two separate acoustic guitar parts are often merged together as well, usually with one taking more of a lead role while the other is playing a more straight-forward rhythm, and too sound absolutely magical.
Of course, there are a few flaws here and there, with the main offender being some painfully amateur sounding keyboard choir work during “The Dark Infinity,” however these are all only very minor in the context of what’s generally a damn fine slab of Norwegian black metal. It hasn’t exactly aged as well as the likes of Nemesis Divina either, however this underground gem is still worthy of any black metal fan’s attention, and should definitely not go left unheard.