HITHLUM hail from sunny California but don’t let the geography of their homeland fool you, for the hearts of these three individuals are as cold as they come. This outfit plays atmospheric Pagan Black Metal blending many tempos, instruments and moods in order to fully guide the listener through an epic tale. The two major elements of their sound are the keyboard heavy passages in stark contrast with the more blistering mid-paced minimalist passages. This combination works to some degree but has its own set of quirks.
The first thing which bothered me about this album was the concept. Tolkien has certainly been influential to many Metal bands and an album such as this occurring in the Black Metal scene was certainly not a surprise. What I fail to fully appreciate is the direction the album has taken. Instead of perhaps offering an epic soundscape of perpetuation where a definite story is progressed with each new track, this three-piece decided to offer 10 separate and distinct tracks which address different elements of Tolkien’s world. The tracks only come together at the seams due to drawing from the same lore and possessing a somewhat similar musical approach. This is where the album fails to achieve its maximum potential as each composition seems to almost be in dedication to a particular character (for instance Saruman in “Hidden Beneath Fangorn”) or group of people (The Rohirrim in “Land Of The Horse Lords” or the eagles in “Children Of Thorondor”). This is not altogether horrible but I feel it’s like reading cliff notes about Middle-Earth instead of grasping the actual War of the Ring itself. I am not foolish enough to ask a band to offer the entire soundtrack to the novels in one fell swoop of a single album, but they could have focused on one particular passage/battle/event and provided a more concise and whole piece, not the fractured album of “In The Land Of Mordor, Where The Shadows Lie”. The title itself does not even seem to address the idea or scope of the album as many of the songs do not even have to do with Mordor itself.
Musically, HITHLUM are not too far off the mark. They understand how to establish atmosphere and utilize simple stylistic techniques to evoke mood. The songwriting is certainly alright but could use a bit of work if they want to achieve a unique or more satisfying feel to their next release. I would also like to see a song or two featuring some quicker tempos with perhaps blasting sections (done right of course) in order to represent a battle or struggle. As is it seems most of the tracks are somewhat laid back and entrancing affairs, which I do not necessarily agree with when confronting the subject matter of Middle-Earth. The keyboards also can get somewhat annoying at times and I believe the band could have benefited greatly from relying more heavily on the guitar-work which is practically non-existent.
HITHLUM are not horrible and I would even say give this release a chance as there are some relatively strong entrancing passages; just do not expect to be hearing anything on par with VELVET CACOON or NOKTURNAL MORTUM. Perhaps the next release will be a bit stronger and well-focused but as it is this band is still in its developmental stage. (Online December 18, 2005)