Galadhrim, The Elder Days (CD 2012) [self-released]

Hailing from Catania, Sicily, Galadhrim is a nine-member ensemble of mostly classically-trained musicians who share a love of early music and of Tolkien's legendarium. Formed in 1997 by Manlio Greco, Galadhrim released their first, self-titled CD in 2004, treating us to a cycle of twelve songs by or inspired by Tolkien. Galadhrim's unique blend of medieval instrumentation and polyphonic vocals left us spellbound and ready for more.

Good things come to those who wait. We have waited nearly a decade for The Elder Days, the second full-length Galadhrim release, and have not been disappointed. As its title intimates, The Elder Days draws its lyrical content from the heart of Tolkien's sub-creation. It is, in this sense, a "concept album"-but with a difference. In the past, musical treatments of the First Age have tended to be heavily discursive, like Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle-earth or Ainur's more recent omnibuses. By contrast, Galadhrim neither rush us through the narrative maze of The Silmarillion nor content themselves with a potpourri of episodic "highlights." Instead, the organizing principle behind The Elder Days is a theme-the dialectic of love and loss, of sorrow and hope-as it unfolds within Arda Marred.

At first glance that may not sound terribly original. After all, one doesn't have to go far in any of Tolkien's writings to encounter this motif, and there is no lack of Tolkien-inspired music out there that explores it. What is new and different about The Elder Days are the vantage points from which we are invited to contemplate tragedy and eucatastrophe in the lives of Elves and Men-in Míriel's lullaby for her infant Fëanor ("Deep in the Night"); in Finwë's lament over Míriel ("Parting Chant"); in Thingol's penitent grief at Lúthien's hopeless flight to save Beren ("The Most Precious Thing"); in the reunited couple's meditation on the birth of their son, Dior ("Tol Galen"); in Húrin's dying battle-cry ("The Fifth Battle"); and in the anonymous bard who recounts Túrin's doom ("Mormegil").

Other than the album's title track and its closing counterpart, "The Doom of the Silmarils," there is no overarching plot-exposition connecting one song to another; it is assumed that the listener already understands the basic outline of events and will be able to connect the dots on their own. This frees up the musicians to concentrate on what is most important for telling the story: the music. The Elder Days restates the signature style Galadhrim established in their first album: rich acoustic textures, arresting tempo changes, vocal harmonies. There is also development, however, especially in the complementarity and alternation of male and female vocals. Throughout, Galadhrim effectively assume the voice of the very Elven minstrels they seek to emulate.

Let's hope we won't have to wait long for the next Galadhrim album. Aurë entuluva!

The Elder Days can be ordered through

Reviewer: Chris Seeman, The Tolkien Music List (