A very gloomy piece indeed, full of spiky Mellotron playing in icy sheets, desolation, funeral bells, destruction and the quiet calm that follows hopeless optimism. And yet...at the end...there is hope.
The title is inspired (or nicked) from this book but other than that there is nothing in common between the two. The book describes extracts from thirty nine letters written by German soldiers from the 6th Army, facing the enemy on the Eastern front, and all of whom were facing certain death at the hands of the determined Russian forces. To assess their morale (as if it even need assessing) the German High Command let them write letters home which were taken, anonymised and archived. None reached the homes or eyes for which they were intended. Among other things the letters speak of heroism; not in their warfare, nor even in the stoic manner that some of them use to raise a defence of the indefensible by not mentioning the darkness of their own mortality. Their heroism lies in their wish not to be remembered, and in the fact that although the letters are human documents, they are documents of people whose names we will never know. If the book reeks of anything, it is failure.
The original composer of this tune has just had a look into the dusty Systems Theory vaults and has found that there are twenty three versions of this piece, all of which changed as time progressed. Oddly, the first and second bear the greatest resemblance to the final product. The moral is of course that one ought to travel with informed instinct, rather than try to work on something endlessly - sanding down the edges, repairing the broken bits and working in bits that don't really belong to the inspiration that drove its creation.
Close your eyes. Surrender to the sound. Be there. You might not see Stalingrad, but you're going to see something.