Wednesday, 29 December 2010

2010: the year in review

Alex "Hugin" Wieser

And what a year it's been!

When viewed in retrospect, the year 2010 in the realm of things Hugin was notable for one thing above all others: releases, releases and more releases! Indeed, the sheer volume of releases in the last 12 months is boggling when viewed in total, leading to the inevitably conclusion that Linz, Austria, is the location of a previously unheralded bubble in the space-time continuum, where days are in fact 50 hours long and where no one requires sleep or food.

Let's make a start on a short seasonal round-up of the years goings-on whilst sipping a festive port in the Castle library...

URUK HAI

Right then, brace yourself! In the last 12 months this one project alone has released (or re-released, depending on the item) the staggering total of 39 demos or albums, some of which have been across multiple formats. By which I mean, for example, that "Black Blood, White Hand" came out in 3 different formats - digipak, box-set and tape versions (and that's ignoring the 2009 advance tape release!) - whilst "Lebensende: Winter" is a good example of a demo that has received both a tape and CD release on different labels. If you total up all versions of all releases, you're up to somewhere nearer to 50 different items issued in 2010 for the fan or collector to procure. That's getting close to 1 release per week, and that's just for Uruk Hai material!

Now, fair play - some of these releases have either been reissues of older material (notably through the Wulfrune Worxx's Split Series), the odd compilation release ("Angband"), or repackaging of already released material onto different split albums (for example, the split albums with both Funeral Fornication and Sieghetnar). Much of the older material - re-released demos like "Valkyrian Romance" and "Quenta Silmarillion" - hasn't been easily available for years, so for the growing army of fans out there this is a good thing. We shouldn't therefore accuse Hugin of releasing any old rhubarb in a triumph of volume over quality (a tactic popularly known as "doing a Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh", when seemingly even random farts can be recorded and released as a demo).

There have been the occasional oddities over the course the year though - one that springs to mind is the release, then re-release (within the same calendar year!) of the "Elbentraum" demo tape, albeit with an additional song on the latest pressing.

A trend that became a little more worrying was the frequency with which some songs would crop up on multiple recordings: Nazgul commented earlier in the year about 'Fate of Man' having appeared on a good few releases recently. Another example is 'Gil-Galad', originally appearing on the 2008 split 3" CDr release with Moloch before making reappearances this year on the split albums with Sieghetner and Mhnunrrn, on the "Angband" compilation, and on three different tape releases (on a split series release, as a 2 song demo tape, and - just out - as a 4 song demo!). This could potentially be irksome - not to say expensive - to the casual fan trying to make some sense of all of these releases..

A development to be praised, therefore, is the note that started to appear in the inlay to a lot of the recent Wulfrune Worxx tapes, which states something on the lines that the version on that release is/will be available nowhere else. I think that does help to offer the more regular customer more in the way of value for money although, to be fair, no one is twisting our arms and forcing us to buy all of this stuff!

Over the year it's been rather nice to see some vinyl releases too, notably the ultra limited "March to War" release but also the marbled green and white vinyl release that was the "Iron Age" split with Moloch. Box-sets also seem to be back in a big way this year: previously only Bonemachine had received the (wooden) box-set treatment, but a veritable rash of Uruk Hai boxes appeared in 2010 including "Darkness" (card), "Angband" (metal), "Black Blood, White Hand" (wooden) and "War Anthems" (wooden). And wait for it - the wooden box version of "In Durin's Halls" is likely to be available any day too via Steinklang!

Additionally, as Nazgul types there are still scheduled releases for 2010 yet to see the light of day including the aforementioned wooden box edition for "In Durin's Halls", the 6 volume "Everlasting Wrath of the Tyrant" series and the 3" CD version of "Elves & Men" (the tape version is out already at Depressive Illusions). Who knows, at the current rate of knots by the year-end these may also have been released too! Nazgul has also heard a whisper suggesting that over the Christmas/New Year period Steinklang may start advertising the mother of all box-sets of Uruk Hai material, being nothing less than a 40CD (yes, that's 40 - that's not a typo!) collection of old demos and albums. Postmen around the globe: Fear hernias in getting those delivered!

On the back of this post it seemed like a good idea to inaugurate some year-end awards to mark the conclusion of 2010, so here are Nazgul's picks in respect of Uruk Hai:

Best release of the year: "Iron Age" - a really excellent piece of work, from the content to the presentation
Best packaging of the year: "Angband" - from the Runenstein Records label, lots of thought has gone into this one
Best album cover of the year: "The Lord of the Rings" demo - it positively oozes Middle-Earth
Biggest disappointment: "War Anthems" - nothing new for the collector, and although nice to have on CDr surely the Tryby label could have printed some colour inlays given the asking price....?

HROSSHARSGRANI

Generally speaking a quieter year on the Hrossharsgrani front, although there have still been a few releases here and there. All told there were 8, including the split tape "The Song Never Remains The Same" (featuring 4 of Hugin's projects), "Dead:Meat", and "The Long Grey Road / Valkyrian Romance" split release with Uruk Hai. What is notable in 2010 is the degree to which Hrossharsgrani has changed in sound and style: look back to 2009 and we had the "Sanguis" release (re-working demos from barbaric black metal days of 1999), which moved to a fresher approach - inspired by the Roman Empire - with "Pro Liberate Dimicandum Est".

Step forward into 2010 and the major album release in this year has been the "Dead:Meat" album, featuring yet another twist on the band's sound and including an intriguing cover version by Beherit but with a distinctly contemporary sound. At the same time, just to keep in touch with its heritage, 2010 saw a few reissues of older Hrossharsgrani material including no less than 3 variants of the "...Of Battles, Ravens & Fire" album and a remastered 2CD version of "Ancient Tales".

It seems to be a period of ongoing transition on the Hrossharsgrani front, so who knows what 2011 might bring for this project...?

Best release of the year: "Dead:Meat" - a revitalised sound, and a transitional step to ... where
Best packaging of the year: "Ancient Tales" - great value for money with the original album remastered and a whole disc of rare bonus material
Best album cover of the year: "...Of Battles, Ravens & Fire" (version) - that classic Bathory album art is always worth a look...
Biggest disappointment: "Of Battles, Ravens & Fire" (versions) - ...but did we need to see it quite as often?!

HREFNESHOLT

It's long been known that Nazgul can be a little contrary, and favours the underdog. This may, in part, explain his soft spot for the Hrefnesholt project, infrequently recorded and seldom heard before 2009 but relatively prolific in recent times (coincidentally after Honour and Darkness started, but this is surely a coincidence!) 2010 has been a rather good year for fans of this band: the Uraungst advance tape was an early statement of intent (the CD version just now released), being a doom-folk-percht-laden experience not to be missed.

Much like Hrossharsgrani, the Hrefnesholt sound has developed over the last few years but has seemingly now settled down into the present Alpine folktales mode. Nazgul likes this very much. As with Uruk Hai there have been a few tape demos where some tracks on offer have subsequently re-appeared on CD (for example, tracks from "Woid und Geist", the split tape with Firing Human, and "Wurzelmann"), but the overall bonus tracks offered make up for any duplication.

Again, Nazgul appreciates that not everyone will be as obsessive as he is and attempt to buy everything, and that the whole point of a demo is to, well, demo stuff for an upcoming album. Just make sure that if you buy nothing else, you get yourself a copy of the Uraungst CD so that you can see what the growing buzz is all about.

All in all 2010 saw the Hrefnesholt name on no less than 7 various releases, with another 2 planned but yet to appear - the "Unruahnocht / Lousberg" split tape (Lousberg apparently having disappeared, hence the delay), and the split release with Omen, "From the Ancient Forest".

Best release of the year: "Uruangst" - what a killer album this is!
Best packaging of the year: "Uruangst" - Hrefnesholt finally gets the 'proper' album treatment, and all is good in the world!
Best album cover of the year: "Woid und Geist" - it's those trees again!
Biggest disappointment: None - it's been a vintage year

WACH

Well, on the experimental dark-noise front there has been one significant movement in the year, namely the release of "Experimentum Solaris". This album, in full-on digpak packaging courtesy of the Old Europa Cafe label, was a powerful album to boot.

Never the most prolific of projects at the best of times, with the exception of the odd (and sometimes very odd!) contributions to occasional compilations, it's been a typically quiet year for this most tantalising of side-projects.

Best release of the year: "Experimentum Solaris" - by default, although it is a good release
Best packaging of the year: "Experimentum Solaris"
Best album cover of the year: "Experimentum Solaris"
Biggest disappointment: "Nordwand" - the expected 2010 release of this EP didn't materialise, but should guarantee something to talk about in 2011

B-MACHINA

Whilst we're on the subject of all things experimental and weird, let's consider the B-Machina world in 2010. Ok, so that didn't take very long! Much like collaborative project WACH, the time available for new bone-sounds to be created has (presumably) been pretty limited, with Hugin evidently up to his eyes in other work and fellow band member Max equally hard at work elsewhere.

2010 did see the release of the rather bizarre B-Machina / Kaelteeinbruch split release "Music For Catgirl Lovers 03" with its packaging of doubtful colour photographs, but even this features an older style track very much in keeping with pre-Max Bonemachine days. The band also contributed two cover versions to the Wulfrune Worxx split release "The Song Never Remains The Same", although the Kiss cover would probably leave Messrs. Simmons and Stanley scratching their respective heads trying to identify it!

Best release of the year: "Music For Catgirl Lovers 03" - like it or loath it, this was about all for the year!
Best packaging of the year: "Music For Catgirl Lovers 03" - by default, and not as a ringing endorsement for rude piccies!
Best cover of the year: "The Song Never Remains The Same" - thank goodness for Wulfrune Worxx!
Biggest disappointment: Following the innovative split release "Absinthe" in 2009 it looked like a vintage year was on the cards, but lack of time for this project has left little product to review

ELISABETHA

One of the highlights of 2010 for Nazgul was the interview on Honour and Darkness with Neon Asthet, which I trust you found as interesting to read as I did. What a nice chap he proved to be.
Nazgul expected no actual product from Elisabetha during the year as the project had been largely defunct since 2008 and the band's final releases,"Über das Prinzip der Unschuld" and the subsequent "Morella" CDr. However, as well as a couple of cover songs appearing on "The Song Never Remains The Same", two other releases arrived rather out of the blue. Firstly, some old untitled band rehearsals from 2001 turned up on a split tape with "Asgard" early in the year, to be followed in May by the "Transilvanischer Hunger" CD single (the song was also one of the two tracks on the aforementioned split tape). This took us back to a time before the band's neo-classical renaissance to some core black metal roots, care of this cover of a Darkthrone classic.

So the vampire is not dead, but is presumed festering slowly in unhallowed ground, biding it's time for more possible unholy assaults in 2011.

Best release of the year: "Transilvanischer Hunger" - raw, evil and utterly brilliant
Best packaging of the year: "Transilvanischer Hunger" - down to the faux-barcode on its inlay
Best cover of the year: "Rehearsal 2001" - so Nagzul likes trees...
Biggest disappointment: No Neon Asthet artwork to be seen on the latest releases

Elsewhere...

Given all that's gone before you might be excused for thinking that for the remainder of the year Hugin would have had his feet up, sipping a cup of tea and planning his next holiday. But no - there's been even more going on! Does this man never rest?!

Here's Nazgul's very quick run down of Hugin's other project activity in 2010:

HUGIN

Some excellent split tape releases came out from Hugin's eponymous project, including "Differences" (various untitled piano tracks), "Brotherhood" (a compilation of Hugin's musical contributions to other bands, including Dark Domination, Folkearth, and Forgotten Lands), "Asgard" (tracks from Hugin Munin recording sessions) and the "Bounded By Blood" demo tape. The latter was notable for a pictoral appearance from young Erik, male heir to the Wieser legacy!

HEIMATLEID

Another project long assumed dead and buried, being the forerunner of the Bonemachine project back in 1999. So strike me down when a short 'rehearsals and demos' compilation tape appeared late in the year, compiling material presumably older than (war and) time itself. A welcome - and possibly final? - return from this old warhorse.

MANWE

Troll metal lives! Whilst the anticipated 2010 return yielded but two songs via the band's MySpace page ('Oh Great Spirit', and 'First Battle Medley') there is a promise of a new Manwe album to come in 2011. The campaign for the reissue of "First Battles" starts here!

SOLID GREY

The new-ish project of Solid Grey continues to record, being a new wave/gothic ensemble of Hugin with fellow aficionado Bart Piette. Three songs have appeared so far on the project's MySpace page - 'Shadow Song', 'Strange Puppets', and 'So Alone' - and the first demo or recording looks highly possible in the new year.

DRACHENFEUER

With a demo issued in 2CDr promotional version and reviewed here on the Blog, the project continues to look for a label to release its debut album in 2011. Last Nazgul heard, the search was on for an artist to draw a suitable dragon-themed illustration for the artwork...

CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE

A quiet year for C.O.I. but given Hugin's other activities this is hardly a surprise. The world awaits with interest the band's second album with interest following the first 'Fire-themed' instalment.

EISMOND

Yes, you can't keep this man down: finding time from who knows where, Hugin has unveiled a new project called Eismond (literally Ice Moon) in 2010, with the first demo tape released on Depressive Illusions in December - just in time for this retrospective. Nazgul has a copy, and is saving it for Christmas!

GUTS FOR DINNER

Thankfully, nothing new here :o) !!

On Honour and Darkness itself...

...it's been a busy year too, although with slightly fewer posts in 2010 than in inaugural year 2009. So what have we seen this year: a few competitions, the odd interview, the occasional Blog exclusive item, a broad church coverage of Hugin's many projects and - hopefully - a consistently enjoyable read for everyone out there on Planet Earth.

As ever, the Blog would not have been as entertaining for me without the contributions made by yourselves, so my thanks to each and every one of you who have dropped Nazgul an email over the last 12 months.

Speaking on behalf of all of us as fans of Hugin's music, thanks too should go to those labels who have in particular helped spread the good word of Wieser around the globe over the last year, particularly Wulfrune Worxx and Depressive Illusions, but also of course Steinklang, Runenstein, Aphelion and all of the others. Good work, guys!

And thanks too, of course, to Hugin himself for having recorded all of this great music for us to enjoy :o)

So as Nazgul nears the end of his glass of port, let's have some random statistics to round things off.

According to FlagCounter, 89 countries have now visited the Honour and Darkness. If you take the generally accepted number of countries in the world to be 196 (some have not been recognised by the UN so the actual number is disputed) then this suggests that Hugin has at least 1 fan in 45% of countries globally. That's pretty impressive!

The visitor counter (which has only been live since early in 2010) suggests that there have been 5,312 unique visitors, with total visits now standing at over 16,800. Special hails have to go out to those of you in Germany, USA, France and the UK who are by far and away the most frequent visitors. Let us not forget, however, some of the more unexpected locations for visitors that we've had: the Aland Isands (located between Sweden and Finland, I understand), Senegal, Iran and Panama amongst them.

An average of 19 unique new visitors find the site every day, and around 54 of you regularly come back on a daily basis to see what's going on. Thank you.

And, personally speaking, for the scariest statistic of 2010 - the cost of collecting to keep the library at Castle Nazgul up to date! One of the more frequent comments arriving via email to Castle Nazgul runs something like this: "So Nazgul, guess you must get all of your stuff free of charge, eh?" Well, to put that misconception to bed, having added up all payments made to W.A.R. Productions, to other web-sites, labels and to private traders, Nazgul thinks it evens out at just over £950 (say US$1,500 or €1,100) in the 12 months ending December 2010. This might explain why Nazgul's bank manager occasionally asks him if he is involved in money laundering or smuggling operations between England and Austria. Not the cheapest of hobbies then, but certainly enjoyable! But definitely not free!

So ends a vintage 2010.

Seasons greetings to you, honoured guests one and all, and Nazgul wishes you all a healthy and prosperous 2011.

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