"...more hymns to the ancient times..."
As one of the few remaining early releases from any of Hugin's projects yet to be covered in Honour and Darkness, the 1999 "Kampf" ("Battle") demo tape should be savoured like a fine wine after dinner. Some internet sources debate whether this was a 1999 or 2000 release, and whether it came out on the CCP or Chanteloup Creations label, so Nazgul is happy to stake his colours to the mast on that score by declaring this demo to be a particularly fine 2000 vintage from the French CC vineyard, errrr label. Inside the inlay is a note from Hugin that reads, "All tracks grimly performed during MM" which thus rules out a 1999 release date.
Whilst the source for this confusion is unclear - there is, after all, a pretty visible Chanteloup logo on the inlay! - one online review of the demo (on the Arcanenoctis webpage) might conceivably explain how some of the confusion arose:
"This is the demo that made Hrossharsgrani sign to the Austrian label CCP. In my opinion this is their best demo; the music keeps the same coordinates as the other demos but at a higher level, especially the ambient passages that are the best in my opinion. The movie samples are well selected and placed. The song 'The Path Between Sea And Sky' is the best here, and also I can say another good song is 'Wogenbrecher', which has cool ambient landscapes."
With this, Arcanenoctis awarded the demo a healthy 6 out of a possible 10 skulls.
Whether it's true that this demo was especially pivotal in Hrossharsgrani signing with the Austrian CCP label is unknown, although it's true that in July 2000 CCP did release the first of a few of the band's releases with the "...Of Battles, Ravens and Fire" EP. However, a number of band demos were released by Chanteloup Creations around the same time including "Der Ring der Macht", "Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade", "Ewig Winter" and "In the Mystic Forest", not to mention Hugin's own self-released CDr/tape "Ancient Tales" in January 2000. CCP would have had much to evaluate from in this period before deciding to sign the band.
It's a shame in some ways this wasn't a 1999 release as Nazgul could have warbled on about how 1999 was probably most famous as the last year before the new Millennium; the year in which various prognosticators of doom suggested that the world as we knew it was certain to come to an end, whilst techno-phobes around the planet warned us of the Millennium bug and the likelihood of computers turning on mankind and eating our brains. Or some such drivel. Anyway, as we all sailed gracefully into the 2000's, brains intact, we left behind a year notable for various musical events including the reformation of The Animals (famous for their 'House Of The Rising Sun' single, which - Nazgul is proud to note in a beautifully seamless segue - was the subject of a bizarre cover song by Hrossharsgrani as the post of 6 April 2010 revealed).
"Kampf" was - an remains - really rather a good demo from a band in its formative stages and was one of a flurry of Hrossharsgrani releases in this period - the workaholic Hugin showing his mettle even back then. Prior to Uruk Hai this was where Hugin was investing the majority of his time musically, and it is testament to the longevity of the project that it is still putting out releases 12 years later, albeit in rather different styles to this early Tolkien-themed epic black/viking metal.
One interesting thing about this demo is the fact that the songs are unique to it. Unusually for tracks from this period they have not (or, more accurately perhaps, have not yet) reappeared as bonus material on a recent release, been the subject of a reissue in their own right, or appeared on any compilations. Given that there is an early Hrossharsgrani tape compilation from these early days that pulls together material across a host of Hugin's early demos - "Demo Compilation Volume 1" from 2001 - this seems quite remarkable . It also means that for a fan and collector this is a must-have demo!
All of the familiar musical hallmarks that Hrossharsgrani committed to tape during this early period are here. Plenty of samples from films, of nature (particularly water, be it a running stream or waves breaking over a shoreline) all augmented by casual acoustic guitar strumming or dirge-like keyboards and pummelling percussion.
There is also a sample of 'O Fortuna' from Carl Off's 'Carmina Burana' in the third song 'Wallbruna', a extract of which you may recall also appeared in another Hrossharsgrani song - 'Weltenbrand' from the "Ancient Tales" release. At that time Nazgul only recognised the piece from its use on television (Philistine!), but can now confirm it is 'O Fortuna' - originally a thirteenth century medieval Latin Goliardic poem set to music in the 1930s by Orff. It opens on a slower pace with thumping drums and choir that drops quickly into a whisper building slowly into a steady crescendo of drums and short string and horn notes peaking on one last long powerful note and ending abruptly. You'd know it if you heard it....
As tradition dictates for early Hross' demos, there are also the sampled sounds of battle and war, notable on the epic first track 'Die Letzte Schlacht' ('The Last Battle') and in the appropriately titled instrumental track 'Steel Meets Steel'.
The bottom line with this release is that you know in advance exactly what you'll be getting, and for the majority of us that's just dandy. It's not a case of repetition and a lack of ideas, more an example of Hugin consolidating his position within a genre of his own making and giving his audience what they want to hear. Admittedly some of the elements are quite primitive compared to other songs in the band's discography - in particular, I find the vocals in 'Wogenbrecher' a little on the raw side - but it's part of the charm of the early body of work from the band as much as the signature instrumentation: the deep, sonorous keyboards and the booming drums that sound like they were recorded in the caverns beneath Mount Doom.
Incidentally, the Metal Archives post for this demo suggests a limitation of 100 copies, which cannot be correct as Nazgul's edition is #109. It's more likely that the edition is of 300 tapes in the same way that other releases of the same period on Chanteloup were (e.g. "In The Mystic Forest).