Friday, 30 December 2011

2011: the year in review

Part of the expanding Castle Nazgul collection

Well, 2011 has been another busy year in Castle Nazgul, not least in making preparations for the arrival of baby Nazgul in March next year. That happy event might well affect the number of posts in 2012, but we shall wait and see!

This was also the year that brought Hugin to these shores for the first Anglo-Austrian summit at Castle Nazgul in August. Plenty of sightseeing was undertaken (the plague-pits on the far side of the moat always make for a fine spectacle during the summer months), and a fantastic time was had by all.

Our hero Hugin has had a hectic 2011 also, evidenced by the steady stream of releases emanating from W.A.R. Productions. Whilst not quite the flood of items that we witnessed in 2010 (which is fair enough really, the man has a life outside of entertaining us after all!) there was still a prodigious volume of new material to absorb and enjoy ranging from box-sets, EPs and full-length CD and tape albums, and the odd bespoke item too. Considering the time taken between releases of mainstream bands (perhaps 1-3 years between albums on average) we are truly spoiled by the volume of interesting and consistently high-quality material that Hugin releases.

The majority of action has been seen with what you might consider the core bands (Uruk Hai predominantly) whilst some of the smaller or less mature projects have had fleeting (if any) recording activity at all in the last twelve months - or, to qualify that more precisely, nothing that we've heard yet. This is shown in the band-by-band summary below, where you'll notice a distinct lack of activity in some quarters compared to the 2010 annual round-up compared to this same time last year.

It's been a steady year in terms of the growth of Honour and Darkness, with more members, visitors and countries logged on the Flag Counter than ever before and significant increases since this time last year. On average Honour and Darkness now sees 34 new visitors arriving daily (compared to 19 last year) together with 69 regular daily visitors (54 of you last time around), whilst the total number of hits on the site stood at 53,946 thanks to 26,544 of you visiting as of writing this post today (16,800 hits from 5,312 visitors this time last year).

There have been an incredible 131 countries who have visited Nazgul's little corner of the web, up from 89 in December 2010, and it's been a mixture of the obvious and the unexpected in terms of where you've visited from!

The majority of visitors still come from the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and France, and there is a growing contingent who hail from Canada and Brazil too. However, 2011 has seen visitors coming from Libya, Netherlands Antilles, Iraq, Suriname, Mongolia and Madagascar as well, which in the grand scheme of things is rather wonderful! This means that 66.8% of recognised countries worldwide have at least one interested party/fan of Hugin's music there. Barbaric hails to each and every one of you all for your support!

One thing that increasingly strikes Nazgul is that whilst the number of visitors to the site has increased over the year, the number of emails or messages you send in has dwindled markedly. Whilst it's true to say that Honour and Darkness exists as a tribute and a labour of love than being a debating forum it would be nice to hear from you and listen to your thoughts and comments about the music, the reviews, life, the universe and everything once in a while! So make it a New Year's resolution to drop Nazgul at least 1 email to honouranddarkness@gmail.com and share your thoughts.

Right, let's get down to business with a quick round-up of some of the principal activity in 2011

URUK HAI

2010 saw in excess of 30 Uruk Hai releases, a productive year by any standards! 2011 has been far quieter, although towards its conclusion there are distinct signs that the W.A.R. Productions machine is picking up speed once again. Although the anticipated - and entirely bonkers - 40CD box-set on Steinklang didn't appear, the year has seen two new compilation box-sets appearing in the form of "Gorgorth" (6 discs!) and "Courage Is Found In Unlikely Places" (10 discs!!), plus the issue of a deluxe two-disc metal tin edition of "In Durin's Halls: Return To The Mines Of Moria" to complement the earlier tape release and slimline CD pressing.

The "Courage..." box-set is especially interesting as it brings together some classic demos from the 2004-2005 period, including songs previously only available on tape versions, so a review of this release will doubtless be a star attraction in Honour and Darkness in 2012.

In other activity, Wulfrune Worxx kept up their support of the band with a number of demo releases, some reviewed already on these pages and some yet to appear. Highlights included the "Nargothrond" collection, a tribute to Wulfrune's owner Skogen via the "Natt Skogen (A Dark Jubileum)" ensemble piece, and two demos based around "Spirits" that also saw versions issued on the Ukrainian Depressive Illusions label. Apparently passing under the radar of the general public near to the end of the year was a very limited edition tape/DVDr release called "Power Of The Ring", which Nazgul will be reviewing soon, but more well publicised were two split releases - "Darkness and the Blood of Trees" and "United with the Fallen Ones..." both of which look very interesting indeed.

2010 saw a tendency towards longer single-track and decidedly epic releases, a trend which has continued in 2011 to a degree (with the aforementioned "Spirits" releases) but tempered with the arrival of a few multi-song demos and compilations of past albums. The standard and quality of Uruk Hai releases has maintained at a high level whatever the style or format, boding well for a bumper 2012.

Highlight of 2011: "Courage Is Found In Unlikely Places" - a welcome reintroduction of some classic albums and rare tracks from the mid 2000's.
Lowlight of 2011: No 40CD box-set to enjoy (although this news caused Nazgul's bank manager and postman to breath sighs of relief!)

HREFNESHOLT

The highlight of 2011 was the release of the "Kreuz" demo tape, which took the evolving Hrefnesholt sound to new heights. Although we didn't see a glut of releases from this project in the last twelve months, the quality of what we did hear and the distinctive sound created by the band is truly exciting, carving out a unique niche for itself in the process. The last months of the year also saw some demo tapes from the last year or so being compiled onto a new digipak CD release called "A Haund Voi Dreck", which should prove to be a godsend to anyone not able to get hold of the original cassettes.

As long-time readers will know Nazgul has always had something of a soft-spot for Hrefnesholt, and with the distinctive and organic music being created over the past two years this really does seem to be the beginning of something really special as far as this project is concerned.

Highlight of 2011: The compilation "A Haund Voi Dreck", a must-have item
Lowlight of 2011: None

HROSSHARSGRANI

Can you hear it - the almost silent sound of tumbleweed slowly rolling and bouncing across the plain? That's pretty much the total of Hrossharsgrani activity in the last calendar year. Given the volume of work that Hugin produces it's inevitable that now and again some bands go into temporary hibernation, and this year it seems to have been Hrossharsgrani's turn. The Australian label Smell The Stench did put out a 3"CDr version of "The Long Grey Road" demo in the last twelve months, however, and a nicely crafted release it proved to be, but otherwise it's been a quiet time for this particular endeavour.

Mind you, Nazgul managed to get his hands on something from this band that had long eluded him, so that was a definite plus for the year: more of that in a future post.

Highlight of 2011: The artwork on the 3"CDr was excellent, and the 'mystery' find a real treasure!
Lowlight of 2011: A general dearth of material

B-MACHINA

With Max up to his ears with the Steinklang label it looked as if this would be a pretty lean year on the B-Machina / Bonemachine front. In terms of new releases that proved to be the case, but true to form Hugin came up trumps with some rare and previously unknown demos being unearthed from the depths of his Austrian lair. "Sperrgut" was one such excellent demo, recently reviewed, and it is simply amazing at times to consider how much excellent material Hugin has made over the years that may still lie unheard and unheralded in the dark, shadowy corners of W.A.R.

A development right at the end of the year - just in time for this seasonal round-up in fact - was the use of the Bandcamp website for pay-to-download tracks from B-Machina. Two have been uploaded to date, the "Heimatleid" release (recently reviewed) and the single track 'This Is Fuckin' Horror', which has literally just been uploaded in the last week or so. Perhaps this is another way forward for 2012 releases from Hugin's bands...?

Also found during 2011 was yet another bootleg release from Japanese artist Kenji Siratori using the Bonemachine name and cover artwork designed by Hugin. This particular item will be suitably scowled upon later in the new year!

Highlight of 2011: The emergence of rare Bonemachine demos, a treasure-trove indeed Lowlight of 2011: None to speak of - some new material and rare finds would make it churlish to moan!

ELISABETHA

Nothing to report on the Elisabetha front in 2011, save for some nice collectibles in the artwork field from the pen of Neon Ă„sthet that have found their way to Castle Nazgul. It appears as if the recording days of this particular project may be over, although as Nazgul has learned to his cost over the years: never turn your back on the undead....

Highlight of 2011: Nothing to report
Lowlight of 2011: That there was nothing to report

WACH

This time last year Nazgul was metaphorically smacking his lips at the prospect of the "Nordwand" release dropping into the Castle mailbox, as it was at that time an imminent release. Twelve months later and "Nordwand" has now been released, although so late in the year that Nazgul has yet to get his sticky mitts on a copy. Still, it will be a nice treat for later in the festive season. Also appearing at the eleventh hour was a WACH track on the compilation CDr "Gone", at least giving us something to review from the band this year!

Highlight of 2011: The appearance of "Nordwand"
Lowlight of 2011: "Nordwand" won't appear in Honour and Darkness until 2012

MANWE

Whilst the year-end 2010 report suggested a new demo or album might have been forthcoming in 2011, no completed recording has yet emerged for public consumption. That said, developments in the project itself has led to Rich Davenport (See Red, Atomkraft) becoming the new band member alongside Hugin, providing both guitar and vocals to the mix. The first song Nazgul has heard is called "Tears In A Burning Eye" and has been recorded for the successor compilation to "The First Ring" album on Nocturnal Productions. It's an excellent song too, and one that might well be covered in a separate post shortly.

Highlight of 2011: An exciting new recording bodes well for the year ahead
Lowlight of 2011: No new album just yet...

EISMOND

Since the original "01/2010" demo was released we've not heard further from this venture, although with icy blasts whistling around the crumbling castle corridors it reminds Nazgul that a fresh listen to this demo would be most timely.

DRACHENFEUER

Those of you waiting patiently for the formal release of the debut album "The Realm Of The Light" will have had a frustrating year, as there's still no official release in the offing. The issue seems to be one of finding an appropriate label to release the album through, but it surely will happen in the fullness of time: It's far too good a recording to be kept in the wings forever.
Solid Grey ...And it's a similar story here for Solid Grey: we finished 2010 primed to receive some new material in 2011 but as yet other projects and business have taken precedence. This very different musical direction is one that Nazgul is interested to hear, so let's hope that we might see the debut album released in the forthcoming year.

CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE

...And would you believe a similar tale here too?! A recent parcel from W.A.R. to Castle Nazgul did contain a COI promo disc, although at this stage it's still awaiting close inspection so whether it is new or old material isn't yet established. Again, given the number of other projects on the go, one shouldn't really expect every band in Hugin's extensive repertoire to have released material in one year

What lies ahead for 2012...?

We couldn't finish without some thoughts from Hugin himself, of course. These were some of his personal highlights of the year:

"My personal highlight was my visit to Castle Nazgul, whilst musically I have to say that the work I did together with Joe Matera & Rich Davenport is awesome too! It's a bright light for Uruk Hai in 2012 too!

My fave release from my personal projects is the "Cirith Ungol" A5 Digi Pack, and my favourite other releases for 2011 are harder to say so I need to pick up some more: 1. Atomkraft "Cold Sweat"; 2. Mpire of Evil "Creatures Of The Black"; 3. Venom "Fallen Angels"; 4. Joe Matera "Slave To The Fingers"; 5. Riot "Immortal Soul"

My wish for 2012 is to travel again to UK, maybe to watch the Olympic games, and my musical aim is a new Uruk Hai album and a new Hrefnesholt album ... and ... a possible Hrefnesholt live session in the Alps!"

A live session in the Alps?! Holy Hell!! That's certainly something to watch out for as a highlight as far as Nazgul is concerned - we could convene the first meeting of international Hugin appreciation society!

So there we have it, honoured guest: the end of another year here on Honour and Darkness. In fact, the end of the third year of the Blog, and still there is no shortage of new items for us to enjoy. It really is an incredible personal achievement for one man to have recorded so much great music over the past decade and to still carry the enthusiasm for his craft as keenly as ever, and Nazgul is sure that you will all join with him to wish Hugin the very best of health and fortune for 2012.

And a final thank you once again to all of you for visiting Honour and Darkness, and hopefully enjoying these pages: Nazgul wishes you all a prosperous and healthy 2012.

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