Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Band: WACH
Title: Nordwand
Format: Enhanced CD pressing on the Aphelion label (UK) in 2011, cat ref ap053.  Tracks were recorded between March and October 2007 at the Wachzimmer.  The release comes with a glossy inlay booklet and silver CD.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Nordwand  17.42
02. Zum Kreuz  10.09
03. Nordwand (bonus video)  2.33

"An obsession for the mentally deranged"

Such were the words of Alpine Journal editor Edward Lisle Strutt in 1938, apparently not commenting on Nazgul's compulsion to collect everything Hugin-related but instead describing the ambition to climb the dreaded north face of the Eiger, which he also called "the most imbecile variant since mountaineering first began."

In this release the crack-team of Herr Insomnia and Reverend Kim (that's WACH, folks) move the focus of fear away from inner-space and psychological issues to a very different - yet no less terrifying - arena: the feared Eiger mountain in Switzerland. An unlikely subject for a homage, perhaps, but "Nordwand" (literally, 'North Wall') does just that and does it in some style too. In fact, Nazgul would go so far as to say that the tracks here are amongst the very best of all of WACH's recorded material, and 'Zum Kreuz' just may very well be the finest of their songs, bar none.

But one thing at a time - what do we know of the north face of the Eiger? Nazgul's potted history goes something like this:

The Eiger is a mountain in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, standing at 3,970m (13,025 ft). To get an idea of the scale of this imagine 2,071 Hugins all standing one on top of the other, and you'll get the approximate height. The Eiger is the easternmost peak of a ridge crest that extends across the Mönch to the Jungfrau at 4,158m. The northern side of the mountain rises about 3,000m (9,800 ft) above Grindelwald and other inhabited valleys of the Bernese Oberland, and the southern side faces the deeply glaciated region of the Jungfrau-Aletsch, covered by some of the largest glaciers in the Alps. From Kleine Scheidegg a railway tunnel runs inside the Eiger and two internal stations provide easy access to viewing windows in the mountainside.

This railway, the Jungfraubahn rack railway, terminates in the Jungfraujoch, between the Mönch and the Jungfrau, at the highest railway station in Europe. And in a not entirely unrelated piece of trivia, your humble scribe visited this very area back in around 1984 on a trip up the Jungfrau as a young Nazgul. It is a fabulous area to visit, and doubtless contributed in some small way to Nazgul's desire to purchase a castle and set up home high in remote crumbling rocky crags back in the UK....

The Eiger is mentioned in records dating back to the 13th century but there is no clear indication of how exactly the peak gained its name. The three mountains of the ridge are commonly referred to as the Virgin (German: Jungfrau - translates to "virgin" or "maiden"), the Monk (Mönch) and the Ogre (Eiger). The name has been linked to the Latin term acer, meaning "sharp" or "pointed," but more commonly to the German eigen, meaning "own".

The Nordwand, German for "north wall" or "north face," is the spectacular north (or, more precisely, northwest) face of the Eiger. It is one of the six great north faces of the Alps, towering over 1,800 m (5,900 ft) above Kleine Scheidegg. At 2,866 metres inside the mountain lies the Eigernordwand railway station. The station is connected to the north face by a tunnel opening at the face, which has sometimes been used to rescue climbers. To say it is dangerous is an understatement: a bit like suggesting Jaws would give you a bit of a nip if he smelt your blood in open water. Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have died attempting the north face, earning it the German nickname Mordwand, literally "murder(ous) wall." It is regarded as a formidable challenge more because of the increased rockfall and diminishing ice-fields than because of its technical difficulties

While the summit was reached without much difficulty in 1858 by a complex route on the west flank, the battle to climb the north face has captivated the interest of climbers and non-climbers alike. Before it was successfully climbed, most of the attempts on the face ended tragically and the Bernese authorities even banned climbing it and threatened to fine any party that should attempt it again. But the enthusiasm which animated the young talented climbers from Austria and Germany finally vanquished its reputation of unclimbability when a party of four climbers (Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vörg, Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek, forming a German-Austrian group) successfully reached the summit on July 24, 1938 by what is known as the "1938" or "Heckmair" route. During this first first successful ascent, the four men were caught in an avalanche as they climbed the Spider (a portion of the upper face is called "The White Spider," as snow-filled cracks radiating from an ice-field resemble the legs of a spider) but all had enough strength to resist being swept off the face. Remarkable.

Their success followed a notorious tragedy in 1935 when two young German climbers from Bavaria, Karl Mehringer and Max Sedlmeyer, arrived at Grindelwald to attempt to climb the face. They waited a long time for good weather and when the clouds finally cleared they started. The two climbers reached the height of the Eigerwand station and made their first bivouac. On the following day, because of the greater difficulties, they gained little height. On the third day they made hardly any vertical ground. That night a storm broke and the mountain was hidden in fog, and then it began to snow. Avalanches of snow began to sweep the face and the clouds closed over it. Two days later, there was a short moment when the clouds cleared and the mountain was visible for a while. The two men were glimpsed, now a little higher and about to bivouac for the fifth time. Then the fog came down again and hid the climbers. A few days later the weather finally cleared, revealing a completely white north face. The two climbers were found later frozen to death at 3,300m, at a place now known as "Death Bivouac".

The climbers that attempted the north face could be easily watched through the telescopes from the Kleine Scheidegg, a pass between Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, connected by rail. The contrast between the comfort and civilization of the railway station and the agonies of the young men slowly dying a short yet uncrossable distance away led to intensive coverage by the international media.

You begin to see why this subject generates plenty of scope for a WACH release, brimful as it is with moody majestic ambiance, jagged effects and a magical mixture of harmony and discord.

The release has had some positive write-ups online, notably on the site, which reported, "With "Nordwand", WACH offers up a treasure, which is characterised by content, musical and artistic unity, my absolute recommendation!

Whilst the promotional blurb for the album cited on the Eisenwald online shop is also a good summary of what awaits the intrepid listener:

"Majestic Dark Ambient, Drone and Noise from Austria with Hugin of Uruk Hai. "Nordwand" impressively demonstrates the various facets of the Eiger North Face and is an homage to the mountain itself, devoted to the grandeur and the danger of the mountain and the will of the people who strive to conquer the Eiger North Wall and honouring those who were defeated. Masterful, cinematic Dark Ambient!"

What WACH have done here is to successfully juxtapose the harsh beauty of one of the world's most dangerous peaks with their own brand of harshly beautiful dark ambiance, yet in a way totally different from other bands in the genre (Vinterriket being one that immediately springs to mind). There is an otherworldliness about this release that maintains links to the earlier releases of the band, yet a warmth and maturity of composition and sound that pushes the project further still down an individual path to glory.

The video track, incidentally, is directed in a familiar style by Herr Insomnia and features some panoramic scenes of the Alps with some alarming electric blue flashing in the layered footage underneath.  Almost a lightning storm on the Alps...

It's taken a while for Honour and Darkness to review the "Nordwand" album rather than the associated artwork prints in Nazgul's collection, but it was well worth the wait. Like the mountain itself, it's simply immense.

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