Tuesday, 31 December 2013

URUK HAI / LOUSBERG split CD

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Uruk Hai / Lousberg split
Format: Professionally released CD-r in pro-printed covers by Depressive Illusions (Ukraine), catalogue reference cut 1249, released in 2013 in DVD sized case.  This is a split release between Austria's Uruk Hai and Lousberg (Germany).  There are three package options advertised on the Depressive Illusions web-site to purchase this item with Uruk Hai logo patches, although there is but one version of the CD available. The full details are below.
Edition: 33 copies

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. Elbenland  1.38 
02. Auenland  5.04
03. Before The Battle  6.26 
04. Elbenmacht  15.43
Lousberg
05. Wurmtal  4.11
06. Auf Dem Land  10.09 
07. Aachener Wald  6.52
08. Reinland  15.27

I don't know about you but there are certain words or phrase that I cannot read without inadvertently misreading them, if you follow me.  A classic example is 'breaded fish', which invariably - and somewhat bizarrely - I will always read as 'bearded fish'.  Another is 'shopfitters', which in Nazgul's clearly suspicious mind becomes 'shoplifters' every time I see it.  This phenomenon is not unique to Nazgul, fortunately, and is generally known as 'word blindness'.  And it all becomes quite pertinent with this release, as for years Nazgul has read the name of the other band on this split release as 'Louisberg' (with an i) and not plain old Lousberg.  As a result, in his mind's eye, Nazgul was certain that there going to be connections to the same-named North Carolina town, the American Civil War, and all matters military.

But not a bit of it, in fact.  Lousberg is a place near Aachen, in Germany.  Not a Confederate flag or musket to be seen.  There is a military connection though: Standing on a hill near the centre of the German city of Aachen the massive Lousberg Bunker served as the Wehrmacht command centre as Nazi troops fought a desperate, but ultimately futile, battle in September and October 1944 to stop Aachen becoming the first German city to fall to Allied troops in the west.  However, the Lousberg itself pre-dates this and was designed as a park in Napoleonic times, and dominates the whole of the town. Nazgul is assured that from several vantage points you have outstanding views of the city and beyond that to frontiers with Belgium and Holland.

According to legend (which is far more interesting than Napoleonic gardening design) the Lousberg was created by Satan himself as an act of revenge on the city of Aachen. The Devil had been tricked by the people of Aachen once before, in a complicated matter involving the Cathedral doors, a wolf, the Devil's thumb and a door knocker.  Clearly just another Friday night out in Aachen, then.  However, the Devil was so enraged about this embarrassment that he intended to cover the city and the Cathedral with a mountain of sand, and for this purpose he got a large bag of sand from the beach. On his way back to the city, he was labouring under the heavy load when he met a farmer's wife with badly worn shoes and asked her the way back to Aachen. 

The farmer's wife recognized him ("damn these horns, if only I'd worn a hat!") and told him that she was just coming from Aachen. She said that she had bought her new shoes in Aachen and now they were already totally worn – this was how far it was back to the town.  Hearing this news, the Devil dropped the sand sack, angry and exhausted. The spot where the Devil dropped the sack is the site of the Lousberg.

It's not the first time that Lousberg have come to the attention of Honour and Darkness.  The band were supposed to have been on the other side of a split release with Hrefnesholt about 4 or 5 years ago - the split tape "Unruahnocht / Lousberg" - which never actually came to fruition.  Since then nothing had been heard from the band, at least in context of any of Hugin's releases, so this split release with Uruk Hai came as rather a pleasant surprise.

And this was the first time that Nazgul had really had a chance to listen to Lousberg's music in any depth, and it has to be said that it has proven to be a rewarding experience.  If you've not yet purchased this CD then you can check out a bespoke medley on YouTube of this very release for yourself.  Nazgul's overriding impression of the dark ambient nature of the band is that it is is eminently listenable, throwing in animal sounds with some dark and disconsolate keyboards, making for a somewhat cheerless atmosphere.  And this is a good thing in dark ambient terms, as the overall effect is one of foreboding and melancholy.

There's precious little online about Lousberg other than their own Facebook page, but the project (led by JanuZ) espouses "Music for searching hearts, never mind if black or bright. Dedicated to the mighty spirit of nature, of times which were and times which come!"

For Uruk Hai fans, I suppose a reasonable starting point is to ask which version of the band turned up on this release - the 'new direction' pseudo power-metal band, or the 'old school' battle ambient project?  Well, the answer to that is very much in the latter category, with so many nods back to the "A Night In The Forest" period of classic Uruk Hai that you'll bang your head against a tree before you can say "mind that Ent!"  The overall composition of the songs is keyboard based, and range from the short introduction of 'Elbenland' to more lengthy songs like 'Elbenmacht'.

The lead-off track is a short introduction, pleasant and over all too quickly.  This is followed by 'Auenland' (which Nazgul believes translates to Shire, as in the home of the Hobbits, those furry-footed little bastards) which is the stand-out track on the Uruk Hai side of this album.  It's driven by a keyboard melody that brings to mind the breathing of an animal, or the washing of the tide up and down a shingle beach.  On top of this comes a piano refrain, sounding rather like the sort of thing that Moby was doing on his 'Porcelain' single.  And this is no bad thing, actually, as it gives the track a restful and effortless quality that represents the Shire well.  The only criticism is that it goes on for quite some time without any other variation, but to have it playing in the background is still a splendid experience.

Third song 'Before The Battle' succeeds in its quest of creating an atmosphere of trepidation and unease mingled with heroic surges and epic aspirations!  One can almost picture oneself on the battle line, jagged scimitar in one sweaty claw and your company's one-eyed banner snapping proudly on your back, ready to rush the Elvish scum and thrust your steel where the sun doesn't shine.  Aaah, the halcyon days of Elf-splitting.  Happy times.  Closing track 'Elbenmacht' is the least memorable track on the Uruk Hai half of the piece, but creates a sonic canvass for the listener to paint his or her own picture on in the pursuit of Middle-Earth fantasies.
 
There are three different purchase options for this release on the Depressive Illusions website. Option 1 sees you able to pick up just the CD itself for the modest sum of €6.66.  Option 2 adds in a woven Uruk Hai patch and will set you back €11.66, whilst Option 3 sees two different style woven patches together with the CD for €16.66.  As ever, you pays your money and takes your choice!  One patch is of the old band logo and the other the new, and Nazgul would imagine the ever-accommodating Sergiy at Depressive Illusions would be flexible about which one you bought if you go down the route of Option 2.

Reserving the right to be slightly odd about the way he organizes his posts, Nazgul will feature the two patches in an update to this post as they are worth a closer look!

Overall, Nazgul gives this release a solid two thumbs up: one more than poor old Beelzebub, whose thumb allegedly resides inside the lion-shaped door knocker of Aachen cathedral for reasons far too convoluted to get into here...!  Well worth paying a visit to the Depressive Illusions site to get your own copy whilst they still have a few.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

ATLANTIDA VOLUME 9 [V/A]


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI 
Title: Atlantida Volume 9 [V/A]
Format: A CDr compilation in the Atlantida series of releases, released by Atlantida Productions (year unknown), masterminded by the late Ruslanas Danisevskis (Ravenclaw).  Pro-printed black and white covers, with a plain silver disc, no other catalogue details.
Edition: Unknown

Track Listing:
01. Skyfire  *  The Universe Unveils
02. Nomicon  *  A Search
03. Mahavatar  *  The E Song
04. Moonsorrow  *  Ukkosenjumalan Polka
05. Aiumeen Basoa  *  Aiumeen Basoa (Arlekma)
06. Obsidian  *  Shores Of Disillusion
07. Die Apokalyptischen Reiter  *  Unter Der Asche
08. Thyrfing  *  The Slumber Of Yesteryears
09. Throneum  *  Reborn To The Stars
10. Darkfall  *  Firebreed
11. Znich  *  Black Znich
12. Immemoreal  *  My Will Power
13. Rossomahaar  *  Mist Of Eternity
14. Magellan Dream  *  Tara
15. Hrossharsgrani  *  Fimbulwinter  4.20
16. Adhur  *  Akelarreko Batzarra
17. Lux Divina  *  Forest Hymn...
18. Phackner  *  Speed Of Metal

When Honour and Darkness paid tribute to the recently deceased Ruslanas Danisevkis earlier this year, Nazgul mentioned that he had the complete run of Atlantida compilation releases tucked away on tape and CD-r within the Castle library.  This very scarce collection of material was kindly made available to the Castle collection by the esteemed Alexander Wieser, whose name you may occasionally have heard mentioned on these pages....


The Atlantida series a whole contains a multitude of material, predominantly in the black/viking/gothic metal genres, and Volume 9 is fairly typical of it in terms of its content:  A miscellany of demo tracks, songs from official releases, and the odd unreleased track just for this compilation.  Some of the bands you've probably never heard of and doubtless may not again, others are rather more well-known in their respective fields: Thyfing, Lux Divina, Moonsorrow and Rossomahaar being instantly familiar to Nazgul.  

Being that Ruslanas was one half of Ravenclaw with Hugin, the presence of Hugin's bands (and indeed Ravenclaw themselves) across a number of these compilations is not surprising, and offers another rich vein of material for coverage on this Blog.  And the odd surprise has arisen from Nazgul's perusal of the Atlantida discography, of which he will share more at a future juncture....!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, and return now to Volume 9.  The point of interest here is the inclusion of a version of 'Fimbulwinter' by Hrossharsgrani, a song that has graced more than a few demos from that band ("From The Dark Ages" and "Ancient Tales" being but two) as well as being released in a unique credit-card style format as a special gift to Nazgul.  Depending on the version the song varies in length, but maintains a Viking-esque simplicity that belies the craft of our man on the keyboards.  Its an early recording, one that the rear inlay of this CD denotes as an "unreleased track" just for this compilation, so the likelihood of it being an early variant of the piece is high.

More from the Atlantida series in future posts! 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

BFW CHRISTMAS ALBUM 2013 [V/A]


Name: ALEXANDER WIESER
Title: The BFW Christmas Album 2013 [V/A]
Release date: 16 December 2013
Reason for inclusion: Festive frolics and miscellaneous music, featuring a collaborative track between When We Live and Hugin!
Edition: Unlimited internet download

Track Listing:
01.  When We Live (featuring Alexander Wieser)  *  Frozen In Time  02:18
02.  The Amygdala  *  Zephyrus
03.  Perceptual Defence & Uzbazur345  *  Waiting for Christmas Magic Atmosphere
04.  Scott Lawlor  *  Drone for Christmas
05.  Mystified  *  Lasting Through The Season
06.  Cousin Silas  *  New Light On The Hill
07.  Ars Sonor  *  Future Journeys
08.  Playman54  *  Solar Beltower's signal (end of cycle)
09.  Meteer  *  Gran Insel Stigmata
10.  Elizabeth Veldon  *  The Holly and the Ivy  
11.  Jon Johnson  *  As Dry Leaves That Before The Wild Hurricane Fly
12.  Alphonsin  *  Winter Solstice
13.  The Owl Effect  *  Radio Fiction (Demo Version)
14.  dmyra  *  Reindeer Family
15.  Chris Fordham  *  Yuletide
16.  Eko_Fisk  *  Solstice
17.  Bing Satellites  *  Guess Who?
18.  Antimon  *  Royal Castles of Snow
19.  Sheldon Gava  *  Christmas Again
20.  Tim Kays  *  Coffee with Mr. Kringle
21.  SineRider  *  First Snow
22.  ROGUE SPORE  *  Crystal Conifer
23.  Galactic Kaleidoscope  *  Christmas On Mars
24.  The Akkeshi Bebop Contamination Quintet  *  Ibaraki Christmas
25.  Would-Be Messiahs  *  Shh, 'Tis Wild Aitch (Thinker Nights dub)
26.  Buben  *  2014 Comes
27.  Daniel Prendiville  *  Son Of...
28.  Luciftias  *  Drowning in the Ghosts of Christmas Past
29.  Ade Hodges  *  Klingons off the Starboard Bow
30.  TOTAL E.T.  *  23 Scovt (Cold Space Stretch)
31.  Mr. Tinkoble  *  Mitaxim
32.  midnightradio11  *  Väterchen Frost
33.  Uzbazur & Perceptual Defence  *  Palestine Bells
34.  MagicVan  *  Where Are You?
35.  Magnetic Wind  *  Angels We Have Heard On High
36.  Peter Edwards  *  Ice Drone (extended)


If you're woefully short on inspiration for that special Christmas present for your loved one - well, for shame: you should have given the matter more thought.  Nazgul has no sympathy for such inefficiency!  However, if you've done all the shopping and have room for one more tidbit then why not consider downloading this festive compilation from BFW Recordings, their Christmas Album 2013.  

BFW recordings is an independent net-label based in Manchester, England.  They are purveyors of high quality indie, ambient, shoegaze, post-rock, experimental and electronica from around the world, all available as free downloads. The label original hosted material from Bing Satellites but evolved and exhibits a multitude of artists. "If you're looking for lush soundscapes or glitchy indie, BFW have an impressive release catalogue," cry the online critics, and gadzooks they might just be right.

And Ho! Ho! and thrice Ho! for 'tis the season to be jolly after all, so why not enjoy a festive sing-along with an enthusiastic crowd of BFW artists!?  36 in total, almost certainly something for everyone whether you fancy an alternative rendition of a seasonal classic (Elizabeth Veldon's peculiar piano version of 'The Holly and the Ivy' a case in point) or something a bit more tangential to the festivities ('Ice Drone (extended)' anyone...?).  It's a  cornucopia of Christmas cheer, a flurry of festive fun, a wickedly witty winter wonderland of.... oh sod it, you get the idea I'm sure.

Nazgul's interest was piqued of course by the very first song, a collaboration between When We Live - suppliers of finest Russian experimental ambient - and our man Hugin, or more formally Alexander Wieser in this instance.  Said the man himself of this track, "the guy behind When We Live asked me several times to do a collaboration track with him and this time I said yes because he is a really nice guy and I didn't want to disappoint him.  I added just some guitar sounds to his music but I think it fits well :-)" and if you point your mouse/browser in the right direction you can judge the success of this statement for yourself.

Personally, Nazgul thinks this makes for a perfectly pleasant listen - the gentle strings and synth effects from When We Live sit well with some atmospheric riffs from Hugin.  Nazgul will freely confess to not having heard the entire album from start to finish, but of those songs that I have heard this is certainly one of the best, and definitely one of the most accessible.

BFW themselves promote the download modestly, nothing that "It's that time of year again. Nights are growing darker. There's a chill in the air and turkeys and their vegetarian equivalents are starting to get nervous."  There's certainly a chill in the air around the crumbling walls of Castle Nazgul this month, with seasonal frosts and cold winds starting to chill and shake the shadowy edifice that is home to the Nazgul clan.  Bah - Humbug!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

An interview with ... Odium Records


What's this then, Nazgul?  The clue's in the title: it's an interview with the Odium Record label, run by the accursed-one, Phil Knight
And I care because...?  Odium released one of the very first Uruk Hai demos on CD-r, and as such have their role in the history of all things Hugin

Nazgul has posted a few interviews in the past with labels that have had an involvement in supporting Hugin's various projects.  It's been quite a while since the last one, so as an early Christmas treat here's another for you: Odium Records, of deepest and darkest Wales, whose involvement is interesting as it comes at either end of Hugin's recording history to date.  Back in the year 2000 it was Odium who released on CD-r Uruk Hai's "Elbentanz" demo, and then who later popped out an unofficial CD-r version of Elisabetha's "Isten Szek" to no acclaim whatsoever, and in so doing inadvertently created one of the hardest of Elisabetha's releases to find!  After this small burst of activity the trail went mystifyingly cold, until out of the clear blue sky in 2013 a split CD-r release has surfaced, featuring early tracks by Odium (the band) and Uruk Hai.
 
Armed with such arcane knowledge, an interview with the man behind all of this was therefore one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time, brimful of ale and good cheer as Nazgul was. "Let's get an interview sorted out with Odium Records," thought Lord Nazgul, innocently, "he'll be an interesting character and has had a hand in some of Hugin's musical history..."

And so it was that a carrier raven was dispatched from the ramparts of Castle Nazgul intent on seeking out the almost mythical beast that is Mr Knight, with a small but perfectly formed set of questions designed to shed light upon his involvement with our esteemed Austrian hero.  But inevitably, of course, the answers that were returned were sanity-tearing blasts of blasphemous bile, dredged up from the seventh circle of Hell by Mr Knight and his fiendish horde of fiery pig-buggering imps.  Nazgul should have known better, and even now pauses at the thought of unleashing such demented ravings upon you, honoured reader.

And yet ... the truth must out!  So without any more pause for thought read for yourself the depraved utterances of the Beast of Wales, with his twin-fuelled influences of perversion and alcohol...  

Welcome to Honour and Darkness!  You are known for being both an underground label owner and founding the project Odium, amongst others - how did your involvement in the music business begin?
Hailz and thanks for this opportunity to ramble on about my music. It began many years ago. I lived for metal, the urge to make music was not that strong until I heard Black Metal. From that point on I lived to make metal for the glory of darkness. The record label… who knows how and why...

Is there a philosophy or mission statement behind Odium, the record label?
No, not really. Anything dark, sinister and different I suppose.

The entry for your label on Discogs states "small label based in Wales, now defunct" - is this the case, or are things bubbling under the surface?
In many ways the record label is still going, but I simply have not the time to do the distributing part. All releases are available to those who ask. There are possible plans. I would like to think that from now on it will be 7" releases only.

Running a label sounds like a glamorous lifestyle, but I imagine it's far from it! Can you give us some insight into life in the underground scene?
Running a label properly is up there with running… any business I suppose. Ball achingly dull. Life in the underground? My life in the underground is so underground my girlfriend doesn’t even know fully what I do music wise. My family is clueless as to what I get up to as well as my friends. I don’t discuss idea’s with anyone or share musical tastes with any one I have face to face contact with. Quite sad really.

Is music your sole business activity, or do you make a living in other ways too?
Money from music? Are you mad? Ha! My business is engineering. My job ranges from scientific consulting to research and development. Quite a strange job that changes from day to day.

What's your view of the metal scene in the UK at the moment?
Is there a metal scene in the U.K.? Have I become that detached? Akercocke was awesome. Anaal Knakerath, awesome. Ordog was excellent…

Metal Archives lists your current and former band involvements as Odium, Forest Perversions, October, La Bete, Woods of Desolation, and Emit.  Give us a thumbnail sketch about each of these projects, and any others you have been involved with?
Odium is the main project where I perform all duties. Raw Black Metal that’s progressed through the years. Some would argue that point.

Forest Perversions was a collaboration with H. Morgan, a superb drummer from the solo band Daear. We conjured one demo before she left for England to join severed Heaven.

October. Experimental noise, found sound with unsettling satanic metal undercurrents (I feel I just made October sound more interesting than it actually is).  Odium and October just grew. Odium songs start when I sit behind the pots and pans that make up my drum kit and I bash away for half an hour until a few minutes of usable drums come out. The strings are built around the drums using riffs that I had been playing around with. Nothing is written. October happens when I find noise.

La Bête, inspired by the French horror sex picture of the same name is a project of mine that utilises a drum program. It required a rather inorganic flow and a more structured approach to music than I'm used to.

Woods of Desolation was a collaboration between Darnel and I. He is based in Australia and would compose the drum and guitar parts. I would then finish it off with bass and vocals. This of course would often take months. I'm very busy with various non-musical projects and music can only be made when the time is right. Infuriating for most I would imagine. The demise of our collaboration died with my having to drive a round trip of 120 miles a day for work for 3 years. No time for anything but work. Thank the demon badger that that bollocks is over with and I can give more time to music.

Emit was a one time event. We recorded one session. That was a no go and exists on a tape somewhere and later some horrific drumming over a previous Emit session was performed.


Amongst the Odium label releases are early works by both Uruk Hai (Elbentanz) and Elisabetha (Isten Szek!) - how 'successful' did those releases prove to be?
Uruk Hai went out quite well, though I have no idea of how many copies. I'm not sure what happened with Isten Szek. I'm not sure it was an official release if I'm honest. If I recall I just slapped it on the end of October because of October’s overwhelming potential for disappointment.

You've clearly known Alex/Hugin for many years, do you recall how that relationship formed?
I remember long ago receiving a load of tapes from Beverina Productions as a trade. Within was Uruk Hai’s "Elbenwald". I was initially unimpressed to be honest. This was my first exposure to Uruk Hai. The rest of the story is lost to alcohol. I really have not the slightest clue as to why or how we came in to contact.

Have you followed his career since those early days?  
I have greedily absorbed all his works since then.

What are your impressions of Alex Wieser, the man?
I would like to think of him as a colossal pervert, rampaging his way through desolate mountain settlements, impregnating many young maidens and leaving many bastards in his wake before retiring to his fortress of pure doom and composing songs of his conquests.

Do you have any particular projects or releases of his that you are particularly partial to?
I recently and gratefully received Elisabetha’s ‘Uber das Prinzip…’ - Goat-tastic!

Reverting to yourself, which of your own releases would you point someone towards to get a representative idea of your own music?
I'm not sure any single release is representative, to my diseased ears all are unique. One whole retched evil sack of shit waiting to disease ones mind. But saying that; La Bête's "La Bête", Octobers "Ossuary" and Odium's "Death" and ‘Unholy Deeds On Consecrated Ground‘ would be your best bet.

Are any of your demos/releases available to buy?
I prefer trades. Anyone wanting anything just contact me: odiumrecords@hotmail.com Money is not the reason one make’s Black metal.

I hear a rumour that long-lost Odium and Uruk Hai recordings have now been released....?
It was a planned split. The label at the time was interested until they heard my contribution. The label owner then had massive and unsightly anal leakage, passed out and had his eyes eaten out by a leprous badger. I then released my contribution as Odium ‘Solitude‘. It's nice to see the original plan come to fruition.
 
Through some quirk of fate, you become Prime Minister tomorrow - what law would you want to repeal, and what new law would you want to promote?
Meh. Politics.

I read somewhere online that you once painted your car with matt black "anti-radar" paint?!  Any truth to this story?!
The car needed paint. There was some old metallic paint used on army vehicles available. On it went. Temporary traffic lights failed to see the car. I bet you were hoping for some conspiracy theory reason. Ha! Quite boring I assure you.

Are there any funny tales from life in the underground scene that you'd care to share with Honour and Darkness?  
None that I can recall I'm afraid.

Your house is on fire (no, really, it is...) - what three possessions do you save first?
I would use the girl friend to smother the flames while I hurl possession one out the window, my music collection (I'm cheating). Then I would liberate my guitar from the burning death before throwing as many Star Wars related items out the window (I'm a total Star Wars nerd). Then I would have sexy good times with the crispy body of my still twitching girl friend. All is now good in the world, awash in cum, warm in glow of my burning house, surrounded by my most cherished possessions.

Your 3 books and 3 albums for a desert island would be....?
Darkthrone "Under A Funeral Moon";  Dawnfall "Dominance Of Darkness". The third is a tricky one, early Pyre, maybe Graveland’s "Carpathian Wolves" or Darkthrone’s "Goatlord". Maybe some Kvist or even some early Barathrum...?

Your vote for the best cover art to a demo or album you've ever seen?
I have always liked the cover of Lugubrum’s "Winterstones"

What song would you ban - never to be heard again?
I am a firm believer in no censorship.
 
Just what is the story underpinning the occasional midget references in your emails...?!
Midgets are the spawn of Satan’s unholy fornication. They are to be idolised as such.


Well, you can't say fairer than that!   Why not drop him a line and ask about trading possibilities, or just to share a reverence for midget-related activities? 

Phillip Knight - musician; Legend!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

FEAR OF THE DEEP - update


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Fear Of The Deep
Reason for update: A promotional copy emerges from the murky depths....

This mini-CD from COI was reviewed back in the early days of Honour and Darkness and was released in the early days of the COI project (November 2007, to be precise).  Nazgul's original written piece pretty much said as much as was necessary about this tidy little song, and a review in Heathen Harvest also made for a relevant read.

Not much left to update for this release then, you might imagine.  And you'd be correct if it hadn't been for the small matter of a copy of the thing being advertised for sale online quite recently.  Now, as you'll be aware from stories of yore, Nazgul is prone to buying duplicate copies of Hugin's releases - particularly the rarer ones - on the basis that they provide good trading material and oftentimes Nazgul has the very collector in mind who has been asking after the availability of a particular release.  In this instance, finding one of the limited-to-only-19 copies of "Fear Of The Deep" seemed to be something of a miracle in itself, but when the disc arrived the plot thickened when the issue number was found to be absent, with the lettering "Pr." being written there instead, in red ink.

Clearly a promotional release of the single, then, but how many we actually put out in this way, wondered Nazgul?  According to Hugin, this is very possibly only the one that was issued, which from his recollection was sent for review to ....Heathen Harvest!

And so our update comes full circle (well, sort of).  This unique promotional version is now winging its way across the globe as a gift to a good friend for Christmas, and is one of the few items of such rarity to escape the gravitational pull of Castle Nazgul.  It's always worth enquiring what other oddities Nazgul has lurking around the Castle for sale or trade - only the other day a tape plus CDr copy of the "s.t.r.a.n.g.e." release came into my possession, and that's as rare as hen's teeth to find as you'll know.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

AS WE HIDE THE MOON

Band: EISMOND
Tile: As We Hide The Moon
Format: 6-panel digipak on the Kristallblut Records label (Germany), catalogue reference KBR006, released in 2013.  The full-colour panels contain the lyrics for the songs.
Edition: Limited to 500 unnumbered copies 

Track listing:
01. The Wind that Shakes the Grass  20:30
02. The Name of the Wind  12:16                                              
03. Stepping Beyond  22:55
04. The Gilded Mountain  16:16

There is something large, grey and wrinkled in Castle Nazgul.  It sits in the corner of the library and glowers balefully across the floor at Nazgul as he taps away on his ancient typewriter (that's Nazgul tapping away, not our grey friend!)  Let me introduce you to 'the elephant in the room', a recent visitor whose arrival coincided with this review for Eismond's latest offering.

You see, many of the issues that were discussed in the recent review of Uruk Hai's new album "...And All The Magic & Might He Brought" could equally be said to apply to Eismond's latest offering, "As We Hide The Moon".  New personnel in the band?  Check.  New instruments in the mix, specifically guitar?  Check.  Use of lyrics and clean vocals where previously instrumentals reigned?  Check and mate.  

So what, you might very well ask, is Nazgul likely to do in this review: some form of 'brutal' hatchet-job, or something potentially hypocritical in treating this similarly evolved release with different criteria from that against which Uruk Hai was judged?  Time to shift that elephant, methinks, before he finishes the Castle peanut supplies...

First things first, though: what does the Kristallblut label have to say about this release?  They say this:

"Now, with their new line-up, they are ready to release their debut album "As We Hide the Moon" in the beginning of 2013 again on Kristallblut Records. Eismond play ambient space black metal. Deep soundscapes, filled with hypnotic guitars and drums, take the listener to a cosmical journey to the stars. Emotional deep music for fans of Elffor, Summoning, Paysage d´Hiver, Lustre, and Sieghetnar."

And that's actually quite a timely reminder, as the previous Eismond review here on Honour and Darkness featured the reissue of their first tape demo "Demo 1/2010" into CD format, which was re-titled on route as "Behind The Moon We Are Looking Into The Distance".  Technically, therefore, "As We Hide The Moon" is the first release proper by the project, and so presumably sets the musical template for those to follow.

Second things second: who exactly is this new member?  Step forward Jaron (vocals and guitars) to complement Hugin on keys, programming, and guitars. Jaron is in fact Jaron Evil (aka Vultyrous) of Archspire, Funeral Fornication, Ringbearer, and Almuric renown.  We've come across Funeral Fornication before with their split album with Uruk Hai, and a future split release between Uruk Hai and Ringbearer is apparently in the pipeline too.

Before Nazgul's own thoughts, what does the media at large make of this very nicely presented digipak?  Well, the internet is not exactly awash with reviews, but two stand out as having something of interest to say.  The first comes courtesy of Dimiarch of Metal Soundscapes      

"Austrian atmospheric space ambient blackened metal band Eismond has finally released its debut full-length album "As We Hide the Moon". The band was formed in 2010 by Alex Wieser, who is also behind many other mostly ambient related projects, like Uruk-Hai, Hrossharsgrani, Elisabetha, Bonemachine, Hrefnesholt, Wach, Manwë and others. After some demos as a solo project, Jaron joined the band in guitars and vocals (the project was mostly instrumental before) and Eismond released their first album in 2013 via the German label Kristallblut Records, who also re-released their first demo re-mastered with bonus tracks.

Eismond’s music was always inspired by the mystery and beauty of outer space and the secrets hidden in other worlds, with a preference in our planet’s satellite, Moon. Their music is down tempo, with atmospheric synths, a few distorted background guitars and various experimental sound samples, giving you the impression that everything moves slowly, floating in zero gravity. There are 4 very long compositions, each one over 12 minutes (2 of them are actually over 20 minutes) and the whole album lasts for 72 minutes. The presence of lead melodic guitars and solos in some selected parts adds a very warm touch in the songs. This time there are a few whispers and some clean male vocals, enriching even more their sound, but it’s true that the album still gives the impression of an instrumental work. 


I’d like to comment the wonderful melodic vocal parts in the first song 'The Wind that Shakes the Grass', which are really epic! The closing track 'The Gilded Mountain' is their most heavy song so far, with more distorted guitars and a few screaming vocals. "As We Hide the Moon" moves in the footsteps of the demo album, but is more solid, interesting and well produced.

Fans of ambient space atmospheric music could find Eismond a very interesting experiment. Their somehow 'blackened' atmosphere could also attract a metal audience and of course all those who like Alex's other projects, since there are some common elements with most of them. "As We Hide the Moon" is released by Kristallblut Records in deluxe 6-panel digipak with all the lyrics and beautiful artwork of alien ice-covered rocky landscapes. You can visit their official profile for more info and sound samples."


Meanwhile, in Fatal Underground ...

"...their debut album is described by them as Ambient Atmospheric Black Metal Experimental. Broadly speaking one can agree, although the Black Metal portion is little more than a low level default. Created here is an almost continuous very gentle, atmospheric sound world, which has a hint of psychedelia . Some people near me draw comparisons to " Pink Floyd.  I'll place special emphasis on the guitar work, which presents itself in different variations: at times the riffs seem very cold, sometimes slightly distorted and sometimes even really aggressive (and it's here where perhaps the best stab at Black Metal can be seen). On the other hand, sometimes the guitar elicits almost 'warm' tones.  Other parts create an enormously atmospheric ambience. The drum sound is tasteful and adheres rather profoundly to make an extremely important contribution to the building of songs in this huge atmosphere.  

The sound consistently ranges around and very occasionally you will sometimes roused by harder or louder passages. A super, brilliant disc!  Assuming you like on this kind of music it can absolutely relax you and take you into a world apart from the everyday . Simply beautiful and super relaxing!"

And where does that leave Nazgul and his visiting elephant?  In a healthy state of mind, to be honest.  A change in personnel so early in the project's life really just sets them down what appears to be a very palatable path, and the added soft vocals of Jaron enhance the songs immensely.  The fact you can follow along with the lyrics printed on the panels of the digipak is handy too.  It is a very relaxing experience, and one that should be a compulsory part of NASA astronaut training to familiarise them with immense spaces.  Rather than being a strange and semi-intrusive change to the project's direction, it comes at a timely juncture and is executed really well. 

Good to see a significant label like Kristallblut getting involved in the release too, which should raise the profile of the band and allow for better distribution and sales than even some of Hugin's more established projects are used to.  It beggars the question as to how the completely awesome Drachenfeuer release "The Realm Of The Light" still hasn't seen a major label release though: it's a funny old world.

The artwork on this diogipak leaves one in no doubt of its outer space leanings, and indeed the inclusion of flying saucers reminds us of some of the strange types that live in the cold and desolate Alpine regions (anybody remember the bizarre tale of one-armed Billy Meier, of Bülach, Switzerland?)  Whether this music is the content of choice on the CD players of beam-ships from the DAL Universe is yet to be established, although they could do far worse to make the crushing bore of intergalactic travel less onerous....

Saturday, 30 November 2013

KONKUBINEN

Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Konkubinen - Eigentümliche Entrücktheit Im Nebel Der Verdammnis (Ein Hörspiel In Acht Akten)
Format: A CD planned by the W.A.R. label for a 2003 release, but never issued
Edition: N/A

Proposed track listing:
01. Einleitung: Visionen & Fieberträume
02. Kinder Der Nacht
03. Unheilvolle Kreaturen Im Mondlicht (Erster Blutzyklus)
04. Huren Dracula's (Zweiter Blutzyklas)
05. Fluß Der Tränen
06. Zarückgewonnene Jugend
07. Kloster Der Hoffhung
08. Ausklang

#8: From the Vaults of W.A.R.

Loosely translated, the monstrous full title for this release is something on the lines of "Concubines - a peculiar reverie in the mists of perdition (a radio play in eight acts)".  Extraordinary!

It would have been a formal release in 2003 were it not for the vagaries of Elisabetha's musical world, as it ultimately became destined to be retitled as "Und Wirklichkeit erfüllt die Seele wieder" and released on 6 January 2004 by the German Black Attakk label.  In this final iteration it retained the following tracks, with slightly enhanced titles in some cases:
 
1. Einleitung: Visionen & Fieberträume  02:34    
2. Kinder der Nacht (Die Musik der Toten)  10:23    
3. Unheilvolle Kreaturen im Mondlicht (Erster Blutzyklus)  04:19    
4. Huren Dracula's (Zweiter Blutzyklus)  03:08    
5. Fluss der Tränen - Elisabetha's Fluch (Eine Ode an die ewige Liebe)  09:52    
6. Zurückgewonnene Jugend (Manifest des Blutes)  01:57    
7. Kloster der Hoffnung (Bittersüss setzt ein das Leiden)  06:20    

to which were then added three further songs:

8. Verdorbene Erde (Furchtlose Krieger im Dienste des Meisters)  02:18    
9. Das Totenschiff Demeter (Logbucheinträge aus dem Nebelmeer)  18:02    
10. Der Wolf (Puls unendlicher Pein)  06:53  

This 2004 release deleted the track 'Ausklang', which may (or may not!) have been related to 'Ausklang Todt' from the Blutrausch demo, also of 2003!  Welcome once again to the never-ended complexities of Hugin's back catalogue!

Fortunately for one and all, however, the proposed artwork for the "Konkubinen" release survived, buried deep underground in the bowels of the damp earth, and here it is in all of its previously unseen gory glory for you to drool over...

Thursday, 21 November 2013

PASSING THROUGH THE INTERSTELLAR GAS


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Passing Through The Interstellar Gas
Format: CDr released on the Catgirl Records/Sleepless Nights labels (Germany) in 2013, cat ref NIGHT#004.  The plain silver CD-r disc is in a clear wallet and comes sandwiched between two A4 size colour inlays and 3 picture cards.
Edition: Limited to 20 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Just A Game  0.50
02. A Sign In Space  3.04
03. The Turk  2.26
04. Fortuna Y Gloria  2.54

Blessed with a title bound to cause sniggering at the back of the classroom, this is the latest release from Ceremony of Innocence and once again Hugin provides the music whilst Nick Diak provides both the lyrics and vocal parts.  Since Nick's involvement there's been something of a resurgence on the COI front, presumably brought about by his enthusiasm meeting Hugin's ever prolific outpouring of music, and how nice it is to see another of Hugin's less well-known projects with a few new releases to its name.

It so happens that the new COI site that Nazgul brought to your attention a while ago has a track by track commentary by Nick on what each song on this release is all about, which is as handy a way as any of breaking into the EP proper (at least from a lyrical perspective).  But before we go there, let's quickly consider that intriguing title.  Interstellar Gas - it turns out - is nothing to do with intestinal gas.  Which in some ways is a pity, as Nazgul had a ready store of fart-related jokes just waiting to be deployed.  However, putting that disappointment to one side, Nazgul discovers that in addition to stars, our Galaxy contains interstellar gas (mostly hydrogen, you'll be keen to learn) and dust. Some of the gas is very cold, but some forms hot clouds (fnarr, fnarr!) called the gaseous nebulae, the chemical composition of which can be studied in some detail. The chemical composition of the gas seems to resemble that of young stars, which accords with the prevailing theory that young stars are formed from interstellar gas.

Can we possibly have a pair of young stars on our hands with Hugin and Nick, both being imperfectly formed and shaped from hydrogen-based gas molecules?  The sane mind can only boggle and shrink back from such a thought...!

As usual with a release on the Catgirl label, the contents of the release include two large anime-style A4 covers and a handful of colour inlay cards.  Recent Catgirl releases of Bonemachine music have been chock-a-block with rude pictures, which always come as a bit of a shock when prised from their packaging.  What on earth (or indeed, off-Earth) might they have put into a COI package, Nazgul wondered?   As the photos show, it's a bit of risque anime in this instance, with the lyrics for the songs handily being printed for your edification.  The cover image for the EP is rather distinctive too with its chess-theme, the reasons for which will become apparent in just a moment.

So now, shall we hear from Mr Diak about these songs along with some thoughts from Nazgul as we go...?  No?  Well, you suit yourself then - the rest of you come with me on a quick whizz through the galaxy:

Just A Game

"Alex was a sneaky person with this intro!  Many times when he is working on a song for an upcoming release for one of his projects, he sends me an mp3 to check it out. However, he did not with this! So I had to wait until the Passing Through the Interstellar Gas EP was actually released before I could hear it - the nerve!  Regardless, the intro is catchy!  It sounds like a cross between the opening of an Anime and an RPG video game.  In fact it is almost a little *too* catchy to be an intro - the song really started to pick up near the end, and then it ends!  A full length instrumental would have been awesome to hear as well.  It's a nice way to start the EP off methinks."

Almost too short to review, this is a brief introduction and reminds us which project we're about to listen to here.  Typically in the current COI mould, it's upbeat and 'poppy' and sets the scene for...

A Sign In Space

"My third set of lyrics, composed in March 2013.  These song is a retelling of the first half of the story "A Sign in Space" by Italian author Italo Calvino, and appears in his work Cosmicomics.  It is one of my favourite stories of his - about a being named qfwfq who witnesses some amazing things out in the universe.  In "A Sign in Space", he exists so long ago there is basically nothing in the infant universe - so he creates a sign for a myriad amount of reasons.  After so many eons he comes back to his sign and it has been vandalized by someone else.  So he winds up more-or-less competing against this other entity, creating the notion of art in the process.

There is a lot of influence in the neofolk scene drawing inspiration from the likes of Ernst Junger, Stefan George, Carl Jung, Nietzsche, and so on.  I wanted to draw subject matter from and honour someone completely different, hence one of the reasons I chose Calvino, who tells the most amazing stories. However, I felt I got too ambitious with this song. I am still feeling out what my capabilities are in regards to both song writing and conveying the lyrics via spoken words, and I believe I faltered in many regards: too long of lines, tripping over the "S" sound, too many syllables, and not as much word play as I would like to have had. I personally don't think I did the subject matter great justice, however I am still learning the process and learning what my strengths and weaknesses are."


Despite Mr Diak's misgivings, probably the best song on this EP in Nazgul's opinion.  Here the lyrics and music combine to best effect, with some catchy passages on the synths and sung/spoken parts that flow nicely with the beat.  Probably one of the most cohesive and catchy songs that the 'new' Ceremony Of Innocence partnership has spawned, and one that grabs your attention like a Alien Facehugger.

The Turk

"My 4th song I've written lyrics for, composed in April 2013 shortly on the coat-tails of "A Sign in Space".  Alex had a specific instrumental in mind and wanted me to compose a song that was 4 verses, 3 lines each.  Constraint writing can be quite fun and the outcome unique, an example being the novel Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. So I wanted to pen a creative song within these constraints.  The natural suggestion with the 3 line constraint would be to do each verse haiku style, but I felt this would've been too constraining (and perhaps cliche), so while the verses may inherently sound haiku-esque, that's purely incidental.

The Turk was a chess playing automaton that existed in the late 1700s to the early 1800s.  Many people would play chess against the Turk, believing it to be a machine, but the reality was that there was a person hidden inside.  I found the topic fascinating and used that as my stepping stone for subject matter.  The perspective of the song is of a chess player playing against, and subsequently losing to, The Turk.  He is also unaware that The Turk is an illusion, and believes it to be a real automaton.  The verbiage of the song reflects this, I keep referring to The Turk as an "It".  There is some strange irony at play in the last verse in that The Turk wins the match, which seemingly reaffirms the question of Man vs. Machine, with the machine winning, as we are seeing in our lives with the advent of more and more amazing technology.  Of course, the secret irony is that the machine is really a man!  Regardless of the Man/Machine winning, the narrator states that he would gladly play again, showing either respect to either our technology or our fellow man.

Another bit of symbolism - The Turk wins the match with the rook, the chess piece that is not considered "alive", as everything else is: the king, queen, pawns, knights, and bishops.  One further tidbit to point out is the phrase "a-piped in thought". For the longest time, when I heard Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, I always thought he said that phrase during this verse:

"He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought."

Since Jabberwocky is full of made up words, I always thought Carroll coined the term "a-piped", which when I visualize, I imagine a man with a big pipe, smoking away in deep contemplation. So when I actually read the text and saw that this was not the case, I've rushed to claim it as my own made up word.  I think it's rather clever!   One last musing - when I composed this song I had only the historic Turk in mind.  When I shared the song idea to both Alex and Marcel P. of Miel Noir, both responded back the same fashion of: "that's an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles!"  How two Germanic musicians independently know about the plots of a short-lived show on American television leaves me flummoxed!"


Certainly an interesting theme - Chess, and against an pseudo-automaton no less!  Musically and lyrically this is actually very well done, although Nazgul has to note that the tempo of the lyrics and music do seem to be at odds with each other on occasion.  This gives the song a strangely disjointed feel.  The very first line is delivered much faster than the tempo of the music, but later the position is reversed with the pace of the music out-gunning the spoken delivery.  It takes a bit of playing to get used to, and one wonders if some fiddling about with the speed of the vocal delivery has been a bit overdone, but quibbles aside it's a decent listen and takes us to...

Fortuna Y Gloria

"My 5th set of lyrics, written in May 2013.  The genesis of the song came about a Sunday night.  It was extremely hot, my girlfriend's and my friend was over all day for one last hurrah before he moved away, and I was hit with a huge case of insomnia.  So in this state my mind always races feverishly, from financial woes to work blues to whatever the case may be.  While our friend was over, we watched Journey 2: The Island starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, an actor I hold in surprisingly high esteem.

So while laying there at Oh-Dark-Thirty, I was reflecting on the movie and how fun it was to watch, and how fun it would be to go on an adventure.  Then of course other adventurous movies were coming to mind, such as the Indiana Jones movies and one of my guilty favourites, The Ark of the Sun God.  Then my mind strayed to perhaps writing an adventurous song, and before I knew it, I had an English draft in my head.  I hit upon the idea that perhaps it should be done in Spanish, that the song is about an adventurer exploring the jungles in deep southern Mexico (Mayans perhaps?), and finding ruins and a cave full of beasts and traps and in the end, finding a treasure!  I scaled the song back so I could translate it to Spanish as best as I could (I speak passable Spanish for a gringo!).  I told Alex of my lyrical idea and he jumped at the opportunity to try and record something different.  He was very proud of his instrumental, I think in part it was diving into territory he hadn't dived into before.  My Spanish accent isn't the greatest, but I did my best and I think the end result is a pretty well done song, especially when it was quite experimental from the both of us.

What I think is particularly clever is that the ending of each verse becomes the starting point of the next verse. I have found that I am discovering interesting ways to link verses in my song writing, such as what I did in "Our Fire Burns" without relying on rhymes."


Hells bells, just as Nazgul is starting to get a rudimentary grasp of some of Alex's German lyrics now there's Spanish to contend with!  Ay Caramba!  A nice Spanish guitar intro, and just before you're tempted to grab your castanets and cry 'Olé' the synths kick in and normal service is resumed.  Another good song, different again in feel from those preceding it, and making for a solid end to an interesting EP.  

I think you will have independently concluded by now that this release is somewhat different from Hugin's usual project releases: Themes of chess-playing automatons, beings named qfwfq, and adventures worded in Spanish are not the typical content of a release featured in Honour and Darkness!  Couple this with a soft part-spoken vocal delivery from Nick, then add in Hugin's keyboard flourishes, and you have quite the oddity.  It's inexpensive, interesting and ultimately well presented by the label, and that gives you three good reasons to invest some time and money into finding out a little more about it.  It's also very limited in its edition, so best not hang around too long before seeking out a copy. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

VOGELFREI - update

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3
Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Vogelfrei
Reason for update: Alternate colour versions of the artwork for the three discs from "Vogelfrei".

Casting your weary mind back to 24 April 2010 and thinking about what brightened up an otherwise typical Saturday, you will - of course - immediately remember Nazgul's post about the rather excellent "Vogelfrei" box-set.  That epic Bonemachine release contained 3 digipak CD's in sombre black and white artwork, along with a bonus 3" disc.  The cunningness of the release was that each of the discs - series 1, 2 and 3 as they were called, coming with different colour CD-r discs - had the same core songs at their heart, but different bonus tracks to differentiate them.

Todays post - only three and a half years or so after the original review of the box-set - shows alternate, colour artwork for the three discs, courtesy of that man with his finger on the pulse of all things Hugin, errrr...Hugin!

It was a toss up whether to label this post as the next instalment in the Vaults of W.A.R. series or just stick to tradition and keep it as an update to the existing post.  Nazgul plumped for the latter: oh, the trials and tribulations of running Honour and Darkness!

What difference would these inlays have brought to the final release?  Under the 'modern regime' of releases on labels such as Fallen Angels Productions I suspect we might have seen two limited edition box-sets, one in monochrome and one in colour.  Still, that was then and this is now, so let's just enjoy these relics of a release from long ago.  Nazgul gathers from Hugin that at the time this release was issued (by T'an! Kaven!! Ash!!!, an imprint label of The Eastern Front) they preferred the black and white artwork as more in keeping with the WWII themed music.  As stylish as these alternate covers are I think they made the right call on that one.

Never seen before, here's another exclusive to get your teeth (or bayonet) into!

Friday, 8 November 2013

...AND ALL THE MAGIC & MIGHT HE BROUGHT

Band: URUK HAI
Title: ...And All The Magic And Might He Brought
Format: This initial pressing comes as a digipak 'deluxe edition' CD on 21 September 2013 through W.A.R. Productions (Austria), with tracks recorded between October 2011 and January 2013.  An alternative CD pressing (in jewel case) and tape version are also to be available shortly, which will be reviewed in due course.
Edition: Digipak limited to 300 unnumbered copies.  

Track Listing:
01. From the Ashes  03:37
02. Far Away  06:00
03. Ancient Wisdom  05:13
04. Rise & Fall  04:57
05. Fallen Leaves  03:42
06. The Door to the Paths of the Dead  07:06
07. Valinor  02:28
08. Immortality  14:04
09. Wrath  04:07

Deluxe Edition bonus tracks  
10. March of the Forest Elves  04:24
11. Legolas  02:33
12. Glaurung  04:15
13. The End of the Road  04:17

Although Nazgul doesn't have all the variants of this particular release in his possession yet, it seems a timely moment to put a review of this new album up on Honour and Darkness not least because it is the brand new album from Uruk Hai and there's a tremendous amount of interest in it at the moment.  One assumes that you - the handsome, intelligent reader of this Blog - would have rushed out and bought a copy already, but in case you haven't (or you're a neutral who has chanced upon this as a solitary online review of the album) then let's plough ahead with the review, and cover the different formats in a later update.


Firstly, let's establish some context for this album: it's not, as it turns out, a straightforward affair.  We're used to Uruk Hai releases being the sole property of Alex "Hugin" Wieser, one-man Austrian ambient army and purveyor of fine wares.  On this 2013 outing, however, Hugin is joined by a panoply of notable muso-types, drawn from his various W.A.R. connections into the music world.  To that end we have less of a solo project and more of a virtual band (the tracks being assembled through contributions sent in, rather than performed as a collective together in a studio).  

Now this immediately rings a few potential alarm bells: Collaborative recording can be an immensely beneficial thing if each member brings something of value and doesn't overwhelm the whole.  Hugin has recorded more than a few successful demos and songs with outside contributors aboard - a notable example being with John Kirkwood on the Drachenfeuer demo - so in of itself this isn't a problem.  There is at least one occasion though - and we're talking about the Hrossharsgrani "Schattenkrieger" album here, folks - where the collaboration idea didn't really work and Hugin's own personality got lost in the mix, quite literally.

The trick, therefore, is to retain the core sound and ethos of the project whilst augmenting it through the addition of exciting new personnel.  If those same personnel change the sound or feel of the band too much, it might well end up sounding like a kick-ass record but ultimately will have little to do with the project under which it is named.

And let's remember, much as the road to heaven is paved with good intentions the road to rock 'n' roll stardom is paved with ill-fated collaborations.  There have been some tragic collaborations in recent memory - Metallica and Lou Reed, Slash performing the end of 'November Rain' with Jamie Foxx and T-Pain at the Grammys; Coal Chamber and Ozzy's disastrous Peter Gabriel cover; and Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page all spring to mind.  Those of us with longer memories will remember some ill-fitting band combinations too - Brian Robertson's stint in Motorhead, or Glenn Hughes in Black Sabbath two good examples of something that seemed like a good idea on paper but sucked in reality.  Just because artists are competent individually doesn't mean you can lock them in a room together and expect some audio dynamite to emerge.

So who exactly performs on this Uruk Hai opus?  In no particular order, they range from the relatively well known (Tony Dolan on bass, M:Pire Of Evil and ex-Venom; Joe Matara on guitar, an established solo artist on the W.A.R. label, Pr, Sergiy of Moloch, providing some screams and also continuity from past work with Hugin), the should-be-better-known (Trevor Sewell on guitar, ex-Tygers of Pan Tang), together with talents that you may be unfamiliar with: Rich Davenport (from UK's Greyhound Bridge) playing guitar, and Teresa Chillcut-Guiterrez (Vos Intereo), Bart Piette (Dead Man's Hill), and Janos Krusenbaum (Seeking Raven) all providing vocal contributions.  

The contributions vary greatly in proportion: Tony has a spoken word part on the first track and that's him done; Rich Davenport and Trevor Sewell contribute to two songs on the album, one apiece, whilst Bart Piette and Pr. Sergiy also have the one appearance each on vocal duties.  The majority of additional material therefore comes from Joe Matara and Janos Krusenbaum.

Some interesting c.v.'s there, so the prospect for an exciting album is nicely established.  And yet - the seeds of trepidation continue to flourish quietly: Hugin's keyboard-driven Uruk Hai of old (and indeed recent) times has been quite the fragile and ethereal thing, gossamer thin melodies floating on wisps of inspired creativity.  Having "a group of rock 'n' roll motherf*ckers in his ear" [© Honour and Darkness reader who wishes to remain anonymous] may not be the ideal way to bring his talents to the fore, and the risk there is that no matter how rousing or glossy an album this might be, if it doesn't feel or sound like an Uruk Hai release then will it ultimately be doomed to fail.


"Well, that's all fine and dandy as an introduction, Mr. Nazgul," you might be thinking, "but what does the bloody thing sound like?"

So to answer that quite literally let's inject a little independence into this review and undertake an assessment of the album on a track by track basis with the thoughts of Ceremony Of Innocence vocalist Nick Diak (in green) interspersed with the lunatic ravings of your truly:

From the Ashes
"An awkward opening track for this album it sounds like it should be opening for a sports game. At any given point I thought Joe Matera's guitars were going to break into the American national anthem. Tony Dolan gives an unnerving introduction at the end of the track that is too brief"
It acts as a clear opening statement that things are going to be different on this album, and so it proves.  An Uruk-Hai release opening with a guitar solo?  Unprecedented!  An Uruk Hai album opening with a song not even featuring our man Hugin?  Bizarre!  The unsuspecting Uruk Hai fan who bought this album without noticing the additional personnel will by now be opening up their CD player to see what disc is actually in there!  It came as a surprise that this short vocal contribution was Tony's sole role on the album, but that said he is a very busy man.

Far Away
"To me, this should've been the opening track of the album. It starts off slow, but builds up a little bit. The 'plucking' instrumental at the beginning recalls the song 'Underground Sewer' from the soundtrack to Chronotrigger [Nazgul's note: a Japanese computer game, apparently!] Joe's guitars are far better here than they were in 'From the Ashes', the brief bit at the 2:55 mark is really nice. The biggest surprise for this track, are the vocals from Janos Krusenbaum. They have a real epic and grandiose quality to them that recalls Blind Guardian. If Uruk-Hai is trying to break into the adventure metal genre with the likes of Blind Guardian and Kamelot, the vox from Janos is certainly the way to go. The last minute of the song is back into pure Uruk-Hai territory with a fantasy oriented musicscapes"
And there, in that last but one sentence, is the rub.  The combination of performers on this track does make it sound very much like a power metal band, and Nick's reference to Blind Illusion is a good one.  There's nothing wrong with that, and taken in isolation the song is perfectly enjoyable, but it's not the Uruk Hai that we're familiar with.  More of that anon...

Ancient Wisdom
"A nice instrumental, it recalls times of when Uruk-Hai is at their most verdant in sound. This is a piano/synth track with some nice string work that gives it a soothing, but at the same time, sombre feel"
The predominant use of piano gives the song a far more mature feel, and also sounds rather classy it has to be said.  

Rise & Fall
"This track starts off in classic Uruk-Hai / Hrosshargrani territory with samples of an epic battle and the screaming vocals of Pr. Sergiy who has appeared on prior black-metal Uurk-Hai tracks. However I think Pr. Serlgy is upstaged by the clear but epic vocals of Janos that carries most of the track. This is some great rhythm from the drums and Matera’s guitar work that propels the song"
Not a cover of Helloween's song after all, although after the power-metal start to the album the jury was out on that one for a time.  Nazgul likes the screams of Pr. Sergiy, they remind him of the black chambers deep beneath Castle Nazgul.

Fallen Leaves
"Another fantasy oriented instrumental, it reminds me of some other Uruk-Hai tracks of this ilk, such as 'The Shire' from Lost Songs from Middle Earth. A nice, fantasy-ambient treat"
Agreed, and just before complete confusion reigns Hugin wisely rolls up his sleeves and whips off a timely reminder of his trademark sound and the fact that this is, after all, an Uruk Hai release.

The Door to the Paths of the Dead
"This song starts of with great music but poor vocals. The wind instruments in the background sound awesome and makes me think of lonely, misty mountains. However, Bart Piette's vocals don’t compliment the music or the atmosphere at this point.  At the 3 minute mark of the song, the song changes focus with the guitars picking up. Here the vocals are a better match for the most part, but I feel they over stay their welcome as the song carries on. Trever Sewell's guitars are excellent here however - they have a grindy quality to give the song an action-cinematic feel to it when they are present"
Once again  our man Diak has his finger on the pulse.  Bart's vocals do improve as the song progresses, and the song grows on you with repeat listening.

Valinor
"Another ambient/fantasy instrumental. This is a good 'prelude' track, as in when you listen to it, you get the sense that something big is about to happen and this is the precursor to it. The war drums are peppered through the song with some complimentary incantation-like hymns that give it a good feeling"
There are also a few discreet female vocals on this one that give the song an almost Tristania-like vibe at times.  Rather good

Immortality
"A longer track, but unfortunately a pretty nondescript track.  It's 14 minutes long and it pretty much sounds the same at any given part except for the last minute. The female vox from Teresa Chillcut-Guiterrez are serviceable, but not remarkable and sound mumbled in some parts. The Joe Matera guitars are decent, but I feel they would’ve been in better service for a shorter song. Over all, a little on the boring side"
You can't have immortality without a longish duration though, so perhaps there's some cunningness at work here?  It would benefit from a bit of editing though, and the female vocals do add another dimension to the song.  Nazgul is still struggling with guitar solos in Uruk Hai songs though: performed very well, to be sure, but just not complementing the music in the way that keyboards can.

Wrath
"The final track of the album proper (before getting into the bonus tracks). Hugin's vocals sound pure evil here, and actually are not too bad to service the theme of the song. The music itself is pretty top notch, there are some ambient effects, but also some drumming that give it a menacing feeling. Then the guitars kick in two-thirds of the way into the song. It has an operatic/metal feeling, and maybe it’s a good way to book end the album with the guitar driven opening in 'From the Ashes'"
Hugin manages to do a remarkable impression of Blix from the film Legend on this song, and frankly it's all the better for it!

March of the Forest Elves
"The first of the bonus tracks, the rest of this album is all instrumental. This is an interesting mix-up of tranquil sounds (probably the forest) and some guitar work (the marching). A song to get pumped to"
An enjoyable romp through Middle-Earth, and stirring stuff to get the blood circulating!

Legolas
"A guitar driven instrumental about our favourite elf. The guitars are not bad, but the underlying layer of music I think is a bit better"
We said at the outset that the guitars on track one were a statement of intent.  This guitar led song - with a positively vicious riff - by Hugin is also a statement: that the Uruk Hai sound can change under his own hand just as readily as with other musicians taking part.  An unusual song in the canon of other solo works, but one that does fit the general feel of the album.  Speaking as the Witch-King of Angmar, I can't say I've ever had a favourite elf....

Glaurung
"Some more samples put this in old school Uruk-Hai territory. This is a menacing instrumental, the pace of the guitars and the strings give it the pace that you’re getting chased"
This is indeed more of an old school song, and most welcome it is too.

The End of the Road
"Not just the end of the road, but the end of the album as well. This is an ethereal track, which give a nice and relaxing feeling, which is needed after doing an adventure or listening to an album like this!"
Hear, hear, Sir!

In conclusion:
"'From the Ashes' and 'Immortality' are both busts. The instrumentals were all nice, and carry that Uruk-Hai fantasy-ambient canon that we all love, which I also prefer. The biggest surprises were 'Far Away' and 'Rise & Fall', with the vocals from Janos Krusenbaum being very nice. I do hope he pops up in more Uruk-Hai tracks, I much prefer his vocals over some of the black-metal screaming, indecipherable ones that have been used in the past. The incorporation of varied guitars from Matera and Sewell into the other tracks takes Uruk-Hai in a more adventure metal direction, and for the most part it’s pretty successful.  Over all, this is a fairly accessible Uruk-Hai album, it's less extreme than some other output but idiosyncratic enough to have a little something for everyone. I think the Fallen Angels Production version of this album has the better cover art, but you'll miss out on the great bonus instrumentals by going that route, however" 


Nazgul came away from this album with mixed feelings, in truth.  The first thing to say that it is a very good album, and one that Hugin and all of the contributors should be very proud of.  It must have been a labour of love to chase the respective contributors for their parts and stitch it all together, and Hugin deserves an immense amount of credit for doing that arduous task so well. 
  
However, to Nazgul's ears it's intrinsically not an Uruk Hai album, or to be more accurate, not what Nazgul expected of an Uruk Hai album.  It takes the project into other genres and mixes up different vocal styles with no real explanation of why there's a move away from the band's output of yore.  Now progress and change is all very good and a natural part of development and evolution, and there's nothing wrong with that.  I guess at the end of the day Nazgul is something of a traditionalist.   

One of my 'problems' with it (and Nazgul is quite prepared to accept it may be a problem unique to him!) is that if you leave the bonus tracks to one side for the moment, other than the occasional instrumental personifying Hugin's signature sound the rest of the album sounded like another band recording under the name Uruk Hai.  I honestly think that if I'd listened to this without knowing who it was, I wouldn't even have recognised it as Uruk Hai, except perhaps in very fleeting parts.  And that surely must be a cause for concern?  Having multiple vocalists at work also creates some issues: at best, it gives the album the feel of rock opera (as Nick alluded to), in the vein of releases by Ayreon.  At worst, it provides for a disjointed listen and gives the album a schizophrenic feel. 

In some ways, it feels like two albums shoehorned into one: a solo album, with the instrumental songs that we can recognise as Hugin's own, and the 'band' tracks on which Hugin plays.  On these latter songs - and with some inevitability - the vocals and guitar parts tend to dominate the mix and the style of the sound, and although you know Hugin is in there somewhere you can't always hear him.  This may well have been the final intention, to evolve the Uruk Hai project into new directions, but it sounds alien to these ears to hear guitar solos where keyboards once reigned supreme.  Had a few songs in this new style appeared as bonus tracks on an previous release then maybe we would be better prepared, giving us a bridge of transition although, to be fair, a medley of music from this album was available online via YouTube so some 'advance warning' had been given.

Strange as it may sound, a major sticking point for Nazgul simply boils down to the band name used here.  If the album had been released as a new side project under it's own banner (oh, I don't know, a band name with a bit of zip, something like 'Tony Dolan's Underpants' maybe?) then we'd all be proclaiming it the best thing since sliced bread, and then looking forward to the next Uruk Hai album proper.  

As it stands, Hugin's flagship project seems to have been inadvertently hijacked or sidetracked, and sounds less like his own work than you might suppose.  You wouldn't buy the thing and expect it to sound like Bob Seger or the Pussycat Dolls would you, so why would you necessarily expect it to sound like Blind Illusion?  But - and it's an important 'but' to bear in mind - it IS still a very decent album if listened to with open mind and ears, and no historical expectations.

Hmmm - an interesting one!  It's true to say that the album grows on you with repeat listens, so with the benefit of hindsight and time perhaps it will all come together and make complete sense.  At the moment, if Nazgul was in the mood to listen to an Uruk Hai album then this wouldn't be the one I'd immediately reach for, yet if I want to play an album simply to enjoy some good music, I might.  Confused....?!

Incidentally, one interesting consequence of this new style is that the album is definitively more 'rock' or 'metal' than recent Uruk Hai releases - so what will the erstwhile folk at Metal Archives make of it, having recently deleted the band entry from their site?!  It will be interesting to see if some form of reinstatement is petitioned....

To wrap things up, traditionally Nazgul tries to illuminate the dark recesses of albums reviewed, so tidbits of information for this album are as follows.  The excellent artwork (on this W.A.R. deluxe version) is courtesy of Nottorno (who you will remember as the driving force behind the 'The First Ring' compilation featuring Uruk Hai).  The album title is a part of the Lay of Leithian, a long Elvish lay (poem) that told the story of Beren and Lúthien, their Quest for the Silmaril, and their return from Mandos.  The actual couplet reads, "The chanting swelled, Felagund fought, And all the magic and might he brought".  

Looking through the information printed on the inlays there is a strange omission in that credits for the third bonus track 'Glaurung' are missing, so let Nazgul fill in the gaps by letting you know that Hugin is responsible for all of the music on that song.  And, errr, that's about it for the moment, until the two other versions are snared in the Castle.

Look, it's been a long review and if you've made it this far you're probably either (i) as confused as Nazgul, (ii) seething with indignation, or (iii) the owner of the album yourself and nodding in agreement with some of this commentary whilst being convinced that Nazgul is away with the fairies in other respects.  My advice to you would be to invest in this if you've not got a copy, as one way or other it will be a pivotal moment in Uruk Hai history so you'd not want to miss out.  And who knows, your adventure might start here as you discover that this new approach floats your boat far more than the music of old.  And for those of us in possession of a copy, to play it one more time to see if all the magic and might Hugin brought will finally sink in...!

HUGIN REPLIES:

It only seemed fair to elicit a view from Hugin to this post, given the comments made.  Whilst half expecting a reply of "You, Sir, are an arse" the actual response - gentleman that his is - was as follows:

"Thanks for your honest review - I have not seen it from this point of view to release it under another name rather than Uruk-Hai, but I wanted to change something in the sound of Uruk-Hai and I think all the 2013 splits are in the same vein. I changed a lot in sound, its a bit more Metal and the vocal tracks are definitely different but that's what I always wanted to do: to have different singers to make it sounds a bit like a radio play or a musical - still everything is connected to the Lord Of The Rings and each song tells a little story of it featuring different characters.

I think it also sounds so different because of the long period of time I worked on it, it gave me plenty of time to change things from the first takes to the final versions, and I never did it that way before.  Such a lot of work deserves the name Uruk-Hai more than all my other work I think :-)
 
One strange thing is I got a lot of feedback from fans and they all liked different tracks - there is not one track that I could say is the most beloved one by the fans!!"

In terms of the future direction for recordings, Hugin reports an ongoing interest from many who took part in this release:
 
"Trevor offered me to do another solo for an upcoming Uruk-Hai track again - that's so cool.  Joe did 3 more guitar parts for Uruk-Hai the last months, and they will be released soon too!  Rich told me he will be honoured to be again part of an Uruk-Hai song!!  Bart Piette will always do some vox or guitar or even didgeridoo for me too!  I have some new vocalists now too they will be part of future releases too - this time its more Black Metal screamed stuff :-)"


There's a lot going on in the world of Uruk Hai, that's for certain!