Saturday, 27 July 2013

TEMPERANCE


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Temperance
Format: A unique wooden box-set self-released by Hugin in 2012 as a gift to Nazgul! Contains a CD, a cassette tape, lyrics sheets and a myriad of other interesting parts - see photos below. The top of the box is packed with loose cassette tape to protect the contents, and the box lid is adorned with a wooden amulet.
Edition: 1 copy only!

Track listing:
01. Temperance  33.06

Temperance is one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues.  If you can name the other 6 then you're far too much of a goody two-shoes and should get out more.  Nazgul, of course, transcends all base urges and encompasses Temperance - defined as "restraint, temperance, justice. Constant mindfulness of others and one's surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, moderation, zero-sum and deferred gratification. Prudence to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time. Proper moderation between self-interest, versus public-interest, and against the rights and needs of others" - at every twist and turn of life.  

And yes, that is a pig you can see flying past your living room window....

Lyric sheet for the first part of the song...
... and for part 2
The design and content of this large wooden box is quite simply staggering.  As if Hugin didn't have enough on his plate to keep him busy, he found the time to create not only a lavish treasure trove of goodness but an accompanying 30+ minute song to accompany it under the proudly flying Uruk Hai banner.  

Nazgul had originally planned to go a bit overboard on this particular review for Honour and Darkness but in the interests of modesty and ... well, temperance ... it seems less appropriate to blow one's own trumpet that it is to let the accompanying photographs tell their own story.   It will retain a small air of mystery, as befitting for such a wonderful thing.

When this chest arrived in the post it was a tremendous surprise (to say the least: the ravens positively shot from the battlements of Castle Nazgul following the great shout of pleasure that accompanied the opening of the outer packaging) and it has been a much treasured object ever since. Yes, the glass on the frame had sustained a little damage during the trip from deepest Austria (Nazgul has this earmarked for replacement as one of those 'little jobs for a rainy day' that always seem to be deferred nowadays, much of which has to do with meeting the insistent demands of the fledgling baby Nazgul as he tears along the Castle corridors seeking fresh blood) but don't let that lure you into thinking that Nazgul doesn't take great care and pride of this mightiest of releases from his eternal brother in arms, Hugin.

a trio of unique Uruk Hai art prints
You'll be thinking that the music within must be in the classic mould of Uruk Hai ambient passages; something on the lines of one of Nazgul's favourite releases like "Honour" perhaps, or a re-mix of a modern classic?  Well you'd be wrong, so far out of kilter that you'd be staggered by the fuzzy guitar and hypnotic vocals that pervade this lengthy song and provide for a semi-religious ritualistic experience the like of which cannot be easily transcribed.  

To date, this particular song has not been found anywhere else in formal Uruk Hai releases, but I'm sure it's possibly more of a question of time and an appropriate vehicle before it reaches the ears of a wider audience.  Until that time, Nazgul prefers to keep his little secrets and revel quietly in the Castle Library with this delight playing in the background.

Mark Twain probably sums the concept of Temperance up the best:  "Temperate temperance is best. Intemperate temperance injures the cause of temperance, while temperate temperance helps it in its fight against intemperate intemperance. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky"

Close up of the wooden adornment to the box-lid

Nazgul will continue to write the virtues of Hugin's music in letters of many colours on Honour and Darkness until the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse themselves come to wrest the keyboard from his bony fingers....

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

OUR FIRE BURNS

Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Our Fire Burns
Format: CDr released in DVD-sized case with colour covers on the W.A.R. Productions label (Austria) in 2013, cat ref WAR079.  The set comes with lyrics on a numbered paper inlay, together with a large match!  The photographs on the covers were taken by Michele Brittany, partner of COI member Nick Diak.
Edition: 50 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Our Fire Burns 02:44

This, the second collaborative release under the COI banner between Alex Wieser and Nick Diak, develops the neofolk leanings of the project still further and moves it away from more traditional synth-pop roots and into richer, more complex areas of musicality.  Built over a spiky and fractured guitar hook, some fine acoustic guitar and a killer solo or two, the song comes bounding out of your speakers like a prowling feline, looking to catch you in its melodic claws and smother you in velvety vocals.  

Repeating the combination on their debut release as a pair ("No Never Not"), Nick again takes the vocal lead (based on his own lyrics, more of which anon) whilst Alex handles the musical elements.

The result?  Probably the best COI song that you'll not hear all year.  With only 50 copies out there - and unlikely to be a strong seller from the W.A.R. Productions catalogue - it might seem ill-fated to reside in a twilight world of relative obscurity unless this post can summon the faithful Hugin hordes to rush to their email and send the requisite 5 Euros (+shipping) to W.A.R. to support the cause?  

And you know, you really should, as this is genuinely of interest to anyone with tastes broader than metal - and Nazgul's guessing a lot of you like Hugin's music for this exact reason.

Being the 21st century (at least outside of Castle Nazgul) there is opportunity to sample the song at Youtube so perhaps you might find the time to stop by and have a listen...?  

The description accompanying the video states that you'll come across "A hint of Sisters of Mercy gothic flavour mixed with acoustic and dream pop sentiments from "The Waking Dream" era of Chandeen combined with Neofolk inspired vocals done in classic Boyd Rice spoken word style".  Now, this is where Nazgul lumbers into unfamiliar waters as apart from the Sisters (who - in today's moment of random trivia - Nazgul saw live with Depeche Mode almost exactly 20 years ago to this very day) I have no idea about Chandeen or Boyd Rice. 

The former, I gather, is a musical project from Frankfurt am Main, founded in 1990 and popular in the darkwave scene in their early years, in a self-styled delivery of 'electronic poetry'.  Boyd Rice's bio, on the other hand, records that he is an American experimental sound/noise musician who has used the name of NON since the mid-1970's, and is an archivist, actor, photographer, author, member of the Partridge Family Temple religious group, co-founder of the UNPOP art movement and current staff writer for Modern Drunkard magazine!  

Well, that all sounds perfectly acceptable...!

The lyrics to 'Our Fire Burns' are handily printed on the accompanying insert (pictured above), and read as follows:

In the night
The cold rains blow
The thatched roof leaks
But we're never cold
In the hearth
Our fire burns

The smithy strikes
Toils over coals
The hammer echoes
Resounds with the blows
In the furnace
Our fire burns

The doors are bolted
The shutters closed
The walls are manned
The gates are lowered
In the beacons
Our fire burns

The streets are empty
The markets closed
We're always safe
We'll find our way
In the lamps
Our fire burns


Nick Diak's personal commentary on the song can be read at the new COI site but are reproduced here for your edification:  "The second song I've written lyrics for, completed in February 2013. The song is greatly influences by the title of Werkraum's seminal album Unsere Feuer Brennen!  I had an idea of a call-and-response type song, were someone would say a line and the response would be 'unsere feuer brennen', and my original draft was going this direction, but wasn't quite working. So I switched to English and started to compose around that.
As in a true neofolk fashion, the song is about fire (who HASN'T done that?), but I'd take solace in that I think I am talking about it in a different capacity. The song is obviously about unity. The subject matter is a town of an unspecific era, late at night, and its inhabitants. From the common man, to the workers, to the soldiers, to even the inanimate street lamps, they all work together and fire is the common linkage. I almost view this song as a sister song. maybe even a counter piece to "The Ride" as performed by Blood Axis. I would posit they take place in the same universe."

Nick explained to Nazgul his rationale for such explanatory notes:

"It's important to me at least to put some descriptors at the COI website talking about the songs. There's actually many reasons, the first being to always protect the integrity of the songs. What I mean is, lots of bands in the neofolk, military pop, dark wave/etc scenes get called fascist or something along those lines - look at controversy over Von Thronstahl, Days of the Trumpet Call, Death in June, you name it. All bands whom I adore and probably emulate - but the stuff I've written doesn't straddle any controversial lines - and I think a good way to keep anyone from misinterpreting anything in such a fashion, why not just put my intention up while writing it? The other reason is I just got done a year ago completing my thesis and my masters, and I was always hounded on "what do you think this film means?" and "what do you think this film-maker intended?" Ugh! So I am putting our my thoughts/feelings on the songs out there so no one else has to go through that!"

Nick also gives an interesting insight into the creative process of putting together the final song with Alex:

"As for the music - I didn't hear the music beforehand. I had submitted vocals and lyrics to Alex and I believe he had an instrumental on hand that he folded into. The music department is all Alex. In fact sometimes when I've done a song, I'll give him the vocals at like 6 pm at night. Then I'll go to bed at 10 pm. Wake up at 6:30 the next day with like 6 emails from him - 'oooh here is a version, no scratch that last version, here is a "BETTER" version, nope scratch that, try this one out, nope ok ok ok this is the final awesome version BAM!'   Ok, those aren't his words, but you get the idea. I think it's funny!"

We've noted before the apparently time-bending abilities of Hugin's recording process, and this lends additional circumstantial evidence to that theory!

The revitalised Ceremony Of Innocence project is certainly one to watch, and with a new release "Passing Through The Interstellar Gas" literally just out at the Catgirl label this week the next chapter in the story will soon be available for examination!

A small anecdote to finish the piece: with the arrival of baby Nazgul at the Castle the normal pattern of listening to music at night has had to chance for obvious reasons, and Nazgul has started the habit of listening to CDs in the car on his various journeys out and about.  Originally the 'Our Fire Burns' track had only ever been played in the car, where through some curious looping cycle the track kept playing and replaying over and over, giving the impression it was of vast length.  Nazgul genuinely believed the piece to be about 30 minutes long and more until a quick play on a different stereo revealed that this was, in fact, not the case at all.  Most peculiar, and perhaps a cunning device from W.A.R. to keep COI on the radio at all times!?

Never one to outstay his own welcome, Nazgul will sign off for the day with these wise words: check out the online clip, then send money to Alex to purchase a copy of your own! 

Friday, 19 July 2013

THE LOST EMPIRE [V/A]

Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Lost Empire
Format: Released as both a double-CDr set and as a double cassette set on Fallen Angels Productions (South Korea) in February 2013, cat ref FAP032.  The CD pressing holds both discs within one case, with a paper insert, whilst the tape set is presented over two cassettes.  This is a 6-way split release, featuring Uruk Hai on the intro track to disc/tape one and the outro track to disc/tape 2.
Edition: The CDr pressing is limited to 50 copies; the tape pressing to 66 copies (all copies are unnumbered)

Track Listing:
Part.1: Wrath of Dawn
Uruk-Hai:
1. Intro (Enter Mordor)  03:03
Theudho:
2. War Into The World  05:02
3. Terror Cimbricus  05:45
4. The Raven Flies North  04:48
5. For All Those Who Died  04:28
Apparition:
6. The Soul Of Black Knight  08:38
7. In The Name Of Chiu  05:41
8. Upon Consent Of The Ancient Warriors Soul  05:03
9. Song Of The Musa  06:17

Part.2: The Vanished Time
Narbarion:
10. Les Sanctuaires De La Liberte  04:11
11. La Terre Des Anciens  05:24
12. Corbeaux Des Tempetes  06:12
Sad:
13. Cursed Be The Light  05:18
14. Hellfuck Ritual  07:04
Pyha:
15. 칼바람  06:40
16. Raubern Sie Ihre Tochter Im Keller  06:30
17. De Bruligas Santko  08:45
Uruk-Hai:
18. Outro (May It Be)  03:12

Here's a bizarre little compilation on the rapidly expanding Fallen Angels Productions label.

It features a clutch of black metal bands (spanning various shades of 'black' within the genre, from depressive to ambient to aggressive) bookended by a pair of old Uruk Hai songs from 2006's "Lothlorien" album.  Strange bedfellows, strange days...

The assortment of bands herein is like a mini United Nations in terms of global spread: we have Theudho hailing from Belgium, Sad from Greece, Apparition and Pyha from South Korea (home of the Fallen Angels label), Narbarion from France and - you'll know this one - Uruk Hai from Austria.  Nazgul must be honest, the only band apart from Hugin's project that he'd previously enountered was Theudho: they have appeared on a number of tribute albums to bands such as Bathory (with covers of 'A Fine Day to Die' and 'Blood Fire Death'), Summoning ('Marching Homewards'), Falkenbach ('Where Blood Will Soon Be Shed'), Burzum ('Det Som Engang Var') and Celtic Frost ('Dethroned Emperor').


The whole thing makes a jolly loud noise when played at appropriate volume, although finishing on the Enya cover 'May It Be' does come as something of a surprise given the carnage preceding it and it's hard to know if this is a cunning piece of song positioning by Fallen Angels or just random madness.  Let's be generous and say the former, shall we?

If you like some variety in your black metal then this compilation reflects pretty good value for money and does include some tasty morsels.  For anything other than the most dedicated Uruk Hai completist, however, it is something of a redundant oddity featuring a pair of atmospheric but ultimately out of place Uruk Hai songs which hang around awkwardly like a trainee nun at a black mass.  

You get the feel that Fallen Angels felt the need to put out a compilation and that Hugin was far too polite to refuse a contribution or two to the cause.  For all that, however, you'll get some quality listening moments so what the hell - if this genre floats your boat give it a rumble!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

ANCIENT REMEMBRANCES

Bands:  URUK HAI / HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Ancient Remembrances
Format: A CDr disc with full colour covers housed in DVD-sized box, released on 30 May 2013 by the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine), cat ref cut 1113.  The release is a three-way split release, featuring two of Hugin's projects along with French band Avenir Funebre.
Edition: Limited to 33 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

Avenir Funebre
01. Den Bordreune Regnbuen (Mortiis cover)
02. Over ødemark (Wongraven cover)
03. Across the World of Wonders (Mortiis cover)
 
Uruk Hai
04. The Crying Ork (Burzum cover)
05. Hermoðr á Helfelfd (Burzum cover)
 
Hrossharsgrani
06. Countess Bathory (Venom cover)
07. Down There (Beherit cover)

This recent release from the Depressive Illusions label brings together a slew of cover versions in what might broadly be called a 'Dark Ambient' style, featuring two of Hugin's projects (the clearly ambient Uruk Hai and the somewhat schizophrenic Hrossharsgrani) together with French project Avenir Funebre (literally translated, 'Future Funeral')

The album features interpretations of songs by some heavyweights in the field: Mortiis, Burzum, Wongraven, Beherit and Venom.  All of these bands have had a rich and successful history of releases, although their relative backgrounds are interesting in the context of the 'dark ambient' genre: Wongraven have been firmly positioned in the genre for the duration of their existence, whilst Beherit moved into it in the late 90's from black metal roots.  Mortiis started out as the quintessential dark ambient project before moving into quasi-electronica music , whilst Burzum have flitted around the ethos of dark ambient like a troubled spirit in a graveyard.  

Only Venom give us a tough job in tracing their ambient roots - the words 'tranquil' or 'ambient' don't naturally spring to mind with Cronos' horde - but the odd instrumental in their back catalogue does at least allow for such an interpretation to be made by a suitably intrepid band!

Some of the publicity refers to the idea of the release as being a "tribute dedicated to the medieval spirit in metal and ambient music", and with that basic ambition in mind it's a fairly safe conclusion to say that the objective has been met after listening to just a couple of spins of the disc.  The text on the inlay of the release further states, "The main concept of this tribute is to make a dedication to all black and medieval bands we admire."

Given that most of the music on this release is not new, however, the wider question for fans of Uruk Hai and/or Hrossharsgrani is whether you should rush out and actually purchase a copy.  Of course, the hardcore collectors will already have done so - you can't beat having a new physical release from one of Hugin's projects in your hands, after all - but we should be mindful of those less inclined to shell out their hard-earned cash on a compilation containing previously released material, and it's worth noting that the 4 songs from Hugin's projects have been available elsewhere for some time.

The pair of Uruk Hai songs are probably the less common to find, being part of the recent 3CD compilation "Forsvunnet Filosofem" and - originally - on the split "-2-" CD with Vinterriket respectively.  Similarly, the pair of Hrossharsgrani songs featured on the split CDr "Dead:Meat" as well as the compilation tape "The Song Never Remains The Same" (the latter of which also featured Uruk Hai's take on 'Hermoðr á Helfelfd').  Even fans of Avenir Funebre aren't immune from this, as the cover of the Mortiis song 'Across the World of Wonders' was actually part of their debut "Chorea Machabaeorum", which was released earlier this year!

So does the world really need another release with these same 4 songs on it, albeit one that's beautifully presented with some really striking artwork?  Well the jury's out on that one, but as with all things forewarned is forearmed and, whilst we're in cliche mode, you pays your money and takes your choice!  It's a thorny issue, one Nazgul has touched on before, and not likely to be definitively answered here and now.  

Of course, you can always lob in the grenade that says as most of Hugin's music can seemingly be illegally downloaded for free from the internet then why would anyone be bothered to pay for any sort of physical release, but that's another thorn for another day.

But you know what: putting all of that to one side, what matters the most is whether the experience of playing this music is an enjoyable and uplifting one.  And yes, it is!   The weakest songs on the release are, strangely enough, the pair of Uruk Hai ones, principally because they are so short (particularly 'The Crying Ork') that they've no sooner started than they've finished and allow little time for an appreciation of a medieval spirit of any sort.  But we can blame Varg Vikernes for this - he composed the originals!   The defiantly toe-tapping nature of the two Hrossharsgrani covers provides some great moments, however, and it would be a strange individual indeed who didn't find themselves whistling or humming along to the keyboard riff to 'Countess Bathory'.

Avenir Fenubre offer - for the majority of us, at least - the opportunity to hear a new band strut it's stuff, and their covers are well worth a listen.  Nazgul was particularly taken with the Wongraven cover, although he's always been a sucker for the amazing recording that is "Fjelltronen".

Nazgul is more than happy to welcome this particular release into the bosom of his collection, and given the issues about prior distribution one might reasonably suppose that the edition of 33 copies is probably sufficient for most customers who must own a copy!

An additional fact, and not one that seems to be well publicised from what Nazgul has seen, is that you can actually buy a download of the entire album from the Bandcamp site, courtesy of Obscure Dungeons Records, should you be so inclined.  Allowing for shipping costs, this would actually be cheaper than ordering a physical copy via Depressive Illusions.

Great artwork gives the whole thing a professional and attractive finish, and at the end of the day you'll be paying well under £10 for a quality product - you can't really go far wrong.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 2: Flail

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 2
Item: Hugin's flail

The second of our occasional outings to that part of the Castle where the weapons are kept!

Tonight's subject is a mean looking object: a multi-spiked metal flail used by Hugin on a number of photo shoots - including those shown for the first time here on Honour and Darkness: a world exclusive airing of photos of our Austrian hero in corpse paint and a wizard's hat, an unlikely but ultimately beguiling vision of what splicing Orko from Masters of the Universe, Nate Hatred from Combat Zone Wrestling and a large bag of flour at a genetic level might look like....

Now, the term flail refers to two similar but ultimately different weapons: one a two-handed infantry weapon derived from an agricultural tool, and the other a one-handed weapon. The defining characteristic of both is that they involve a separate striking head attached to a handle by a flexible rope, strap, or chain.  We have the one-handed variant here, attached with chain, and a nasty looking piece of kit it is too.  You really wouldn't want this to lamp you around the head, trust me.

What Nazgul can tell you about the history flail is limited: The one-handed variant is generally depicted as a short wooden handle connected to one or many metal heads by way of a chain. At least four examples of this type are housed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

One of these is a Swiss "morning star mace" dated to approximately 1530, consisting of a relatively long handle compared to the others, a long chain almost as long as the handle, ending in a large spiked ball. A second is 16th-century German, having a medium-length metal handle, a short chain, and a small iron ball with large spikes. A third is 15th-century French, having an unusually short handle, a chain nearly as long as the handle, and an iron head lacking spikes but having several angular points. The fourth is also 15th-century, but German, and equally short, but ending in three short chains each ending in a small, angular, iron head. All of these except the 16th-century German example have chains long enough to require care not to allow the head to strike the user's hand.  Yes, injuring yourself with your own weapon would be something of an embarrassment on the battlefield...

Although the flail seems like rather an ungainly weapon, it is undisputed that it was a devastating weapon.  In the Medieval Ages, particularly in France and England, there existed a 'Code of Chivalry' that knights were obliged to follow. This Code was more about rules of war than the romanticised images that come to mind with the word chivalry (blame Hollywood for that). These rules of war dictated that a knight, wearing full plate armour, should use only what was seen as a chivalrous weapon, and the sword was the primary choice. When two full plate armoured knights would square off in combat with both using a sword, it was actually unlikely that death would be the outcome, and by the Code, a knight should only try to best - and not kill - his opponent.

The flail was not chivalrous in the least. Its design and purpose was to bash armour and break bones. The spiked balls were not designed to kill a plate armoured opponent in one blow, rather to bash in and dent the plate to a point that the knight was incapacitated. Think of it this way, you are the knight, wearing full plate, and the heavy spiked ball hits you in the side of the chest. The armour dents in severely and breaks ribs. You are winded, in pain, and not in a position at that point to fully defend yourself. One final blow to the head, and pink noodles are leaking out of your ears.

The design also was effective, when used properly, against a foe with a shield. The user could, in closer combat, swing the stick portion at the shield and allow the chains to swing around and land a hearty blow to the opponent. Head blows often times were death blows, smashing the skull even with a heavy helmet on. If nothing else, it would cause massive disorientation and concussions instantaneously.

It is said that the age of chivalry died after the 'War of the Roses' (1455-85). In the immediate period thereafter England was outnumbered and threatened by the French armies, and turned to more underhanded tactics with weapons that were not at all chivalrous, such as the longbow and the flail. The French deemed these an atrocity, but the English used these to push the French back time and time again and after that most knights were known to carry the flail into battle both on horseback and on foot.

That makes this weapon a very distasteful weapon and, by default, a firm favourite with Nazgul!