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! 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

ASTRONOMY

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Astronomy
Format: A silver CDr demo disc in a simple paper sleeve, housed in a clear plastic wallet.  There is no catalogue or label detail, as this was not an official release
Edition: 1 copy

Track Listing:
01. Astronomy  38.48

"Clock strikes twelve and moondrops burst
Out at you from their hiding place
Like acid and oil on a madman's face
His reason tends to fly away
Like lesser birds on the four winds
Like silver scrapes in May
And now the sands become a crust
Most of you have gone away"


Well, hopefully most of you haven't gone away, or you'll miss this humdinger of a demo from Uruk Hai!

And despite Nazgul's use of the lyrics from Blue Öyster Cult's classic 'Astronomy' this demo is in fact bugger all to do with that venerable song.  Which is a shame, as in that song aliens known as Les Invisibles guide an altered human named Imaginos through history, playing key roles that eventually lead to the outbreak of World War I.  A perfectly sensible and realistic proposition, we'd all agree.  Longtime BÖC fan and author Stephen King recorded a spoken narration for the single edit of the track, which is as follows:

"A bedtime story for the children of the damned. From a dream world, paralleling our earth in time and space, the invisible ones have sent an agent who will dream the dream of history. With limitless power he becomes the greatest actor of the 19th century. Taking on many ingenious disguises, he places himself at pivotal junctures in history, continually altering its course and testing our ability to respond to the challenge of evil. His name is 'Hugin'"

Oh, wait ... no, his name was Imaginos.  My bad.

Anyway, let's move past this whole BÖC business and get on with the matter in hand - this oddity!  On playing the disc through, it's evidently familiar and every now and again you get the distinct feel that you've heard it before, but not quite in this version.  It takes a simple explanation from Hugin to put matters straight:  'Astronomy' is the first take version of "Tawantinsuyu" - the longer and mastered version can be heard on the full album, but I think the first take is more intense because it doesn't take so long!

And there, in a nutshell, we have it.  "Tawantinsuyu" on speed, essentially!  And here's something else weird - Blue Öyster Cult were also prone to such shenanigans!  For example, 'The Red and The Black' (an ode to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) from their second album "Tyranny And Mutation" was basically a sped-up rewrite of 'I'm On The Lamb...But I Ain't No Sheep' from their debut album!  Spooky!  Alexander 'Buck Dharma' Wieser remained unavailable for comment as this article went to press...

Although presently unreleased, Nazgul was so taken with the song that his enthusiastic endorsement of it to Hugin might well lead to the track appearing officially on a future release ... so keep watching the skies!