Friday, 30 May 2014

DARK SECRETS


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Dark Secrets
Format: A professional CDr release on the Kadaath Records label (Russia), cat ref Kadaath 24, from 2012. This is a split release with Russian project Nebula VII.  The picture disc CDr comes sandwiched between two colour paper inserts in a clear plastic sleeve.
Edition: 30 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. The Secret Of The Rings  50:44
Nebula VII
02. Synthesis Of The Dark Matter  27:30

Contemplate, if you will, the vastness of space.  If you were to stand next to me on the ramparts of Castle Nazgul and look out into a starry night sky, we would see thousands or maybe even millions of tiny dots, some shining brightly and others so pale we're unsure whether we are really seeing them or not. Some of these dots are not in actual fact single stars, but galaxies made up of hundreds of billions of stars. Some galaxies are so far away that the light emitted by them takes billions of years to reach us, and the image we see of them is therefore similarly billions of years old.  Space is, to be sure, pretty fucking big.

Filling an infinitesimally small part of that void is a peculiar brand of music commonly labelled space ambient or experimental drone.  In this genre, not a lot happens over quite a long period of time.  Many bands inhabit this sometimes doubtful musical spectrum, and a myriad of recordings have been released with many and various bursts of clicking, static, noise, humming and plain cold empty nothingness.  There's a fine line between musical inventiveness and creativity in producing such ambient textures with minimal beats, and releasing utter shite.  Some bands happily cross this line between (and even within) releases, so it can be a bit of a minefield to get a handle on.

Enter Nebula VII,  an experimental drone band from Russia with - Nazgul is assured by those who should know better than he - elements of black metal and neo-classical themes often being added to their violent and powerful mixes. An online review of one of their many releases suggested the listener "be prepared for a long, painful journey into the Maw of Madness when experiencing this first-hand.  A band with a sound ethereal and deep, a sound mysterious with a texture focused toward darkness in a vacuum, cold and desolate. A captivating sound but in turn introspective, an atmosphere created by the music of space ambient with dark ambient with touches of drone, developing a strong structure, giving absolute power to the adjacent programming."

Which takes us to their side of this release, 'Synthesis Of The Dark Matter'.  As far as Nazgul can make out, this is an edited version of a longer track which featured in their "Cold" box-set of a few years ago.  Based on the content of this piece (I hesitate to call it a 'song' per se) there certainly is an cold and desolate atmosphere being created: an oppressive one full of static and noise.  Imagine listening to an N.Strahl.N. track on full volume whilst sticking your head out of a car window at 70mph and you'll get the general impression.  It's frankly not an easy listen, and if you're prone to headaches I'd give repeat listening a miss, but it certainly makes an impression.  Then again, getting hit over the head with a baseball bat would also make an impression, and not a terribly favourable one at that.  One for experienced interstellar drone travellers only I think...

The Uruk Hai track is something akin to an ambient drone epic too, in as far as it is of prodigious length with long periods of relative inactivity in its inner workings.  The song is not new to this release, but comes from the Fallen Angels Productions released 6CD box-set ""...And In The Darkness Bind Them" that was also released in 2012.  This reminds Nazgul that he has singularly failed to review that particular release yet, so there's another treat in store for you all at some point in the future!  Anyway, back to "The Secret Of The Rings" and the first thing that will strike you is that it wafts around at over 50 minutes in length, a considerable amount of time to hold anyone's interest even if it happened to be the best composed piece of music ever.  

Being typically hard to describe or categorise, let's just say from the outset that unlike Nebula VII's creation there is a definite song here, with instruments, melodies and other established Hugin touches and flourishes. Parts of the song are very pretty, other parts more continuity or filler linking the more memorable segments.  Like many of Hugin's more epic compositions it floats around you and gradually seeps into your consciousness as you're happily engaged on other matters.

Imagine the length of this song to be the duration of a journey on a train, through whose windows you can see avenues of tall, green trees.  Now, Nazgul likes trees very much, particularly when the wind whips through their branches and creates that wonderful 'swishing' sound of leaves all aflutter.  So as our near hour-long train journey progresses the trees zip past the window, one after another, a line of green and brown, very pleasant, very restful.  And yet, after a while, one tree begins to look like any other tree, and the line becomes less captivating and more 'ho-hum' in nature.  As much as Nazgul likes trees, there's a limit to how long you can sit and look at them you know!   On which clunky metaphor we come back to 'The Secret Of The Rings', a perfectly reasonable composition that would have benefitted from a little self-editing and tighter focus.  To be sure, there's the odd magnificent oak to capture your attention amongst the many other trees, but by and large the song could be thirty minutes long and not be any worse for it.  

Let us finish on the wider subject of dark secrets, the title of this album, and with Nazgul sharing with you something strangely appropriate.  It is a little known fact that our hero Hugin is something of a fan of the television crime series Midsomer Murders, some of which has been filmed at Nazgul's daytime lair.  Moreover, Episode 2 of Season 14 of this series was entitled 'Dark Secrets'.  14 divided by 2 is, of course, 7, or VII in Roman numerals.  VII as in Nebula VII?  Some weird synchronicity going on here, methinks...?!

Monday, 26 May 2014

UNITED - update

Band: URUK HAI (or, more accurately, Symbiosis)
Title: United
Format: 2 x CDr discs and covering letter, being the Symbiosis side of the split
Edition: Presumably a single copy

Track Listing:
01. Travelling Through Rivers And Woods Of Memories  15:09
02. Still Alone In The Path Of Life  6:38
03. In The Fields Of Eternal Spring  4:14
04. Subliminal Instructions To The Void  3:26

Nazgul first covered the "United" tape release way back in February 2009.  This was the demo tape that previewed Uruk Hai's some of upcoming "Lothlorien" material, whilst giving the other half of the tape to Italian band Symbiosis (run by a splendid fellow called Valerio, who you may recall from a 2010 interview on the Blog).

This particular item is the original CDr discs and letter sent by Valerio to Hugin with his half of the demo tracks.  Nazgul has obscured Valerio's address and contract details at the foot of the letter in picture two for reasons of confidentiality, otherwise it's presented as-is (or should that be as-was?)

Most of you will have retained a copy of this demo in your collections now, I would imagine, but it bears remembering that Symbiosis make some enchanting music on these tracks and across their range of demos and full releases, so it would be well worth your while hunting them down online to add some more quality music to your life.  In fact, let Nazgul give you a head start on that one...

As to the letter itself, Valerio comments to Hugin:

"Hails Hugin!  Here is all the material for you.  As you can see, there is my first demo CDR "Passages" [not pictured here].  I hope you like it.  Then, there are two CDR's for the split: one with the music, the other with the files.

In the first of the two CDR's there is the audio master, with four songs, for a total length of 29:28 [track listing then given, as above].

In the other CDR there are some pictures, logo and other stuff.  Photos had all been taken by myself, most of them here in the Italian Appennino, while I shot the one with a 'desert' land in Spain.  There are also two photos of mine with face-painting.  Logo pictures are in different colours and sizes, both in *.bmp and *.gif (with transparent effect) formats.  There is also a file (*.ttf) with the font used to write 'Symbiosis', in case you need it.  I also added on the CDR the wave files (*.wav) of the four songs to be featured in the split.  If you need more or different material, just tell me and I'll send it through e-mail.

Well, that's all.  Let me know when this package arrives."

And there we have it, an interesting little insight into the other side of a well known Uruk Hai demo tape.  It would obviously have been a sensible thing to round off the post with an image or two of the Symbiosis artwork on the tape inlay ... which was Nazgul's intention until the tape itself decided to hide itself away in the Castle Library.  So at some point soon we'll have to have "United - update II" after the search parties track down their prey....

Monday, 19 May 2014

THE LONG GREY ROAD - update II


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: The Long Grey Road
Format: Cassette tape release on the Wulfrune Worxx label (France) in 2014, cat ref WW444.  As is usual with Wulfrune Worxx releases, it comes with black photocopied inlays and in a hand-numbered edition
Edition: 44 numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Intro  1.47
02. The Long Grey Road  9.24

Something of an oddity, this one.

Back in February 2010 Wulfrune Worxx published a demo tape featuring both Hrossharsgrani and Uruk Hai in their 'Split Series'.  This was, of course, the "Valkyrian Romance / The Long Grey Road" release, in an edition of 66 copies.  It featured the two Hrossharsgrani songs shown above together with a version of the epic 'Fimbulwinter' track.  As noted in the Honour and Darkness review of this release, the 'Intro' track was an old one recorded back in 2007 whilst 'The Long Grey Road' was originally conceived as the last part of the Lord of the Rings album trilogy after "The Secret Fire" and "Schattenkrieger".  This was also recorded in 2007.

So far, so good.

In 2011, the Australian maniac Leigh Stench released a 3" CD version of "The Long Grey Road" with colour artwork and in a tiny edition of 20 copies.  This lost the 'Fimbulwinter' song (which clocked in at over 15 minutes in length, rather more than a 3" CD would comfortably hold alongside the other tracks) and kept the other two.  And there you had it - the 'traditional' approach fulfilled of an initial tape release of a demo followed by a limited edition CD pressing, as has been done since time immemorial.

Which brings us to this unusual item: three years later, and for no obviously discernible reason, another tape version of the demo has been released.  And once again it comes out on the Wulfrune Worxx label, albeit with different cover art  - a different picture of a familiar scene, being the same Austrian ruined monument that graced the 1999 Hrossharsgrani demo "Krieg".  It's a rather odd thing, actually, as it's not an obvious instant seller (not that Wulfrune's market strategy seems to be mindful of such trivial matters) and puts back into the public domain two songs that were readily available on the original releases and which - by dint of being on tape - is not exactly on an in-vogue medium.

Most peculiar.

Still, there's no harm in revisiting old friends/songs with releases like this, and who knows: perhaps there's been a great uprising of popular opinion on social media sites for the material to be made available again.  Either way, it helps to keep the Hrossharsgrani name in the public domain in the absence of any new material, and that in itself can't be a bad thing!

Monday, 12 May 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE RINGS


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Guardians Of The Rings
Format: Four-way split release in a two-disc set, featuring Onyx and Black Jade on disc one, and Ringbearer and Uruk Hai on disc two.  The album comes housed in DVD sized case with full colour covers.  The release was issued by Aschefr├╝ehling Records in 2014, no allocated catalogue reference.  
Edition: 99 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

CD ONE
Onyx
01. Shining Sun Over Snow Fields  3.20
02. Leaves On The Forest Floor  2.56
03. Gandalf The White  5.06
04. Green Grass  4.29
05. Legend Of The Master Ring (Summoning cover)  3.26
06. Balrog  5.46

Black Jade

07. Awake!  6.26
08. Warrior Princess  6.05
09. Spirit Of The Water Lord  3.38
10. Ar-Pharazon  6.27

CD TWO
Ringbearer
01. The Road That Leads Us  5.59
02. Only Fire Can Tell  5.01
03. The Peoples Of Numenor  5.34
04. Shards Of Narsil  5.42

Uruk Hai
05. Elbenlicht  5.42
06. Gondolin  3.49
07. Ring Of Water  3.22
08. Gothmog  5.07

Well shiver me timbers and avast me hearties!  Here's a swashbuckling Tolkien infused feast of music if ever there was: a four-way split of some of the most Middle-Earth influenced bands you could ever hope to wave an enchanted stick at.  One can only begin to imagine the scenes of re-enactment that would ensure were these four bands to be let loose in a forest at one and the same time!?  Nazgul had held off reviewing this for a while, thinking (in ever hopeful optimism) that a plethora of internet coverage would surely surround such a monumental release as this hitting the planet.  But ... and thrice but ... absolutely nothing seems to have been written about it at all.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Diddly Squat.

And this is quite perplexing really as clearly a lot of thought has gone into putting this together, from the excellent artwork to the four bands included here.  Aschfr├╝ehling (literally: Ashes Spring) deserve much credit for taking on the mantle of responsibility in getting this recording out there, but once again - as commented on in other recent posts - an edition of only 99 copies hardly suggests that they expect the thing to fly out of the shop door.  

So what we end up with is a highly promising and well polished release from both established and up and coming bands that even within the rarefied atmosphere of its own small genre is likely to have as much of an impact on the musical world as a pancake falling off a table.

But no matter, this is the part of the Blog where Nazgul cuts his teeth of these four offerings to see what's hot, what's not, and what's just plain weird.  

Onyx get the ball rolling, and it's a very piano-heavy approach (or synthesised piano, hard to tell).  Now I'm all for a bit of piano - give me a sunny window seat The Damned's 'The Portrait' playing gently in the background and I'm as happy a Nazgul as you'd ever hope to find - but sometimes Onyx's style comes across as a little heavy handed and (dare one say it) a little bit 'plinky-plonky' in nature (call it charmingly naive maybe?).  That might sound a bit rich coming from someone who wrote a positive critique of Uruk Hai's "Elbentanz" demo, but what the heck: Nazgul calls it as he sees it.  That said, there are some good bits in there, particularly in the first track where the use of bells (but not whistles) gives the music a bit of variation.  Ultimately, for me, the weakest set of songs on the album but enjoyable for what they are.

Black Jade come next, out of the blue and completely unknown to your scribe.  And knock me down with a feather, these songs are really rather good!  Using lots of melody amidst a flurry of spiky guitar and immense drumming, killer vocals and utilising a sound not a million miles away from Elvenking and Suidakra at times, Nagul has to say that he greatly enjoyed all of these tracks, and they are amongst the best on this album.  There seem to be more than a few Black Jade demos out there, so one to keep an eye on and hunt down methinks.

Ringbearer is the creation of Jaron, who has also recently become one half of Hugin's Eismond project.  Ringbearer are also to feature on an epic suite of split albums with Uruk Hai in the near future, so clearly a good working partnership is developing on that front.  The music here is certainly grounded in all of those elements you might associate with Middle-Earth ambient, augmented at times in unexpected ways: the American Indian flavour of 'The Peoples Of Numenor' being a case in point.  Great compositions and solid musicianship mark the songs offered here, which bodes extremely well for the new Eismond release coming soon too!

And finally we finish the album with Hugin's Uruk Hai.  Many signature touches come to the fore on these songs, the vast majority welcome and excellent, the odd one not so - the length of 'Elbenlicht' may not seem excessive on paper but the simple repetition of the melody in the song does make it seem like it lasts twice as long as it actually does, and it has an oddly lulling sensation to it that can send the unwary into a state of torpor.  Everything else sparkles in the Gondolin sunshine, however, and how nice to see an acknowledgement to Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs during the First Age and arguably the greatest Balrog ever to walk Middle-Earth.  

For those unknowing amongst you (what did they teach you at school?) Gothmog was a wily commander and fearsome fighter, often accompanied by others of his fiery kind, whose weapon was a great black axe.  Generally, he caused a great deal of hurt and pain to the forces of goodness over many decades, and Nazgul salutes him for it.  Sadly, Gothmog was not indestructible: He led Morgoth's deadly surprise assault on the Hidden City of Gondolin. In the square of the King in the heart of the city, he came upon the Elf-lord Ecthelion of the Fountain. They fought a great duel, and in the end Gothmog and Ecthelion slew one another. So ended one of the most feared denizens of the pits of Angband.  A shame, and Nazgul still lights a candle on his birthday to pmark his untimely passing.

In between first and last, 'Gondolin' manages a neo-folk vibe with a (surely?) recycled synthesizer part overlain by a catchy acoustic guitar, whilst 'Ring Of Fire' is a catchy and upbeat instrumental put firmly in its place by the sheer weight and crushing despair that signals 'Gothmog'.

This is undoubtedly a tremendous addition to any self respecting fan of any of the bands, or of Tolkien influenced music as a whole.  There's plenty of avenues to lose oneself in the wonders of other magical realms, and though there are peaks and hollows on the journey the general consensus is that this is a release well worth seeking out.