Sunday, 17 August 2014

ABLAZE VOL. 8 [V/A]


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Voice Of Underground Volume 8 [Various Artists]
Format:  Silver pressed CD in card sleeve, released as a sampler disc on Ablaze Magazine (Germany) in 2009, no catalogue reference.  Contains bands from a variety of German and European metal labels including No Colours Records and , as well as self-released tracks (such as Uruk Hai).  
Edition: unknown

Track Listing:
01.  Auf Dem Schwarzen Thron  *  The Fear Deep Inside  
02.  Balest  *  L Surëdl Va Do Ju  
03.  Dodsfall  *  Alt Er Slutt  
04.  Hunting Season  *  Rise Of The Empire  
05.  Ildra  *  Rice Fter Orum  
06.  Inquisition  *  Crepuscular Battle Hymn  
07.  Insane Vesper  *  Thousand Plagues  
08.  Intestine Baalism  *  The Genuine Tone  
09.  Kirchenbrand  *  Koitus Orbita  
10.  Kriegshetzer  *  Kameradschaft  
11.  Mind Asylum  *  Seul Le Silence  
12.  Natrach  *  Where The Howling Winds Reign  
13.  Necrohell  *  In Black Death's Embrace  
14.  Nocturnal Degrade  *  Escape The Light  
15.  Pensées  *  Nocturnes Hel  
16.  Sferslav  *  U Pamyat Bilih Liley  
17.  Sieghetnar  *  Versunkenheit  
18.  Todfeind  *  Fleisch Ist Nicht Fleisch  
19.  Uruk-Hai  *  Death Is Just Another Path  
20.  Vargrimm  *  Namenlos  
21.  Vidar  *  Knecht Des Herrn  
22.  Wacht  *  Güstizia, Per La Vardà  

Another day, another compilation CD featuring Uruk Hai, though one that has a particularly noisy and vicious spread of bands upon it (Uruk Hai's contribution is by some considerable margin the mellowest entry here) should that be your thing.  The song in question is 'Death Is Just Another Path' and will be familiar to one and all given its recurrence in Honour and Darkness over the years as a very limited release in its own right (at the release party for "Black Blood White Hand") and one various other compilations.  Good song, classic Hugin.

So what else can Nazgul tell you?  Well, given the opportunity, let's have a delve into the murky past of Ablaze itself.  

As far as I can gather, the original Ablaze 'zine was a German publication that ran from 1994 to 2003, founded initially because the mainstream Metal magazines boycotted Black Metal.  It folded in 2003, but in 2007 another German language music magazine called A-Blaze (later Ablaze) appeared, which specialises in Black and Pagan Metal and describes itself as "The True Voice of Underground".

As ever with publications of this type, controversy reigned.  The first issue was published in September 1994 and included a cover story about Burzum and interviews with the Norwegian groups Immortal, Satyricon, Mortiis, the Greek band Necromantia and the German bands Ungod, Mayhemic Truth and Bethlehem.  The first editions were only available through mail order until they eventually made the leap to selling at train station kiosks and newsagents - one of the first zines so to do - and thus was no longer exclusively available in the 'Underground'. Accordingly, many accused the magazine of selling-out and betraying the Underground.  Ablaze also became embroiled in various accusations alleging anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The magazine offered - and then re-offered in the post 2007 format - in-depth interviews, especially with bands from the Black and Death Metal genre. Under the subtitle of the 'Metallic Voice of the Underground' the magazine also offered occasional reports on other topics, such as H.P. Lovecraft or the always controversial works of Dr. Ragnar Redbeard (a Victorian author whose works often are most often found on banned lists of publications. "Might is Right - the Survival of the Fittest", is his best known work and a case for Social Darwinism. 

It is not a philosophical treatise in the strict sense, but more of a "manifesto" for racism, sexism, the worship of strength and the virtues of war, such as unbridled rapine, extreme unscrupulousness, joy in risk and contempt of danger.  Rights exists, in essence, only for those strong enough to claim them.  One review read: 'This book stands as the pinnacle of human social experience. There is nothing in this book which will not shock, astound, and stupefy the reader; and what's more, said reader will find himself agreeing (albeit grudgingly) with the vast majority of brutal thought promoted therein. This book will shatter your preconceptions, leaving you speechless; and once you put the book down you will never view the world the same way again. Redbeard makes Nietzsche read like Mary Poppins.'  You have been warned!)

In every issue, also one or more of the current crop of 'underground bands' were interviewed and later editions were accompanied by a CD, usually label samplers from the likes of Osmose Productions, No Colours Records or - later, as in this example - specially compiled CDs.  Indeed, the Ablaze website states "In every issue we have a free CD compilation. Do you want to take part with your band? Then write to us!" so one might reasonably assume this is how Uruk Hai ended up on the roster.  Either that, or someone's been pinching Hugin's music without permission again?!
 
Some controversies were fought mainly on the letters pages, one such following an interview with Rob Darken of Graveland, with anti-Semitic and Nazi remarks being bandied around by all parties. As a direct result of this interview (it is said) Graveland lost their record deal with Lethal Records, later switching to No Colours Records . Another problematic interview was conducted by the magazine with the Austrian band Werwolf, who propounded a philosophy modelled on Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the superman. It took Hagen, lead singer of the group, into metaphorical battle with others in the Austrian Black Metal scene, notably Abigor and Summoning. He described Silenius of Summoning as a "fairy" and gave him the advice to "not to get in his way". The background to such playground behaviour was apparently tied up in the politics of the then Austrian Black Metal Syndicate (ABMS), a murky enterprise and a story for another day, perhaps.

Well, that was a ramble and a half for a single song on an obscure compilation, but all part of the service and hopefully of interest to some of you!  Until next time, as our old friend Martin Walkyier of Skyclad would say, "Horns Ablaze, brothers!" 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

CITY LIGHTS


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: City Lights
Format: CDr released with A4 colour covers and art card inserts by Catgirl Records (Germany) in December 2013, cat ref NIGHT #005.  CD and inserts are held within a clear plastic envelope.
Edition: 20 hand numbered copies only

Track Listing:
01. Meisterstück  3.48
02. Double Lives and Second Chances  6.54

Yes, alright, it's been a while since a new post from Nazgul popped up in your life/browser again, and for that I'm very sorry.  Or perhaps you were enjoying the break from the relentless cataloguing of Hugin's many and various works....?!   In any event, time has been found to update Honour and Darkness once again, and today's offering is the "City Lights" release from occasional project Ceremony Of Innocence.

Released in what now appears to be the trademark format for Catgirl Records releases, this is a two song CD EP with a nicely presented set of colour inlays and a distinctive sound that further develops the evolving COI project.  Nazgul's copy is #7 of the 20, so the handy Manga-style card insert informs me.

Happily, there's no need to guess our way through the lyrics or intentions behind either song as Hugin's co-conspirator Nick Diak has provided a 'bells and whistles' commentary of the meanings and influences behind both pieces on the COI web-site.  This makes Nazgul's life infinitely easier in that regard, so let's wade straight in, starting with....


Meisterstück

"It's tipped in gold
A luxury I must afford
Unsure what the next passage might be
The Edelweiss guides me

Typography or topography
Whichever the case may be
Cross the Is and dot the Ts
The Edelweiss guides me

A floral scent
And ink well spent
Triumphant: I beam
The Edelweiss guides me"


Nick notes: 'This is the 7th song composed, completed on September, Friday 13th 2013. The bulk of the lyrics was actually completed on an airplane ride from Seattle to Orange two days earlier. Being trapped on an airplane for over 2 hours you look for ways to pass the time and get over your aerophobia, and these lyrics are the result. I was also in haste to record these lyrics as soon as possible - the night prior I had attended a Death in June concert which also filled me with confidence and some inspiration to keep on trucking with the writing and submitting of lyrics to Alex.

It had been three months since the last Ceremony of Innocence lyrics has been composed ("Double Lives Second Chances") and combined with my obligations on writing a chapter for an upcoming anthology on James Bond and popular culture, I had been hit with a bout of writer's block. This song is actually about the writing process and overcoming writer's block.

In a true subversive fashion that I like to do, at first glance the song doesn't seem to be about writing. The Edelweiss is mostly known for its floral incarnation, and for neofolk fans the title of an amazing Allerseelen album. It's also a decent track by the synthpop group Melotron too. The Edelweiss is associated with the Alps and there is plenty of folklore and neofolk takes on it.

In the case of "Meisterstück", the Edelweiss is actually referring to the logo that adorns MontBlanc pens. Their flag ship pen? The Meisterstück. I actually have a Meisterstück pen myself, and I do wish I used it more often. I am a little sad that this song was composed on the notes applications of an iPhone than with a MontBlanc pen, but the situation cannot be helped.

Going back to the imagery in the song. The guiding Edelweiss is the simple visualisation of looking down while you are writing and seeing the pen cap, which with a MontBlanc would be the Edelweiss. Montblanc pens are known for their luxury status, and many are ornate with gold and precious metals. The next passage is reference the composition of passage after passage.

Verse two is an odd verse, since it combines some nonsense and well as spoonerisms. I see verse two as what every writer goes through in the middle of their work - they know what they want, but how do they get there?  So is the correct word to use typography (which is good to use to describe pens and writing) or topography (which sounds like a mondegreen, but is also apropos in regards to the literal Edelweiss flowers that grow in the Alps). Also, one crosses Ts and dots Is, not the other way around. So is the Edelweiss leading the author astray?

However the third and final verse shows that the literary work is completed. The floral scent is allusion to the flower version of the Edelweiss, but also to the concept of the "sweet smell of success". Much ink has been used in composing, editing, revising, and repeating the process I'd imagine.
 
The title of the song is also a double meaning. While it certainly means the name of the pens used to compose something, it can also refer to the end result - that the composition was also a masterpiece.  Initially when I wrote the song, I had half of each verse repeat itself. So it read "It's tipped in gold / tipped in gold, A luxury I must afford / must afford.. etc". This sounded really good in my head, and I was thinking of the song "Prets Pour La Mort" by Derniere Volonte when composing it this way. However when I went to record it was not executing well, so I omitted the repeating words.

The music proper had been composed by Alex for some time, and he shared the instrumental with me back in June. I remember bursting out laughing at the 70's funk music that permeated the song. It was really fun to listen to it. Alex had suggested a third verse, 4 lines each song could be composed for it. Luckily, this song met the criteria. I think the vocals take on a weird attribute - they start off normally, but get more slow and more distorted. I liken them to being sucked into a vortex of sorts.

So there is a lot of fun and play in this song. It's interesting to see the Ceremony of Innocence project flirt with alot of styles out there, with now funk music being a notch on the bed post. I also think it's interesting in a playful way that I keep on writing neofolk inspired lyrics (at least that is my intent) and seeing them juxtaposed against contradictory styles.'



Yes, that went rather well, even allowing for disturbing references to 70's funk music.  So let's try the same with:

Double Lives and Second Chances

"There's an anthem in the air
And fresh snow on the ground

I've been here before
I've seen her before

She perfumes sophistication
Her elegance shuns bourgeois sentiments

Our other lives link us together
But happenstance keeps us momentarily apart

And in the end, there is no end
For the first time, we will meet again

Double lives
And second chances"


'The 6th song I've composed lyrics for, completed in June 2013', comments Nick Diak. 'The song is an homage to one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Krzysztof Kieslowski, drawing images and symbolism from his movies "Three Colours: Red" and "The Double Life of Veronique", with nods to "Three Colours: Blue", "No End", and "Thee Colours: White". "Three Colours: Red" alternates with Lar Von Trier's "Europa", as my favourite movie, and I felt I should do such an important movie - not just to me, but to film canon period - some sort of additional honour.

The composition of these lyrics was extremely erratic, and had been in the process of being worked on for many weeks. Unlike other songs were I was able to get a broad narrative and then scale it back to fit a song (such as 'The Turk', 'A Sign in Space' and 'Fortuna y Gloria'), I had no such framework. Instead what I did was kept writing phrases, memories, images, feelings, and ideas that related to Kieslowski's movies onto my iPhone. Even if it was just a fleeting, barely workable concept, I jotted it down. My intent was if enough ideas and possible lyrics and images came to me, I would be able to pick and choose, and then re-configure into a song, and that's exactly what I did.

So reading the lyrics, you don't see a narrative like in other songs, but it's still quite visual imagery. In fact I actually had alot of other images that I felt were too blunt that I wound up exercising from the song - lines about sugar cubes absorbing coffee, lines about blue chandeliers and catching buses and trains. However, these lines were too concrete, and were detracting from an ethereal feeling I was getting from the song's lyrics, which turned out to be a blessing since some of Kieslowski's work is quite ethereal.

The anthem is a reference to the composers in "Three Colours: Blue". The snow is a reference to "Three Colours: White".

"I've been here before / I've seen here before" is a broad lyric that touches upon almost all of Kieslowski's work. The relationship between the Judge and Valetine has occured before in the past (between the Judge and his lover) and soon in the future (between the young judge and his cheating girl, and that Valentine will wound up with this young judge, a fate that eluded the older judge). It also could be references to "The Double Life of Veronique" where the 2 women almost meet, but not quite, but are more or less the same person.

The third verse is all about Irene Jacobs and her character in "Three Colours: Red".

"Our other lives link us together.." the other lyrics that touch upon Kieslowski's work. In his movies, we are all connected and eventually paths will cross. "Three Colours: Red" shows this overtly: Valentine practically is neighbours with the young judge, and they share many shots via mise-en-scene, but they never meet until the very end of the movie. Movies inspired by Kieslowski's work, such as "Run Lola Run" also illustrate how connected we are, that our actions butterfly effect through everyone.

"And in the end / there is no end". The line takes words from the title of Kieslowski's movie "No End", but it also shows the cyclical nature of some of his work. The story of the judge is passed on to the young judge for instance. Julie in "Three Colours: Blue" tries to kill her self, but decide not to, and her end doesn't come and instead she has an impact on many other people as shown in the montage at the end of the movie when she is making love with Olivier.

"For the first time we will meet again" another statement in regards to the relationship of Valentine and the young judge. Even though they officially meet for the first time at the end of the movie, the shared mise-en-scene along with the young judge being a proxy for the older judge she has befriended - she has in essence met this new person already.

"Double lives / Second chances" - a statement that sums up all of Kieslowski's work, lifted from the Annette Insdorf book of the same name.
I submitted the lyrics to Alex whom I think was a bit flummoxed by them at first. However he wound up composing some awesome, ritzy music. I can almost see the champagne, bubbles, well dressed women and men with the music, and I think it fits with the lyrics perfectly. Most of the characters on the Kieslowski films of the 90's definitely run in affluent circles, and carry a more dignified aura to them, and I believe Alex's music captured that essence perfectly.'


Nothing like going to the horse's mouth for the most detailed information.  But what do the two songs sound like, you might ask?  After all, the great man himself observed that "it's more like music to chill out to this time – I tried something different on these tracks, and [he notes, with a touch of apparent nervousness] I hope you can enjoy it a bit?"

Firstly, it's worth stating the obvious - these are very different sounding songs from other recordings from Hugin's projects, and as such could come as a bit of a shock to the system for the unwary!  If one could go back in time to 1999 and share this music with the sword-wielding, Viking-influenced Hugin of Hrossharsgrani fame it would be interesting to see his reaction!

The music is definitely funky in places, with a definite '1970s Starsky and Hutch' soundtrack sort of vibe going on, yet at the same time the melodies and the beat carry both compositions away from cliche and into the realm of 'easy listening'.  Nick's vocals - which you will recall are almost feminine in tone - waft above the music in more of a spoken word recital than any actual singing, all of which can on first listening give the impression of listening to a poetry recital whilst standing outside a banging 70's revival disco.  

It's perhaps more of an acquired taste than the more established Uruk Hai sound, or even the genre-stretching noises of side-projects like WACH or B-Machina.  It works best on the second song, as the tempo is a lot more relaxed and it sounds a little like a lounge band at work.  The tempo of track one, conversely, is a little at odds with a spoken piece so sounds a tad incongruous to these ears.

That said, it's entirely inoffensive and the lyrics are intriguing and thought-provoking, so as a way to spend 10 minutes or so of your life you could do far worse.  Would you cross the road to hear the songs again?  The jury's out on that one, at the moment.

Quite where all of this leaves (or leads) the COI project will be interesting to see: one gets the feeling that the limited run of only 20 copies of this little EP suggests there's a degree of testing the water going on still at the moment.  I wonder if all 20 have found a home yet amongst the Hugin faithful, or whether this project is just a step to far to the side for some of the traditional listeners of his wares?  It's the sort of release that you might find popping up on Discogs once in a while for a reasonable price, so well worth checking out should such an occasion arise.  Just leave your expectations and broadswords at the front door on the way in....


A final word in relation to the strange design on the jewel case cover (shown above) - well, there is no final word really as Nazgul has no idea what this is!  A play on "City Lights" possibly (and most likely) or something altogether more profound and cryptic?!  Do all 20 copies have the same design (and God help us all if not, as that will lead to another bout of having to catalogue all the variants!