Tuesday, 25 November 2014

EPIC


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Epic
Format: Not formally released, so all bets are off, but from the artwork it looks like a CD and/or vinyl pressing may have been planned.  A credit on the artwork goes to session member Krom (of Arkillery) for guitar and vocals.
Edition: 1 promotional copy only

Track Listing:
Side 1
01. Immortal Hordes
02. Northhammer
03. Minas Morgul
04. May It Be (Enya cover song)
Side 2
05. Mithrandir
06. Iceland
07. Isengard

#16 From the Vaults of W.A.R.


No, not a bizarre cover of the Faith No More song, this is another release of interest and wonder from the depths of the W.A.R. archives.  Or, more accurately, another proposed release, as this rather tasty looking item joins the growing list of 'the things that failed to be', which may sound like a Metallica song but trust me ... it isn't.

The provisional track listing for this one is split into Side 1 and Side 2, implying to Nazgul's tiny mind that perhaps a vinyl release had been thought about in pulling this together.  Hugin's original email with the image referred to it as the "unreleased CD" so perhaps the division of the songs was more a nod to the old school vinyl format than an intent to actually release something in that manner, as we know that the amount of vinyl releases in Hugin's discography is very small compared to disc and tape.  

Clearly a bit of amateur sleuthing was required, which of course involved the always fun elements of having a chat with Hugin and hunting around on the internet for clues.  It turns out that "Epic" was in fact a one-off promotional copy was made for the owner of No Colours at a time when Hugin was engaged in that ongoing mission for independent artists - scouting for potential labels to release his album.  No Colours, it seems, felt that this material didn't fit with their other bands on the roster so declined to release it.

Looking at both the songs and the style of Uruk Hai logo we can pin this one down fairly accurately at around 2005/2006: the songs featuring Krom ('Iceland' and 'Northhammer') appeared on 2005's "Northern Lights" album, whilst the cover song of Enya's 'May It Be' appears on that album and also on "Lothlorien" a year later in 2006.

Other less familiar songs are more intriguing.  'Mithrandir' (being one of the many nicknames of Gandalf, in this case from the Sindarin language as used in Gondor and meaning Grey Pilgrim or Grey Wanderer) may well be the same as track 9 on the original "Thousand Lightning Strikes" demo of 2003.  The song 'Immortal Hordes' on the other hand is previously unknown, so may be another gem from the vaults that has yet to be released or - equally possibly - has been released under a different title elsewhere.

The artwork shown is entirely suitable for the title, being grandiose and epic in its own right and really rather wonderful.  It would have made a ... well, epic release had it come to pass....  

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

THE SADNESS OF FALLEN LEAVES


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Sadness Of Fallen Leaves
Format: A split album with Swiss band Black Jade, released in 2013 on the Aphelion Records label (England), cat ref AP078.  This professionally produced CD comes with full colour covers in a standard jewel case.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. Twilight      
02. Music of the Ainur      
03. The Lost Road      
04. Black Speech      
05. The Return of the Shadow      
06. Homeward Bound

Black Jade      
07. Intro: The White Town      
08. Arien      
09. Valinor's Light      
10. We Booze in Golden Halls      
11. Eärendil      
12. Where the Leaves Not Fall      
13. A Homeless Shadow (The Dark Legacy of Túrin Turambar)      
14. Where Eagles Fly      
15. Maedhros’s Pain      
16. Outro: Far Away from Home  

We last encountered Black Jade on the four-way split release Guardians Of The Rings, which featured Onyx, Uruk Hai and Ringbearer in a cavalcade of Middle-Earth infused music.

Here, two of those bands come together once again to blaze a (leafy) path through the realm of orcs and hobbits.  Cold Spring Records webpage tells us that this is "all-new material from Uruk-Hai (Austria) and Black Jade (Switzerland), clocking in at an epic 78 minutes over the 15 tracks. True Black Metal barrages, quiet ethereal songs and even a raucous sing-a-long track, "We Booze In Golden Halls". A musical journey through the realms of JRR Tolkien" and by Gandalf's beard they've hit the nail squarely on the head even if they can't count (there are 16 songs on this album!)

Black Jade's own webpage, the Black Tower, gives us some insight into their half of this split, noting that:  

"The split CD "The Sadness Of Fallen Leaves" with Uruk Hai is a project that was planned for many years. In 2012 Alexander and I decided to finally put the plans into action. The time has come, and our split CD is finished. On this release you will find a stylistic mix. With 'Arien' and 'A Homeless Shadow' there are two bred black metal numbers. 'We Booze In Golden Halls' is also a hard rock number although there is currently no comparable Black Jade song, as it is a true "singalong song". With 'Valinor's Light', 'Where The Leaves Not Fall' and 'Where Eagles Fly' there are three wonderful, quiet songs, sung by Betty."

There is quite a mixture of things going on with Black Jade's songs, as their own description would imply, and the raucous 'We Booze In Golden Halls' does sound like Korpiklaani mugging Alestorm on a dark and stormy night and will get toes tapping right across the Shire.  There's a right old collection of instruments and styles on here too, with death metal vocals and female vocals credited, plus instrumentation including guitars, piano, flute and that most-metal of all instruments, the bagpipes!

It's all good stuff, in a madly schizophrenic sort of way, and is well produced and orchestrated.  Black Jade achieve the slighty crazy result of sounding so varied their songs seem like a compilation of lots of tracks from different bands!  'Where The Leaves Not Fall', for example, is all Gothic in feel with lovely female vocals (think Hekate meets Madder Mortem), but is followed with an opening riff for 'A Homeless Shadow' that is pure 80's thrash metal!  Throw random tracks like the aforementioned 'We Booze In Golden Halls' into the mix - complete with a bagpipe solo no less - and things get properly weird: Nazgul is pleased!

To the Uruk Hai half of proceedings, then.  And strike me down with a feather if our old friend Hugin hasn't gone and surpassed himself once again.  There are some brilliant songs on this release, also containing a lot of variety (a bit of ethereal keyboard here, a bit of black metal style vocal there, and even some virtuoso guitar solos from Joe Matera) and it all works wonderfully well.  Take 'Homeward Bound' for example (not a Simon & Garfunkel  cover version!!): it bounds along at a propulsive pace, much more up-tempo than many of Hugin's compositions, and features what might well be a first on any of his albums - not one, but two bass solos!  You can tap your toes, hum along and beat out the rhythm on a dead dog's head if you feel so inclined, this is catchy stuff!

The Black Metal-esque vocals come along courtesy of Metatron of US band Rex Mundi in 'Music Of The Ainur', another fast paced song albeit with a couple of slower instrumental parts thrown at it in rather a random way, and then we're into track four 'Black Speech' (ironic, in as far as it's an instrumental) in which a moody and atmospheric keyboard opening swells into a guitar dominated conclusion that raise the ravens from the battlements of Castle Nazgul.  

Introductory track 'Twilight' possibly sums up the whole venture in one fell swoop, with piano, keyboards and guitar all entwined to form something far greater together than the sum of their parts.  Marvellous!

There is a lengthy review of this release in issue 42 of Fatal Underground from which the snippets below are drawn.  Suffice to say, I think they liked it too!

"Austrian project Uruk Hai offers musical fare that is far away from any trends or 'typical' performances, and for years has gone his own way. From the beginning the sounds literally enchant and leave you in a world of beauty, immersed in peace and contemplation.  There arises in the music a certain grandeur that is almost something programmed into this artist.  Only occasionally is this silence broken by something stronger and emerging guitars, which add a somewhat progressive element, do the whole thing some good.

In the third piece "The Lost Road" he changes his style and even tends more toward Black Metal, in particular through the dark, slightly nagging vocals used for the first time.  Conversely, the next piece sounds damn romantic, sometimes even a little classical, partly tinged something orchestral and spreading a more than pleasant, warm atmosphere .  The violins and piano parts are very dominant in this piece and build an extremely sensitive mood .However, there's also a chance to hear some harder riffs through pure guitar solos, which just fit in naturally and provide wonderful variety."

The review is equally as effusive about Black Jade, so why not visit the Fatal Underground site for a read of the remainder of the review and take a look at their other interesting material?

You would have to be certifiably bonkers not to add this to your collection of Uruk Hai material, in truth, so Nazgul is pretty sure that he's preaching to the converted through this post and that you'll all have your own copies tucked away safely at home.  If not - for shame!  Go forth and purchase immediately!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE MIGHTY FOREST


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Mighty Forest
Format: A 3" CDr release on the Smell The Stench label (Australia) from 2013, complete with 2 colour card inlays
Edition: 20 hand-numbered copies 

Track Listing:
01. Dancing Leaves  5.43
02. Age Of The Ents  9.15
03. On The Edge Of The Forest 3.04

Do you know, it's little releases like this one that reaffirm Nazgul's resolve and faith in all of Hugin's projects and musical enterprises.

Why?  Well, the answer is a simple one.  This is evidently not a release made for spectacular commercial gain, nor one that received a huge amount of publicity.  Even for devoted followers of the man's work - and, after all, why would you be here if this doesn't apply to you - this release may come as something of a surprise and may not be one that you've seen before.

And in a tiny edition of 20 copies, why would you necessarily have crossed paths with it?

Yet, in the three songs offered up here in a forest-themed package you have everything that sums up Hugin's world of music, at least when garbed in the mantle of his Uruk Hai project.  Lushly orchestrated and composed instrumental songs that transport the ever-willing listener to realms beyond the hum-drum of everyday existence.  Glistening jewels of songs that succeed in a few passing minutes where entire albums of lesser bands would fail in abject misery.

In short, transformational music to entertain, uplift and invigorate.  Gentle, peaceful, as solid and immovable as the roots of those trees that the songs refer to (with passing exception to the Ents, for obvious reasons of mobility!) this is timeless music that you either dial into and 'get', or you don't.  And what a shame if you fall into the latter category.

The reason this is so life-affirming is that it's simply Alex doing what he does best: tinkering around in W.A.R. Studios and coming up with some elegant and delicate pieces of music, recording them for his own pleasure and for our pleasure in that order.  We all know that this release will receive zero publicity or published acclaim - although if a magazine or website elsewhere on the planet wishes to push this little demo and prove me wrong Nazgul would be delighted - but that's really not the point.  It's music from the heart, and from the heart of both the man and the forests of Middle-Earth.

With the advent of Autumn, even cold-hearted Nazgul feels tiny tugs of emotion at the turning of the seasons and the majestic colours to be found in the leaves and trees surrounding Castle Nazgul. Music such as this augments and enhances such experiences, and as always leaves life better than you found it.  Hugin has been doing that neat trick for many years now, and we all owe him a debt of thanks for making our lives better in some way or other, right across the globe. 

And long may it continue.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

DEMO 99 - update


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Demo 99
Format: Cassette-tape only, independent release through Alex Wieser in 1999.
Edition: Hand-numbered and limited to 30 copies
Reason for update: A true rarity has entered the Castle Library....

Track Listing:
01. Ozeane der Zeit
02. Kalte Nacht
03. Der Morgen nach dem Leben
04. Herr über die Winde
05. Aufstieg verlorener Seelen
06. Apokalypse
07. Zuende

It's almost 5 years to the very day when the original review of Nazgul's copy of this demo - #2/30 copies - appeared in Honour and Darkness.

Nazgul noted in that review that this demo tape from 1999 (hence the cunning title, you see) was a variant on theme from the "Blut" demo that preceded it in 1998 and that it contained 6 of those 14 original tracks plus one new song, 'Der Morgen Nach Dem Leben', together with a new cover and limitation to only 30 tapes.

The reason for this update so many years after the fact comes courtesy of an amazingly generous donation to the Castle Nazgul archive by Hugin.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is copy #1 of the 30, and the only version to exist with a colour cover!  So now Number 1 is partnered by Number 2, and the Library resembles nothing less than a scene from the set of The Prisoner (no free men here, however)

Looking at the colour version the visual effect of the cover is (a) far more striking and (b) far more evidently Oriental in nature.  It does, in short, look absolutely fabulous and shows off a lot more detail and nuance than the monochrome cover does.  It is - it goes without saying - a very welcome addition to that most secret and prized area of the Library collection, housing those rare one-off and unique versions that Hugin has been known to produce.

Nazgul was going to end this post with a linkto the Hrossharsgrani page on the Metal Archives site, where this very tape was pictured (the photo having been pinched from Hugin's old MySpace page), but it transpires that Metal Archives - in their infinite wisdom - have now seen fit to take both Hrossharsgrani and Hrefnesholt out of their database, as they did for Uruk Hai some time ago.  The miserable gits!

#1 meets #2