Wednesday, 30 December 2015

a.n.g.e.l.


Band: ILL
Title: a.n.g.e.l.
Format: A professionally released CDr in DVD-size case by WinterWolf Records (Germany) in 2015, no catalogue reference.
Edition: 100 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Angel  7.46
02. Wings  6.30
03. Heart  5.47
04. Orb  14.51
05. Reality  4.44
06. Resurrection  10.00
07. Cloud  12.48

Well, it's still Christmas (just!) so something for the top of your tree at year end - yes, it's ILL's "A.n.g.e.l." for you...

Listed on Discogs under the categorisation of 'Rock/Electronic - Downtempo' by none other than Hugin himself (and also reviewed as a 5/5 rating by Hugin too, the cheeky scamp - Nazgul sees all!), this is another new ILL release and one that has a distinctly looser feel than some of the earlier output from the band.

According to the Discogs definition, "downtempo (or downbeat) music is associated with a variety of different genres including electronic, jazz, rock, and some world music. It is generally 50 to 90 BPM, and sometimes there is not even any overt percussion in the music. The Downtempo tag was originally intended to refer to 1990s–2000s chillout or lounge music that has a slow, rolling, hip-hop or dub-inspired groove with sampled beats, and which can be broadly categorized as primarily jazzy, primarily dubby, or both. However, as downtempo is loosely defined, it has become an umbrella term for a broad selection of music with moody tones, chilling to passionate vocals, crossover indie vibes, and mellow beats."

And it's fair to note that this is a chilled selection of tracks for the most part, whose single word titles somewhat mischievously puts Nazgul in mind of a word association test,  but that's by the by.  That said, there's still some crunchy guitar riff-ery going on here and the odd booming bit of percussion, so it's not all sweetness and light: opening track 'Angel' and closer 'Cloud' being two good representations of that side of life.

The rest of the album is a strange but enticing miscellany of styles, with 'Reality' in particular sounding for all the world like an demo outtake from Rush's 'Red Sector A', such is the similarity in guitar sound between the two songs.

With only 100 copies knocking around it's one of those releases that's almost certainly destined for obscurity, but you'd be missing out not to invest a little cash either via the WinterWolf website or through Hugin himself.  Perfect for noodling around the house to, and varied enough to offer something to (almost) everyone, it is ultimately a disposable collection of demos but - like many disposable items - great fun along the way!

Rock bands have used the word 'angel' in songs over the decades, with examples coming thick and fast from the likes of Aerosmith, Scorpions, Slaughter, Black Crowes, and Slayer but let's end today's post with a little off-piste tribute to the most recent (hells) angel to be taken up to the great rock star firmament in the sky - Lemmy.  God rest his soul.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Seasons Greetings from Uruk Hai


"So this is Christmas, and what have you done...?"  

A perennial question oft asked, but here at Castle Nazgul it's safe to say that it's been another busy year on a number of fronts, not least keeping Honour and Darkness up to date.  Of course, there's plenty of treats in store for you all in the weeks and months ahead, and possibly some new series to liven up your evenings as the cold, dark weather takes a hold of us all (unless you abide in sunnier climates, in which case - you lucky sods!)

Anyway, this seasonal image/message appeared on Hugin's Uruk Hai Facebook page a few years ago, and it seemed like a good one to share with you as Nazgul wishes you all the very best for the festive season, and a peaceful and prosperous 2016 to follow.

But this is not the last post of 2015, oh no.  Nazgul has some interesting things planned on that front in the remaining few days of the year, so keep your eyes peeled and I hope that you enjoy them.

Happy Christmas! 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

ACROSS THE MISTY MOUNTAINS - update


Band: URUK-HAI
Title: Across The Misty Mountains
Format: This was a proposed piece of artwork for the Uruk Hai release, ultimately never used.
Edition: Not applicable

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

Yes, this is a short post and yes, this is the second brief Vaults Of W.A.R. update you've had this month.  Hell, it's been a busy month to say the least, so it's either this or you're getting nothing for Christmas and that's all there is to say on the matter!

What you see here is an early draft for the cover art of "Across The Misty Mountains...", which Nazgul reviewed in both CD and tape formats way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth (well, February 2009 certainly feels a long time ago to me).  Different labels released those two respective pieces, the CD coming out on the Estonian Stuka Sound label, whilst crazy Keegan Irvine's Skullfucking Records based in the US of A did the honours with the tape version, both in 2006. Which helps to date this design, of course.

Nazgul rather likes the rugged mood created by those angular mountain peaks and the somewhat psychedelic cloud patterns in the sky.  We don't know song details, but the likelihood is that the CD version of the track listing might well have been the one that would have graced this particular release (the tape having a slightly different selection of music on it, losing the intro and outro songs but adding an older demo).

Hugin had the following recollection about this artwork: "Hmmm ... not too much to say about that cover, it was just the first idea for the Misty Mountains album... at first the French label Music & Tradition had planed to release it but than they cancelled it, so Stuka Sound did it instead..."

And not a thing can I find to tell you about that French label, hence the brevity of this post!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities



Item: Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities
Which is what, Nazgul?  A paperback book, edited by Troy Southgate, and published on his own Black Front Press in 2012.
And I care because?  It features none other than Hugin, who has contributed a chapter.

Hi, I'm Troy McClure!  You might remember me from such self-help videos as "Smoke Yourself Thin", and "Get Confident, Stupid."

Hi, I'm Troy Southgate!  You might remember me from such books as "Runic Sex Postures of the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc", and "Jonathan Bowden: The Speeches - A Collection of Talks Given at the London New Right" 1

It's rather hard to tell which of those two sentences sounds the more improbable.  To be fair though, only the first sentence was actually intended by its author to be humorous....

Troy Southgate, the author of this work, is British, a musician (H.E.R.R. and Seelenlicht being two of his many bands/projects), and a 'leading National-Anarchist activist and theoretician'. Southgate is also reported as active in diverse British national organizations and is associated with the New Right and 'third positionism' (which itself sounds like a Runic Sex Posture but is in fact, I gather, a nationalist political strand that emphasises its opposition to both communism and capitalism).  

But this is neither a potted history of Mr Southgate, nor a discussion of his political philosophies.  He's a prolific author - the two volumes above being a mere tip of the iceberg - and the reason we touch upon his is that the book featured in today's post has a chapter within it written by our very own Alexander 'Hugin' Wieser.
 
Indeed, Hugin features amongst an extensive list of contributors, which includes Tony 'The Demolition Man' Dolan (Venom/Atomkraft/M-Pire of Evil); Jeff 'Mantas' Dunn (Venom/Mantas/M-Pire of Evil); Hendrik Möbus (Absurd); Alex Kurtagic (Supernal Records); Jarl von Hagall (Der Stürmer); William Vithólf (Fanisk); Gareth Giles (Hrafnblóð); Matt Kay (Wodfreca Records) and more besides.

Now it's my personal view, of course - and you're entirely at liberty to take an entirely different view - but I get nervous when I see contributions from people like Hendrik Möbus. His band Absurd, for those of you who don't know, achieved infamy because its original members (since 1999 no longer in the band) murdered 15-year-old Sandro Beyer in 1993. The canonical motive is that Beyer was privy to an illicit relationship of Schauseil's with a married woman, and had been spreading rumours about this and other activities of the band. On 29 April in Sondershausen, the then 17-year old band members Möbus, Schauseil, and Kirchner enticed Beyer to a meeting, and strangled him there with an electrical cord. 2

It's a fair bet that we're going to get some pretty extreme and partisan views expressed in this book, which will come as no surprise given that this is a genre that begets such opinions.  Let us, by way of this excellent segue, sample the promotional blurb for the book:

"From the snow-covered environs of Norway and secluded graveyards of England to the dark forests of Germany and remote woodlands of Poland and Ukraine, an unstoppable Black Metal beast has dominated the extreme end of the musical scale for more than two decades.

Black Metal is an aesthetic, an emotion, an attitude and, for many, a way of life. Exposing the inner workings of your delicate eardrums to unbridled screams of primeval fury, an unending torrent of galloping rhythms and indomitable wall of buzzing guitars is like being thrown head-first into the whirling eye of a chthonic vortex. Black Metal can be disturbing, invigorating, provoking and empowering. One persistent and enduring image that is often associated with Black Metal is that of semi-comedic corpse-paint, futile church-burnings and Satanic ritual; but the genre itself can often take on a decidedly political and cultural form and many of its exponents have controversial views and opinions that are frequently overlooked by the commentators of the underground music industry.

We aim to examine some of those tendencies in Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities. Ever since Varg Vikernes was courting media headlines for all the wrong reasons, Black Metal – like a fine wine, perhaps – has matured a great deal. The steady process of counter-cultural ripening has led to the formation of various sub-genres, among them Viking Metal, Progressive Black Metal, Blackened Death Metal, Symphonic Black Metal and National Socialist Black Metal.

So whether you like your Black Metal traditional and ground-breaking like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer; raw and brutal like Mayhem, Emperor and Immortal; slick and polished like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Old Man's Child; or politically controversial like Graveland, Drudkh and Absurd; this book is for you."

 
Much more could be said about this book and its content, but this is neither the time nor the place for such a review.  If you want a lengthy review, then you could do worse than read the Amazon review that now seems to be the ubiquitous one for this book, being cited here, there and everywhere.  You could also, if you wish, read the short interview that was conducted by The Examiner with the author of this work.  However, the task at hand for Nazgul is solely to consider Hugin's offering, and to that end I have a treat for you: an independent critique, commissioned for you with no expense spared:

"Alex has a short, five page chapter in Black Metal: European Roots and Musical Extremities, that highlights the importance of Venom on his musical development. Alex traces this influence back to first being exposed to Venom via their music video for Bloodlust, and immediately after buying their alum Welcome to Hell. The music had a profound influence on Alex, who adapted a metal lifestyle at a young age and sought out similar acts, eventually discovering Bathory's Blood Fire Death album which also had a tremendous influence on him. Alex posits that the black metal scene would not have come about without the efforts from either bands, and highlights he too got into making music because of them, leading to the formation of Hrossharsgrani and Uruk-Hai.

It’s a sincere and earnest chapter, and Alex's enthusiasm for Venom comes out in spades. However the chapter needs serious working in the editing department. Almost every sentence ends in multiple exclamation points. Proper nouns (specifically band names) alternate between being all caps and only the first word capitalized (this style isn't consistent through the entire book actually). There’s some sentences that need revising due to English not being Alex’s first language, such as the first sentence of the second paragraph 'I can remember very well' should be either 'I can remember it very well' or 'I remember it well'.  I suspect the essay was accepted into the book as is without any editorial input from Troy Southgate to Alex. It's important to capture the voice of the author as best as possible, but it better editing on the chapter would have made it a stronger piece."

Copies of the book seem scarce now: in a quick trawl yesterday Nazgul found one on Amazon.com for a princely $50 (it was $20 new) but that was the sole copy being advertised at the time that this post was written.

Is it a good read generally?  Well, as our intrepid independent reviewer notes, the overall editing of the work does leave a bit to be desired and the content jumps around fairly sporadically as the chapters progress.  It's interesting rather than essential I would venture to say.


1 According to Wikipedia, Johnathan Bowden was a maverick English nationalist, orator, political philosopher and writer, and artist, who was involved with a variety of right-wing political parties and movements during his lifetime. In 2004, Bowden began working with Troy Southgate and became the chairman of the New Right. In an October 2010 interview alongside Southgate, Bowden stated that their work within various intellectual groups on the right of England's political counter-culture had succeeded to a degree in "the mixing together of ultra-Conservative and neo-fascist ideas.  Interestingly, also in 2010, Bowden was temporarily sectioned to a mental health hospital.  From these facts you may draw your own conclusions...


2 Möbus, to say the least, hardly distinguished himself after this episode.  In prison he was able to carry on with the band under the temporary name "In Ketten" (German for "In Chains"). After the murder, this became a cult band with Neo-Nazi groups. No releases were made as 'In Ketten' but some of the tracks recorded were used on the 'Facta Loquuntur' album. The tape Thuringian Pagan Madness shows on its cover the grave of the murdered Sandro Beyer, and inside says: "The cover shows the grave of Sandro B. murdered by horde ABSURD on 29.04.93". The band members were released on parole in 1998, because they had been under eighteen when they had committed their crime. Shortly after release, Möbus violated the terms of his parole when he performed the Hitler salute at a concert, which is illegal in Germany. His parole was consequently revoked.  He managed to flee to the United States, but during his stay got in a conflict about money with some of his contacts, one of them being the then Neo-Nazi pagan occultist Nathan Pett, who was beaten with a hammer.   Möbus was arrested by U.S. Marshals,  In 2001, after his request for asylum was denied, he was sent back to prison for the remaining three years for murder.  For mocking his victim and for the Hitler salute he was sentenced to a further twenty-six months. On 15 May 2003 he was again sentenced to four years in prison.  Möbus is currently a free man, and runs his own music label.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS MIST THEY CAME

 
Band: URUK HAI
Title: Through The Mountains Mist They Came
Format: This is a professionally released CD in digipak format from Aphelion Productions (UK) released in August 2015, cat ref AP092.  The release is a split between Uruk Hai and Skoll (Italy). Layout and digital treatments are credited to 'Huginngraphix'.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Skoll
01. Wintry Plane  8.23         
02. In The Mist I Saw  5.44 
03. The Circle Of Trees  8.36         

Uruk Hai
04. A Blade Of Fire  4.42         
05. Reiter Theodens  4.24         
06. Upon White Shores  6.24         
07. Mirkwood  6.48         
08. Days Of Bliss  3.02         
09. Through The Mist Of Night  5.24         
10. Noldor  7.57

Playing a mixture of folk metal with ambient black metal twists and the odd Gothic inspired vocal, Skoll leap out of the blocks on this split release with three lengthy songs that set the scene nicely for some of the themes of this release: mist, trees, and the cold barren plains of Middle Earth.  Or possibly the cold barren plains of Novara, the Italian town in Piedmont from where Skoll originates. Evidently Novara is a foggy sort of a place, as the number of references Skoll make to mist in their discography is quite astonishing.  

A quick skim through it identifies the following releases:

  • " ...In The Mist I Saw..." (1996)
  • "Through The Mist We Come Back" (1999)
  • "Mists Of An Ancient Era" (2001)
  • "Through The Mists Of Time" (2001) with the song 'A Vision Of War Through The Mist' 
  • "Warriors Of The Misty Fields" (2002)
  • "11 Years Of Mist" (2005)
  • "Misty Woods" (2008) with the track 'Mist'
  • and even an album without mist in its title ("Girsera" from 2013) features 'Wolves In The Mist' in its playlist.
Perhaps it should come as no great surprise then that even this split album is not immune from the tendrils of ancient brume, and references the subject not only in the title but with yet another song: 'In The Mist I Saw' (which, as far as I can see, isn't a reworking of a song on the 1996 demo of the same name but a different beast entirely!)   Even Hugin gets in on the act with 'Through The Mist Of Night' in his selection of Uruk Hai songs.  

Well, as an old sea-faring colleague used to say, 'When this fog clears it won't be missed [mist, geddit?!  No?  Oh well, suit yourself....]

At times Skoll remind Nazgul of Tristania circa their 'Widow's Weed' period, principally because of the song structures and the powerful riffs.  This is most evident on opening track 'Wintery Plane' where the vocals are thundered out like Morten Veland in his prime and titanic riffs rend the very air around you.  This is a very good thing, and Nazgul would certainly give a thumbs up to the songs they offer here.  

Should you be wondering about the origin of the band's name I'd guess it is most likely derived from Norse mythology, in which Sköll (in Old Norse, "treachery") is a warg that chases the horses Árvakr and Alsviðr, that drag the chariot which contains the sun (Sól) through the sky every day, trying to eat her. Sköll has a brother, Hati, who chases Máni, the moon. At Ragnarök, both Sköll and Hati will succeed in their quests.  And, to be fair, Skoll does sound more a 'metal' name to take than Hati...!

Uruk Hai's contributions have the additional challenge of posing a puzzle for the listener to solve: that ages-old game of 'what other release(s) in the extensive band discography have these songs been featured on before'?!  A traditional pastime now, of course, but one in which much fun can be had by skilled and inexperienced players alike.  So with 2 x D4 in hand and a blow on the hand for luck, let's roll those dice and see what transpires ... we throw a 7, so clearly the Gods are favouring us and will expect an immediate response....

...So, let's tackle the easiest bits first. 'A Blade Of Fire' and 'Mirkwood' feature on the rather splendid album "The Fellowship" which has only recently been reviewed. That gives just one more familiar song to be accounted for,  which is 'Days Of Bliss' from the tape release "Songs Of Bliss".

Which leaves us four new tracks to consider.  'Reiter Theodens' as a title seems to be drawn from the German film version of Lord Of The Rings, and references Théoden, the King of Rohan in Tolkien's realm.  He led the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and in that battle he routed the Harad cavalry, personally killing their chieftain and banner-bearer in the process. He challenged the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader of the Nazgûl, and was mortally wounded when his horse Snowmane fell upon him.  This song would complement the action nicely as it is packed with snarling and hate-filled vocals. If based on the events of the book it strongly suggests we've joined at a point where the Witch-king is chewing Théoden's arm off and spitting it back in his face, chunk by bloody chunk!

'Upon The White Shores' is one of those lovely ambient tracks with an uplifting chorus based around a lilting female choir.  One of those songs that you imagine playing as some great act of heroism is played out, almost inevitably ending with the willing sacrifice of the hero to save his or her loved ones.  Not entirely sure that the guitar playing over parts of this chorus really adds to this mood that's been created though, as it's a little overwrought compared to the ethereal loveliness that the vocal elements create.

The final pair of new songs bring the album to a close; 'Through The Mist Of Night' is a jaunty piece that bounds along like a hoedown in Bag End, and is both delicate and robust at one and the same time.  'Noldor' has nothing to do with the band of the same name (though who does any more?) and thankfully neither contains nor encourages goose-stepping.  Instead, it's a lengthy ambient track of great dexterity, melding choral parts with instrumentation as it weaves its way in and out of your consciousness.  Today's trivia snippet for you concerns the Noldor: did you know that in the early versions of Tolkien's work, the Noldor were most often called Noldoli, or Gnome. They were still called Gnomes in early editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Strange but true.

Also strange is the fact that despite this album having being plenty to offer the listener, and that in the flesh (well, in the air) it plays well and has a variety of highlights,  it somehow doesn't seem that memorable.  Repeatedly during the course of playing the CD for this review Nazgul got to the end of it, only to think, when looking at the track listing, 'now what did that song sound like again?'  This is probably as much a factor of age and time - most releases take a while to sink in, after all - rather than being an observation on the material on offer though, and to be fair trying to absorb the nuances of songs whilst commuting to work isn't always the most productive process.  

This album would greatly benefit from some quality listening time, as it undoubtedly has hidden depths still to plunder, and Nazgul would recommend it to you unhesitatingly. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

UPON THE ELYSIAN FIELDS - update


Band: URUK HAI

Title: Upon The Elysian Fields
Format: A proposed tape release on the Lifeless Productions label (USA) that never came to pass....
Proposed Edition: 100 numbered copies

Proposed Track Listing:

Tape 1
01. Return To The Sea Of Flames
02. God Tears (Oh Rain, Rain, Rain)

Tape 2
03. On An Evening In Autumn
04. Under The Cold Stars Before The Rising Of The Moon

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


Today's entry in the still expanding 'From the Vaults of W.A.R.' series is the formal recognition of this version of "In The Elysian Fields", due to be issued by Lifeless Productions but shelved when that label disappeared in a cloud of uncertainty.  I say formal recognition, as it's been seen and referenced in the past already: a picture of it popped up in the recent debut Nazgul's Horde post, whilst reference to its existence was made in the coverage of Lifeless Productions' other missing work, "...And In The Darkness Bind Them" where Nazgul reported, 'Hugin also mentioned that there had been plans for Lifeless to release a double-tape version of "Upon The Elysian Fields" too, but their demise put paid to that plan as well.'

We've seen a few variants of "In The Elysian Fields" over the years, as the original Honour and Darkness post will attest.  One interesting fact relating to this tape is that it retains the running order of Hugin's original demo CDr: subsequent releases have tended to move the tracks around a little.

Personally Nazgul thinks the artwork on this Lifeless version is probably the best of the lot. so it's a real shame that it never actually made it out into the real world.  You could really imagine yourself walking the paths of this forest, with fertile pathways bathed in diffused sunlight and high canopies stretching into the distance making for an enticing prospect.  As we know, however, it's possible to use the images to produce your own 'dummy' version of the release if you are sufficiently enthused, to which you could dub a tape or two and make the set complete.  And as long as you don't sell 'em then why not....?

The wording on the inlay for Tape 1 reads, "Upon The Elysian Fields" is an account of the elder days, or the first days of our pagan past.  Limited strictly to 100 hand-numbered copies".  A reference is given to an artist John Philip, though his website link no longer seems to work.  This is something of a pity, as other work of this nature would have been a treat to see.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

TERRA INCOGNITA



Band: Allerseelen
Title: Terra Incognita
Format: Digipak pressing released through two Austria labels, Aorta (cat ref AORCD016) and Ahnstern (cat ref Ahnstern 53), in 2015.  Features in Honour and Darkness due to the contribution on guitar at track 9,  'Grünes Licht', of the inestimable talents of one Alexander "Hugin" Wieser.
Edition: No limitation stated

Track Listing:
01. Steingeburt (2015)
02. Fliegerlied
03. Böses Blut
04. Ikarus
05. Flamme (2015)
06. Totenschiff
07. Thule (2015)
08. From the Emptiness
09. Grünes Licht
10. Neunmondmesser
11. Sturmlied (2015)
12. Wir Sind Schwäne (2015)
13. Panzergarten (2015)
14. Was Wissen Wir vom Licht
15. Schwarzes Vinyl

This is essentially a completist post, for Hugin plays a small (yet crucial) role to one song on this recent Allerseelen album.  Still - the modus operandi of Honour and Darkness is to catalogue all there is to catalogue about the musical adventures of Alexander "Hugin" Wieser, so once more into the breach we go with this little escapade.

The online promotional bumf about this release includes these words of wisdom from no less than Oscar Wilde: "All art is at one surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril", which is drawn from his acclaimed work Dorian Grey.  More meaty coverage of the release reveals to us the following details:

"While their highly acclaimed last release Rauhe Schale featured electric guitars by Dimo Dimov of Svarrogh and violins by the guest musicians Meri Tacid from Eluveitie and Annabel Lee from Blood Axis, this time they worked on the new release with a couple of high quality guest contributions by guitarists like John Haughm (Agalloch) and Jörg B (Der Blutharsch, Amestigon, Graumahd), Daniel P. Arnica (Arnica) and Alexander Wieser (Hrefnesholt) who add their very special musical charisma to several songs. 

The vocals for the songs are not only those by the frontman Gerhard Hallstatt but also by Robert Taylor (Changes). This release again is a manifest for the musical expression of Allerseelen that is difficult to be labelled as it is a unique combination of seemingly contradictory elements from industrial, metal and folklore.

So be adventurous enough to go beneath the surface of the music of Allerseelen"


So there you have it, it's official and not authored by me - Alexander Wieser is a high quality guest with special musical charisma!  Well, we knew that already of course, but no harm in repeating the fact...

Song 9 - Grünes Licht - may well delve into the legendary green fairy of absinthe via the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), although the lyrics are somewhat obtuse on that score:

'I sing a song for you
that does not know goodbye
an absinthe sky above me
I sing a song for you
are you seeking the winter sun
are you seeking the green light
i sing a song for you
a hymn to the night
a hymn to the green light
the green light
the green land
sometimes I am there
i sing a song for you
that does not know goodbye'


Nazgul bases his conclusion purely on a review of this album on the Heathen Harvest website that eloquently details the work and it's content.  Picking from the longer review, which you can read at your leisure, some pertinent details around this particular song and Hugin's contribution can be gleaned:

"Terra Incognita has been structured, placing emphasis once again on loops and danceable rhythms as the primary axis for creation and inspiration. Marcel P. (Miel Noir, Fahl, Sagittarius) is, as usual, responsible for most of the bass sections—his performance style having become, by now, a vital piece in forming the distinguished sound of Allerseelen (Marcel P. is also the percussionist and keyboardist behind a couple of songs).  Assisting on electric guitars are Jörg B. (Der Blutharsch, Graumahd), John Haughm (Agalloch), Daniel P. Àrnica (Àrnica), and Alexander Wieser (Hrefnesholt, Uruk-Hai)...

...As you can see, every guest musician appearing on Terra Incognita are members of already established bands. They give a personal yet discreet touch to the music of Allerseelen, as the project seldom allows for excessive experimentation outside of the borders that Hallstatt has defined for himself...

...The title, Terra Incognita, is suggestive of the concept that is prevalent throughout: the unknown territories of every aspect of life, the immense unexplored plains that emerge for every tiny piece of information we finally think we know upon much reflection—the magic that ensures that there is always more to seek and more to discover. The song titles and lyrics are an unmistakable guide, wherein a pilot reaches out to the sun and the stars, far above the surface of common perception (‘Fliegerlied’). There is a song inspired by the Belladonna fruit, whose psychotropic properties provide for new journeys (‘Böses Blut’), and another that is inspired by the beauty of the Aurora Borealis and the legendary green fairy of absinthe (‘Grünes Licht’) that leads elsewhere as well.  Hallstatt possesses a wide range of inspirations, from mountaineering, photography, and travelling to numerous authors, philosophers, and film directors, all of which assist him in expanding—a bit at a time—his horizons, indeed covering always a small new part of some terra incognita....

To provide details on each and every songs theme would be an intrusive obstacle in the way of allowing Allerseelen's audience to do some discovering of their own. I’d suffice it to say that the texts, images, and music are masterfully interwoven to create a unique playground that is at the disposal of your imagination. Choose a path, tread on it, and be not impatient with where it leads you."


Certainly an interesting listen, it's a nice recognition of his ever-growing status that Hugin appears on the album as a guest contributor. In so doing, let us hope it inspires a few intrepid listeners to tread a path towards Hugin's Hrefnesholt and his other associated projects...

Thursday, 26 November 2015

BITTERE ERKENNTNISSE DURCH NAHTOD - update


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod
Reason for update: A variant in the Foghorn series release of this song has come to light

By an entirely unplanned coincidence it's almost 5 years to the day since the original review of the 3" release Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod CDr in Honour and Darkness.  If you've followed the link back to refresh your memory, you'll have seen that this particular release was on the Foghorn label (part of the German Apocalyptic Radio family) and that it came in an edition of 100 copies.  Nazgul's personal copy came via Denmark, and not another copy have I seen since that one.  

Until now, that is....

Quite out of the blue, an email popped into the Castle inbox from none other than our old friend Alex of A.M.F. Productions in Bulgaria.  Alex had a few Bonemachine bits and pieces to sell or trade, including what he had identified as a different version of the "Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod" release.  Different how, you ask? Well, simply down to the colour of the 3-inch disc, which is red in the version he had but green on the copy originally reviewed.  Naturally, the collector/horder latent within Nazgul sprang into action like a well greased ferret, and within a week the item (plus one or two other goodies) had a new home in the Castle archives.

And yes, as you can clearly see from the pictures, it's definitely red!  Which, of course, begs a few questions:

  • Do other colours exist within this edition of 100 copies?
  • Do either of the other Hugin-related Foghorn releases have different coloured discs in their editions?
As usual, questions galore but no answers to grab hold of!  A quick look through the Foghorn 3" series as described on Discogs is not particularly illuminating, as despite there being a number of such releases there are no notes to suggest multi-colour discs exist as a rule.  A quick visit to the Castle archives confirms that a normal silver 3" disc was used on the Bonemacine "Acidhumanix" release, whilst a black colour disc seems to be used for The Sounds Of Earth's "Struggle For Control".  

The other 5 known releases in the Foghorn series don't have pictures on Discogs, nor do any obvious images for them pop up online, so it's all something of an unresolved mystery I'm afraid.

So this is a chance for you, the incredibly fervent fans of all things Hugin, to step and and ransack your personal collections to see what colour the discs are on your releases!  If you've got something different from those known and recorded in Honour and Darkness currently for the Foghorn 3" series as relates to Hugin, drop Nazgul an email at the address shown! The relevant pair of releases are:

Bonemachine "Acidhumanix"  

Bonemachine "Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod" (called 'Untitled' on Discogs)  

Happy sleuthing!

It's interesting that it almost always seems to be Bonemachine that generates these additional versions and strange sub-sets within formal releases: there must be something about the nature of this project that motivates labels to get creative and create subtle waves of confusion....

Brothers .... from different mothers?!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

HOLY


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Holy
Format: This is a professional CDr released in 2015 by the Winterwolf Records label (Germany), with no catalogue reference.  The album is a split release between Uruk Hai and Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh (France), the quasi-legendary underground black metal/ambient noise project featuring Luc Mertz. For the purpose of this review, this latter band's name will be abbreviated to ZBT, as seems to be customary.
Edition: Unnumbered edition of 100 copies

Track Listing:
01. ZBT  *  Sadness  4.13      
02. ZBT  *  Black Soul  4.33      
03. ZBT  *  Eternity  4.00      
04. ZBT  *  Dirt  3.09      
05. ZBT  *  Sinister  5.57  
06. ZBT  *  Holy War  4.38      
07. ZBT  *  After the Nightmare  4.49      
08. Uruk Hai  *  Northwards  6.42      
09. Uruk Hai  *  Ringwraiths  13.13      
10. Uruk Hai  *  Of Beren& Luthien  13.54      
11. Uruk Hai  *  Holy Metal  11.30  

Oh. My. Goodness.  

There are those who lurk in the shadowy parts at the bottom of the internet who seem to enjoy nothing more than to pour scorn and bile onto the work of musicians around the world. Hugin has attracted his fair share of criticism over time (particularly in the early years) in being typecast - somewhat disparagingly - as a 'one-man bedroom project'.  It comes with the territory, to an extent.  However, those occasional poor reviews hold nothing to the general abuse and vitriol thrown at French band ZBT, another long running one-man project (2000-current).  Of course, with approximately 2 gazillion demos to his name there is always likely to be a surfeit of product and the risk of low quality control between releases.  But nevertheless, it's extraordinary what you can read out there.  

Let Nazgul illustrate his point with some statistics.  If you take the Metal Archives site, for instance, the first  page of the ZBT discography shows the following review scores (out of a maximum of 100%):  Demo 07 - 'Draft'  (12%); Demo 09 - 'IX' (0%); Demo 10 - 'Satan's Servants' (1%); Demo 19 - 'Dead for All' (1%); and so it goes on.

And as you might imagine much of the narrative is hardly complementary, and these examples are the cleaned-up versions:

Of Demo IX: "This, gentlemen, was the worst mistake I could have made. Through my cheap speakers comes nothing but pathetic noise. Not one note can be told from another. Not a single drum hit can be told from another. It is nothing but pathetic, and useless noise.  In summary, this demo is nothing but complete and utter sh*t. Don't even bother buying it, if you can find it. Hell, don't even f*cking download it. It's a waste of a few megabits. Seriously. Don't."

Of Satan's Servants: "Luc Mertz's body of "work" consists of a (out of tune) guitar playing sloppy "riffs", silly "shredding" solos which make Burzum's "War" solo sound like Iron Maiden, in terms of melody (and I like that one) and "drumming" consisting of different kitchen tools being thrown at an unknown device. There is no structure or coherence to be found, the vocals are monotonous, boring and at times even hilarious. Luc chokes, coughs and spits in various talentless forms, desperately trying to get a few laughs out of the listener, even though I doubt that was the writer's original intention."

and to close, perhaps my personal 'favourite' of the bunch, if only for the effort the reviewer has put into setting out his grievance whilst at the same time drawing unexpected references to Donald Duck:

Demo #28 Sado Ambient - Mind Control Part 5:  "The track starts out with some annoying static noise, with sounds that sound like something dying. After that, a Donald Duck sound signals the change in ambience. The second part has a girl humming (?), I think. Another Donald Duck noise, and the third part begins. It sounds like a giant monster heavily breathing, and then noises a duck would make at night, also what sounds like far off war, and those sounds kids make with their armpit. The fourth part is signalled by another Donald Duck sound, then for about 30 seconds a loud, annoying...thing, goes on. It sounds like some demon dying, with car alarms going off in the background. Again, a Donald Duck noise, with some creepy ambience, which doesn't sound too bad by itself. But it's not by itself, you have some sniffing, and some electricity sounds, and the Donald Duck sound ends the fifth section. By now I wanted to turn it off, but I had to finish it. The final (thankfully) section, sounds like passing traffic, and someone trying to unlock their car, and it ends with a loud noise that sounds like a distorted burp.  I ripped this from the website that was selling it, for 15 cents, judging by the other reviews, that was too much. I nearly gagged from this horrible attempted ambience. Apart from the first 2-3 seconds of the fifth section, it sucks, completely. Overall I give  a 0.5/10 or a 5%. 1% for those 2-3 seconds, and 4% for him keeping a good spirit and ignoring the bad feedback and going strong."

And so it goes.  Wow, this stuff really does polarise opinion and almost universally negatively!

I don't want to labour the point, as surely the guy's had enough thrown at him already, but a quick Google of ZBT brings up another summary which I record below as a pretty representative viewpoint:

"With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown 'recorded through a trashcan on a boombox' aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band."

You will understand, therefore, why Nazgul has been eyeing this split release with some trepidation over the past few weeks!  However, the diary produced a few days with long enough stints in the car to merit popping this CD in the player for a few spins which, if nothing else, promised to provide suitably lively distraction on an otherwise uninteresting journey.  And, of course, with the added bonus of some Uruk Hai tracks to restore sanity at the end of the album.

So, brave pills ingested and speakers adjusted to suitable level, on we plough with Nazgul's first exposure to ZBT with lead-off track, 'Sadness' (if ever a song title was tempting fate....).  Driving down a quiet country lane with this CD about to play, Nazgul had his window wound down on what was a perfectly pleasant warm autumnal day.  Given all the hype around ZBT the very least I expected was for some diabolic noise to commence and immediately thereafter all surrounding vegetation to wither away and for small mammals to drop dead at the roadside.  How could anything less come to pass, given the online build up from the great unwashed?

Well, rather disappointing, let me tell you nothing of this nature happened, even remotely. True, a squirrel had a lucky escape as it bounded into the road ahead of me before thinking better of its suicidal crossing strategy, retreating to the verge pronto, but even I couldn't blame ZBT for that.  The songs - most unexpectedly - actually quite cool, with some punky black metal riffs and some admittedly odd melodies and structures combining to be relatively entertaining.  Of course, you may conclude Nazgul simply has atrocious taste in music in which case I invite you to take your coat and see yourself out!

Incidentally, Luc's wife (Flo Mertz) also has a dark ambient project of her own named Herz Tod, and made an appearance doing the vocals on the ultra rare Bonemachine release 'Dieu Du Tonnere'.  

Whilst I don't wish to sound like I'm damning with faint praise, it has to be said that I've willingly sat through repeated playbacks of ZBT's contribution to this split, and remain sound in mind and body.  Sure, it's not going to trouble the people who decide what gets played on the radio and it is raw and basic to the point of being something you feel you might be able to emulate yourself, given sufficient motivation and a few pints of strong beer.  But what the hell, Odium and our old chum Phil Knight also made a hell of a racket and committed it to tape every once in a while so Nazgul contends that one can get quite into primitive metal if you try hard enough.  I know bad music, trust me: I've endured Kenji Siratori after all, for God's sake....

And so on to Uruk Hai (or UH as I might now have to call them) for their contribution to this release.

Four songs, and a bit of a mixture of the old, the new and the revamped!  A quick recap shows that two of these songs are familiar to us: 'Of Beren & Luthien' was the fifth song on "The Dusk, The Dawn, The Earth, The Sun...", itself a previous WinterWolf CD release.  'Ringwraiths', you will remember, originally featured on Honour and Darkness in what was at the time an exclusive edition of only 2 (different) copies, and for which Spanish uber-fan Zigor contributed our musical review:

"As for the music, we will see that only one song is included in this release, the one that gives the title to the work. It is 13 minutes long and in it, we will find that is composed by some epic parts (with percussion, strings and winds) perfectly merged with parts with guitar and a dark voice. This whole gives an essence which perfectly fits the concept of the box, where the epic part can be related with the white and the guitar and voice parts can be related with the dark."

This is, by the way, a really good example of how Hugin uses music from extreme limited editions on subsequent mainstream format releases, so for all of you gnashing your teeth over the "Durin's Day" tape, be assured that that song will almost certainly pitch up on a CD at some future point.

That leaves us with two remaining tracks.  'Holy Metal' is the easiest of the two to tackle, not least as we've come across it before.  That song was on the Smell The Stench released "Gondor" CDr (you see how Nazgul's successive posts form a nicely linked narrative over time?  No extra charge), in an early instrumental-only guise, running at 11:30 in duration.  This version adds vocals, so is suitably revamped and rebooted.

A review of this particular song will follow in a future post, however, as there's rather an interesting and relevant tape release under which that honour will fall... 

Diving off at one of my usual tangents, I confess I had imagined that the Internet would be awash with songs or albums with the title 'Holy Metal', particularly given the rise of White Metal bands like Stryper et al in the late 80's, but curiously this proves not to be the case.  However, obscure American band Vaughn did call their 1984 12" single 'Holy Metal' though, and for that singular inspired reason gets his artwork shared below for you all to savour.  Similarities to the rest of Hugin's work diminish immediately, however, when we see that the title of the second song on their vinyl masterpiece is the distinctly un-Tolkien like 'Get Down Nancy' ...!

Nothing to do with Hugin, but both relevant and amusing nevertheless!
Which leaves us with only 'Northwards' to consider.  A very interesting track, starting off with some drums and guitar that aren't a million miles away from ZBT, at least not as much as you might have imagined the bands to be different.  It turns out that 'Northwards' is one of those songs where Hugin deploys his black metal rasp alongside a fuzzy guitar attack, and is not at all in keeping with the beautiful trills and keyboard parts of a song like 'Of Beren & Luthien'.  It certainly works well enough, sounding sinister and menacing as it worms its way into your brain.  I'm not at all sure who is moving northwards, nor for what purpose, but trust me - if they cross your path, let them by unchallenged!

It was inevitable that two of the most prolific sole artists' paths would finally cross on a split release: the obvious question really is not 'why?', but 'why did it take this long?'  As it happens, in this shadowy acronym filled abyss, it's something of a triumph that both ZBT and UH can come away not SHAT ON ('Should Have Abandoned The Original Notion') but PROUD ('Promising Release Of Undoubted Distinction')!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Smell The Stench promo flyers


Band: URUK HAI
Item: A set of promotional flyers from the Australian label Smell The Stench.  These advertise a series of CDr releases on that label, all from Uruk Hai, plus a couple of 3" releases.

Something different for your delight today.

These promotional flyers (described in the old school sense, I can't imagine they were ever printed up and stuck onto record shop windows or left to blow around the streets, but you never know) come from the weird and wonderful world of the Smell The Stench label, fronted by our old friend Leigh Stench.  Or, to his mother at least, Leigh Julian.

They show a range of limited edition releases exclusive to that label in 5" and 3" CDr format.  Some of these have featured in reviews in Honour and Darkness and some have yet to have that particular accolade, but it seemed like as good a time as any to gather them all together into one pungent STS related posting.

The first design (at the head of this post) shows 7 releases that the label issued in CDr format, with the subsequent 2 flyers showing the releases on the top row of this first 'card' in slightly more detail.  So, first things first, the 7 advertised albums of flyer 1 are: top row "Of Beren And Luthien"; "Welcome To Isengard"; "Follow The Wind"; "Gondor"; and on the bottom row "Rehearsal 2 (September-November 1999)"; "Rehearsal (October-November 1999)"; and "Destroyer".

And here are two separate promos for pairs of these releases, one with the Uruk Hai logo and the other with a warrior motif:


Finally, at the foot of today's post, we have the flyer for the reissue of "Destination: Hell" (thanks to Hugin for that one) plus one showing a brace of 3"CDr releases, namely "The Mighty Forest" and "Legends Of Fire And Death".

Let's pause for a second in consideration of the STS label.  It's been running since at least 2000 if the Discogs database is anything to go by, and the first of Hugin's releases seen at the label was in 2002, being Bonemachine's "Destination Hell" demo.  There are a total of 1,407 entries for the label on Discogs at today's date, which is a staggering number for a one-man concern operating out of private premises in Melbourne (the distinctly un-stenchy sounding Clematis Court in Meadow Heights!).

A quick trot through STS's extensive release catalogue identifies a host of releases associated with Hugin's bands, including such delights as:

B-Machina's 
  • "Prophecy Part 1"
  • "Prophecy Part 2"
  • "Burn Down Psychosis"

Bonemachine's 
  • "Destination: Hell" debut and subsequent reissue
  • "Soldat"
  • "Monolog & Rythmus"
  •  the split release "Bonemachine/Gruuthaagy"
  • "Rehearsal 2002-2004"
plus web hosting for the intenet only releases "Extraterrestrial Death" and "Jagdschauspiel"

Elisabetha's
  • "Nosferat" demo tape 

Hrefnesholt's
  • "Ranbentanz"
  • "Wolfsnacht"

Hrossharsgrani's
  • "Rehearsal 1999" demo tape
  • "The Long Grey Road" 3" CDr

ILL's
  • "s.t.r.a.n.g.e." demo

Uruk Hai's
  • "In Durin's Halls" tape
  • "The Barbarian"
  • "Gil-Galad"
  • "Battle Of The Southern Flame: Edition 2012"
  • "Valkyrian Romance"
  • "Dagor Dagorath"
  • "Long Before The Creation"
...plus the releases featured in the flyers above!

And there's also the compilation "The First Evil Spell" too, let's not forget!

How many of those have you collected...?

Truly one of the good guys, for it is labels like this with hard working supporters like Leigh that keeps bands like Uruk Hai and Bonemachine buoyant in the difficult early years of getting established.  

Good on ya, mate!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

DURIN'S DAY


...a quick word from our sponsors...!
Band: URUK HAI
Title: Durin's Day
Format: Cassette tape in colour cover released as the debut release of a new but excellent label Honour & Darkness, cat ref H&D01.  Similarities between this label's name and the blog you are reading are not coincidental...!  The inlays are signed in black by both Hugin and Nazgul.
Edition: Limited to 5 hand-numbered and hand-signed copies

Track Listing:
01. Durin's Day  11.35

Clearly you're not going to get an impartial and unbiased review of this wonderful release on a splendid new UK label.  Clearly not, as your humble Nazgul has been given the opportunity by Hugin to release this previously unheard song by Uruk Hai onto the wider world.

Hugin popped up a post on his Facebook page about this tape after I'd added to the Discogs listing for Uruk Hai, and it led to a few comments being placed about the merits of it being such a limited edition and the motives therein.  So let's deal with the background to this release, first and foremost.

The idea to put the tape out as a legitimate release was spawned in conversations between W.A.R. and Castle Nazgul well over a year ago, following the discovery in the fabled W.A.R. archives of the master CD for this song.  Quite who it was who suggested it be released as a limited edition tape release is lost to history (or, would require a lot of digging around in old emails which I'm sure you can appreciate may not add a lot to the narrative) and so the idea was borne.  

Hugin very kindly did the cover - in his scarily efficient manner it were done in record time and emailed across - and then the last time Hugin was in the UK on a visit he signed the printed versions, ready to be counter-signed by yours truly prior to release.

Now, you have to bear in mind a number of practical issues at work in all of this.  Firstly, Castle Nazgul isn't geared up to mass duplication of tapes, and a small edition was obviously the way forward.  The notion of only doing 5 copies I do seem to recall was mine, and was based on the following thought process: in all of the years that I've been collecting Hugin's work and supporting his art there have been one or two other die-hard fans in periodic contact with me who seemed obvious candidates to receive a little gift as an acknowledgement of their support for the maestro.  Hugin clearly would want a personal copy of the release, as would I, so that was 4 tapes geared up to be distributed as gifts.  So why not create a fifth copy (an edition of 5 seems somehow more rounded than 4, or 6 to my mind) and give the opportunity for one other crazy fan to join this elite club?

If that seems unfair on the wider audience, or somehow financially discriminating against lower income collectors, then I would offer up the following two mitigating factors:

(a)  Hugin still retains full copyright over the song.  If in the future he chooses to include it on another release, in another format or the same as this one, then that's his absolute right and prerogative.  The same applies for any online use of the song in the future.  We're not saying here that only 5 people in the world are ever going to get to hear it; what has happened is that an extreme collectible has been created and someone out there is going to own it.  Which leads us to the issue of money...

(b)  The cost and method of selling.  This is the plan - the tape has been added to the Discogs database already, and some of you clearly have followed Hugin's Facebook page link and had a look as there are 3 "want's" registered at today's date.  At a predetermined date nearer Christmas the fifth and final copy will have an price allocated to it, and can be bought (or bartered for via 'best offer') up until it's sold.  Yes, the intention is to make this quite a pricey item but I have the very best of motives for that: all income from the sale is to go to Hugin's two children.  Let's nip the arguments of profiteering in the bud, therefore, and make it absolutely clear that neither I nor Hugin will directly benefit from the money raised, and it all goes to a very worthy pair of lovely kids.

Now, I can't control future resale of the tape of course, and there is always the risk of someone paying for it with the intention of reselling it on eBay or somewhere although the market for making a huge profit is probably smaller than you'd imagine.  I can to a point control unauthorised duplication of it, mind you, which is why every copy bears the hand signature of both Hugin and Nazgul inside it, and has been hand-numbered in my utterly appalling writing (which doubles as a superb anti-counterfeiting aide!)  

So that's about it, really, and certainly all Nazgul is going to put forward on the matter for now otherwise it will all seem terribly defensive rather than terribly exciting!

Watch this space....

Saturday, 7 November 2015

LABYRINTH OF THE MIND


 


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE        
Title: Labyrinth Of The Mind
Format: A self-released mini-album on W.A.R. Productions (Austria) in April 2015, cat ref WAR 099. This comes in a dvd-size case with a single-sided colour inlay, and a plain white CDr disc.  It is a split release between COI and American project Onyx.  The artwork was designed by Hugin, as was the new Onyx band logo.  The track listing shown below is as printed on the inlay, although is not the actual running order (see text).
Edition: 300 unnumbered copies

Track Details (as printed):
01. Ceremony of Innocence  *  La Consturera  3.10
02. Onyx  *  Enchanted Rivers by the Forest  5.09
03. Ceremony of Innocence/Onyx  *  ZX7 vs. 007  6.28
04. Ceremony of Innocence  *  A Talisman  2.12
05. Onyx  *  Fabric of Love (for Kate)  5.26

Short and pithy.  That's the way with this Ceremony Of Innocence (COI) release from early 2015, which is in fact a split release with an ambient project familiar to us all, the American band Onyx.  As is almost always the case, aside from the commentary offered by Nick Diak (the lyricist and vocalist of COI) at the band's own website there is precisely no coverage of this release anywhere else on the web. Once again it's down to your old pal Nazgul to don his cape of judgement and install the batteries of justice into the torch of truth to shine the light of righteousness onto it [Sauron's note: 'stop this prevarication, Nazgul, and get on with it...'] as part of his ever-expanding narrative into all things relating to Hugin... .  

Ah yes, you'll notice that we're joined today by the all-seeing Editor-in-Chief Sauron, Necromancer and part time blogger, visiting Castle Nazgul for a random audit and quality control inspection...

Back to the matter at hand though, and let's briefly consider the nature of a labyrinth: clearly it's designed to be confusing, convoluted and impossible to follow your way around.  Which may give us an explanation - albeit a curious one - why the two COI tracks 'La Constuera' and 'A Talisman' are reversed in the actual running order, so in reality 'La Constuera' becomes track 4 and 'A Talisman' is lead-off track 1.  Aah, you won't catch Nazgul out that easily with your tricks fellas, oh no.  But let's go with what the lads intended, and start the review with track 4 and 'La Consturera' ('The Seamstress'), which unless I've lost the thread is tailor-made for unravelling ['and stop it with the seamstress based puns too...'].

Fortunately the efficiency of Mr Diak's website management means that at least the lyrics for the two unique COI songs - and their meaning and background - are already set down for Nazgul to shamelessly filch for this post.  I'm on my own for the pair of Onyx tracks, however, and then there's the collaborative track 'ZX7 vs. 007' which will need a little unpicking too ['ahem...!'].  

The lyrics to 'La Consturera' are as follows:

"En la cueva del grito
La oscuridad tiene voz
Te llama
Te canta
No la hagas caso
La costurera de la oscuridad te tendrá
Y nunca veras la luz de Nuevo"


which may leave you puzzled and offering forth little more than ¡Ay, Caramba! if you don't speaka-da-lingo.  Google Translate offers a fairly wonky looking English version of these lyrics, so let's bypass the specifics and see what young Nick has to say for himself about the song generally:

"La Consturera" is the ninth song written for Ceremony of Innocence, composed sometime in the summer of 2014.  It is a sequel to the song, "Fortuna y Gloria" and continues the adventures of the protagonist in that song.  In "Fortuna y Gloria", the hero was able to traverse a dangerous cave to get ahold of a treasure, and though he has claimed it, it seems the cave has more in store for him!  In this instance, we have a seamstress, one who creates darkness, and lures adventurers to their doom.

The poem is actually inspired by another poem about a Darkweaver, a creature found in the Planescape setting of Dungeons and Dragons.  I actually took the original poem, and modified it to fit a new mythos and translated it to Spanish to make it a continuation of the "Fortuna y Gloria" story.  Mario of the Spanish band Suverana helped to make sure I wasn't talking total nonsense.  I hope to actually do a few more Spanish songs, and keep the adventure going!"


Well, if Mario says it's ok then it's good with me.  The music for this one strongly brings to mind glow sticks and sweaty nights in Ibizan clubs (highly appropriate given the Spanish lyrics), and with only a small leap in imagination you could picture Nick hollering out, "I'm a Firestarter, twisted Firestarter" in full-on Prodigy mode to this score.  Extraordinary.

As with all recent COI songs, what is evident from the get-go is the lighter, synth/dream-pop feel to the music, which to be fair probably best complements Nick's rather particular style of vocals.  It would be an interesting experience to graft a sample of Nick's vocal performance onto, say, an early Hrossharsgrani track, if only to give him the needle and stitch him up ['Oi - Nazgul, I'm warning you, no more seamstress puns!'] but for the purpose of this track it works just fine.  Throughout all the compositions on this release, incidentally, both bands seem to evoke/dredge up melodies and riffs that linger in the mind and resurrect partial memories of new wave and 80's synth tracks from yesteryear.  More of that anon.

With an unfailing inevitability track two follows track four, and gives us Onyx's 'Enchanted Rivers By The Forest'.  Both Onyx songs open and close with sounds of nature, so the first thing that is required is a mental readjustment to a tranquil green space somewhere deep in your imagination.  The second thing that's required is a desperate lunge for the bathroom, triggered by an excessive sampling of tinkling water to create those enchanted rivers at the song's outset!  It all runs on pleasantly enough thereafter (the song, that is, just to be clear), entirely inoffensive and peaceful and ultimately very enjoyable.  The beginning does sound oddly reminiscent of the start of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" mind you, and as the song proceeds the keyboard/piano parts seem to share the base DNA of an Elton John song!  Very strange.  But, very pleasant.

And so to the collaborative track, 'ZX7 vs. 007'.  Now it's a little known fact - unless you Google it, whereupon it becomes a well evidenced fact - that the Diak/Brittany household (the latter being the better half of the former, as it were) is rather keen on James Bond.  I think it would be fair to surmise that the recent release of the new 'Spectre' film would have led to many frissons of excitement and more than a few moments of quivering anticipation.  This song, as you will have guessed, plays homage to the great spy both through the music (spot the multi part James Bond theme segues) and in the lyrics.  As Sauron is champing at the bit for some proper investigative research from your truly, let me quote to you from Michelle's online resume:

"Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar residing in Southern California and is the editor of 'James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy'. Michele is the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association's annual conference."

Well, who knew such a role existed as the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair!  One imagines such a chair might be rather perilous if fitted with the traditional Bond-esque ejector seat mind you ['right, that's it, final warning....no more puns, jokes or humour']

Huge fun, and possibly the most immediately accessible song on the disc, this is a fittingly blend of melodic tune and dramatic lyrics and draws influence in its short verse from the famous exchange in Ian Fleming's book between Mr Bond and Auric Goldfinger: 'James Bond: Do you expect me to talk? Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!'  Personally, whilst we have opportunity for a quick diversion, my particular favourite quotation from the book is where evil Auric meets James Bond for a second time in more suspicious circumstances than their first encounter and observes: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action'.  I live for an opportunity to use that one in the day job....

In an odd coincidence of our own, Michelle's aforementioned book ends with an afterword from none other than Trevor Sewell, the British blues musician who has a bit of form in Honour and Darkness as a result of his "Men Of Straw" release with Uruk Hai. What are the odds!?  Sewell muses about the impact James Bond and his iconic score had on his music, and in turn how he made some espionage/spy music himself. Strange how these little coincidences or synchronicities pop up in life...?

Trevor's contribution also helps to explain the enigmatic title of this song, 'ZX7 vs. 007'.  I think we all recognise the 007 code name for Mr Bond, but it turns out that ZX7  comes from Trevor's history with The Revillos: "Many years later I would record an instrumental with the band I was playing with at the time The Revillos for EMI Records in the U.K.  The track "ZX7" paid more than a passing nod to that great John Barry 007 arrangement.  It was then that I promised myself that one day I would compose a full album of instrumental and inflict it on the unsuspecting world."  Whether he did or not only will be revealed unto you only by buying the book, but if you're interested in hearing Trev in full flight then you could do worse than looking here.  

But let's drag ourselves back to "Labyrinth Of The Mind" and consider the first actual track on the album , 'A Talisman' (I do hope that you're keeping up with all this jumping around).  Not a cover of Iron Maiden's epic, as it turns out, but another construct of Nick's fevered imagination:
 
"Four tiny opals
A talisman
My medallion
 
The first stone has a sigil
That wards me from the beasts
 
The second stone stays me vigil
And malevolent incantations cease
 
The third stone is set with a rune
That warms me in winter's frost
 
The last stone points north and true
And ensures I'm never lost"

 
"The lyric for 'A Talisman' is the 8th lyrical composition," notes Nick, "and was written the night of 27 December 2013 but recorded, mixed and produced by Alex the morning of February 4th in 2014 using an instrumental Alex had composed in early 2013. Unlike songs like 'A Sign in Space' and 'The Turk', there is no historical or cultural inspiration for 'A Talisman', so it owes more to 'Fortuna y Gloria' as more of a catchy or fun song and more or less devoid of any covert meaning.
 
Quite simply put, 'A Talisman' is about a magical talisman/medallion/jewelery piece set with 4 opals, with each opal possessing a magical property. One opal provides protection from animals, the next wards off spells, the third protects against cold temperatures, and the final piece acts like a compass.  Basically, if you play any table-top role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, this would probably be an awesome item for your character to have.
 
The song was composed I the matter of a night after a burst of sudden clever inspiration hit me. I was out on a nightly walk listening to the Verney 1826 album "Ex Libris". Perhaps the neoclassical sounds put in a magical frame of mind. I was walking down a sidewalk and spied a utility box on the ground with a smashed rock on top of it fragmented into segments. I just stood there and looked at the rock when some of the phrases of the song started to pop into my head. I jotted notes on my iPhone, walked home and fleshed the rest of the song out real quick. So it's not exactly an in-depth or deep song, but I think it's catchy and has some rhymes. Perhaps it’s a nice slow appetiser of a song to start 2014 off with for Ceremony of Innocence."


Basically a gritty urban-themed update of the 1954 classic 'Three Coins In The Fountain', whereby it becomes 'Four Stones In A Utility Box' and magic stalks the land of Orange unbidden.

We end with a rather unexpected twist, in what appears to be a paean to true love by Onyx to a girl named Kate.  This might explain the curious noises heard at the start of the song (calm yourself, for they are not those sort of noises) as strange croaks or calls echo out from your stereo.  Perhaps these are the mating calls of whippoorwills at dusk, building into an emotional frenzy within a primitive forest of Lovecraftian aspect and portraying a mood of love and affection?  The song develops into a piano and synth piece, with a fragile little melody that would nicely complement an old music box and brings to mind the sort of tune that Lacrimosa used to knock out in the late 90's (though less 'circus-y' in style than theirs!)  The piece ends with the lulling sound of waves on a shore, and all becomes quiet as we fade to a close.

Of course, with Sauron breathing over my should Nazgul applied some due diligence and asked the mighty Hugin for his thoughts on the release.  He responded:

"It was born out of an idea from Onyx, Nick and myself to create a split with two songs each and a collaboration track. I created the artwork for it too, and the new Onyx logo as well. We have printed 300 copies of that release, 100 for each of us, and have shared the costs of the release between us.  More and more the COI sound changes - I don't know where the journey will take us..."

Rest assured, it's a journey we'll all be more than happy to follow with you to the bitter end!

Let us end today's rambling jaunt through COI and Onyx's complex labyrinth and finish with a final quotation, this one taken from the greatest Labyrinth of all....

"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!"

[right, that's it, you're fired!!!  Sauron]