Wednesday, 27 May 2015

...AND ALL THE MAGIC AND MIGHT HE BROUGHT - update III


Band: URUK HAI
Title: "...And All The Magic And Might He Brought..."
Item: Alternative artwork for the cover of Uruk Hai's magnum opus

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

For your delight today is an opportunity to see one early but abandoned plan for the cover for the epic Uruk Hai album, "...And All The Magic And Might He Brought...".

Now, it was only a month ago that we looked at the second, official version of this release courtesy of Fallen Angels Productions , so you'll probably be wondering where this other version comes into the story.  Well, quite simply it was an early concept that was painted by someone well known to Hugin, the man of a thousand tattoos, namely Markus Grabner, a tattoo artist from Linz.  You can check out his website you're after some ink for yourself.

Which does remind Nazgul to ask the loyal readers of Honour and Darkness to email him with some pictures should any of you be sporting tattoos of any Hugin-related band logos, album artwork or the like.  We could have a little post on the subject if there's anything out there worth seeing...?

Markus' picture is a world apart from the final artwork used on the original pressing, which is very 'dragon and fire' themed with a Middle-earth back cover image to boot.  The Fallen Angels version is quite different again, using classical imagery.  This version - all unicorns, swans and mermaids - is interesting but ultimately probably not quite the look that was needed for such an important album, which may have contributed to it not being used at the end of the day.  It is - perhaps - a little bit too 'Uruk Hai vs. My Little Pony' although to be fair it wasn't specifically created for this album, being an existing piece of art to which Hugin had added the border and lettering.

Symbolically one could read all manner of things into this artwork (although given it wasn't designed for the album, as we now know, we probably shouldn't!). By circa the 11th Century, the Valkyries as demi-goddesses of death had their legend conflated with the folklore motif of the swan maiden (young girls who are able to take on the form of a swan, sometimes as the result of a curse). In her role as swan-maiden, the Valkyrie could travel through air and through water, and the swan was popularly associated with the concept of augury/premonition.  Apparently, If one could capture and hold a swan maiden, or her feathered cloak, one could extract a wish from her.

The unicorn is both part of the world of nature and part of the world of dreams, and usually symbolises the spirit of purity and innocence.  As a general rule, Mermaids usually meant trouble to the people of Europe, and fishermen and sailors in particular. The presence of these odd creatures could mean a terrible storm was a-brewin’ at sea, or that your luck was about to change from good to bad, or that you were about to be taken down to the bottom of the sea to die.  

Read into that what you will....

On a very trivial note (read: pedantic) you'll notice too that the name of the album on this design uses the word "And" whilst the final two official pressings uses an ampersand "&" in the title.

Hugin recalls that another reason for the artwork falling by the wayside was that he only had a photo of it, which was of insufficient quality to expand into a quality final inlay booklet, with the original painting being too big to put in a scanner - a far more prosaic reason for an alternative design being sought!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

MORGOTH - update


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Morgoth
Format: A reissue on CDr by the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine), cat ref cut1133, released in July 2013.  It comes with colour covers in a DVD-size box.
Edition: 33 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Morgoth  59.15

The gestation of "Morgoth" is one not atypical in the Uruk Hai discography.  First appearing as part of the insanely limited promo-only "Orkstahl" package, it eventually appeared in it's own right as a commercial release courtesy of the Wulfrune Worxx tape pressing of 2009

Now (or rather, in 2013!) it was subject to a reissue on CDr format on the Depressive Illusions label, and resplendent in new artwork.  Thus a promo-only song became a fully fledged release through the intervention of multiple labels - it's business as usual, folks!

Previous Honour and Darkness posts have detailed the role that Morgoth - the 'Black Foe of the World' - had to play in The Silmarillion and Tolkien's other works.  Which then leaves us with potentially the shortest ever post in Honour and Darkness history, for when it comes to a detailed consideration of the music there's ... well, not an awful lot one can add to what's already been written.  

To give you an indication of Nazgul's predicament, let's first refresh our memory about what was previously written about it:

'It's one of those releases that you can play the first few times and thoroughly enjoy, yet not be able to recall much of it when the tape finally clicks off at the end of either side. Equally, and in contradiction to that last statement, it's also the sort of album that would be excellent heard through a pair of quality headphones late at night whilst in a more contemplative mood, with time on your side to analyse and focus upon it properly'


To put that into modern context, Nazgul undertook to revisit this album over the past week on his journey from Castle Nazgul to a favourite hunting ground, a journey time of some 30 minutes or so each way.  On the outward journey it was - quite literally - the sound of silence.  There is so much light ambient nuance for the first half of the piece that in a car - with other background road noise - it is almost impossible to discern anything going on at all.  

The return journey - and thus second half an hour of the music - offers limited musical pyrotechnics too, and it all plays out at a very low ebb.  Even sticking the volume on full blast led to very little of note being detected, particularly over the first half of the piece, and indeed this proved to be a disastrous strategy on one occasion when - straining to hear even a whisper of music above the tyre roar - an unexpected traffic announcement came booming out of the speakers, causing Nazgul to swear and swerve simultaneously.

All things considered, "Morgoth" does put Nazgul in mind of the famous quotation from WWI, in which war itself was described "'as long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement', which might sound rather damning but really is just a reflection of the quietly ambient nature of the thing.  Not, as it turns out, the best companion on an hour long car journey!

As ever Depressive Illusions have made a good fist of producing an attractive looking package, and the snowy design complements that of its companion piece "Balrog", which Nazgul reviewed in October last year.

'Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.'  Helen Keller

Sunday, 17 May 2015

...AND IN THE DARKNESS BIND THEM


Band: URUK HAI
Title: ...And In The Darkness Bind Them
Format: A proposed split CD release with Finnish band Valar, circa 2005. The colour artwork and inlays had all been designed but not released: the split was destined to appear in tape-only format on the AMF label renamed as "Enslaved In Evil Darkness".  An alternative tape version of the split (with different art and content) was also planned, on the Lifeless Productions (USA) label, but this too was unreleased.  
Edition: Neither CD nor tape version released

Proposed Track Listing (CD version):
Uruk Hai
'Enslaved In Evil Darkness'
01. Out Of The Shire
02. Dark (Are The Fires Of Mordor)
03. Underneath The Stars
04. Orc March

Valar
'To Whatever End'
01. Last Shore Falling
02. Deadwood Burning
03. The Wind From The Sea
04. At The Grey Havens

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

This previously unseen body of artwork helps ties together one of the more long-standing mysteries to plague Nazgul over the years spent collecting Hugin's work.  

But first, just to be clear, this post is NOT about the 6CD Uruk Hai box-set of the same name released by Fallen Angels Productions in 2012.  That compilation brought together a group of Ring-related demos from Uruk Hai into a nice box set which Nazgul has still not yet found the time to review that release here on Honour and Darkness, so confusion will doubtless reign as I now merrily reference you from that one as yet unreviewed box-set to a second version on CD that was never released, via a third tape version that is shrouded in mystery!  Oh well, keeps you on your toes I guess...


Anyway, let's get back to the story at hand and put to bed (finally!) the mystery of the tape.  For some time - and Nazgul is talking about 8 or 9 years now - there have been persistent rumours online that a split release between Uruk Hai and Valar that was called "...And In The Darkness Bind Them" existed.  Long and diligent searches in all of the usual haunts failed to turn up a physical copy of this item, although as the search went on it became clear that the references being made were to a 'bootleg' cassette tape release on the American Lifeless Productions label that (i) was supposedly released circa 2006, and (ii) in a limited edition of 100 copies.

I remember chatting to Hugin about this a couple of years ago, and what became clear is that had the Lifeless tape been issued it wouldn't really have been a bootleg at all as its development was well known to Hugin.  What seems to have scuppered it's actual release was the label going out of business (it is presumed) shortly before the tape could be produced.  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.  
However, fear not - Nazgul has actually got the artwork for that proposed release too, and it's existence (courtesy of the extensive W.A.R. archives) will be covered in a future post.  

What is interesting is that on the Uruk Hai side of the Lifeless "...And In The Darkness Bind Them" split (you'll have to squint hard, or just trust me on this) the fourth song is listed as 'Morgoth', which is different to the fourth track on the 'official but unreleased' CD version that Hugin had been planning.   And - if you really want the complete version of events - the actual final release "Enslaved In Evil Darkness" only ever had three songs on the Uruk Hai side anyway, so neither of the fourth songs made it to the official version.

It's time to call this mystery 'solved', and also give some credit back to Lifeless Productions who seem to have been tarnished with insinuations of being a 'bootleg' label when the truth is somewhat different.

All of which leads us back to the actual subject of today's post, namely the unused artwork for the proposed compact disc version of this split release.  An intriguing wooded path photograph makes up the cover art, and the inlays sport a profusion of runic script that you're more than welcome to translate should you be feeling energetic.  Some fine specimens of orcs adorn the covers too, and all in all it would have made for a striking release - more so, in fact, than the rather more subdued black and white artwork that accompanied the actual AMF Productions tape. 


The only physical evidence you'll find for this tape release is the inlay artwork reproduced below.  Nazgul apologies for the small picture, but that's the only copy I can find! 


The fourth song in the Uruk Hai track listing on the proposed CD is 'Orc-March', whose history and derivation was - you may recall - discussed within an earlier From The Vaults of W.A.R. review, namely "...Set Sail Upon The Deep Waters". Indeed, the other 3 songs from this demo were also due to feature on that one; a fairly typical situation in Hugin's ever-complicated discography!



The origin of the title "...And In The Darkness Bind Them" is Tolkien (did you imagine it was anything other?!) and is, of course, the last line in the formula inscribed on the One Ring:

"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all,
And in the darkness bind them"



It's also the title of a 2009 tribute album to Austrian black metal legends Summoning and in which a cover of 'Farewell' is sung by none other than Hildr Valkyrie, who by way of coincidence has also worked with Hugin on a number of Uruk Hai releases ("United" and "Lothlorien" to name but two) as well as proving vocals on the somewhat more obscure "Little Boy" release from Bonemachine.  

And in such quirks of fate are interesting connections between apparently different bands and releases made.


Friday, 15 May 2015

RINGWRAITHS

Zigor's version
Nazgul's version
Band: URUK HAI
Title: Ringwraiths
Format: Two bespoke versions of this release exist, created by Hugin for fans.  One is a CDr/tape box-set complete with many accessories, the second is a cassette-only version. Details of the format and content are in the narrative.  The box-set colour is predominantly white, the tape entirely black...
Edition: 1 copy only of each version

Track Listing (both copies):
01. Ringwaiths  13:13

So ... the back-story is this: back in March Nazgul covered the online compilation "Tales From The Catacombs Vol. 1", which contained the Uruk Hai song 'Ringwraiths'.  

Nazgul's succinct commentary on this track was as follows, 'After some subterranean sounding crashes and bangs, a choir of unhappy souls pipe up a dirge whilst sombre and melancholy musical misery abounds!  None of your tinkling bells and shimmering cascades of keyboards for this outing.  The song continues with an augmentation of male choirs, some cavernous percussion and then deep blasphemous vocals vaguely reminiscent of those of Spanish black metal band Lugburg, sans lisp.  Parping keyboards add a somewhat regal air, and in a nutshell there you have it.'

Well, I'd stand by that description, but what isn't going to be well known (or, indeed, known at all) is that there are actually two quite different and unique copies of "Ringwraiths" that exist as releases in their own right.  They were not commercially released, mind you: these copies are held by two of Hugin's most fanatical followers - Zigor, in Spain, who runs the Extreme Ambient website, and your favourite overlord of the dark domains, Nazgul.

Both releases are very different from one another.  Zigor's is an expansive box-set of goodies, for which most of the remainder of this post is dedicated to cataloguing and making sense of!  Nazgul's version is a small, black tape version, similarly bespoke and hand-crafted by our favourite Austrian.

So....before we get into a photo-fest of biblical scale, let us call upon Zigor for a few words of his own about his version of "Ringwraiths":

'Upon opening the box, you realise that by design, our dear friend Hugin has sought to give an importance to both the ring and the colour white. This can be confirmed after reviewing each and every one of the items included in the box (by far the biggest I own).  But it's after discovering the job title, Ringwraiths (related to dark), when we realise that everything is closely related to each other: the light (the white), the ring and darkness (Ringwraith). The design may seem simple, but I will say that I like it a lot and the black logo fits very well with the ring.

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.'


Wise words indeed.  And now you've had the thoughts of us both on the music, let us consider the individual elements within the two releases, starting with Zigor's gargantuan box-set:

Here is the actual box-set itself, from the outside:


And then within you have the following tantalising components:

CDr and tape versions
CDr cover


CDr rear cover

tape cover and cassette

Uruk Hai mug!

Photograph (taken in  Peru)

Mousemat

Key ring

Calendar
  And then some other interesting bits and pieces:





Bespoke t-shirt!

Calcite!

stickers
After all of that lot, Nazgul's version, by comparison, looks rather more modest - but is nonetheless awesome!


and that, as they say, is that!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

ZALGIRIO MUSIS - update II

The original artwork, conceived for Ravenclaw
The actual artwork, used on the split release
 Band: RAVENCLAW
Title: Zalgirio Musis
Reason for update: The original colour cover emerges from the darkness....

Back in May 2009 Nazgul's original review of "Zalgirio Musis" was published.  This was a formidable split release between Ravenclaw and Svarrogh, the latter a solo project Dimo Dimov, who himself was the occasional third band member of Ravenclaw, alongside Hugin and Ruslanas Danisevskis.

The artwork that was used on the final release (on Ruslanas' Atlantida label) was a brooding black and white affair; dark, menacing and shadowy.  As you'll see from the accompanying photograph, the Ravenclaw band logo appeared on the cover top left, with the Svarrogh logo to the bottom right.  So far, so normal.  This is, after all, the cover we've been used to for the last 6 years, apart that is from the unused tape artwork that appeared as entry #4 in the From Vaults Of W.A.R. series in September 2013.

However, as part of research for a forthcoming 'world exclusive' post (and you'll just have to wait to see what that is all about - tune back in at the end of June for more!), Nazgul was privileged to stumble across this different version of the cover, as originally conceived by artist Mike Schindler of the German Dragon Design studio.

As you'll have spotted, the most obvious difference is the colour - and what a difference a subtle wash of blue makes to the overall effect, giving the image a subtle luminosity that the official cover lacks.  Also notable is that the 'Zalgirio Musis' title is prominently displayed at the foot of the illustration, which was presumably removed after the release became a split album rather than a single Ravenclaw release.

A cracking discovery, and one that Nazgul is proud to have the opportunity to share with you all.  

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 5: Studded Wristbands, Gauntlets & Straps


The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 5
Items: Studded Wristbands, Gauntlets & Straps

A staple item in the wardrobe of any self-respecting metal-head, the studded wristband has transcended mere fashion accessory to become a very necessary piece of a modern musician's image and armour.


Whilst strictly speaking not a weapon, you'd not want to be belted around the ear by one of these, particularly the vicious looking nailed variant.  And - if you're reading this from the temperate climate of the American state of Massachusetts - your General Laws: Chapter 269, Section 10 considers such items to be illegal weapons, so their place in the W.A.R. armoury becomes vindicated! 


The items pictured throughout today's post are part of the enormous horde of apparel and items purchased from Hugin some years ago, and have been variously used as part of Hugin's wardrobe in photo shoots and publicity material over time.  Like many things in life, some of these things are significantly bigger than others, and range from forearm-covering bands through to smaller loops to cover boots.  The nailed wristband is a delight, and would cause suitable disquiet if worn to work in your average 9-5 job.  

Kerry King of Slayer popularised the nailed variety of gauntlet over the glory days of thrash metal, and whilst Hugin's version can't quite complete with the monstrous nature of that one, it's a step in the right direction. 


You can make your own versions of such things if you're of a creative bent (just remember not to scratch your nose whilst wearing them though), and even a rudimentary Internet search will reveal a multitude of styles and types, ranging from the ridiculous to the positively dangerous.  Hugin's are far more practical, and all the better for it.  

Taking a historical detour, as Nazgul is wont to do, distinct aspects of heavy metal fashion can be credited to various bands, but the band that takes the most credit for revolutionising the look was Judas Priest, primarily through its singer, Rob Halford. He wore a leather costume on stage as early as 1978 to coincide with the promotion for the Killing Machine album, and described the 'leather subculture' as the inspiration for this look. 



It wasn't long before other bands appropriated the leather look; Iron Maiden's original singer Paul Di'Anno began wearing leather jackets and was one of the early pioneers of studded bracelets, whilst Motörhead innovated with bullet belts, and Saxon (bless them) introduced spandex.  This fashion was particularly popular with followers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement and the studded leather look was extended in subsequent variations, to the wearing of combat boots, studded belts and bracelets, bullet belts, spiked gauntlets, etc. Oddly, however, the studded codpiece appears to have been less popular among the general public....