Saturday, 7 November 2015



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 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]

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