Saturday, 28 February 2009

ANOTHER TIME


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Another Time
Format: 3" CDr release on T'an! Kaven!! Ash!!! (Israel), released 31/10/2007 (ASH016)
Edition: Only 77 hand-numbered copies pressed, the first 7 of which came in a luxury wooden box with postcard insert, blue-coloured CDr, and "original vintage army metal badge, individual for each box." Copies 8-77 came in a small slim-line jewel case on red CDr.

Track Listing:

01. Die Weissen Tore Der Zeit
02. Take A Deep Breath
03. Time After Time

On the face of it a straightforward 3" CDr from Bonemachine, whose three tracks form an industrial journey across the bleakest of wastelands. Whilst not explicitly linked in a conceptual sense, the progression of the three tracks to me gives a sense of travelling across a war-ravaged industrial wasteland, from the outer fringes ('Die Weissen Tore Der Zeit' - 'The White Gates of Time') through harsher post-apocalyptic landscapes ('Take A Deep Breath') and finally into the pulsating mechanical heart of the adversary itself ('Time After Time').

Great packaging from the Israeli label T'an! Kaven!! Ash!!! too (a sub-label of The Eastern Front), whose modus operandi by the way is stated as being "an independent noise, experimental, industrial, avant-garde, power-electronics, ambient and related genres label, formed in 2006 and located in Tel-Aviv, Israel. The aim of the label is to produce unpopular and not always comfortable for listening music genres in small quantities on CD-R format."

There are only 77 of these CDr, most of which are the red colour version in small case (mine is #17 of the pressing). There are also a limited number of only 7 in a "luxury wooden box" format, which is beautifully laser-etched on the cover with the Bonemachine logo and resembles a book (the box slides opens on the spine). It houses a blue-coloured disc and large, colour insert, and let me tell you it took me an age to finally track one down in, of all places, Brazil! Through the wonders of the Internet this piece (#4) had gone from Israel to Brazil to finally find a home in England. My "vintage metal badge" is of a battleship, and I'm led to understand that the other 6 box-sets have their own individual badges. If you have one, and can tell me what it is of, I'd be delighted to hear from you....

Edit [12/05/09]: I noticed another photo of this release on the B-Machina MySpace pages, which Alex had received from the Eastern Front. This shows the badge to be "a Russian military ship with the russin red star on it" - 3 down, 4 to go....!

Pertinently the second track "Take A Deep Breath" was what I had to do when stumping up the cash to own this box-set - it wasn't cheap, that's all I'm saying!

I'm also very grateful to Alex as he took the trouble to dedicate in gold pen a tribute on the reverse of case to the 'standard' issue of this CDr, namely "War Hails To David! A.W." I'll say it again - a man who cares about people who is into his music.

An intriguing release, worth finding in the cheaper version if you enjoy a bit of full-on ambient industrialism. Not for all tastes though - play it for your girlfriend and she'll most likely look at you as if you'd tried to fart in her handbag. No matter though, we know what it's all about ;o)

UNITED


Band: URUK HAI
Title: United
Format: Cassette Tape only release on A.M.F. (Bulgaria), 2006 (AMF027), split tape with Italian ambient band Symbiosis
Edition: un-numbered pressing of only 500
Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
1. Hel (Intro)
2. Gates of Summer
3. Riders of Rohan
4. Into the Great Unknown
5. May It Be [Enya cover]
6. Mines of Moria (Outro)

Symbiosis
7. Travelling through Rivers & Woods of Memories
8. Still Alone in the Path of Life
9. In the Fields of Eternal Spring
10. Subliminal Instructions to the Void


As the inlay makes clear, "this is not a new demo - these are advance tracks for an upcoming album." And so on this basis another AMF cassette release sprung into life in 2006 as a split album with Italian ambient band Symbiosis. I'm making a decision not to detail the Symbiosis tracks in detail here, suffice to say I enjoyed their half of this release and if you like the genre you'll appreciate their material.

Later in 2006 Alex released the "Lothlorien" album, on which are contained a number of the tracks from this tape. The tape also saw the vocal contributions of Hildr Valkyrie who sings in the Folk/Viking Metal genres and has worked with other bands including Folkearth (with Alex and others).

The added female vocals give a different range to this album that transcends much of the previous Uruk Hai work. The Enya cover (the song was featured in the Lord of the Rings films, and thus ties into the Tolkien themes of much of Hugin's work) is a triumph, but so is the contribution to 'Hel' and to 'Riders of Rohan' - it gives the music an almost film-score element which adds to the credibility and to the content.

There are also some quality soothing ambient moments to this tape - I particularly liked the gentle lushness of 'Into The Great Unknown' with it's piano-led melodies being particularly good at summoning images of far-away forests and mountain ranges - and despite the AMF tag that this was not new material I for one obtained this before any of it was subsequently re-recorded for CD so it was all new to me when I enjoyed it!

The beginning of the definitive ethereal Uruk Hai experience ... a worthy release to track down

Friday, 27 February 2009

WOLFSNACHT


Band: HREFNESHOLT
Title: Wolfsnacht
Format: Cassette Tape only release on Smell The Stench (Australia), re-mastered from 2002 original release in 2006, no catalogue number
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of only 30 copies

Track Listing:

01. Wolfsnacht 20.27

Much like buses, you don't get a Blog from Nazgul for a few days then two turn up at the same time!

This is Hrefnesholt: yet another side-project from that prolific Austrian musician A.W. and something of an ambient/BM mixture seems to be the order of the day here. As far as I can ascertain the band name derives not from the works of Tolkien, but from another bastion of the literary canon, Beowulf:

"Hrefnesholt is a location in Beowulf where the Geatish King Hæþcyn had taken the Swedish queen. The Swedish king Ongenþeow arrived to save her and killed Hæþcyn. The Geatish force was, however, reinforced by Hygelac, whereupon the Swedes sought refuge in a hillfort, but were stormed by the Geats. Ongenþeow was killed and Hygelac became their new king."

Once again it's proving to be an educational blog entry!

I spoke briefly with both Alex and Leigh at 'Stench about this release, and it appears that this very limited edition tape was requested to be released by Smell The Stench in re-mastered format, to which Alex agreed as long as there were only a few made. And a few there are - only 30 to be exact, of which I have 2 (#16 and #26). Yes, having one-fifteenth of total production is somewhat greedy but hey, I'm a collector!

The track originally came from the 2001 self-released demo "Wolf" and as such is not a new Hrefnesholt track. That said, the remastered version runs to 20.27 from the original running time of 19.34 so you are looking at a slightly amended version here. The tape has a simple black & white cover with wolfen image, and is now pretty well sold out everywhere.

There hasn't been much Hrefnesholt material over the years (Metal Archive lists just 5 items and I've got more than that, so a full discography seems to be a requirement) so it's always a treat to have an item to review.

I like this track - always have from the 'Wolf' demo - and although my spoken German is non-existent I'm assured by Alex that the song concept is "the horror version of Little Red Riding Hood." This makes perfect sense - the song is constructed around a beginning and ending of spoken child's vocals, and some chilling effects in the middle!

Musically we kick off after the spoken piece with a simple acoustic guitar riff over a background of thunder, before a more ominous atmosphere is developed, mellowing to a keyboard/wind effect construct. As a long song - 20 minutes needs to hold one's attention after all - there is plenty going on in there to entertain: there's some violin (sometimes catchy a la Skyclad, sometimes more melancholic a la 1940s Basil Rathbone films), there's wolves howling in the background, there's mellow keyboards and ambient passages, there's BM-style vocals with frantic drumming, there's all sorts going on.

Sometimes this reminds me of Elisabetha, which given the original date of the song is probably not too far wide of the mark.

Would it be worth buying just for this track, when you could buy the entire 'Wolf' demo? Well, that's debatable. As both releases are as rare as hen's teeth then it might be a moot point anyway....grab the first one you can find, and enjoy!

THE BATTLE


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Battle
Format: CD on Drama Company (Spain), 2005 (no catalogue reference) and part of the compilation cassette tape "The Battle/A Viking's Journey" on A.M.F. (Bulgaria), AMF043, in 2006.
Edition: CD in unnumbered pressing of 1000, cassette in hand-numbered edition of 500

Track Listing:

Tape & CD edition
1. The Battle (Introduction to War)
2. Calm After Storm (Blood on the Battlefield)
3. Thunderpower (Praying to the Gods of War)
4. Poem to the Dead (Remember the Fallen Heroes)
5. Icy Winds Over the Battlefield (The Dead Become Einherjer)
6. Strength and Honour (Preparing for Battle)
7. Rabensang (The Blackwinged Messengers)
8. And the Battle Continue (Only War is Real)
9. The Secret of Steel (The Price of Each Battle)

CD bonus track
10. Black Mountains River (Midgard Warriors Pt.2)

I recall buying this CD, pointedly titled "The Battle", and thinking to myself "well, we're in for some pagan battle music here with plenty of samples, blood and guts drumming, vocal overkill and the works." Or some euphemistic thoughts on a similar vein.

What this album delivers is very different - possibly the most laid-back and serene album that Alex had put his name to as Uruk Hai at this point. It must have been a bit confusing for any newbies buying the album on the basis of the title, expecting a mix of gung-ho epic swordplay mixed with a bit of black metal!

Despite the powerful descriptive names of some of the tracks - and you can't tell me that "Thunderpower" and "The Secret of Steel" would lead you to assume some ethereal noodling would follow - this is very piano-based, ambient music. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's what the man specialises in after all, but it came rather against expectations for this release and as a result it didn't gel with me first time around.

Over time, of course, you can play it in context and enjoy it for what it is - and what it is is a heavy-on-the-keyboard (both synth and piano) journey across far-flung battle fields after most of the blood-letting has occured and the victors have long left.

A wiser man than I once commented in Metal Archive in respect of another Uruk Hai release:

"...Ambient music is a difficult kind of music, it can be listened only in particular moments, or can be played as a ‘background’. There aren’t other ways to enjoy it; you can’t listen to an ambient album and expect to have fun or whistle along the melody or do headbanging as you can do with a power metal work or Motorhead. You must be in a special kind of mood, have the will to use your imagination intensively and for long minutes, and nothing less of that; or you can put it as a background and let it create an atmosphere for the room you are in..."

and this album proves the fact perfectly. I could imagine many people might buy it, listen to it once (maybe twice if they were keen) but conclude thereafter that there was nothing to hum, nothing to whistle, nothing to drag them back to the music. I sit on the fence a bit with this CD, as to an extent it does wash over you unless you are prepared to purposely set aside an hour, sit and actually listen to the pieces and let your imagination do the hard work. In these days of high pressure jobs and limited time to relax, not always the easiest thing to do, and I'm just as guilty for not finding quality time as the next guy.

But give it a go: it's a good album when listening to in the way intended....

A word on the bonus track - I'm of the opinion that the final actual track "The Secret Of Steel" must be very short and the bonus track tacked onto the end of it as track 9 on the CD, as my disc plays up to track 88 (!) yet there is no additional music between tracks 10-88 before it loops to track 1 again. Most odd.

I will cover the tape pressing of this release as a separate blog, in case you're wondering where the picture and other details are...!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

EXTRATERRESTRIAL DEATH


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Extraterrestrial Death
Format: Free Internet download, from http://www.smellthestench.net/ (Australia), cat STS NET 002, released 2006
Edition: Unlimited free distribution

Track Listing:
01. Darth Vader (cover) 0:44
02. Lost In Space 10:24
03. Tempus Fugit 4:02
04. Galactic Empire 5:24

Something of a bonus this - a Bonemachine release that exists in more than a miniscule number of copies! In fact, a free Internet-only download release from the Australian Smell The Stench label (point your browser towards http://www.smellthestench.net/ and look for their internet label link, then scroll down to release #002) with .mp3 music and .jepg artwork files free to all.

Regular followers of this Blog will have seen my previous comments regarding the scarcity of some of Alex's releases - well, this is one that you can freely access, download and play so there is no excuse for not experiencing some of this great music.

Essentially a 4 track CD single, this is a rather good release as it gives some space (if you pardon the pun) and freedom for Alex to develop the Bonemachine sound away from it's fairly harsh industrial heartland to a more open, universal feel. An interesting development, and one that I'd encourage all fans to get their ears around.

The opening track is a simple synth cover of the Darth Vader entrance theme music from Star Wars, which is on one hand so simple as to be almost naive but also manages to be eccentric and charming at the same time! The principal track "Lost In Space" manages to get through its ten plus minutes without a single sample from the film/tv programme of the same name, and is in fact a rather excellent piece of music. On the first few play-throughs it reminded me strongly of the sort of music you find on the 'Trainspotting' film score - it's danceable, energetic, memorable and very 90's electronica in nature. For hardcore fans of old-school Bonemachine it would represent something of a shock, I'd wager....

In a curious reversal of theme the final track "Galactic Empire" features a recurring 'ticking clock' sample motif that you'd imagine would be more appropriate for third track 'Tempus Fugit' but what the heck. Both songs are again very listenable and great background music - 'Tempus Fugit' features some homage to the more industrial heritage of the band - and I can happily have the whole of this CD EP playing on loop whilst busying myself with other tasks without switching off from the music.

For a free download, something of a triumph. It's a nice touch to put with the music some quality artwork too, as you can relatively easily produce your own burned CD copy as illustrated. Well done Leigh at 'Stench, and well done Alex too for the music.

A winner!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

THE SECRET FIRE


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: The Secret Fire
Format: Compact Disc, released 2001 by CCP Records (Austria), cat ref CCP 100224-2
Edition: First edition was limited to 1000 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

1. The Secret Fire 06:26
2. Luthien 02:50
3. Flesh and Steel 06:35
4. Dragonmagic 08:16
5. ... Where the Shadows Lie 06:59
6. A Dark Force (Shines Golden) 02:57
7. The Fireblade 08:03
8. Galadriel 06:30

Recorded in 2001 with a three piece, featuring Hugin, Fylgja (female vocals) and Munin.

Based on "The Silmarillion" and "The Lord Of The Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien in its concept, this album from Hrossharsgrani moved the band firmly into a territory of bombastic, epic songs which at times remind me strongly of Bal-Sagoth from the UK and Summoning (Austria) in their pacing and melody.

This is a good thing!

Sometimes criticised online for being a collection of samples and story-led narration with only a couple of good songs, I'd confidently say "pah" to all of them and invite you to listen to this with open ears and a clear mind. There are some rollicking tracks on here, full of catchy melodies and an epic, almost power metal-ish feel. "Flesh and Steel" and "The Fireblade" are worth the price of admission alone, and "Galadriel" is a good listen too. "Dragonmagic" has an almost Russian feel about the introduction musically, and as a whole the album is sufficiently varied to keep your interest throughout.

A word about the narration - both Hugin's own narrative and that of Fylgja are accented (well they would be, as they're not singing in their native language) and this too has caused merriment amongst online critics. Well, I'd like to wager anyone trying to sing/speak as distinct, multiple characters in a second language might find it hard (before you criticise, try reciting a piece of Tolkien in, say, Swahili and see how you think a local might find it) and to a certain extent the European accent gives the piece a Middle-Earth charm that you might not find on, say, a mid-western twang. My only minor gripe is that the voice of Bilbo Baggins in "A dark force (shines golden)" is too whiny to fit the character as I'd imagined.

All things considered, I've been living with this CD in my car stereo on the way to and from work this week (enough time for a play through once each way) and I really like it. For some odd reason in the back of my mind before I revisited the album I had a mental note that it was a struggle to get through ... I'm happy to report that nothing of the kind is the case!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

FIRST BATTLE



Band: MANWE
Title: First Battle
Format: Cassette tape and CDr, both released on De Profundis (Ukraine), 2005 (Npax005)
Edition: Tape limited to hand-numbered edition of 222, CDr hand-numbered edition of 50
Track Listing:
01. Elfcrusher
02. Winterheart
03. Ode To The Hobbits
04. Orc Dawn

This project was a collaboration between Hugin and Padre Adamo that produced this one demo in 2005. Alex, per the credits, is responsible for the instruments and fx, Padre Adamo for the vocals and lyrics. For the record, my tape is edition #028 and the CDr is numbered #033.

Following the Tolkein theme of earlier work from Hugin, MANWE was named for "Manwe, the King of the Valar, husband of Varda Elentári, brother of the Dark Lord Melkor, and King of Arda. He was first mentioned in The Silmarillion and lived atop Mount Taniquetil, the highest mountain of the world, in the halls of Ilmarin. The winds and airs were his servants, and he was lord of air, wind, and clouds in Arda. He was the noblest and greatest in authority, but not in power, of the Aratar and Ainur."

A powerful and atmospheric demo, recounted in harsh, spoken-word vocals (in English) from the first-person (if you pardon the pun) perspective of an Orc - most likely a war-torn cynical veteran with the ills of the world on his shoulders and the bitter loathing of the fair races as the core of his soul.

All combines effortlessly into a very listenable piece of music - never descending into trite BM or fantasy-land nonsense but transcending the potential pitfalls of both genres to produce an intelligent and well-crafted demo that is redolent in atmosphere and refreshing original in lyrical viewpoint.

I was fortunate enough in putting this entry together to make contact with Padre Adamo himself, and am thus privileged to share some of his thoughts with you about both this demo and working with Alex in general.

Q1) How did you and Alex come together for the project? Was this your first collaboration, and were there others

A1) Alex and I worked together with the Dragon's Breath Records label before we started the MANWE project. He was a huge help in starting my label. He was able to assist me with artwork and all kinds of advice on how certain things should be done. We had some amazing ideas for Uruk-Hai releases and others that unfortunately never saw the light of day.

Q2) How did the songs get written - did you write/compose separately, or did you have lyrics already written to which the music was added, etc?

A2) I based the songs on a central theme that I wanted to convey and I started from that point. I always wrote the music first and Alex would come up with a vision for the song title and it would just from there! We had great chemistry in that respect.

Q3) My interpretation of the songs is as written from an orc-ish perspective - is this correct?

A3) This is absolutely correct. The songs for the demo were supposed to be from an Orc-ish perspective. I wanted the themes to be similar from the old Hobbit cartoon movie. I really enjoyed the music to that and wanted to portray a mix of the way that was done with Alex's amazing music style. I think the vocals and Alex's music allowed us to see that vision of what we wanted. I really like concept albums and that is what I believe we were both after. I think we succeeded with the demo 'First Battle.'

Q4) Actually, building on that, I don't suppose you have a copy of the song lyrics that you might be able to let me have?!

A4) I do have all of the songs I wrote for the project which total to over about 30 songs. However, I would rather save them in-case the project ever gets resurrected! I don't have the material protected so I would rather wait to see if it ever sees the light of day. I do apologize!

Q5) From what you say it sounds like you have a lot of written lyrics that were capable of being used for other songs. Linking that to Q2, was that because you anticipated more MANWE demos being made, or because you are a natural writer anyway and used some of your past work for the project?

A5) Alex and I had great hopes for MANWE. I think for the demo it was amazing. It was the first time I had ever did vocals of that nature for anything! I'm not a natural writer at all but I do love writing lyrics. It is a true passion of mine to write songs based around themes that I find fascinating. I try not to reuse lyrics - but if I'm stuck, I will to keep the flow of the song. However, I tend to write my lyrics as stories, not as songs and I think that's why me and Alex fit so well.

Q6) A cheeky question - the vocals sound suitably 'gruff' but also sound a little Irish-American in accent to my ears! Have I got your nationality totally wrong?!

A6) I will be honest with you - the microphone that I used to record the lyrics was really bad. I had no experience in 'cleaning' it up but I did my best and Alex did what he could to help with it. Yes, I can understand how I sound Irish-American. However, I'm actually Native American Indian mostly. I grew up in an Irish/Italian neighborhood and I tend to have that 'sound' to my voice. I'm surprised you heard it with that terrible microphone I had! haha!

Q7) A final question - are there any comments or thoughts you'd like me to reflect from your side of the project ?

A7) There are very few people on this earth that you can call your friend. Alex was not only a great friend of mine - even though we never met in person - he is also a great musician and I will always be a fan of his music. He has an amazing family too! The MANWE project was a reflection of that friendship. It was a true dedication to honour and respect. It was one of the best experiences I had in my life and would very much like to get back in-touch with Alex to continue what we started. I have put the Dragon's Breath Records label behind me. It was a great learning experience and it taught me a lot with the business side of the music industry. I hope that for those people that have listened to the MANWE project can close their eyes and escape from this world for just a little while. That was the purpose of the project from the start. I really do appreciate you getting in-touch with me. I haven't heard anything regarding the MANWE project in years and this was a pleasant surprise. Cheers!

A really nice guy, and my thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

This is still available in some distros around the world, so I'd recommend unhesitatingly that you seek one out immediately. And who knows, in time perhaps a "Second Battle" might be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world....I for one hope so.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

BURN DOWN PSYCHOSIS



Band: B-MACHINA
Title: Burn Down Psychosis
Format: 3" CDr, released on Smell The Stench (Australia) 2007(?)
Edition: Hand-numbered pressing of only 15

Track Listing:
01. March!
02. Flight 19
19. Hidden Track

Sometimes less is more...

This is a circa 20 minute CDr release from B-MACHINA containing but 3 tracks, all of which are really good! We kick off with 'March!', with a machine-generated heavy rhythm developing over the first few minutes of the piece before a familiar sampled melody appears after 3 or so minutes...yes, it's that famous 'fanfare' introduction from "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" (a paranormal investigation programme of the 1980's). That brought back a few memories I can tell you, and given the nature of the second track establishes us on something of a paranormal theme.

'Flight 19' commences with a steady drum-based rhythm soon to be overlain with a radio re-enactment of the tranmissions of the infamous lost Flight 19...at 1410 hours, the afternoon of 5 December, 1945, U.S. Naval Flight 19, consisting of five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers with a total of 14 men aboard, left the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on an authorized advanced over water navigational training flight and disappeared without a trace. Until the late 1960's , this was just another unfortunate case of some missing planes. Since the late 60's, this case has become one of the key incidents that people point to as a proof that something strange is going on in an area dubbed as "The Bermuda Triangle." Flight 19 even figured the the start of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," in which first the planes and then the men were returned by the alien visitors.

A very well constructed track, which after 4 minutes or so is swamped with an eerie synthesiser and thunder-like background drumming: have aliens descended, are we in a magnestic storm, has the Triangle claimed another group of victims....you decide! The pilot voices fade away as the anomaly progresses, and all is finally lost.

At track 19 is a hidden track, which I must admit I only found after the first few plays of this CD. And knock me down, it just might be one of the grooviest B-Machina tracks I've heard. Synths and guitar (electric and acoustic) make for a very funky little piece, bags of energy and actually quite danceable. I've no idea what this track is called as it's unlisted, but hopefully our man Alex can clear that up in due course. A really nice surprise to finish things off with. Edit: Alex has just emailed to say that this track never really had a title, but was made under the working-title "Bone-Pop1"

Of course, as is always the way the extreme limited release of the CDr is the biggest problem to actually hearing this music - 15 copies (and I was lucky to grab the very last, #015) is never going to find a widespread audience but the trouble is the fans too may well miss out. Nirvana for collectors, a nightmare for music-lovers!

Overall, a quality release and one that I'd urge you to track down somehow!

BARBARIANS





Band: URUK HAI
Title: Barbarians (Orcish Battle Hymns Part II)
Format: Picture-disc red CD on Eisenwald Tonschmiede (Germany), EW003, and cassette tape on AMF/Pagankrieg (Bulgaria), AMF021/Pagan02, both released in 2004
Edition: CD in hand-numbered pressing of 222, cassette believed to be unlimited

Track Listing:

CD and Tape both contain:
1. Awaken the Dragon 03:11
2. Deep Dark Forest (In Fangorn) 02:48
3. Mithrandir 05:30
4. Kampf Und Krieg 03:36
5. Battle-Signs 02:46
6. Gollum 02:28
7. Thousand Lightnings Strike 02:43
8. Menegroth (Was Einst So Glorreikh War) 02:46
9. The Unknown (Re-Mastered) 05:29
10. Durins Halls (Re-Mastered) 05:19
11. Dark Riders (Rehearsal) 05:44

Tape adds the following bonus tracks on Side B:
12. Varg-Riders (rare track 2002)
13. Eternity (advance track 2005)
14. Battle-Magic (rare track 2002)
15. Shadow of the Orcs (new mix 2005)
16. May it be ( Enya cover 2005)

Firstly a word about the formats: the CD comes with a nice colour fold-out inlay that effectively turns into a double-sided A5 'poster', is hand-numbered in silver pen (mine is #140), and the disc itself has a nice picture cover (the same picture as on the 'Songs From The Woods' demo tape) and is red in colour on the playing side, a nice touch for a blood-tinged Barbarians theme. The tape, with different art on a b&w inlay, features no less than 5 bonus tracks on Side B (including 2 songs - 'Varg Riders' and 'Battle Magic' - which formed part of the super-rare 3 track 'Battle Magic' demo tape on Werwolf limited to just 22 pieces), making it something of a must-have for fans!

Uruk-Hai at this stage has developed into the more ambient keyboard-dominated band that we know and love, distinct from the Hrossharsgrani hard-edged BM influences that were present on some of the earlier demos. To that end, the tracks on this release are mostly percussion and synth driven, with some spoken word vocals, some use of samples, and a healthy smattering of brooding, dark tracks reflecting the subject matter.

There are some nice moments across the album - the children's choir that makes an unexpected part of 'Mithrandir' in a pseudo-Jerusalem chorus is nothing short of inspirational, the furtive whisperings on 'Gollum' and the background howling entities on 'Varg Riders' being three good examples. My problem with this album, however, is that despite it being a pleasant listen whilst in progress it's really hard to find anything that particularly sticks in your memory once you've left it for half an hour or so. To that extent, it's the sort of an album you can have playing in the background whilst doing other things but not the sort that you're going to be whistling on your way to work some days later ('Mithrandir' being the one exception).

So is it worth tracking down? - Well yes, it is: there are plenty of quality moments on it and you'll enjoy the journey through the music. The tape bonus tracks are definitely worth having as the Battle Magic demo is virtually impossible to find anywhere so to have those is certainly a good thing. The standard of presentation and production also makes this a worthy additional to the Uruk Hai canon.

Friday, 13 February 2009

DURST NACH UNSTERBLICHKEIT


Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Durst Nach Unsterblichkeit ("Thirst For Everlasting Life")
Format: Cassette tape with full colour inlay and separate lyric sheet, self-produced in 2000
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of just 100

Track Listing:
01. Intro (Elisabetha) 5.35
02. Brief Dracula's An Jonathan Harker 5.16
03. Karpaten - Isten Szek! 13.13
04. Outro (Ankunft Harker's Auf Schloss Dracula) 7.21

Outstanding. This is simply an outstanding creation, but more of that anon. Let us first explore the band Elisabetha a little, and see what made it tick.

Firstly, this was a collaborative effort for Alex - credits are shown as Blutgraf Gha´agsheblah (song concept, bass, vocals, layout, and samples) & Graf Alexander Zu Sankt Magdalena (guitars, synthesizers, vocals, and samples). This self-produced demo saw the light of day in 2000 and rather than being music per se it was, according to the band's own web-site (the only one I've found) at http://www.brutalism.com/elisabetha.html "the first part of a series of Vampyre radio plays, recorded to [further] the bloody heritage of Lord Byron and Bram Stoker. The story tells about the bloody and weird adventures Jonathan Harker lived to see in Siebenbürgen....."

The purpose of the band is described as "an attempt to adapt – taking into account Black-Metallic elements – the phantastic literature of the 19th century with [modern] musical theatre…" and up until the move away from the vampyristic BM to more neo-classical music later in the band's history this held true.

Much of this release is spoken word (in German) and is presented in the form of a radio play, exactly as described above. And let me tell you this: although I don't speak a word of German it's still a most gripping and enjoyable recording, made possible by the atmosphere created by the incidental music, the detailed samples used to further the plot (you effectively know most of what's going on, or at least seem to, from these) and the occasional snatches of music, which are performed in a loose BM style.

As a listening experience, it's wonderful. What could have become a very cheesy sub-school play production is elevated to a glossy, professional affair that is superbly paced and put together. For a self-produced demo, it is really well presented and the additional lyric sheet (think of it as your concert programme) is a nice touch - especially with Nosferatu lurking in the shadows in the background.

With only 100 of these having been made you get the feeling that the world has missed out on something rather special here. My copy - number 031 - is one of the more cherished items from the Elisabetha items in my collection.

Edit: Alex has also helpfully pointed me towards www.myspace.com/elisabethaband so check that out too!

SOLAR-FIRE


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Solar-Fire
Format: 1 track promo CDr in colour paper sleeve, no catalogue reference, inside is a black envelope with red promo flyer sheet.
Edition: Unique promo - only 1 existing

Track Listing:
01. Solar-Fire 13.42

The modus operandi of this particular side-project is, according to the band's MySpace pages, as follows:

"COI was founded by A.W. in Spring 2007 - with this project A.W. try to create something unique, a crossover between 80´s pop music and nowadays neo classical music."

Formally the band's first release was the web-single "Ich tauche tiefer" and this one-off promo release post-dates that. Alex has kindly reminded me that this was a unique one-track CDr created for me, so forms a unique part of the collection. Incidentally, the red flyer notes "feel free to get in touch about the possible release of C.O.I.'s debut album."

Interestingly the cover of the paper sleeve refers to this release as "Fire", whereas the red flyer refers to "Solar-Fire", the track title.

In terms of influences, the MySpace site goes on to cite bands such as OMD, Penitent, DAF, J.M. Jarre, Yello, Ultravox, Elend and Laibach. Now this is alright with me - being of an age where I remember clearly how new and fresh Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric" sounded when it first came out, and being a fan at school of Ultravox, Visage and OMD these influences sound just fine and dandy where I'm concerned. Nothing wrong with having an eclectic taste in your music, and better to create a new project to explore it than confuse old-school fans of, say, Hrossharsgrani by going all electro-pop on them.

So, what of "Solar-Fire"? Well, I like it! It starts with a quiet, swirling keyboard passage that would fit quite neatly on an Uruk-Hai track, so not a complete shock to the system to begin with. This fades into a second passage of light synths before a piano piece commences, forming a nice melody that leads into the song proper. Quite an ethereal atmosphere to this song, with haunting 'chants' in the background and then a development of the piano melody that fits into the 'neo-classical' intentions rather well. Very easy to listen to, and guaranteed not to scare granny....

The end of the piece is rather cool too, with strings coming in to create an upbeat melody over the synths, culminating in a rhythmic drum beat and 'bell' sound crescendo - reminding me a little of something Ultravox might have done circa "Rage In Eden" period.

As a taster of the new project - a winner!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

DIE WITH YOUR BOOTS ON




Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Die With Your Boots On
Format: CDr and C20 cassette tape split albums with Atläs
Released: 2007 by Elite Tapes (Canada), both catalogue reference ELT-010
Edition: CDr in unnumbered edition of 25 only, tape in hand-numbered edition of 18 only

Track Listing:

01. Bonemachine
02. Atläs

Both of my copies of this release were obtained directly from Alex, and he was kind enough to autograph and dedicate both to me in gold pen. The tape is #10 of #18 in the Elite Tapes pressing. Elite Tapes primarily exists to promote the works of ambient noise group Atläs, and much of their output is exclusive Atlas material or split releases with other bands released in miniscule numbers.

A difficult release to critique, this one. Both tracks are essentially ambient noise - the Bonemachine track is the more consistent of the two in terms of structure and content, the Atläs track having more variety but in my opinion being a little more disjointed because of it. Both tracks are pretty short too, with the running time of both tracks being around the 20 minute mark.

For such an obsure release I was surprised to find another review of it online, at the MySpace site of Noisear. It reads as follows:

"A very short split between two great industrial/noise artists, which is also available as a C20 tape. Each artists presents one short track and they're both fairly similar and along the more experimental side than just noise. The Bonemachine track, at 10 minutes even, is a very low and depressing wall that builds and fades with intensity as the track moves on. Reminds me a lot of machine works in a David Lynch film or something. Bonemachine is a new artist to me but he's appeared on CD's and 7" vinyl albums using other alias as well so I hope to find more of his stuff in the future. The Atläs track is the better one on here, I think. It has more texture and some good musical sounding elements, all-the-while being really creepy. Again, I have to refer this guys music to sounding like old Dead Voices On Air and I love it a lot. It sounds like it was recorded in one take with no edits as well and that impresses me a lot. A good split for sure, but really short…more please!"

Not the sort of album you'd pop on for a casual listen, it fulfils its purpose as an exercise in industrial ambience well enough and is a pleasant - if somewhat unmemorable - listen if you get the chance to do so. Again, however, the limited number of units available of both versions makes that a bit of a task in itself.

DER RING DER MACHT



Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Der Ring Der Macht
Format: Cassette tape-only demo released in 2000 by Chanteloup Creations (France), cat AWE 31.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 100 copies only

Track Listing:

Side A
1. Durch folde und fenmark 08:32
2. In hollow halls 06:56
3. Mettanye 07:15
4. Am stein von erech 06:47
5. Regunglose leidenschaft 02:00

Side B
6. The durinsday 12:20
7. The final battle 04:43
8. Fleischeslust 02:51
9. In tiefster finsternis 06:49

Firstly, the band name: Hrossharsgrani. Not a word that trips off the tongue (unless you're of Viking decent, presumably) but a significant name for all that:

"Vikar and his men landed on an island to rest. When time to leave had come, there was no wind and the warriors had to wait day after day for the opportunity to head for the open sea. Finally they only knew a one last solution in their desperate situation. They promised Odin a human sacrifice. The rolled the dice - and fate chose Vikar! All men were embarrassed and decided to wait for the next morning in order to discuss what had to be done. In the night Starkad was waked and before him stood HROSSHARSGRANI a man, who once saved his life. He asked Starkad to follow him and on his little boat the rowed to a small piece of land just before the island. They went in a little wood where everything was prepared for a Thing. Twelve chairs stood there, eleven were occupied, the twelfth was empty. HROSSHARSGRANI sat down on this twelfth seat and all the people greeted him as Odin, so Starkad knew at once, who brought him here."

History lesson out of the way (never say you learn nothing in my Blogs!) let's move on to this 2000 demo from Hugin's one-man 'Battle Machine", which was another very limited release (my copy is #029 of the 100 made) this time released by the French Chanteloup Productions.

Early demos from this band are a real swine to find, and this one popped out on eBay a few years ago to my great delight. And well worth the purchase it was too. Throughout all of the tracks there are some common elements - use of harsh, German spoken word vocals in a BM style, the use of light female choirs and spoken word female vocals in English, simple and repeated keyboard refrains, bludgeoning drumming (not blastbeats, varied tempo) and sampled sound effects.

All in all, it generally works and there are some very good moments on this release. The first 2 tracks combine most of the elements described into a pair of atmospheric tracks, before the third song "Mettanye" weaves itself into being quite the catchy tune with a mellow keyboard opening giving way to a riff reminiscent of 'three blind mice' over which some furious drumming and vocals take precedent. "Am Stein Von Erech" (at the stone of Erech) has a church-like opening with organ and bell and a nice gunshot effect punctuating the melody, and is interesting as it contains a few seconds of trumpet fanfare that later resurfaces at the start of the "Gondolin Falls" track from the 2004 'Honour' release from Uruk Hai.

The final track on side A amused me too, as it's only 2.00 in length and begins with a nice piano part, so it's going to be a mellow instrumental to end the side, you think....but oh no: 3 seconds in and you're back into the battle with a sampled ending of female screams to scare the willies out of you!

More of the same on Side B, but in the sense of playing to the established strengths rather than being repetitive. A rather nice female choir appears intermittently in "The Durinsday" (more Tolkein themes at work) whilst the sound of a coffin lid opening slowly and being cast to one side greets you at the outset of "Fleischeslust." My minimal knowledge of German suggests to me that this is something unpleasant in terms of a lust for flesh, so the less said the better?!

The demo ends with a sampled piece at the tail-end (pun intended) of "In Tiefster Finsternis" that strongly hints at a creature - let's surmise a werewolf - stalking a man through a forest before falling on its prey and devouring him. All good, wholesome stuff!

It had been a while since I last played this tape, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it again and played it twice through this morning before writing this. The trouble with a large collection is that you can forget sometimes how long its been since you actually listened to some of it....

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

SCHICKSALSWINDE


Band: B-MACHINA
Title: Schicksalswinde (Moloch remixed by B-Machina)
Format: Cassette Tape
Released: 2008 by W.A.R. (Austria) as part of a limited Moloch box-set. A magnet with box-set title and Moloch runic logo comes with the tape.
Edition: Only 9 copies exist

Track Listing:
01. Berkana
02. By The Winds The Pain Give Born On The Way
03. On Overgroved Paths

Perhaps defining the phrase "hard-to-find", this particular B-Machina work is an exclusive part of the very limited box-set "Traumklange Und Klagelieder" issued in 2008 by Hugin's own W.A.R. Studios for Ukrainian ambient metal band Moloch. Only 9 copies of the box-set were made, so logically the existing number of this particular tape follows suit, as to my knowledge it has not been released officially in its own right.

What you get are not B-Machina original compositions per se, but three Moloch tracks that have been given the remix treatment. Not having heard the original versions I can't begin to comment on how different these versions are, but for certain there is none of the militaristic industrialism that you might normally expect to find on a B-Machina product.

All three tracks are, in essence, capturing elements in Mother Nature in an ambient soundtrack. It's rather difficult to distinguish between the three too, as they run together as you listen to the music, but the outset of the tape is heavily dominated by a blustery wind, over which is lightly phrased some acoustic and string elements. Imagine yourself out in the woods at night, wind swirling around your ears and the faint sounds of distant music coming from out the darkness between the trees, and you're there really!

Very ambient, not overly memorable, but if you're of a mind and temperament to enjoy a heavily wind-based ambient experience (and I know I could have phrased that a little better, but you get my meaning I'm sure) then this particular 40 minutes or so could be right up your avenue.

That said, if the tape is as limited as I think it is then frankly you may never get the chance to hear it as the box-set from which is originates is devilishly expensive and probably sold-out already. Perhaps some later split CD will emerge with these tracks on them, as Uruk-Hai have collaborated with Moloch on split releases in the past so anything is possible for the future I suppose....?

In conclusion, enjoyable but really only essential for completists and fanatical collectors.

ACROSS THE MISTY MOUNTAINS




Band: URUK HAI
Title: Across The Misty Mountains (Far, Far Away)
Format: CD in DVD box issued by Stuka Sound (Estonia) 2006, cassette version by Skullfucking Tapes (USA) also 2006
Edition: CD in hand-numbered edition of 500, cassette unlimited as far as I know

Track Listing:

CD version:
01. Asenheil (Intro)
02. The Misty Mountains
03. Into The Passes Of The Mountains
04. The Forge
05. Covered In Black Fog
06. Something Evil
07. Through The Majestik Fields
08. Weltenbrand (Outro)

Tape Version:

01. The Misty Mountains
02. Into The Passes Of The Mountains
03. The Forge
04. Covered In Black Fog
05. Something Evil
06. Through The Majestik Fields
07. Leber Die Nebelberge Weit

An epic journey across the Misty Mountains of Tolkein's epic Lord of the Rings is the essential theme of this 2006 release from Uruk Hai comprising material recorded between 2002 and 2004, with the exception of the cassette-only track which dates to a rehearsal session from 1999.

As you might imagine, a journey through one of literary fictions most famous mountain ranges should be (and is) full of atmosphere and the individual tracks do much to generate images in one's mind when listening to the album.

After a short introduction (which has an almost Aboriginal feel to it) we are into the two lengthy tracks on the album, "The Misty Mountains" and "Into The Passes Of The Mountains", and interwoven with natural sound samples (winds, rain and thunder) the carefully structured synth passages carry you through fertile valleys and into dangerous mountain passes. Great stuff this, ambient in nature but with enough going on in terms of percussion and rhythm to keep you interested and maintain the mental imagery.

"The Forge" gently hints at ringing steel being struck behind the music (you get the feel that were Bonemachine to remix this we'd be up to our ears in anvils and sparks!) before a swirl of keyboards introduces us to being "Covered In Black Fog", which has an initial chime-like melody that underpins the subsequent curtains of cymbals and booming percussion but is a very short piece (obviously fog lifts quickly in these parts). Simple, deep strikes on a vast, distant drum herald "Something Evil" whilst a mournful, almost militaristic percussion rhythm is the key to the penultimate track "Through The Majestik Fields"

The tape version loses both the bouncy intro and melancholic outro segments but adds in a lengthy bonus track "Leber Die Nebelberge Weit" by way of compensation. It's an interesting track - growled vocals and with a very much more sinister feel than the preceding tracks - but quite whether it's suited to the overall theme of the 'journey' is open to question. When you listen to this album on CD you drift happily through the whole piece until soothed by the outro ... on the tape version you'll enjoy the same journey and then be startled back into reality as the devil himself has apparently arrived at the end destination to wake you up a bit...!

Still, the concept of alternative bonus material being available on tape releases of Hugin's work is not unusual and if you want the smoother ride I'd recommend the CD! By the way, my copy of the latter is numbered #50 of the pressing of 500 that Stuka Sound made.

Definitely a winner overall, and one album that I will come back to time and time again.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

BOMBARDEMENTS



Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Bombardements
Format: 3" white CDr
Released: 2006 by Sabbathid Records (Japan) HOOF028
Edition: unnumbered edition of 100

Track Listing:

01. Military Desaster 10:53
02. Jagdschauspiel 3:04
03. Leere Worte 7:35

Bonemachine (since re-born as B-Machina) might best be described as the 'industrial release valve' for Hugin: following a variety of styles over a number of releases but always with roots firmly in the industrial genre. Frequently described online as "Military Industrial" but also spanning a clutch of releases incorporating more folk and ambient aspects, this project is a true musical kaleidoscope and each release brings its own treasures.

This particular one is a firm favourite of mine, possibly because it blends a bit more ambient feel in with light industrial rhythms making it more accessible and less discordant than other albums. Indeed, the first track 'Military Desaster' shows this beautifully, with the space between the music playing as vital a role as the notes played. Beginning with an extract from Churchill's famous 'retreat from Flanders' speech pre-Dunkirk, the underlying atmosphere built up by synths creates an uneasy tension that is accentuated by light piano/string accompaniment and lurking mechanical presence. A long piece, but never outstaying its welcome.

"Jagdschuspiel" is a bit of a favourite, and I suspect Hugin is keen on this one too given that a limited edition sweatshirt bearing the Stag logo and this track title was produced some while ago. The track starts with the traditional brass cry of a hunting horn, which is repeated throughout the song whilst intersperced with mechanical background noise and a 'chorus' of a volley of shots, squelching water/mud. Visual images of the senseless slaughter of animals and soldiers in the trenches will spring unbidden to your mind, especially as the track ends with another, sudden salvo of shots fired....

The final track "Leere Worte" (literally 'void of words') is the final track, the rhythm of which reminds me of the beating heart of a mechanical beast with a gradual building of sound leading to a soundbite of German speech (quite possibly Herr H. himself, balancing up the earlier appearance of Sir Winston) along with the ebb and flow of mechanical sound that to these ears is reminiscent of an air-raid siren.

Some of these tracks appeared as the bonus tracks on the later Bonemachine release "Vogelfrei" (more of which in a later post, no doubt!) so if you are unable to find this particular CDr then all is not lost. That said, I've seen it for sale online so it's one of the more available titles out there.

HONOUR


Band: URUK HAI
Title:
Honour
Format:
Promotional demo tape in black and white xeroxed inlay. Hand-written tape with edition number in blue on top.
Released:
2004 by Werwolf Productions (Italy) WR017
Edition:
Hand-numbered edition of only 40

Track Listing:
Side I
01. Gondolin Falls (Part 1-3)
02. Nebelberge (Part 1 & 2)

Side II
01. Die Legende...
a) ...von Elbenwald
b) Khazad-Dum
c) Ein Licht Geboren Ward
d) Nordhimmel
e) Die Berge
f) Der Ring
02. Nazgul
03. Orkish Blut
04. Elbentod

This is where my journey began: the 2004 demo tape "Honour", an impulse purchase from eBay that has led to an adventure far beyond my expectations!
In what I now know to be 'standard' practice this was a strongly limited promotional-only release (my edition is #02 of the #40 produced) and consequently the tape now very hard to find. The inlay cover is a b&w photocopy of the illustration by Ted Nasmith of Tuor reaching the Hidden City of Gondolin, with a pro-labelled tape stating "Pagan Battle Music".

The theme of the music is influenced primarily by the works of Tolkein: 'Gondolin Falls' (Gondolin was a hidden city of Elves founded in the 'First Age'), Nebelberge (literal translation from the German 'Fog Mountain'), the legend of The One Ring ("Die Legende..."), 'Nazgul' (the most powerful servants of Sauron), and tales of Orc and Elf slaughter.

As an introduction to the ambient style of Uruk Hai this is almost perfect: soothing melody, repetitive yet relaxing harmonies and refrains, and an atmosphere created that transports your mind to another world of waterfalls, vast plains, dense forests and magic. There are no vocals on this release at all, instead a musical world is created with just synthesisers and natural sound samples.

This is not 'metal' in the recognised sense of the word, and although other Uruk Hai releases have a far more metallic edge to them this one is very much for quiet, reflective periods late in the evening. You could - and I have - pop this one into the stereo just before going to sleep and drift off in a little ambient cloud of bliss of your own....

And so, finally, it begins....

Welcome to 'Honour and Darkness' - my online Blog and tribute page to the prolific Austrian musician Hugin. For an artist with so many projects and bands to his credit there is a real dearth of material online to critique and catalogue his work, and with many releases being extremely limited editions or hard-to-find creations of much merit this is an overdue and necessary task!

I'm no musician - I'd be hard pressed to tell you the difference between an arpeggio and an archipelago - but I know what I like and there is much in Hugin's music that speaks to me, so what you'll be reading here are my personal observations, commentaries and analysis of various releases drawn across his various bands.

If you're after a pure chronological discography of the bands, I'd also recommend you to take a look at the listings on http://www.metal-archive.com/ - a most excellent resource!

I'm simply going to pluck items at random from across my collection and have a listen and write some thoughts: this gives me the splendid excuse (were it needed) to revisit some of the obscure and interesting releases I have amassed, whilst hopefully giving you - my honoured audience - a flavour of the work in question. Who knows - with a bit of luck, perhaps it might even encourage you to track down some of these releases and given them a listen for yourselves....?

My thanks to the many who have helped me find and own the items in my collection and credit where credit is due: principally to Alex and Hannelore, to Keegan at SFM Records (Canada) Alexander at AMF (Bulgaria) and to Leigh at Smell The Stench (Australia) in particular, and to too many distros and traders across the world to mention individually.

Enjoy......