Saturday, 28 March 2009

FIREDANCE ON A DEAD MANS GRAVE

Band: WACH
Title: Firedance On A Dead Mans Grave
Format: Limited editions in both A5 digipak packaging (with postcard and sticker) and standard jewel-case pressing, both released on Beverina & W.A.R. (Austrian) on Halloween 2008, catalogue reference BW011.
Edition: A5 digipak limited to 100 numbered pieces, the jewel-case pressing limited to 200 unnumbered pieces

Track Listing:

Both versions

01 Kyrill II 6:22
02 Frenzy 6:49
03 Flammenmanifest 21:09
04 Clouds And Whispers 4:09
05 Slave The World 5:37
06 6 Nails Into The Body 5:00
07 Einsamkeit 3:32

Enhanced video track: Flammenmanifest 20:00

Not the sort of release that musically you can simplistically review and put into a generic 'box', this is the latest offering from Austrian project WACH, released in 2008 in only 300 pieces in two different formats. As you might expect, I have the pair, with my digipak being #81 of the 100.

Online reviews point out that this release straddles the Industrial, Drone, Dark Ambient & Noise genres with equal aplomb and this is a fair comment: there is a wealth of material in different styles on this album, and you will move from repetitive elements in the Drone style to downright eerie moments that fall into more ambient territories. Equally, there is a healthy Bonemachine-esque industrial flavour on occasions, and some quieter moments that lull you into a false sense of ease before the next section drags you kicking and screaming into a nightmare of your own devising.....

Although there are 7 separate tracks on this release I always think of it as a single piece of music, as to me it creates a particular mood and atmosphere that is augmented by playing the CD in one go and absorbing the whole entity in one go.

From the outset - howling winds and bleak, disorganised soundscapes - it feels like living through a post-apocalyptic episode in the vein of the film '28 Days Later': it feels barren, lonely and harsh, but as the music progresses the different sounds and samples gives me the impression of exploring this desolate plain and coming across sounds of both machine-made derivation and possibly man-made origin (church bells) that hint at movement and life elsewhere in this wilderness. But is there? Perhaps it's merely the wind blowing the bells rather than human hand tolling them......how do you know for sure what lurks in this intimidating realm...?

Great stuff for a cold, dark night with headphones and a nervous disposition!

The video bonus track is in similar vein actually - an exploratory journey around a gothic/religious ruin, which lends itself well to the theme the music creates. The video was directed by Herr Insomnia, which is an apt time to talk a little about the band WACH itself, comprising as it does Herr Insomnia and Reverend Kim. The band creates around itself an air of myth and mystery, so it's not my place to reveal the arcane secrets that inspire the music and creative process behind the scenes. I was, however, lucky enough to chat with Reverend Kim about some of the background to this project, and I hope the following might sate some of your curiosity:

Q1: How did WACH first come to be?
A1: Sometime back in 2006, I received an email from somebody named Alex, from Linz, which is only about 150km east of Salzburg where i live. He mailed because he got one copy of a CD I published not so long before - the Split Release "PolterGEIST", which we made with my band 'the Sounds of Earth' and the well-known German band Flutwacht. Since Flutwacht already had excellent contacts, they managed to get our CD distributed widely, and then somehow, Alex received it from the Australian Smell the Stench label. That was really funny, but amazing at the same time for me, and he and I started to trade some of our releases and writing mails every day. Later then, at the beginning in 2007, I organized a small noise festival here in Salzburg, and i invited him to visit us, that was the first time we met. At this evening we also talked about creating a project between us and a week after that, we started to work on our first song. Luckily, we both liked where much how it turned out and we didn't stop making music together from that point.

Q2: How did the name of the project come about?
A2: There is a story there, but it is currently a closely guarded secret! What I can tell you is that WACH is also the German word for 'awake', and most of our song-themes are about the state of wakefulness, of dreams, nightmares, fears, etc.. To this end, our debut CD was called "The End Of All Dreams" which fits with our name perfectly!!

Q3: Tell me a little about some of the earlier WACH releases
A3: A few months after this point we had enough material for more than one full length release so I selected the tracks that fitted together best and compiled them onto CD. Alex managed to get a label in Germany (Klangfeld Seuchentrieb) to release it - we absolutely wanted a distinctive and unique look, so I made a logo design for our band WACH and we also got a wax stamp with that logo engraved on it (I made all of the wax seals by myself for that release). We also wanted to have a kind of special packaging, so ultimately we came up with a leather slipcase, that was also handmade by Klangfeld Seuchentrieb.

Q4: This all sounds like a pretty time-consuming process?
A4: Of course this whole process took a lot of time, and in the meantime we had finished some more tracks and Alex made a great short film called "The Fear", which we then released on the Israeli-based label The Eastern Front again with our unique style wax seals, now in 4 different colors. Each colour version - there was orange, blue, green and silver - had a different bonus track.

Q5: HonourAndDarkness will be reviewing earlier WACH releases in due course! Tell me about future projects?
A5: We finished an 18 minute long track called "Nordwand" which should have been released already, but due the lack of a label nothing has ever happened [note: Herr Insomnia has commented that he hopes a 2009 release is on the cards for this one!!] We also have a forthcoming album in the summer of this year.

Q6: Any last thoughts on the WACH project?
A6: Our process of making songs is very free, without stress, and with no borders. It's really a pleasure to make songs this way, and at the end, most turn out great, at least in our opinion :)

I hope that future Blogs will feature more thoughts from this enigmatic individual!

The bottom line to a release like this is whether you like your music to be free of the need to concentrate and think about the atmospheres and energies evoked, or whether you want to immerse yourself in a world of dark, foreboding passions and emotions. If you fall into the latter school of thought, then I commend WACH to you utterly and demand that you seek them out! As a helpful starter, try their MySpace pages at www.myspace.com/wachsein or at http://www.wach.net.tc/ and go from there :o)

Friday, 27 March 2009

VALKYRIAN ROMANCE

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Valkyrian Romance
Format: Cassette-tape only release, released 2006 by Smell The Stench (Australia), no catalogue reference
Edition: Only 30 hand-numbered tapes released

Track Listing:
01. Durch Folde Und Fenmark (rehearsal 2000)
02. Einsam In Dunklen Waeldern (new track 2006)
03. Uruk-Hai [Part 4] (new track 2006)
04. Ueber Die Nebelberge Weit (rehearsal 1999)

In many ways, the epitome of an Uruk Hai release - the 'classic' format of a cassette-tape only release with a mixture of new tracks (with contemporary sound) and older rehearsal tracks, embodying the older spirit of the band.

And what a joy too - this is the sort of release I adore: limited in numbers (mine is #26 of the series of 30), exclusive in content, short and punchy, and well worth seeking out and adding to the horde!

We kick off with "Durch Folde Und Fenmark", a long piece (over 14 minutes) commencing with the measured beat of a vast drum (surely a Viking war-drum) leading into a swirling and atmospheric synth-based track augmented by a subtle solo female vocal element within it - delivered in choral rather than lyrical fashion. To distant and fantastical realms wilt thou be transported, and lo! The Gods sayeth that this is good....

Next up, the short and rather cool "Einsam In Dunklen Waeldern". When I first heard this the almost 'bubbling' and bouncy synth parts put in my mind an underwater theme, which given the translation of the title (approximates to 'Alone in Dark Forests') shows what I know about interpreting musical atmospheres! A catchy little track though, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Song three is "Uruk Hai (part 4)" and a dramatic number is is too - you could imagine this, with its bursts of keyboards at key moments, being a score to a film quite easily.

"Ueber Die Nebelberge Weit" (which one free internet translation site 'helpfully' told me meant 'Over That Fog Would Rescue Far' - help, my brain hurts) is another long song to bookend the tape, and is packed with some atmospheric storm samples, provocative and thoughtful synths that create a dark and foreboding mood, and a nice wolf howl to end things!

Often I end my Blog with the lament that good as this release is you'll do well to find one....and yes, once again, I can confidently proclaim that as good as this release is you'll do well to find one! There used to be a few floating around on eBay but they seem to have been snapped up now (I've not seen one for sale for quite a while) but if you're into the essence of 'classic' Uruk-Hai you really should seek this one out....

Saturday, 21 March 2009

ANCIENT TALES

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Ancient Tales
Format: Released on both cassette tape and CDr format in 2000 on the W.A.R. label (WAR011)
Edition: Tape limited to 100 hand-numbered copies. CDr format limited to 300 pieces, of which the first 100 contained a poster

Track Listing:

Cassette version:

Side 1
1. March Into Battle 1.38
2. The Riddle of Steel 8.23
3. Fire and Ice 8.11
4. Heroism (tape only bonus track) 3.38
5. Mjölnir 8.45
6. Hel 4.07
7. Song To Hall Up High 2.44
8. Blood on My Sword 6.14
9. Weltenbrand (tape only bonus track) 2.16

Side 2
10. Born in the Fight 9.39
11. The Unknown Land 5.39
12. The Eternal Halls of Valhalla 5.37
13. Ancient Tales 3.40
14. Myrkvid 1.59
15. Riding the Wind 2.50
16. Triumph in Every Fight (extended version) 7.06
17. The Gates Of Mordor (tape only bonus track) 8.31

Splendidly presented in tape format (I've not yet tracked down the CDr pressing), this has a hand-drawn colour cover with good old-fashioned typewriter-typed inlay, an extensive credits list, and a photo of Hugin freezing his backside off in the Austrian mountains. Hand-numbered in tape format (this is #23) and notable for being printed 'in reverse', so the case opens left-handed style (like the tape version of Iron Maiden's 'Piece of Mind' did, trivia fans).

Clearly an epic undertaking in all senses, a full-length album presented on tape is no small undertaking. There's a lot of music on this release, notwithstanding the 4 bonus tracks crammed into the tape version, so fitting everything into the available space must have taken some thought.

If you'll indulge me with an analogy, you could (if so minded) think of Hugin's releases as meals - the 1 track promos might be the appetizers for example, the 3"CDr and short tape releases the starter, the longer CDs the main course, and the multi-CD compilations (e.g. Elisabetha's 'Eternal Deathvastation' 3CD or the reissue of Uruk Hai's "Upon The Elysian Fields' 4CD) representing a multi-course feast.

I'm sure you're keeping up with this!

Now, the lengthy tape releases could be said to be the dessert course - you're quite full after the preceding dishes, yet there's still plenty to eat before the end of the meal. Difficult to do in one sitting, better broken into chunks for ease of digestion, but not aided by the fact that being tape you can't easily jump from track to track to spread things out a bit. End result - you wade through all of it in one go, and come out of the other end feeling satisfied yet bloated...you've just had too much Hross' in one go!

Now, that was a rather roundabout way of saying that whilst this is a good Hross' release, the sheer volume of material on the tape means that I find it best to listen to side 1 on one day, side 2 on another. There are a lot of similarities in the construction of the songs - almost all have some combination or other of the same basic elements (and whilst this might be said to be true of most releases from any band, it seems to come across more in this release). After a few tracks you just know that the next song is going to involve some combination of wind/thunder/water sample, growled vocal, splashy cymbals, a barrage of drumming and/or pseudo-Gregorian chanting.

In itself, this is not a strong criticism, more of an observation. This would, perhaps, have made two very palatable releases rather than one long album. The songs are fine (although the vocals at times let down the atmosphere that the music creates, which is why I suspect subsequent releases were predominantly instrumental) and include a Bathory cover (track #7) and a guest appearance - for the first and only time - of Sabine as female vocalist.

There are some interesting moments throughout - the film sample on "The Riddle of Steel" we've come across before during the history of this Blog (and I must find out which film it comes from), and the use of acoustic guitar over sampled natural sounds does invoke an atmosphere reminiscent of middle-era Bathory, which is clearly a good thing. 'Weltenbrand' contains a traditional studio-created battle scene and an extract of classical music that - Philistine that I am - I only recognise as the 'Old Spice' music from the TV commercial! So much for a classical education....! 'The Ancient Halls of Valhalla' is always worth a listen, as the drums remind me a lot of the start to Deep Purple's "Black Night" before the track explodes into what sounds like three different songs starting at the same time!

Other tracks on this release are definitely worth hearing: I particularly enjoy 'Hel' for its majestic synth parts, the barren windswept atmosphere created at the start of 'The Unknown Land' and the way that the male chanting on 'Heroism' helps lift the song to a higher plain.

If you've been reading this Blog over time you'll have seen my previous entry for "In Durin's Halls" and the effect that a focused remastering and remixing had on that album by it's third iteration. I'd wager that were Hugin to dissemble this album and perform the same magic on it, it would be an absolute beast!

p.s. If anyone has a copy of the CDr version (preferably the poster version) and might like to sell it to me, please drop me a line.....

Thursday, 19 March 2009

HORPROBEN 2007

Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Horproben 2007
Format: Paper-sleeve promotional CDr including business card advertising the band's MySpace web page, released 2007
Edition: Uncertain - release thought to be around 7 or 8 copies only

Track Listing:

01. Die Tiefe Blaue See 24.24
02. Hydra 7.07
03. In Jeder Glut Schlummert Ein Brand 5.19
04. 4 6.06
05. Desireless 4.56
06. Waves 4.00
07. Solaris II 8.42
08. Ich Tauche Tiefer 4.13
09. Die Flamenfee 7.30
10. Pulsar 5.36

Pre-dating the first full-length COI album "Der Rote Glanz Der Flammenfee" (2008) came this promo CDr, which includes some of the songs from that later album (tracks 3 and 10), a 'sequel' to the track 'Solaris' from the '08 release, and a cover image that is the mirror of that from the inside of the rear inlay of the full album. It also contains the web-single "Ich Tauche Tiefer" that was/is available via the band's MySpace pages.

This was my first taste of a lengthy COI experience, and it certainly raised a few eyes at work: where I'd normally be swooping past the security guards with the car windows down, stereo blasting out some pagan battle epic, now they heard me passing with a distinctly 'club-feel' Euro-pop motif...!

It's good stuff too - although I'm hardly an expert in the field there are elements in here that strongly remind me of Erasure and Kraftwerk, and it's all very catchy and groovy stuff. Different feels are generated within each track, so it's very much a varied promo. The first track is a bit of an epic 24 minute plus affair, that doesn't so much introduce you gently to the band as grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands your attention.

Lots of good "neo classical dream pop" here, to coin a phrase, and one that you know you could stick on at a social gathering without giving granny a heart-attack or emptying the dance floor. A "thumbs-up" !

Saturday, 14 March 2009

LITTLE BOY

Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Little Boy
Format: 1 track, 3" mini-CDr demo with folded black and white single-sided paper-sleeve, on W.A.R. (2007), never formally issued
Edition: Limited to only 14 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

01. Little Boy 21.50

I couldn't resist posting this one, as it's only today that I've got my hands on it!

Distributed originally only for the vocalists appearing on the 'Little Boy' track, I found out about its existence quite by chance on the Internet and, on discussing it with Alex, he very (very) kindly donated me his copy. An extraordinary act of kindness - it's a bit like having a casual conversation with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and ending up being given his "Number of the Beast" gold disc for your collection just because you asked nicely! Really - how many artists do you know who interact with their fans like this?

So here we are - on the fourth play-through of this impossible to find anywhere 3"CDr - what does Nazgul make of it all?

Well, 'Little Boy' features a heady mix of many different elements and themes: growled vocals (was that Padre Adamo I heard in there?) as well as clean, spoken narrative clinically describing some of the horrors of the effects and fall-out of the bomb, some ambient synths, some Gregorian-style chanting, some distorted lyrics - creating a disturbing atmosphere, Geiger-counter effects, and some pure industrial/noise elements in the repeated mechanic metallic loop (discordant and massive) present in the first part of the track.

It's a highly effective combination of sounds making up a chilling song, a semi-historical document of one of the more infamous acts of modern warfare.

Not with me yet? Ok, 'Little Boy' Little Boy was the codename of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the B-29 Superfortress 'Enola Gay' of the 393 Bombardment Squadron of the US Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb ever used as a weapon, and was dropped three days before the "Fat Man" bomb was used against Nagasaki.

Oh - note the term 'Bombardment' in the paragraph above, as this was the title (sic) of another Bonemachine 3" CDr release, previously reviewed in this Blog (entry #3) and featuring a similar cover image.

A great track that appears (remixed) on the Japanese 2CD set of rare material "Erste Rotation" (a future Blog entry to come on this release).

For the record, the vocalists on the original 'Little Boy' project were: U.B. (Ger), Arjan (NL), Maskinanlegg & San Pedro (Nor), Alexander (Bul), Mike (US), Valerio (Ita), Andres (Est), Frostkrieg (Ger), Lupan (Ger), Simon (Ger), Phil (UK), Hildr Valkyrie (Gre), Marcel P (Ger), Chris H (Aut) and Bruder Cle (Aut).

Edit: Alex has just emailed through the lyrics for this track, so without further ado here's an Internet first!

1. Renfield (aka Uwe B.) (GER):

In the early morning darkness of August 6, 1945 the B-29 "Enola Gay" piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets lifted off the runway at Tinian Island and flew into history.

2. Arjan (NL):

After 6:00, the bomb was fully armed on board the Enola Gay. Tibbets announced to the crew that the plane was carrying the world's first atomic bomb used in combat.

3. Maskinanlegg & San Pedro (NOR):

...We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

4. Alexander (BUL):

If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.

5. Mike (USA):

6 August 1945 The world's first atomic bomb, Little Boy, is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, from the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber piloted by Colonel Tibbets of the 509th Composite Group, the first military unit in the history to drop a nuclear bomb in combat. One minute after explosion were 66.000 killed and 69.000 wounded.

6. Valerio (ITA):

At 08:15 (Hiroshima time), the
Enola Gay dropped the nuclear bomb over the center of Hiroshima. It exploded about 600 meters above the city with a blast equivalent to about 13 kilotons of TNT.

7. Andres (EST):

The destructive force of Little Boy was seven times greater than all the bombs the Allies dropped on Nazi Germany during 1942

8. Frostkrieg (GER):

We were reaching into the unknown and we did not know what might come of it.

9. BinZynisch aka Lupan (GER):

The light of the explosion then turned orange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360 feet per second, reddening and pulsing as it cooled.

10. Simon (GER):

Immediately after the defeat, some estimated that 10 million people were likely to starve to death.

11. Phil (UK):

The United States was guilty of war crimes for its aerial bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan in World War II, the United States would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

12. Hildr Valkyrie (GRE):
I’m the ghost of Hiroshima And I’ve got these words to say I was killed in an explosion On the dark and evil day


13. Marcel (GER):
The area of total vaporization from the atomic bomb blast measured one half mile in diameter; total destruction one mile in diameter; severe blast damage as much as two miles in diameter. Within a diameter of two and a half miles, everything flammable burned. The remaining area of the blast zone was riddled with serious blazes that stretched out to the final edge at a little over three miles in diameter.

14. Chris (AUT):

It is said that the descendants of the atomic bomb survivors will have to be monitored for several generations to clarify the genetic impact, which means that the descendants will live in anxiety fordecades to come with their colossal power and capacity for slaughter and destruction, .....

15. Bruder Cle (AUT):

Official statistics place the number who had died at 70,000 up to September 1st, not counting the missing....and 130,000 wounded, among them 43,500 severely wounded.

Friday, 13 March 2009

LESUNGEN ZUM PRINZIP DER UNSCHULD

Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Lesungen Zum Prinzip Der Unschuld
Format: 1 track, 3" mini-CDr in folded paper-sleeve released as a bonus disc on only the first 25 copies of the digipak CD pressing of "Uber Das Prinzip Der Unschuld" (itself limited to 500 copies) on the Beverina label (Latvia) in 2007.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 25

Track Listing:
01. Lesungen Zum Prinzip Der Unschuld 22.49

This was a case of buy fast or miss out - a very strongly limited edition of just the first 25 of the digipak pressing of the 2007 Elisabetha album "Uber Das Prinzip Der Unschuld" carried this 3" CDr (mine is #23), with its single, lengthy bonus track.

I was lucky - I had my order in for the main album before I realised that there would be a special edition at all, so after some scrambling and a swift flurry of emails to the helpful folk at Beverina a copy of the limited edition was obtained!

In essence a straightforward track musically, with some haunting melodies created by an acoustic guitar sound over a bell with background synth/wind effect overlaying the whole, this I find to be a striking piece of music. The deep, spoken vocals come courtesy of "Seigor", who is a member of German BM band Grabschänder and very appropriate to the atmosphere they are too.

It's something of an immersion in an other-worldly, slightly discordant-yet-entirely-harmonious piece of music - there's always something nibbling at the edge of your senses as you listen to this, which generates a sense of unease. The piece develops nicely over its duration with the core melody underpinning the whole song (and I'm sure I heard a cuckoo clock in the mix somewhere on the way too, either that or I need to get some better speakers on this stereo!?)

This style is the 'new' direction for Elisabetha, in so far as the vampyric 'radio-play' demo tapes released in the early days of the band have been superceded by this more single-minded musical approach (frequently dubbed as 'neo-classical' online). I guess this is largely a result of the fact that the original (unholy) triumvirate that formed Elisabetha eventually gave way to this being a solo-project from Alex....

In any event, a very interesting mini-CD and one that I tend to play a lot in the evenings: just be warned, that quiet, hypnotic lyric at the end of the disc can be a little unnerving if you're just dozing off......the sudden end makes it seem as though something rather gruesome is imminent!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

WHERE MIGHTY RAVENS FLY

Band: RAVENCLAW
Title: Where Mighty Ravens Fly
Format: CDr on the Atlantida Productions label (Lithuania) catalogue reference AP02, released 2002.
Edition: Unnumbered edition of 1000

Track Listing:
1. In Battle
2. Fenriswolf
3. Shores Of Heaven
4. Valhall (Der Rabenwinter)
5. Ravenclaw
6. A Vikings Journey
7. Hermodr A Helferd (Burzum cover)
8. Power And Might
9. Sword Of Honour
10. Set Sail (A Vikings Journey Part II)
11. Weltenbrand
12. Atlantida (Fighting For Atlantis)

Now then - if I've got this right, the origin of Ravenclaw is as follows. Alex offers a Hrossharsgrani track to the Atlantida label (run by R******s D*********s) for use on one of their compilation CD's - this is the "Atlantida (Fighting For Atlantis)" track that appears on this album as a bonus track. Both Alex and R******s like the end result and, with a shared interest in Viking history and pagan themes, decide to form a band together. And so in 2002 Ravenclaw was born. In 2003 a third member - Dimo (of Bulgarian black metal band Svarrogh) - joined the band.

As an aside, I read once that R******s had an ambition for this project that it would, over time, add even more members ("musicians from around the globe") and develop down more folkish directions. Interestingly, although Ravenclaw came to an end after their second release the multi-national band concept came to pass with Folkearth...which featured none other than R******s and Alex plus a host of others!

This debut CDr was themed on the Viking sagas, as is evident from the song titles. The music style is predominantly spoken word lyrics (in a deep, accented tone) and a myriad of samples - from the 'traditional' Viking effects of crashing waves, battles, and general pillage through to gentle birdsong and mellow background noise and spoken-word extracts from films. Keen-eyed readers out there will have spotted that track 6 'A Vikings Jouney' is an Uruk-Hai album title on which appears the same Burzum cover track as recorded here at track 7.

I have to confess, however, that somehow to my ears this album just doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts. It's not one I listen to often - literally perhaps once or twice a year - because at the end of the day the songs aren't really there. It's as if a dozen promising introductions had been scored but none of them quite matured into a cohesive, final output. Perhaps that's the reason why after a second split CD with Svarrogh was issued, Ravenclaw faded away into the background as Alex brought his focus to bear on his many other projects?

It's actually quite a hard CD to find now in any event, and whilst a necessary inclusion for the completist it doesn't offer too much in contrast to Hugin's other side-projects.

Edit (06/09/09): One of the two founder members of Ravenclaw emailed Nazgul today asking for his name to be kept anonymously in these posts, re. Atlantida or Ravenclaw releases. Respecting this wish, his name has been duly edited.

IN DURIN'S HALLS

Band: URUK HAI
Title: In Durin's Halls
Format: Cassette-tape only release. Originally released as a self-titled demo in 1999 [top inlay], then remixed and reissued by Eclipse Of Live Promulgation (Germany) in 2004 [middle inlay]. Further remastered and reissued in limited edition on Smell The Stench (Australia) in 2008 [bottom inlay].
Edition: Original 1999 tape limited to 33 hand-numbered copies. 2004 reissue limited to 300 hand-numbered copies. Final limited edition 2008 reissue restricted to only 50 hand-numbered copies.

Track Listing:
1999 and 2008 versions detail:
1. Luthien
2. Kortirion
3. Durins Halls
4. Uruk-hai
5. Moria
6. Nordhimmel
7. The Unknown
2004 reissue has the track listing:
1. Einleitung
2. Kortirion
3. Durins Halls
4. Uruk-hai
5. Nordhimmel
6. Moria
7. Ausklang

"A portrait of the artist as a young man..."

Legend has it that Hrossharsgrani - the epic, battle-machine of Viking and Tolkien influences - made a demo tape in 1999 that was so left-field of what the band had previously been doing that it was never issued under the Hross' name. This demo, provisionally called "Uruk Hai" instead became a more ambient project in its own right, and a new star was born in the heavens that day...

I have the three versions of this tape that were released over the years: the original self-titled and self-released 1999 demo is #31 (and kindly signed on the case by Alex); the 2004 EoLP reissue is #011 of the 300 produced, whilst the 'Stench edition from 2008 is #21 of the 50 and is dedicated on the inner sleeve "Hailz to my brother in arms, Hugin"

To listen to all three back to back makes for a fascinating experience. The original 1999 demo is as basic and honest a demo as you could imagine - on the one hand, the simplicity of the keyboard play and the sparsity of production make it seem like a real backroom project. On the other hand, you have to remember that this was an evolving sound and moved into pretty much uncharted waters for A.W. at the time. To point out the weaknesses on this tape would be a fairly swift process, but that's hardly the point - as a historical record of where the Uruk-Hai sound of later years would come from this is both interesting and important, if musically naive.

Pop in the 2004 remixed edition, and things are significantly cleaned up and streamlined. The overlaps in sound between Hrossharsgrani and the fledgling Uruk Hai have been edited (there is, for example, a battle scene in the original demo that could be straight off a Hross' release) and the sound is fuller, the songs better presented.

Jump to the 2008 limited edition 'Stench remaster and it's a different animal altogether. For one thing it's much louder than the original on the same volume setting - so much so that if you play them back to back you'll be blown out of your chair by the '08 version, as the original tape needs turning up a bit to hear properly. The other unmissable element is that the songs have been taken by the scruff of the neck and whilst the essential synth melodies have been retained the pieces have been reworked with additional samples and instruments to bolster the sound.

I would imagine that Hugin reworked this demo until it sounds now as he would have intended it to be at the time, had the technology and experience been available to him. whilst moving away from the naive simplicity of the original, it has created a wholly new and improved Uruk Hai experience and as a process has been a remarkable success.

To judge which one of these tapes as best is hard - they are all different and somewhat unique in their own way, despite ostensibly being the same album underneath. The chances of finding all three available for sale to draw your own comparisons are, however, pretty remote (although a search on Google will throw up a few distros with copies of the EoLP version in stock).

As a regular listening experience I'd go for the 2008 edition I think, as it has such a lush sound it brings out the original themes and melodies of the original edition in a much more rounded way.

Incidentally, the Durin referred to in the title seemingly could be one of two: in the works of Tolkien, Durin was the name of no less than seven of the Dwarf kings (each named in remembrance of Durin The Deathless, one of the founders of the Dwarf race). Tolkien, however, took the name from the Norse mythologies, where Durin (another dwarf) forged the magic sword of Tyrfing. Which is correct - answers on a postcard, please...?

THE FIRST EVIL SPELL... [V/A]

Band: Various Artists
Title: The First Evil Spell...
Format: CDr release in slimline case with black and white copied inlay, released by Smell The Stench (Australia)
Edition: unknown

Track Listing:
01. BONEMACHINE * The Force (unreleased new track) 11.36
02. HREFNESHOLT * Ravnagund (unreleased instrumental version) 5.05
03. HROSSHARSGRANI * Wotansschlacht (unreleased rehearsal 2001) 13.08
04. URUK-HAI * Bell Tower (unreleased Kitaro cover 2006) 3.17
05. ELISABETHA * Einleitung Zu Bathori (unreleased track 2003) 8.52
06. BONEMACHINE * Metamorphose (unreleased new track) 12.50
07. HREFNESHOLT * Nordlandsschlacht (unreleased rehearsal 2001) 8.33
08. HROSSHARSGRANI * Final March (unreleased rehearsal 2004) 6.20
09. URUK-HAI * Asenheil (unreleased introduction) 4.06
10. ELISABETHA * Ausklang (unreleased new track) 1.13

When I spotted this CDr tucked away in the lists at Leigh Stench's distro I must admit I assumed it would be a compilation of tracks from some of Hugin's projects that had seen the light of day elsewhere already. Whilst a few of these songs do indeed appear in some form or other on other releases (some subsequent to this CDr being put out) there are some rare unreleased tracks on here that make it a must-have purchase for all fans.

There is also a wealth of music on this release - over 75 minutes to be more precise - so you really are getting value for money. A nice fact is that there are 2 songs each from Alex's principal bands (at this time), so it's a nice spread of material and not too biased toward one project or another.

Rather than get into a track by track dissection - instead, why not actually seek out and buy this for yourself from Smell The Stench and judge for yourself? - I'm going to approach it band by band, assessing who I think has the best material on here...

And the votes from the English jury are as follows....

  1. In first place, Bonemachine: not only two of the longest tracks on here, but undoubtedly two of the best. 'The Force' is the full-length version that appeared in massively edited form as 'Darth Vader' (down to 0.44 only!) on the internet-only released "Extraterrestrial Death" EP (also through 'Stench). You can only appreciate it fully with the full version, and it's worth the price of admission alone. Second track 'Metamorphose' (not to be confused with the Hrefnesholt track of the same name) is in the same vein of catchy, synth based electronic harshness with less of the militia-based industrialism of other Bonemachine material.
  2. A close second for me comes Hrossharsgrani: again, some long tracks from this band but ones that keep your attention. For some the simple repetitive rhythm of much of "Wotansschlacht" might be too much, but I find it creates an almost hypnotic effect that works well in practice. As both songs are unavailable elsewhere from what I can see, well worth the time to seek them out.
  3. In third, the pagan ambient battle experience that is Uruk Hai: track 4 is a cover song from Japanese meditative new-age artist Kitaro (and a pleasant, laid back experience it is too), whilst 'Asenheil' is a longer version of the intro track that appears on the "Over The Misty Mountains (Far, Far Away)" album, reviewed elsewhere in this Blog. Again, much like "The Force", much the better for its full-length treatment.
  4. Hrefnesholt pinch fourth place: 'Ravnagund' is an instrumental version of the track which ended up on the split tape "United In Heathen Blood" released in 2007, whilst 'Nordlandsschlacht' features the trademark howling wind and ambient samples of this particular project. Good tracks, but for me not as compelling as the preceding bands.
  5. Which leaves Elisabetha trailing at the rear I'm afraid: I think my problem with these 2 tracks is that they have nothing in common with the 'classic' radio-play days of the band, and don't fall into the neo-classical latter day style either. They're hard to distinguish as proper Elisabetha tracks really - they could be Href or Hross outtakes - and final song 'Ausklang' has hardly got going before it's gone! Still, not an unpleasant listen by any extent, just not as definitive as the other songs on the album.

Overall, as a compilation album reflecting the prolific works of A.W. it succeeds very well, and credit to Alex and to Leigh for finding the time to dust off the tracks and save them for posterity. Not sure about that cover though: seems like a release that could do with a reissue with more luxurious packaging....any offers?

Monday, 9 March 2009

FEAR OF THE DEEP

Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
Title: Fear Of The Deep
Format: 1 track 'credit card' mini-CDr (blue disc) which comes housed in a glossy colour card within a plain white envelope paper, and contains three magnetic cards: one large and one small one of the cover image, and a second small one showing the recording details together with hand-written edition number. W.A.R. Studios release (Austria), November 2007.
Edition: Only 19 hand-numbered copies pressed

Track Listing:

01. Fear Of The Deep 3.48

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Well, I'd propose a third one to that adage - that Alex Wieser releases CD's packaged like no other.

A spectacularly presented mini-CDr complete with magnets, glossy card (professionally printed) and a rather splendid credit-card style disc - and all for just 19 units pressed. I was fortunate to obtain #1 from Alex directly, and treasure this particular piece.

A single track release, which has received considerable acclaim on the Web and is also available to hear on the band's MySpace page if you missed out on the limited run - the Kulturterrorismus webpage called it "a spectacular homage to the ancient heroes of DAF" - this is basically excellent synth-pop that exudes both a dark atmosphere and a very danceable nature. Indeed, the wife of Nazgul was heard to pass favourable opinion on this disc when it was spinning in the death-deck the other evening, which is high praise indeed....

I'm not familiar with DAF as a group, but this to my ears is well executed, catchy and very enjoyable electronica. It's a short piece, but then as a taster to other forthcoming works it serves it purpose nicely as you really do want to hear more.

A very, very different project from many of Alex's other bands it is none the less a welcome development that surely will gain a cult following of its own soon.

Friday, 6 March 2009

ACIDHUMANIX

Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Acidhumanix
Format: 3" CDr release in the Foghorn series (through Apocalyptic Radio, Germany), recorded in 2006 & released in 2008, catalogue reference fh06. Copies came in white envelope with double-sided colour postcard-sized inlay
Edition: only 50 hand-numbered copies were pressed.

Track Listing:
01. Acidhumanix

For reasons lost in the history of time I ended up with two of these (#8 and #12), both signed and dedicated by Alex, and both filed in different parts of my collection until I re-found them whilst writing this entry. There is only one card inlay per release (other than the one the CDr is mounted on) - I've shown the both front and back of the colour inlay in the photo above to give a bit more detail!

Formally ascribed as a joint release with Japanese cyberpunk author Kenji Siratori, this release (in the limited edition Foghorn 3" CDr series) is a hard one to pin down. On paper it looks great - combine the occasionally avant-garde EBM industrialism of Bonemachine with Kenji Siratori, known for experimental prose and nonlinear narrative (he is part of the 'bizzaro' movement in literature - see Wikipedia for more details!)

In practice it's one of those releases that for what ever reason (for me, at least) seems to go in one ear and straight out of the other. At least I have two copies - I can send them into both ears simultaneously and hope something sticks in the middle....

It's not a poor release - far from it. The music is classic Bonemachine of this period: heavily industrial in feel, some moderately catchy machine-derived rhythms, and enough variety to keep you interested. Perhaps I'm not attuned to the lyrical content quite yet (the card inlay gives you the stream-of-consciousness lyrics for this track, which is both helpful and impenetrable at one and the same time) or perhaps my expectations were raised too much by the inclusion of a modern literary 'star' without me really understanding the nature of his writing?

It was not a CD that I played much after I'd given it a few spins on receiving it initially, and it obviously lay relatively lost and forgotten on my shelves hence me having bought a second with no recollection of the first! In playing it again this week ahead of this post I'm still of the view that it's simply not memorable enough to register deeply in my psyche.

I asked Alex about his work with Kenji, and these were his thoughts:

"When did you first work with Kenji?"
It was back in 2006, I asked Kenji to add some vocals to a BONEMACHINE track and "Acidhumanix" was the result.

"How did this collaboration come to happen - did you approach him with a particular project?"
I have some of his split albums at home and I like the way he speak in Japanese language to the tracks of different bands and I thought it would fits perfect with my kind of music - I asked him to listen to my tracks and he liked it too...

"What attracted you to his work?"
The totally different culture/ language

"How do you record with him - do you send music for him to put lyrics to, or do you take his lyrics and set them to music?"
He sent (by upload) his spoken words and I created the music around it :-)

Final thoughts....? Well, I shall press on with this one, and who knows - after repeated plays it may all make sense. Certainly a collectable, and the early CDr in the Foghorn series are pretty much sold out in most places now so you may find it a tough release to find in any event.....

Thursday, 5 March 2009

URUK HAI / ARKILLERY split CDr

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Untitled split CDr between Uruk Hai and Arkillery (US).
Format: Self-produced CDr in plastic sleeve, with single-sided colour inlay. Released 2004
Edition: Limited to only 50 hand-numbered pieces

Track Listing:

Arkillery
01. Marching to Winter Battle 3.28
02. And Ravens Were The Sign 4.26
03. The Shield Halls 2.09
Arkillery / Uruk Hai
04. Minas Morgul 4.52
Uruk Hai
05. Midgard Warriors (Chapter II) 20.29
Uruk Hai / Arkillery
06. Isengard 9.22

Back in 2004 two self-produced releases were put together by Uruk Hai and American band Arkillery (featuring Krom). This one was the first, and was untitled. Only 50 were produced (of which this is #30) The second, which will be the subject of a future blog, came in both tape and CDr format and is much easier to find as a result.

Somewhat different from other Uruk Hai releases, in that 2 of the 3 tracks here were co-written by Krom and he brought his more guitar-focused writing style to bear on the music. The three tracks bearing the Uruk Hai name may well look familiar, as they reappear in 2005 on two subsequent releases: on 'Dragons of War' (for "Minas Morgul" and "Isengard"), and on 'War Poems' (for a retitled "Black Mountain River (Midgard Warriors Part II")

And all good stuff it is too - Tolkien influences very much laid bare again, and some excellent music to accompany the titles.

I obtained this CDr directly from Alex, which is about the only place I was ever going to find it, and he was kind enough to make a dedication on the front of the sleeve: "Hail To My Blood Brother, David. Hugin"

Of course, a must-have item for collectors as it's another rare demo from this wonderful band. Luckily though, the Dragon's Breath CD pressings of the two 2005 albums (readers of earlier blogs will recall this was Padre Adamo's label) still surface online despite being in a limited edition of 1000 each, so you've every chance of hearing these tracks.

"Minas Morgul" (literally, the Tower of Black Sorcery in Tolkien's works) is a very Summoning-esque track (it comes as no surprise perhaps to learn that this was also the title of Summoning's second album) - great keyboard melodies, blackened screams for vocals and a general atmosphere of valleys, mountains and mysticism.

"Midgard Warriors" (Midgard being a realm in Norse mythology placed somewhere in the middle of Yggdrasil and is surrounded by an ocean that is impassable. The ocean is inhabited by the great sea serpent Miðgarðsormr, who is so huge that he encircles the world entirely, grasping his own tail) is a brooding, ambient piece with great length and depth to the music. A good one for the headphones on a stormy night!

Final co-written track "Isengard" (in Tolkien's world meaning 'iron fortress', built in the Second Age around the tower of Orthanc. Its location was at the north-western corner of Rohan, guarding the Fords of Isen from enemy incursions) is more in your face, with menacing snarls, brooding electronics and synth background washes, and dischordant percussion.

Likelihood is that you might never find this particular split release for sale unless you're very lucky. However, don't fret - grab yourself some Dragon's Breath released albums and enjoy three very good additions to the Uruk Hai discography.

...OF BATTLES, RAVENS AND FIRE

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: ...Of Battle, Ravens and Fire
Format: Limited edition numbered 12" picture disc on vinyl and original 7 track CD EP - both on CCP Records (Austria) - released 2000, cat refs CCP 100223-1 and 100223-2 respectively. Re-issued 9 track CD released 2005 again by CCP Records, cat ref CCP 100253-2. Photo shows original EP on the left, and reissue to the right.
Edition: Vinyl limited to only 300 hand-numbered pieces

Track Listing:
Original vinyl / CD EP tracks
1. A Legend... 02:53
2. Preparing For Battle 02:34
3. The Prayer 07:23
4. March of the Einherjer 03:50
5. Ragnarök 01:26
6. The Ravenfight 02:17
7. Gjallarhorn 01:01

Additional tracks on reissue
8. Fimbulwinter (demo, 2000)
9. Der Pfad zum Tor der Toten (rehearsal, 1999)

Another Viking epic in film-score style from the Hrossharsgrani battle-machine! Three nice formats for this release, courtesy of Austrian label CCP: my favourite is the original CD EP with artwork reminiscent of Bathory's "Blood Fire Death" release (this also has full lyrics in the booklet), whilst the CD reissue uses the atmospheric cover that originally appeared on the original 2004 promo-only Uruk Hai "Upon The Elysian Field" DoCDr release. The limited edition vinyl (a split EP with Austrian label-mates Mittwinter) has a good, if rather irrelevant, swords & sorcery style illustration and only 300 were pressed (my copy is #201).

Whilst we're doing this round-up, the CD-reissue (with all new artwork) bolstered the original 20 minute EP with two epic bonus tracks (which double the length of the music). The first track is 'Fimbulwinter', which was originally due to be a 7" EP through CCP but was never released. The artwork was completed though (there's a photo on the Metal Archives pages), and the paper inlay is in exactly the same style to the 12" pictured above. Whether the EP was pressed and not released, or plans never progressed that far, I don't know....but I know a man who will.....! [Indeed, Alex has just emailed to say that whilst he has an edited version of the track (of around circa 8 minutes) it never was pressed on vinyl] The second bonus track is the lengthy rehearsal track 'Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten', originally released on the 1999 demo of the same name.

Now, this particular album has a fair degree of critics when you look online. Taking the Metal Archive reviewers comments as representative, the gist of public opinion seems to be this:

"Alex Hugin is a strange character. He has naught but the utmost devotion for epic and fantasy lore, utterly dedicated to Nordic tales and all aspects of Tolkien, and he certainly has talent for portraying them in music – but at the same time, he nearly never reaches his full potential"
Durandal1717

"This is the first release with a full band, actual production standards, and dare I say it…quality? Not much, but it’s there, and unfortunately so are some strains from the old days of the band. Most of the songs are simply boring, minimalist “ambient” pieces that serve as narration for the story, if story there indeed is beyond a general feeling of vikings and battle.There are indeed good parts, but too many parts, which while not exactly bad, are entirely pointless, and could’ve easily been left out"

Durandal 1717

"There is nothing very metal about Hrossharsgrani, at least with this EP anyway. Rather Hrossharsgrani fill this EP up with sound effects, epic soundtrack-esque synths, hypnotic hollow bassdrum beats, cheesy voiceovers almost as narration and lengthy samples of battles"

mz_412

I mention this for context, as I'll freely accept that others will have different opinions about the music that I enjoy, and I'm sure Alex would be the first to admit that in retrospect some songs/albums he would have done differently.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this album, in as far as it's true to the well-trodden Hrossharsgrani tradition of being a sample-heavy mixture of battle sounds, spoken lyrics (deeply accented), occasional bursts of epic musical glory (tracks 4 and 6 in this case) with booming war drums and percussion-led pieces, and simple, repetitive ambient passages. It all adds up to what I call a "film score experience" and you can't really approach it in any other way. To do so and expect a 'classic' Viking-metal album - and given the Bathory-style cover I suspect many paying customers did - may well lead to disappointment overall.

The original EP and the reissue are very different beasts. The 7 track original version plays for a little over 21 minutes and, with a couple of fine guitar riffs on two of the tracks and a superb battle scene in the middle (as mz_412 himself noted, "this band certainly knows how to stage a battle for radio") you can digest it in one go, spit out any unpalatable bits, and savour the sweet aftertaste of bombast and heroism.

The reissue, on the other hand, adds in a couple of monster bonus tracks (both well over the 15 minute mark each) and this takes things to a different level in the listening stakes! 'Fimbulwinter' is a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair really, with samples galore, wind, wolves, trademark Hross' synths and lots of spoken word samples from one (or more?) movies. It would have been one hell of a 7" EP, I can tell you. Second bonus track 'Der Pfad zum Tor der Toten' somewhat outstays its welcome with some very long ambient passages, but as a snapshot into an earlier demo-only era of the band it would have been of value for someone without access to the hard-to-find demo tapes.

At the end of the day, it's not the best album Hrossharsgrani ever put out, but as a main label pressing (with some care lavished on it from CCP) it must have helped to raise the profile of the band. Trouble was, it may not have won it many new converts. Although perhaps in some strange ways it did....

"I can't really recommend '...Of Battles, Ravens and Fire" for it's music. However, I do feel an odd pride in owning a CD by an obscure band with an unpronounceable name and some of the oddest content I have ever heard."

Byter

DEMETER

Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Demeter
Format: Cassette tape-only demo, with full colour double-sided inlay, released on W.A.R. (Austria) in 2003, catalogue reference WAR014
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 500

Track Listing:
01. Verdorbene Erde
02. Das Totenschiff Demeter (Logbucheintrage Aus Dem Nebelmeer)
03. Der Wolf (Puls Unendlicher Pein)

This was the third release from Elisabetha, following their 'Durst Nach Unsterblichkeit' demo of 2000 and a vinyl EP 'Bluthochzeit' from 2001. In a hand-numbered edition of only 500 (mine being #166) it is not uncommon to find, though you'll need to look long and hard across the more obscure distros to finally track one down. As with the demo tape from 2000, a quality production job in terms of both the glossy colour inlay and the inclusion of a full set of lyrics on its reverse. A three-man project, featuring 'Neon Asthet', 'Blutgraf' and 'Hollenfurst' (AW).

This demo follows in the established pattern of being a narrated "radio-play" style affair, based around the vampyric legends and dark, underworld atmospheres of the Carpathian region of Eastern Europe. Often described online as 'vampyric black metal' or similar epithets there is, I would venture, more of a gentle narrated ambiance that such a title would suggest. Certainly if you gave this to a hardened black metal fan I think they'd be somewhat confused...!

Now, as to the content of this tape I confess once again that my lack of German prohibits a literal summary of events (buy hey - there is the lyric sheet if you want to translate the piece verbatim) but musically it is very similar to the 2000 original demo. Lots of atmospheric keyboards, dark swirling melodies and rather nice, classical piano pieces (which is, of course, the direction that the project moved towards in the latter years).

There are fewer samples on this that the first demo (although there is a prevailing 'on a boat' theme of creaking wood and leather with waves lapping at the side of a vessel, suggesting a journey of the central character whilst the narration continues) but more guitar and piano pieces, some of them actually rather catchy. At two points there are riffs that reminded me immediately of psychedelic-period Status Quo (think 'Paradise Flats' era) which was great, if unexpected - I never thought I'd find comparisons between those two bands!

There are also a couple of short, slightly 'industrial' influences and sounds on here (the demo closes with one) that are reminiscent of our other old favourite, Bonemachine.

I like this a lot - the lack of full lyrical comprehension never really bothers me if the music and atmosphere do their part (and let's be honest, there are plenty of bands writing in English whose lyrics you can't understand, so why should it be an issue) and it's a great little tape to pop on in the dark of a winters evening, just as the last flecks of daylight are disappearing.....

Edit: I've just received this contribution from Alex: "Demeter is my fave ELISABETHA release!! The story is: Dracula's journey from Transylvania to London on a ship called "Demeter", beginning in an old castle in Transylvania where slaves put old earth into the coffins, ending when Dracula changed his shape into a Wolf in the streets of London at night..."