Saturday, 29 January 2011

WAR ANTHEMS

Band: URUK HAI
Title: War Anthems
Format: 6CD compilation in a wooden box released in September 2010 by the Tryby label (Poland), catalogue reference 02/2010. Each disc comes housed in a plastic wallet and has a two-sided black and white cover. The box-set also contains two colour postcards, a sticker, a black and white photo-card of Hugin, and a map of Middle Earth detailing the albums and edition number of the set. All albums contained in this box-set have been previously released on the Wulfrune Worxx and Front Line Productions labels.
Edition: 15 hand-numbered boxes

Track Listing:

CD1: A Dark Force Shines Golden
01. Helms Deep 09:34
02. Precious 06:09
03. Beneath The Moon, Beneath The Sun 11:24
04. Blood Of Heroes (bonus track) 28:56
CD2: After the War (Orcish Battle Hymns Part IV)
01. After the War 40:29
CD3: At the End of the First Age
01. At The End Of The First Age (An Opera About Ered luin, The Blue Mountains) 27:21
CD4: Balrog
01. Balrog Parts 1 and 2 57.52
CD5: Morgoth
01. Morgoth Parts 1 and 2 59.38
CD6: Die Festung
01. Dunkler Herrscher 13:55
02. Eisen Hölle 09:09
03. Belagerung 08:38
04. Der Eisenkerker 02:12
05. Die Grosse Schmiede 27:31

On the face of things it would seem positively churlish to complain about a compilation of Uruk Hai material released in such an elegant wooden box-set as this. For many years followers of Uruk Hai would have chewed off their own right arm at the prospect of such a deluxe compendium being released, and in recent months we have been positively spoiled with a veritable cascade of boxed output from this project. The humble wooden box has evidently become one of the in-vogue ways of presenting releases at the premium end of the market, and this first attempt from Polish label Tryby is a well constructed and well intentioned dip into such tempestuous waters.

Of course, your old Uncle Nazgul has a few thoughts of his own about this release, a mixture of both positive and negative. In order to handle this inner conflict, let us therefore proceed along the route of what is colloquially known in management-speak as the 'criticism sandwich': two positives literally sandwiching the negative 'filling' in the middle!

Well, first impressions are good. It's a sturdy light-coloured box, fastened with a nice metal clasp and bearing a cover sticker that has rather a good concept to illustrate it. Sure, one could be picky and suggest that the 'eye' is not shown entirely in the right perspective given the direction the drummer boy's head is supposed to be facing, but the overall effect is a happy marriage of both war and Tolkien imagery and overall it's really quite a striking (and slightly unsettling) image.

Inside the box the exclusive content has also been well chosen: there is a postcard depicting Sauron's tower with our hero Hugin, a second card showing the Great Eye of Sauron, a small colour map showing the box contents and edition number (Nazgul's is #5/15), an Uruk Hai sticker (modern logo in gold on black background), and a black & white photo card of Hugin in chainmail and with his broadsword.

So far, so good, but this is the bit where Nazgul assumes his 'grumpy old man' mantle. Now, to be fair, some his gripes stem from Nazgul's fairly lucky position of owning a significant proportion of Uruk Hai output already, and so would not necessarily resonate with other owners of this set or more casual fans. One of the main advantages of a collection such as this is, after all, that it makes available a number of albums that were previously only in cassette format (with the exception of "A Dark Force Shines Golden" which has appeared as a split CD already). This in itself is a boon for customers who were unable or unwilling to invest in the original tape releases.

However, bear with Nazgul whilst he makes his case. Let's move to the discs themselves. The first disappointing issue is the black and white covers on the CD sleeve inserts: for what is a fairly pricey box-set (it was around £35 I seem to recall) you might suppose that colour covers could have been used, which would have been a definite upgrade from the monochrome inlays that the Wulfrune Worxx tapes were adorned with. You might reasonably expect a tape release to use copied inlays to keep costs down and the price affordable, but in the case of a box-set like this I think not! Given that a simple online search can instantly locate the colour versions of the "Balrog" and "Morgoth" covers for example, it seems likely that most of the covers were sourced via the Internet and thus could have been depicted in colour?

Personally, Nazgul would also have preferred a proper jewel-case for each album rather than the plastic wallet approach, although space and weight were presumably the considerations here. On the plus side, the paper sleeve inserts do all have a different image inside, which for those of you keeping track of such things are: "A Dark Force Shines Golden" - the Great Eye of Sauron; "After The War" - Hugin with sword #1; "At The End Of The First Age" - the war anthems 'drummer-boy' cover; "Balrog" - Hugin with sword #2; "Morgoth" - the map of Middle-Earth (showing the land in and around Rhovanion and Haradwaith); and "Die Festung" - Hugin with sword #3. The rear panel illustration for each inlay shows the track listing for each album on a background of the Dark Lord himself, which incidentally is the same image as appears on the 2010 Uruk Hai demo "Wrath Of The Ring".

Nazgul's other moan concerns the lack of any obvious bonus for the fan who already owns the tape versions of these releases. Other than the one bonus song on "A Dark Force Shines Golden" the track listings are exactly as the original cassette releases. And, it has to be said, that bonus song - 'Blood of Heroes' - is not unique to this set, but was the Uruk Hai track on the split CD "Nachtkrieg" released by Dungeons Deep Records in 2009. Now, it could well be that of the 15 customers for this release Nazgul is in fact the only one who owns all the tapes already, and thus the cry of "more fool you, then" rings out from the masses. However, given the cost of this set and the fact that only 15 were made, it's not unreasonable to assume that it is more the dedicated fan who would buy it rather than the casually curious. Would one therefore also reasonably assume that such a fan is also likely to have some of the preceding tape releases already? Nazgul would be interested to hear from any owners of the set about this....

Allowing for all of that moaning (sorry - normal service now resumed!) this is still an interesting representation of Uruk Hai circa 2009-2010. It's almost Wulfrune Worxx's 'Honour and Darkness' tape series replicated on CDr, except for the crucial fact that one of the six releases in that series is not present. Have you worked out which one it is yet? Yes, quite right, it's "Black Blood, White Hand" that's missing, but given the fact that this particular album has been given the royal treatment in a box-set release of its own this omission is not really unexpected. Instead, the sixth album to find a home in "War Anthems" is the "At The End Of The First Age" release, formerly part of the 'Remember CC' series on Wulfrune Worxx, and also a 'Split Series' tape release with Orcrist.

What the assembled releases do have in common are some pretty epic tracks - the "Balrog" and "Morgoth" are each nigh on an hour of instrumental work, whilst 4 other tracks across the box crack the 20 minute mark. Only "Die Festung" and "A Dark Force Shines Golden" offer more digestible songs, and four of these are pushing 10 minutes or more each! The net result is a box-set that you'd struggle to dip into just to play a couple of quick songs before you'd run out of options, but on the other hand Tryby provide enough ammunition for the listener to settle down for a quiet night in with some absorbing listening ahead.

It's a bit of a mixed verdict for this release, ultimately. If Nazgul was new to Uruk Hai and owned little by way of prior material, then I think his opinion of the worth of this set would be somewhat different. It's very possible that such circumstances existed for the majority of customers who bought this box-set, in which case I think you'd have to argue that at an average cost of around £7 per album plus a nice box to house them in, it's far from a bum deal. Longer term fans who already support the band (and underground labels) through tape purchases may have steered clear of this for reasons of economy or lack of necessity. Nazgul, being Nazgul, has one of everything and thus something of an unusual situation arises when it comes to collections like this. All of which is probably a fairly long-winded way of saying "you pay your money, you take your choice!"

With only 15 copies released by Tryby it's doubtful whether any boxes remain unsold, which now makes the whole 'to buy or not to buy' argument somewhat moot. Nazgul is happy enough with his purchase and the freedom it gives to stick something like "Die Festung" on the car stereo rather than being limited to the tape deck inside the Castle. I maintain there was a lost opportunity not to add a disc of rarities to "War Anthems" - there's plenty of Uruk Hai tracks out there that merit a reissue compared to material from as recently as 2009, not least the excellent songs on the 2004 split album "Melancholie Eines Herbstes In Drei Akten". Then again, the looming presence of the soon-to-be-advertised (so Nazgul is told) 40CD box-set of Uruk Hai's discography should keep even Nazgul quiet about such matters when Steinklang finally unleash it on an unsuspecting planet...!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

THE LONG GREY ROAD - update


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: The Long Grey Road
Reason for update: Re-release in CD format
Format: Plain white 3" CDr in colour paper inlay, supplied in plastic wallet. Released in 2011 by Smell The Stench (Australia) with no visible catalogue reference number as part of their limited 3" series. Features a reissue of two tracks previously released on the 2010 Wulfrune Worxx 'Split-Series' cassette "Valkyrian Romance/The Long Grey Road" by Uruk Hai and Hrossharsgrani (WW113).
Edition: Limited to 20 hand-numbered copies only

Track Listing:

01. Introduction 01:47
02. The Long Grey Road 09:24

The first thing to strike you about this release is the excellent - yet totally incongruous - cover illustration. In terms of invoking awe and wonder you can't really go wrong with an image like this one - a beautiful ship in full sail set in a Tolkien-esque oceanic landscape. What it has to do with the concept of a 'long grey road', however, is baffling unclear, but then who is Nazgul to pick holes in such things? A good cover is a good cover, that's what I say. The original tape cover from Wulfrune Worxx (see post of 19 April 2010) came with a suitably relevant cover image, so perhaps this is merely a way to inject a little alternate vitality into what proves to be a short but thoroughly enjoyable CDr release.

Over recent years Australian label Smell The Stench (STS) has released a seemingly ad hoc number of discs in this 3"CDr format, which is just fine by Nazgul as he's always had something of a fondness for this size of disc. It must be something to do with the heady days of the early compact disc releases, and all of those enticing small 3" CD singles with adaptor rings that used to be found in the village beneath the Castle. Anyway, Nazgul digresses.

This occasional series of numbered 3" discs from STS has been running for some years and has already included the odd release from Hugin's other bands, as previously reviewed in Honour and Darkness. These include no less than three releases from Bonemachine/B-Machina - the "Prophecy Pt. I" and "...Pt. II' discs along with the splendidly entitled "Burn Down Psychosis" - and a very recent title, Uruk Hai's "Elves & Men", which has yet to be covered on these hallowed pages. The numbering of the editions in the series appear endearingly random too, with the "Prophecy" titles both being limited to 24 copies, and "Burn Down Psychosis" limited to only 15. This Hrossharsgrani release is in an edition of just 20 copies, of which Nazgul's is #9. In addition, it has kindly been signed on the reverse of the wallet by Hugin. This is the only official Hrossharsgrani release so far to be found in the 3"CD format.

Given such a small edition, and given the fact that STS is reporting via their website that all the copies are now sold-out, the release is already destined to be a hard-to-find collectable of the future. This fact serves to remind Nazgul that virtually all of his 'Top Ten rarities' posts from 2010 for Alex's bands are now out of date and will require updating at some point in the future...

Back to this little gem. Two of the Hrossharsgrani tracks from the tape release are featured, the third - a version of 'Fimbulwinter' - being excluded here. Some elements sound slightly different in unmastered format - the spoken word part at the outset of 'The Long Grey Road' sounds more pronounced here, for example, whilst the introduction seems to have more of a martial feel to it than on the tape version - but to all intents and purposes it is the same pair of songs. This is not a bad thing, as the title track in particular is an excellent piece of music having been previously described in Honour and Darkness as being "...underpinned by a eerie piano/synth melody, the songs opens out and 'blooms' over its nine minute plus duration like a fantastical rose coming into flower. The song builds, slowly and ominously, and really sinks into your consciousness, augmented by a weaving and wailing electric guitar and funky percussion as it progresses to its climax. Well worth the price of admission alone, and a must-listen for any fan of Alex's output".

And now, assuming you were sufficiently quick off the mark to get a copy, you can enjoy all of this in digital format too!

Friday, 21 January 2011

WURZLMANN

Band: HREFNESHOLT
Title: Wurzlmann
Format: Cassette release with the now 'traditional' black and white photocopied inlay from Wulfrune Worxx (France), cat ref WW150, released in 2010. The inlay credits the cover photos to Gerhard Hallstatt and the release bears the dedication "to my true friend Gerhard". This recording was completed in the Linz 'Fluesterwald Studio' in 2009 and 2010. Hugin is referred to by his initials AHW on this release.
Edition: Only 66 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:

01. Wurzlmann (Eini In Woid) 2.55
02. Wurzlmann (Uraungst version) 11.37
03. Wurzlmann (Wurzelweit version) 14.21

Today's interesting fact concerns the humble mangelwurzel. The mangelwurzel, or mangold wurzel, is a cultivated root vegetable derived from Beta Vulgaris. Its large white, yellow or orange-yellow swollen roots were developed in the 18th century as a fodder crop for feeding livestock. The name Mangelwurzel comes from the German 'mangel'/'mangold', meaning 'chard', and "wurzel" - 'root'.

The relevance of this, of course, comes in interpreting the title of this curious little Hrefnesholt EP, which literally translates as "Root Man". And what is a root-man you might reasonably wonder? Well, Nazgul believes that in essence it refers to the image of a man found in the twisted roots and proud trunks of trees, bushes and the like. Not entirely dissimilar therefore to the English concept of the Green Man, and a latent spirit within nature found in the darkest woods.

The Hrefnesholt MySpace site has a few such illustrations courtesy of Hugin's camera, which Nazgul has shamelessly pinched to decorate this post from henceforth. A quick search online will also locate a few other examples for you were you of a mind to go looking for them, but to keep the theme of things Hugin we'll stick to his images. The carvings have been enhanced in places to emphasise the humanity, but pure natural examples will also be out there so eyes peeled next time you're out on a ramble...

Wurzlmann, Osttirol, September 2009, c Alexander Wieser

'Wurzlmann' originally came to the attention of Honour and Darkness in the review of the split tape between Hrefnesholt and Firing Human, on 2 December 2010. In that version the song was just over eleven and a half minutes long, thus making it the same as the second track on this particular cassette. In turn, this version is noted to be the 'Uraungst' version, in as far as the same song appears as track 5 on the recently released Hrefnesholt digipak album by the same name. 'Wurzlmann' is not to be found, however, on the advance tape of the 'Uraungst' recordings, covered in the Blog on 3 August 2010.

Wurzlmann, Osttirol, September 2009, c Alexander Wieser

All three variants of the song here - from the short, mystically-tinged opener to the longer, decidedly more psychedelic 'Wurzelweit version' - carry an all pervasive odour of the backwoods, the dark clearings of the narrow paths where ancient traditions live on and where sunlight rarely penetrates.

The Blog post for the Hrefnesholt/Firing Human split concluded that the track "...falls into the recent Hrefnesholt style of having the sense of being taken into the deepest forests to embark on a meditative and almost ritualistic journey into the early origins of the wood spirits and legends of yore. The mixing of the sounds of nature with sometimes almost tribal percussion and that captivating vocal style really does make you feel that you're in the position of a novice receiving education from a wise elder. You can smell the leaves, inhale the smoke and trip on the roots (in all senses) if you put your mind to it..." and - frankly - that really still says all you need to know.

Wurzlmann, Gallneukirchen, Mühlviertel - c Alexander Wieser Oktober 2009

It is unusual for this sort of cassette EP to be released in the Hrefnesholt camp - normally such things are more normally flying the pennants of Uruk Hai or Hrossharsgrani. Being something of a soft-touch for Hrefnesholt product this is a rare treat for Nazgul, although the issue volume of only 66 copies (Nazgul's being a mid-table #37, for the record) rather than the 100+ normally seen from this label suggests that perhaps the general feeling was that as a niche product this might not exactly fly out of the door on the day of its release?

It's the commitment of this label to putting exactly these type of releases out there - from Hugin's projects and other bands -that has led to Nazgul having such a tremendous amount of respect for Wulfrune Worxx. It's the unusual nature of the recordings on this release that has led to Nazgul having a tremendous amount of respect for Hugin's music too, and long may all of these factors continue to align!

DEPRAVITY (The Second) [V/A]

Bands: ELISABETHA and URUK HAI (amongst other bands)
Title: Depravity (The Second)
Format: CDr in paper-sleeve issued with the second issue of Depravity Zine (published by Odium Records, UK) in around 2005/06. The CDr bears the catalgoue reference OD012. The zine was distributed in the UK and Australia.
Edition: Circa 200 copies issued in UK, copies distributed in Australia unknown.

Track Listing:

01. Elisabetha * Sanguis Vobiscum (from Vampyr, 2003, Austria) 6.24
02. Twrch * untitled (unknown) 6.02
03. The Tyrant Of Manchester * Cold Teeth Sing Out (2004 self-titled demo, UK) 2.32
04. Kroll * untitled (Australian, demo source unknown) 2.57
05. XarkaneX * Vachta (Greece, source unknown) 5.49
06. Vrag * Forgotten Cult Of Penetration ('To The Light' demo, 2002, Australia) 2.16
07. La Bete * 7th (Phil's other band, a track not on their 2006 demo, UK) 4.54
08. Black Silence * Accursed Star (on 2005 demo, Australia) 6.01
09. Ethereal Woods * Thickthorn (on 2004 album Thickthorn) 3.15
10. Volac * The Great Battle (unknown) 4.05
11. Macabre Omen * An Ode To Rhode ('The Ancient Returns' album 2005, Greece) 5.41
12. Hypothermia * Ur Ångest Född ('Lead Yourself To Failure' demo, 2005, Sweden) 11.03
13. Pestilential Shadows * Decay (from 2005 'Impaled By The Moon' demo, Australia) 7.38
14. Uruk Hai * untitled 3.22
15. Odium * Voices Of The Dead (from the 'Solitude' demo, 2006, UK) 2.37
16. Odium / Uruk Hai * untitled split track 3.34

'Bring forth the dark sky and choke the life from this ball of rock' (Philip Knight)

Depravity: "A state of corruption; viciousness, profilgacy, perversion or degeneracy"

With a definition like that, it could surely only be the work of the inestimable Mr P. Knight: pevert supreme, and owner of Odium Records. This rather splendid CDr came with the second issue of underground 'zine Depravity circa 2005/06, cunningly titled "Depravity the Second", and promising '13 pages of diabolical filth'!

As with all compilation discs, you get a variety of music that in most cases you'd never have come across anywhere else and which, in some cases, that you could quite happily live without hearing ever again. This particular collection boasts more hits than misses, however, and spans a variety of UK and Australian bands with the occasional inclusion from Austria, Sweden and Greece.

Hidden within its depths is rather a rare gem featuring Uruk Hai, so it's an item well worth covering in Honour and Darkness. It wouldn't have been possible to even begin this post without a copy of the CDr, so Nazgul thanks the renowned midget-fondler himself, and also Hugin, for the receipt of an original copy of both the zine and disc.

Things start out promisingly with a old Elisabetha track, 'Sanguis Vobiscum' from the band's 2003 release "Vampyr". Plenty of spooky organ work on this one, and a good introduction to the project for any Depravity listener previously uninitiated. As valued readers of Honour and Darkness, you will already know of the excellent nature of this band of course. The next 13 or so tracks come and go in various forms of assault and battery to the senses. Some notable inclusions are the olde worlde English horde Ethereal Woods, and the presence of the beast himself (La Bete), another vehicle for Phil Knight's totured soul to scream unto the world. Named after the French film of the same name, so Nazgul is informed, and less of an organic project than Odium with programmed drums. All good raucous fun which rollocks along with very little let up and frankly would put the fear of god into any innocent soul passing by. All, one presumes, part of the overall Odium (the label) masterplan.

It is the final few tracks that pique the interest for Nazgul though. Firstly, there is a really excellent untitled track from Uruk Hai at track 14. It comes in two parts, in effect, with both elements being keyboard-based and with no vocals being present at all. The first element is very similar to the introduction to another Uruk Hai song that Nazgul can't quite put his finger on at the moment (cue lots of replaying of old demos to find it!), but overall the track delivers all the majestical elegance that one would expect from an Uruk Hai song of this period (2004-05).

Following a brief interlude from Odium - fuzzy, distorted, simple yet actually rather good - there is a very rare song to complete the compilation; another untitled piece but featuring the combined talents of Odium and Uruk Hai in a diabolical split track. It's only a whisker over three and a half minutes long, but it delivers as you might expect - Uruk Hai providing the backbone of the song with a martial persussive beat along with keyboard melodies, whilst Odium chips in with a distorted guitar tone. Great stuff, and wholly deserving of a place on a future rarities collection of Hugin's work. The song is perfectly concluded (or ended, at least!) with what sounds suspiciously like broken guitar strings as Mr Knight falls - doubtlessly drunk - onto his instrument...!

On the construction of this piece, Phil notes that, "the bones and most of the flesh were presented to me by Hugin, I then added my bit to the track. There were three more tracks after this one, but four years later and after numerous attempts I have yet to make good on them."

Thus there could yet be some more collaborative songs to see the light of day at a future time? Let's hope so, in the form of a suitably limited edition Odium/Uruk Hai split release...?

Anyway, to conclude, here is a photo of the elegant cover of Depravity Issue 2 for you to enjoy....

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

SONGS FROM THE WOODS (Edition 2011)


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Songs From The Woods (Edition 2011)
Format: Cassette release on the Depressive Illusions (Ukraine) label in January 2011, cat ref cut181, with full colour cover on a glossy inlay. This tape contains a remastered version of the original 2005 demo release.
Edition: Limited to 99 hand-numbered copies

Track listing:

01. Songs from the Woods 24:20

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially back in the woods!

This brand new release - literally only a few weeks old, out on the Depressive Illusions label, ink still glistening on the inlay - is a re-release of the 2005 demo tape "Songs From The Woods" that was originally published by the Eclipse Of Live Promulgation label (Germany) in an edition of 88 copies. This re-issue is a welcome return for a classic Uruk Hai composition, and as ever the Depressive Illusions standards are high when it comes to providing a quality colour cover to admire. Indeed, this is something of a rarity for an Uruk Hai reissue in as far as both the original demo and the second release have colour covers - this has happened very occasionally before ("In Durins Halls" being the notable example) but it's not common, as most of the early demos had black and white inlays.

The great thing about this song is that you really do get a sense of being in immersed in nature as it plays. Much like the "A Night In The Forest" album, this song cleverly and subtly uses background noises of woodland fauna to complement the synthesised melodies, and the whole piece comes together beautifully. This song is wonderfully composed despite being nearly half and hour in length, in that it always seems to be far shorter than it actually is (and thus never outstays its welcome) and it creates some suitably evocative and romantic melodies as the keyboards swirl around you. There are no vocals on this song, nor do there need to be any to create the imagery of 'the woods'. Where these woods we don't know - it could be Fangorn, elsewhere on Middle Earth, or even the wooded areas around Pöstlingberg mountain in Linz - but the effect is much the same - captivating musical enchantment.

This song is unique to tape format, which is a shame as it would be a great track for inclusion on a fully representative Uruk Hai CD compilation album. There is, in actual fact, a third tape bearing this song in remastered format as it appears as a special bonus song on the b-side of "Spirits (From Ancient Worlds)" released in 2010 by Wulfrune Worxx, and which Honour and Darkness will review soon.

The Depressive Illusions version is certainly a good one to go for if you revel in the traditional majestic nature of Uruk Hai compositions of this period. The new cover is perfectly mysterious, the re-mastering helps to give the song added oomph and freshness, and as the original demo is now almost impossible to find one can only imagine that this particular version will soon follow in its footsteps and be sold out soon.

Nazgul's copy of this tape is #1 of the 99 produced, and he offers the label this gratitude and thanks for this privilege.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

ERRAKO / MORGVIR / NIHIÜBTRATH / URUK HAI split


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Untitled 4-way split between Erakko / Morgvir / Nihiürbtrath / Uruk Hai
Format: Cassette-only release in 2010 from two labels: Wulfrune Worxx (France) cat ref WW149, and Runenstein Records (Germany), cat ref RR028. Black and white photocopied inlay, featuring predominantly black metal tracks from four bands associated with both labels. The inlay notes this is part of Wulfrune's Split Series.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 99 copies

Track Listing:

Erakko
1. Armoton Maa 3.23
2. Kuun Hämärä 1.28
3. Erakko 4.36
4. The Serpent Tree 2.33
5. Hautaruusu 1.48
Morgvir
6. Distance 1.57
7. Kylmään Virtaan 3.20
8. Necrodeath 1.40
Nihiürbtrath
9. S.A.D.N.E.S.S. 18.11
Uruk-Hai
10. Battle of the Southern Flame 13.43

The coming together of two underground labels (Wulfrune Worxx and Runenstein Records) produces this enticing morsel: a four-way split tape release featuring - believe it or not - four bands competing for your attention. The tape comes with a classic cover illustration courtesy of Hugin, with shadowy demonic faces appearing atop a snowy copse of trees: an effective metaphor for both the ambient (forests, nature) and the black metal elements of the music.

First up are Erakko, a one-man Finnish outfit affiliated to the Wulfrune label (according to Metal Archives) and apparently a relatively new entity from sole member Neurotic: aside from this release Erakko have released just one other demo, being 'From The Ancient Pagan Forests'. From this title you may not be surprised to learn that their primary lyrical theme is Paganism, wrapped up in a primordial soup of black metal riffage. The name Errako, by the way, translates into English as 'hermit', or 'loner'. The five songs on offer (half of the number of tracks on the release) are perfectly serviceable, although not especially distinctive.

Morgvir are also Finnish and - it transpires - share the same personnel as Erakko in the form of that man again, Neurotic. Including this split Morgvir has around 15 demos and rehearsal recordings to its name. With more of an experimental black metal/ambient sound, the project has been around since 2003 according to online sources, although the 15 demos alluded to above stem only from the period since 2009. Not sure what the project was up to for those intervening 6 years, but the music here is rather more creative than the Erakko stuff so it would seem that the longer gestation period has paid dividends.

Nihiürbtrath are another newish project, formed in 2008 and with a number of demos to their name. Their themes of choice cover suicide, depression, sickness, loneliness and agony - all good cheerful subjects. Despite having a vaguely European looking band name (umlauts and all) this horde actually hails from deepest Venezuela, so we can reasonably conclude it has nothing to do with the so-far ubiquitous Neurotic. Their single lengthy track, 'S.A.D.N.E.S.S' is, as far as I can establish, unique to this release. In recent times Wulfrune Worxx have been re-releasing the bands demos in tape format, so worth checking them out if primitive black metal is your thing. I confess, such was the fuzzy hiss of the instrumentation and the howling wails of anguish from the vocalist at the outset of the song it put Nazgul in mind of a man inadvertently scalding himself in a hot shower, but what do I know of art...?!

And last but by no means least we have Uruk Hai bringing up a rear-guard action with their one song on this split, the 'Battle of the Southern Flame'. This particular track is also the title of a separate Uruk Hai demo from 2010, featuring one additional bonus song, which was released via the HOD label (run by Grav, of Orcrist, you may remember). We'll cover this one in a separate post in due course.

The interesting thing about finding Uruk Hai tracks on compilations and split releases - particularly where the other music is primarily 'traditional' Black Metal - is that they do stand out as being....well, rather 'quiet' in comparison to their counterparts, seemingly out of place. You can picture the scene - a multitude of tracks of venom-fuelled invective pounding incessantly through your synapses like a rutting rhino on amphetamines are followed by the quintessential lush and relaxed sound of Uruk Hai's keyboard wizardry. It's like propelling a neutron or two at the nucleus of a plutonium or uranium isotope - prepare for conflict and consequent fireworks!!

Such was the case regarding the Hexenreich sampler reviewed on xx (well - there wasn't a nuclear explosion, to be fair, but you see what I'm getting at. The extract of 'Quenta Silmarillion' sat rather uncomfortably amongst its peers.) That said, Hexenreich's offering was a freebie given away by the label, so you couldn't really complain too much about the content. This split tape is different, however, in as far as it's not free, so one might reasonably wonder who the primary audience is for such a release is: a hardened fan of one of the bands who collects all of their material (guilty as charged, m'lord)? A fan of the black metal genre prepared to try out some new groups? A collector of either label's output? Difficult to say.

Whilst 'Battle Of The Southern Flame' is an excellent title (and unusually, so it would seem, not a reference to any part of Tolkien's works) the song itself is not, it has to be said, the most captivating of Uruk Hai tunes of recent times. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but one of the issues is that does seem to go on for longer than perhaps it needs to. This could be in part a knee-jerk reaction following on from the blitzkrieg approaches of the songs that precede it (Nihiürbtrath apart, whose lengthy track is a struggle to get through), or maybe Nazgul is just having 'one of those days', but having played this track a few times there is a tendency to 'de-tune' from it a little and to listen to it only as background music rather than something of immediate attention, even after the onset of the unusual drumming patterns or the advent of the rasping vocals later in the song. That may well be the intent of the piece, of course, as most Uruk Hai music is hardly in your face, but there's something a little 'flat' about this track compared to some of the more captivating melodies that other recent demos have produced.

So, to draw some conclusions. The styles of these four bands are not immediately an obvious 'fit' as the material on offer is quite different in nature, with Nihiürbtrath occupying a quite different niche to Erakko/Morgvir, and Uruk Hai being somewhere different entirely. Musically speaking there's nothing massively memorable on the tape, although nothing massively offensive either. It would require a pretty eclectic taste to truly appreciate it all. At the same time, you have to give credit to the labels involved simply in getting some product out there, for there will be fans of all of these projects who will quite rightly ignore all of this review to listen for themselves.

Ultimately, and speaking as a die-hard Uruk Hai fan, Nazgul would suggest that if you must hear this song you would be better off seeking out the HOD "Battle of the Southern Flame" demo as you'll also benefit from its bonus track. Perhaps this 4-way split might yet turn a fan of one of the other bands onto Uruk Hai should they be in the mood for something more peaceful ... and that certainly wouldn't be a bad thing.

As a very 'nerdy' way to finish this post, Nazgul notes that the photograph of the inlay for this release shown on the Metal Archives site shows only the Wulfrune label logo, and has an edition number of 66 copies only. One presumes, therefore, that the Runenstein involvement came after the initial inlay mock-up was done, and increased the volume by a further 33 copies. Quite how the accompanying narrative to the Metal Archives entry manages to give the edition as 100 copies remains a mystery...!?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

An interview with ... Orcrist

Well, assuming you are reading this Blog chronologically, an interview with Orcrist was recently suggested based on the presence on their latest album "Fallen" of no less a person than our Austrian hero, Hugin. No sooner suggested than done!

Following Nazgul's last post, therefore, let’s briefly hear from the band about working with Hugin, recording the album "Fallen", and of all things Orcrist…

Welcome to Honour and Darkness, Grav
Hails Nazgul! First of all I wanna thank you for this interview!

Q1. Can you tell us something about Orcrist - the band members, and where and when you were formed, etc?
A1. About Orcrist, I’ll try to be concise but clear enough. Orcrist was born at the end of 1999; it was founded by me as drummer and by Bhaal as guitarist and singer. We recorded different rehearsals: among them, the first “Self Titled” and the second “Over Man’s Doom” (keep in mind that Orcrist recorded about 25 rehearsal tapes). After that Lucyfer joined the band as bass player: with him we recorded our two demos, the split album with Isvind and our debut album “Slaget Ved Trollheim”. Then Orcrist went back to be just me and Bhaal, for a short period of time.

Bhaal had a serious car incident and so I hired other musicians to create our second album “Black Blood Raise”: Ghosta of the deceased Italian band “Fullmoon Promises” as singer and Never999 of the Sardinian bands “Calvary” and “Tears of Christ” as guitarist and bass player.

In 2007 Orcrist changed its line up again, with the return of Bhaal as guitarist and the addiction of Lunedei as bass player (he was coming from the deceased Fullmoon Promises, too): we recorded two tracks for the split album with the Norwegian band Beastcraft. After that, Orcrist kinda split up and I remained the sole member. I then hired Mane (Defixio, Carnality, Baratro, Entity, Muculors, Aldebaran) as guitarist and bass player and Sacrifice of the band Mourning Soul for the vocals.

Our third album “We come in war” was then released by the Dutch label Apollion Records. Finally in 2010 Orcrist found a steady and final line up: my great brother and friend Goblin of the Norwegian band Isvind became our singer, guitarist and bassist, together with Mane. Goblin already wanted to join us for the recordings of “We come in war” but he couldn’t, due to some personal problems: three lyrics on that album were his anyway.

I think I am done. No, just another thing which doesn’t have to be forgotten: Orcrist also wrote the official lyric of one song of the band Ildjarn, which can be found in their first demo, and that didn’t have a lyric before. Since we recorded that track in the Tribute to Ildjarn, it finally has a lyric now.

Q2. The band name comes from the works of Tolkien, I believe?
A2. Yes, it was chosen by Bhaal, he and I were attracted a lot by Tolkien’s masterpiece!
[Nazgul’s note: Orcrist was a sword in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, nicknamed "Biter" by the Goblins of the Misty Mountains. Thorin Oakenshield carried the sword throughout much of The Hobbit, and it was laid on his tomb after he died in the Battle of Five Armies]

Grav
Q3. What is the philosophy behind your band and music - do you have a particular message or statement?
A3. With Orcrist we try to keep alive the true underground spirit that seems to not exist anymore by now. Regarding my lyrics, I mainly deal with the silence of nature but also with something else, which I can’t say during an interview…

Q4. Tell us a little about some of your past releases and where we might find them?
A4. I have already given you a brief explanation in my first answer, however our demos have been out of print since years and our rehearsal tapes never came out officially. Our debut full length is practically impossible to find because it came out for a small Scottish underground label called Desolate Landscapes, which doesn’t exist anymore, and our split with Isvind, limited to 300 copies, is sold out. I think that the other releases are still available somewhere...?

I don’t know about our split with Uruk-Hai: I gave away all my copies. People should ask Hugin!

Q5. Your recent album "Fallen" has just been released on Steinklang Records - how did you come to the attention of this Austrian label, and what is this latest album all about?
A5. Hugin talked to me about Max’s label and I must say that they are great indeed, they are serious and professional and they believe a lot into the underground scene!

To be more precise with you, when Hugin offered me this opportunity, he hadn’t heard anything of our album “Fallen”, only perhaps two simple rehearsal songs made by Goblin and I, with no voice and bass, just drums and guitars. Just think about that!

So our latest effort “Fallen” just came out: I consider it one of the coldest, gloomiest and most representative albums of the true UNDERGROUND spirit. The lyric of the sixth song, “On the Wings of night”, was written by Hendrik Mobus of the band Absurd in 1998: it had never been released before, and finally this lyric came back to life with Orcrist. I wanna take the opportunity to say hello to Sebastian and Hedrik!
Goblin
Q6. Hugin appears on the last track and I believe from the credits he wrote the music and sings the lyrics, although you wrote them: is that correct?
A6. Yes, correct, my friend Hugin composed the outro and he sang the lyric “The Return of Silence Part 2”, which was written by me.

Q7. How did your contact with Hugin begin - have you known him long? How did the decision to ask him to record with you on "Fallen" happen?
A7. I got in touch with Hugin not too long ago thanks to my friend Simone, just to purchase some underground items he had, then I talked to him about Orcrist and the story began. He immediately agreed to work with us - he likes Orcrist’s music a lot.

Q8. You also did a split tape release with Uruk Hai's "At The End Of The Third Age" demo with a rehearsal version of your "We Come In War" album on it - how did that come about?
A8. Hugin and I decided to create this split album but without the aim to make money out of it, it was just a split between friends.
Mane
Q9. What is your opinion on Hugin's own various projects and recordings - do you have any particular favourites?
A9. I think that all the music Hugin has created is great. I don’t have any special preference.

Q10. I think you also run the HOD label too, which has made a few recent releases including at least one Uruk Hai tape ("Battle Of The Southern Flame")? How is this project going, and are more releases from Hugin planned?
A10. My label has been doing great. I released our promo, our latest effort “Fallen”, the Valefar EP and the Uruk-Hai rehearsal, all on tape format. In the near future I’ll release the latest album of Lilyum, a compilation tape of Italian bands and an Orcrist/Inverno split.

Q11. Do you have any message for Hugin via the pages of Honour and Darkness?
A11. Oh yes, he is a great friend who will represent the continuation of the Lord of the Rings for all of my life. Stay necro Hugin!

Q12. And any message for the readers of Honour and Darkness?
A12. Sure! Guys, keep the flame of the Underground spirit alive!

Thanks for your time, and best wishes for the future!
Thanks to you Nazgul!


Nazgul hopes that these occasional interviews with artists who have worked and/or recorded with Hugin continue to be of interest. If you have recorded with Hugin and would like to see your tale in virtual print, feel free to drop me a line at the usual address: tall_dai@ntlworld.com

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

FALLEN



Band: ORCRIST (featuring Hugin on track 7)
Title: Fallen
Format: Professional CD pressing in slimline DVD-sized case with inlay booklet released on Sturmklang (Austria) in November 2010, cat ref Sturm02. There was also a very limited edition promotional cassette released on the Host Of Darkness label (run by Grav of Orcrist), cat ref HOD PROD, 'for a limited number of friends'.
Edition: CD unlimited, cassette limited to 15 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:

1. Fallen 04:21
2. Holocaust of Dreams 03:09
3. Judgement of the Demon 03:46
4. Cult Mules 04:11
5. The Return of Silence Part I 04:42
6. On the Wings of Night 05:17
7. Outro / The Return of Silence Part II 02:23

Some while ago - the 13 August 2010 to be exact - the cassette "Brotherhood" was reviewed in Honour and Darkness. This tape is in essence an anthology of work that Hugin has done over the years for other bands, which usually exists in the form of an instrumental track at the start or end of a particular album and thus gifting the 'magic rub' of his keyboard skills to another band. We have seen contributions to albums from Dark Domination (Latvia), Nachtfalke (Germany), Hugin Munin (Brazil), and Forgotten Lands (USA) fall into this category - quite the international assortment! To this list of contributory works we can now add one further band, namely Orcrist from Italy.

Now Orcrist we have come across before on these pages, specifically because they had a split release with Uruk Hai in 2009 that combined a rehearsal version of their "We Come In War" album with Uruk Hai's lengthy "At The End Of The First Age (An Opera about Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains)" demo. You can refresh your memory of that particular item by referring back to 19 October 2010 if you so wish (we'll wait for you to go and read the piece, so go on - you'll not miss anything). Right, back again and up to date? Then Nazgul shall continue...

Orcrist's style is described simply as Black Metal on their Metal Archives page, with themes of blood, forests, and darkness to send shadows creeping down your spine. An extract from the band's apparently defunct web-page (www.orcrist-horde.com) provided a more fulsome description of the early days...

"As the funeral pyre of the Italian Death Metal band "Eld" burned low, from its smouldering ashes there emerged a new force onto the underground Black Metal scene – Orcrist. Founded on the 5th April 2000 by Grav (drums/lyrics) and Bhaal (vocals/guitar/lyrics), the band recorded their first, unnamed, rehearsal tape in December 2000, to be followed by a second - “Over Man's Doom”- in 2001. In early 2002 the band were joined by Lucyfer on bass and Ghosta (Fullmoon Promises, Morgen and Ephedra) on backing vocals, to record their first official demo "The Third Imperyum". November of that year also saw the release of their second demo/promo "Primitive Damnation". "Det Hedenske Norge", a split 7" with Norwegian Black Metal band Isvind, was released in December 2003 on Hearse Records. Orcrist's first official album, "Slaged Ved Trollheim" was released on Desolate Landscapes in 2003, and is now completely sold out.

Just as the band's reputation was to be further enhanced by their contribution of two tracks on the Ildjarn tribute album "Gathered Under the Banner of Strength and Honour", a serious accident forced Bhaal to quit the band. The band's former session vocalist, Ghosta, together with GM (Svalbard and Human Regression) on guitars and bass, stepped in to replace Bhaal for the recording of the two tracks on the tribute album, these being "Intro", and "Unknown Harmony". Orcrist wrote both the title and the lyrics for the latter, a previously unnamed Ildjarn piece, taking as inspiration the title of Ildjarn's first demo "Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths".

October 2005 saw the release of "From the Forgotten Forest" on the Oath label. This is a re-release of the long sold-out "Third Imperyum" demo and includes a bonus track from the 2000 rehearsal tape and 3 previously unreleased rehearsal tracks. The band's second album "Black Blood Raised" is scheduled for release in December of 2005 on Hearse Records in both CD and 12” versions, with Ghosta permanently taking over as vocalist, together with Never999 (formerly of Calvary and Tears of Christ) on guitars and bass.

Now fully recovered from the accident that at one time looked likely to end his musical career, Bhaal has rejoined the band, bringing with him a renewed energy and creativity. With their strongest ever line-up in terms of both writing and delivery, and joined by Lunedei (Morgen and Fullmoon Promises) on session bass, the band have already started work on their next album. An album that promises to maintain the underground tradition of the 'Old School' Black Metal that Orcrist firmly believe to be the true life-blood of the genre."

....although clearly there is a gap missing up until the recent period, as no mention is made here of current members Goblin or Mane.

The promotional blurb for this 2010 release tells us that:

"Orcrist's new album "Fallen" combines ice cold riffs with melancholic sounds, which will send a shiver over your backbone and create darkest sadness in your minds. The song 'Fallen' was written by Goblin of Isvind and is dedicated to his friend Valfar of Windir who died in 2004. Goblin composed and recorded guitars and bass for the tracks "Fallen", "Holocaust of Dreams" and "Judgment of the Demon" and performed vocals on all tracks beside 'Outro/The Return of Silence Part 2' which was written and recorded by Hugin, of the Austrian band Uruk Hai."

Equally unusual is that the vocal performance on this song takes precedence to the musical element. The latter is one of those eerie and slightly jarring keyboard pieces that Hugin is adept at producing, creating waves of uncertainty through its rippling timbres. In a strange parallel, it reminded Nazgul of the occasionally discordant music created by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on their seminal "Dazzle Ships" album. The vocals are performed through an effect that creates a harsh, whispered style of delivery and if Nazgul didn't know any better the subject matter could have been about the lovely Mrs Nazgul herself:

'The Return of Silence Part 2'

I hear her footsteps
In the distance I see her shadow
You are here in all your splendour
Your body swathed in the light
Of your noble birth
Around You, Your servants, Your regal stallions
You are the beauty that I have long sought
You are the Noble Lady of Silence that I have desired
That has captured my mind,
Open the doors to your soul
Grant me eternal life
Grant me your sovereignty over all the world"
(Grav 2009)

Despite this difference in style from the remainder of the album - which thunders along like a barrelful of demons rolling down a hill - it all fits together well, and is a recommended purchase.

Given this is the second appearance of Orcrist in Honour and Darkness in only a few short months, it seems high time that we found out a little more about this dark Italian project. Nazgul wonders whether a small interview might not be in order....

Nazgul thanks Hugin for access to his personal copy of the promo tape from Grav to include in this feature.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Uruk Hai interview in Transmission zine

Band: URUK HAI
Item: Interview and album review with Hugin circa 2004 in the Spanish publication 'Transmission'

In the never-ending quest to keep the spotlight on all things Hugin, todays post concerns a translation of an interview and album review between Hugin and the Spanish zine Transmission circa 2004, relating to the then recently released Uruk Hai CD "A Night In The Forest". The photographs accompanying this post are of the original paper articles (themselves coming courtesy of Hugin), though Nazgul couldn't immediately tell you if a hard copy version of this zine still exists.

The zine was - I believe - run by Sara and Keni Pérez at the time of these features, and we begin with the short album review for the "A Night In The Forest" release on the Spanish label, Drama Company (previously reviewed in Honour and Darkness on 3 July 2009).

"A Night In The Forest" review


"This unusual project comes from Austria; it's music is pure Dark Ambient in the style of Burzum, Mortiis or Vinterriket. Conceptually, this project takes us through a journey into the woods of Fangorn in a search for magic places, mystic and enchanted sceneries, and is also a cult to old pagan gods. Uruk Hai bases its own fantastic creation on the book “The Lord of the Rings” and Nordic Mythology in general. Musically speaking, this creation could be considered as a risky bet, because it involves only one 72-minute long theme, although split into four chapters. Having said that, the record is very entertaining and easy on the ear. One can enjoy it whilst reading a good book." Sara

Generally a positive thumbs up!

Transmission also did a short interview with Hugin around this time, the detail of which has been kindly translated for Nazgul by Tanya, and is reproduced below, warts 'n' all:

Transmission interviews Hugin
Transmission (T): Tell us how and why Uruk Hai was born. Why did you choose this name?
Hugin (H): I recorded several instrumental songs for my band Hrossharsgrani in 1999 in order to publish a new demo called Uruk Hai. After playing it a few times I felt that the sound wasn't quite there for Hrossharsgrani. That's why I decided to create a new project that would carry the name of the demo in the first place, so Uruk Hai was born just then! From the very first moment, I decided to create sound sceneries that would transport the fans to the old and dark ages.

T: Besides "A Night in the Forest", do you have any other work or demos that have been published?
H: Uruk Hai has recorded lots of demos and rehearsals. Rehearsal tape "In Durins Halls" was published in 1999 by W.A.R. (limited to 33 copies), rehearsal tape "Elbenwald" published in 2000 by Beverina Prductions/Elvenwitchcraft (ltd. 500), rehearsal tape "Orcish Battle Hymns" published in 2000 by Chanteloup Creations (ltd. 200), rehearsal tape "Darkness" published in 2001 by Chanteloup Creations (ltd 300), rehearsal CDr "Elbentanz" published in 2003 by Odium Records (ltd. 100), rehearsal tape "Battle Yells" published in 2003 by Werwolf Productions (ltd. 66), demo tape "In Durins Halls" (remastered version) published in 2004 by EOLP (ltd. 300), rehearsal tape "Long Forgotten Tales" published in 2004 by Werwolf Prduction (ltd. 50), split demo tape "Von blinkenden Schwertern im Reiche des Nordens" (with Arkillery) published in 2004 by EOLP (ltd. 250) and a split CDr "Von blinkenden Schwertern im Reiche des Nordens" (with Arkillery) published in 2004 by the same guy from Arkillery (ltd.100), rehearsal tape "Battle-Magic" published in 2004 by Werwolf Production (ltd. 22), digiCD "Barbarians (Orcish Battle Hymns Pt.II)" published in 2004 by Eisenwald Tonschmiede (ltd 222), split demo tape "Nazgul" (with Vinterriket) published in 2004 by Eisenwald Tonschmiede (ltd. 600), and promo tape "Honour" published in 2004 by Werwolf Production (ltd. 40).

With Uruk Hai I'm always working, always trying to progress; I have old recordings that haven't been published, which will be used for future publications, and as a sample for future works there is a CDr named "Ea" that will be published by Werewolf Productions, a CD called "Über die Nebelberge weit…" that will be published by Musique & Tradition, a split demo tape called "In des Drachenfeuers Glut" (with Arkillery) – with no label at present yet! - a CD called "A Warriors Legend" - no label, either - and another demo CDr called "Quenta Silmarillion" that will be published by A.M.F. Productions. And, last but not least "A Night in the Forest", the new album published by Drama Company!

T: How did you contract with Drama Company? Why did you decide to go for this solid Spanish label?
H: I have had a contact with this label for a long time now – since the beginning of Hrossharsgrani (my other band) - so I decided to send them a promotional CD with hopes for a future publication. And this musical journey, far away from the tired paths of the metallic art, was the basis for a new deal with Drama Company. This alliance has given birth to Uruk Hai in every epic battle. Furthermore, I like most of the publications from Drama Company and I think that Uruk Hai has found a good place with them too.

T: Are you satisfied with the results from "A Night in the Forest"? How was the composition and recording process, considering that it's a single creation lasting 72 minutes?
H: Yes, "A Night in the Forest" has been the best so far! It's exactly the atmosphere I wanted to create to show people the real darkness of the woods…. In April 2003 I recorded the 4 chapters of 'Fangorn' - (1) Enter Fangorn, (2) The Spirit of Wood, (3) Elvenpath, (4) A Light Into the Darkness - and to keep the spirit alive I thought that the best way to get there was giving more and more every time, creating a better ambience for the entire mix; so I used lots of nature sounds like rain, thunder, etc. A year later, I accomplished the final mix for this album and then I decided to go for only one long song with 4 chapters in this CD.

T: Can you explain to us who the figure that appears in the cover is, and what those symbols are?
H: It is a portrait of the 'One Eye God' himself, Odin! I have used it because I like to compare the Nordic mythology with some of the stories written in The Lord of the Rings book, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I've tried to create something special around the musical concept of Uruk Hai. I want to express my own mythological fantasy! And, again, I think that some parts of The Lord of the Rings book are very close to the Nordic mythology concept.

T: The record has made some allusions to pagan gods, spirits of the woods, myths, legends, etc. Can you tell us some more about the concept of your record?
H: In the first place, this album is about a journey into the woods of Fangorn. It is also a story about the powerful spirit of the woods - ie the power of nature - the silence within… Just imagine, you are lonely at night in the woods where it's very dark, everything gets very still, you are starting to feel pure fear and then you begin to hear unreal sounds and voices, this is the spirit of the woods. This is exactly the concept of the album: surreal but real at the same time – no place in this rotten planet is so close to the old gods such as an intact forest. Each person can relate to his/her own beauty or fear in this album. I won't show the way to anybody, I will only show where the journey begins… There are many references taken from The Lord of the Ring book.

T: Yes, there is no doubt about The Lord of the Ring references there. At what age did you read the book? How this story has contributed to your own life? What are your views with regards to the movie?
H: I read the book about 23 years ago, when I was only 12. Afterwards, I read all the Tolkien books related to The Lord of the Rings, such as The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurin. Some years later I started to collate all music that has been composed around these novels, and also later I begun to create music under this concept, but this isn't all. I wanted to create my own Tierra Media (Middle Earth), so I initiated a symbiosis between Nordic Mythology and the glorious world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Now the Uruk Hai stories are truly unique.

And when Peter Jackson made the films (which I loved!), well that was fantastic! It doesn't really matter if some important characters haven't been taken into consideration (such as Tom Bombardil) while others have (Arwen). They are great films, and the soundtrack is also fantastic – I like the voice of Enya in particular. The book, the music (Summoning, Valar, Druadan Forest, etc) and the movie keep the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien alive! The 1979 film is also very good.

T: Your style is very similar to the Black Metal one. What are your musical roots? Why do you think that many people have evolved from the strong side from the Black Metal towards Dark Ambient instead?
H: My musical roots are the pre-Black Metal bands, such as: Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, etc. Since the mid 90’s I like the raw Black Metal a lot, I also like 'Pagan Black Metal' with bands like Graveland, Burzum, Nachtfalke, Moonblood, etc! Black Metal is always very atmospheric and sometimes epic too! Dark Ambient resembles the Black Metal but without some instruments like guitars and bass.

Mortiis initiated this movement around 1992 with his demo 'Story of a Long Forgotten Ghost', and I think that without this demo the whole ambient scene wouldn’t exist in its current form, as we know it. Dark Ambient can also be obscure and severe like the Black Metal, without a doubt. For me, one of the best albums I have ever heard was "Filosofem" from Burzum, half Black Metal, half Ambient!

T: Considering that 'The Woods' is present throughout your creation, out of curiosity can I just ask: do you live in the countryside or in the city? If you live in the countryside, can you tell us how is any day in your life?
H: I live in a very small town, 30km far from the nearest biggest town, surrounded by forests and vast green fields! A good day in my life is when I'm able to open the windows early in the morning, and look at the fields humid from the rain and the colour of the forest at sunrise. I like to take a stroll very early in the morning, contemplate the scenery, breathe lots of fresh air and feel the powerful spirit of nature itself.

The best moment for me to achieve this feeling is in autumn or spring. But I also like the other seasons. In winter, I love the freshness of the cold weather and the snow that inspires me to create really obscure music! And, finally, summer is the best moment to climb mountains and practice some sports.

T: You are from Austria, if I’m not mistaken, aren’t you? What can you tell us about the dark scene in your country?
H: Yes, I’m from Austria. We have several wonderful bands like Trollskogen, Valhalla, Summoning, Abigor, and hundreds more. Furthermore, we can enjoy lots of concerts all around the country, we have great clubs and the best I think we have are the old castles and ruins. We also hold festivals of Dark and Black Metal. For more information about the Black Metal scene in Austria, go to www.blackmetal.at [note: now apparently defunct?]

T: Have you planned to present a live concert of "A Night in the Forest"?
H: Not yet! But maybe in the near future. So I'm thinking of writing a very special song only for this concert!

T: Thank you for the interview. Transmission wishes you the very best of luck.
H: Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

DIE RÜCKKEHR ZUM PFADE - update

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade
Format: Second re-issue of this demo through the Wulfrune Worxx label (France) in 2010, cat ref WW111/AWE84-2, in cassette format. The tape comes with a colour cover, is hand-numbered in silver pen, and has a different track listing from both the original 5 song release of 2000 and the subsequent 7 song Chanteloup Creations re-issue in 2001.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 111 copies

Track Listing:

Side A
1. Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten
2. Aufmarsch Der Todes Krieger
3. Von Blinkenden Schwertern
4. Asgard
Side B
5. In Der Nacht Des Todesscheins
6. So Finster Wie Es Niemals War
7. Heimfahrt Nach Hördaland
8. Schönheit Gibt Es Nur Im Kampf

First demo self-released in a very limited run of 5 copies, containing:

1. Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten
2. Von Blinkenden Schwertern
3. In Der Nacht Des Todesscheins
4. Aufmarsch Der Todeskrieger
5. So Finster Wie Es Niemals War

First re-release on Chanteloup Creations, limited to 300 copies with different tracklist:

1. Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten
2. Wenn Es Nacht Wird
3. Von Blinkenden Schwertern
4. Drachenerzahlungen
5. In Der Nacht Des Todesscheins
6. Elfentraum
7. So Finster Wie Es Niemals War

Amongst the plethora of recent Uruk Hai reissues has been a slow but steady trickle of old Hrossharsgrani demo material appearing in re-mastered format, with new artwork and with alternate and/or bonus tracks. This process has been overseen by the irrepressible French label Wulfrune Worxx, formerly Chanteloup Creations, who released the majority of the band's original demos back at the start of the Millennium.

The series in respect of Hrossharsgrani releases has generally seen the nomenclature "version 2010" used after the original title. In the case of this particular demo, no such designation is applied.

So then, let us consider one example of this new 'series' - namely "Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade". This literally translates as 'The Return To The Path', although as this tape is now in its third version perhaps it should be known as the Return to the Return to the Return to the Path. Or maybe Nazgul's just having a funny five minutes and you should ignore him. In any event, this demo was always one of Hugin's self-professed favourites, so it should be interesting to see what has been done with it in this iteration.

First things first - the cover illustration. Now, as a general note all of the 'version 2010' releases seem to have alternative artwork from their original releases. What's intriguing about the cover of "Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade", however, is that whilst it is indeed different to the 2000 cover it is in fact the same artwork previously used on the cover of the band's "Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten" demo CDr from 1999 (see blog post for 23 April 2009). Why this should be the case when other 'version 2010' releases use entirely new illustrations is uncertain (other than the possible link to an influx of some songs from that demo onto this version - more of which below), but one benefit is that this release comes with a colour cover as opposed to the standard black and white copies that Wulfrune are usually known for.

Second things second - the track listing. As you'll have seen from the track details, the original demo (reviewed on 6 February 2010) existed in two different versions. The first was a self-released version of only 5 copies, the second a Chanteloup Creations release adding three new songs but deleting one of the others. The track listing on this pressing is different again, giving us something of interest right away in that none of the copies contain exactly the same tracklisting. This mitigates any immediate complaint about using the same material over and over again, as effectively what you have here is a wholly updated and unique release and - to be fair - you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a copy of either of the 2000 releases in any event.

The link between songs and the "Der Pfad Zum..." artwork becomes a little clearer now too, as the two new songs at the end of this tape - 'Heimfahrt Nach Hördaland' and 'Schönheit Gibt Es Nur Im Kampf' - were tracks 4 and 2 respectively on "Der Pfad Zum Tor Der Toten", and the title track of that demo remains as the first track on "Die Rückkehr...". There is a 'version 2010' release of the "Der Pfad Zum..." tape, by the way, but you'll have to wait in anticipation to see what Hugin has done with that particular reworked demo until Honour and Darkness gets around to reviewing it (unless you go forth and buy it yourself, which is strongly recommended). The last song on Side A of "Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade" is another old favourite, 'Asgard', previously recorded as the tenth song on the 1998 Hrossharsgrani demo "Feuer & Eis".

Thirdly, we have the sound to consider. Given we are now in 2011 you won't be surprised to hear that things have moved on a little in the W.A.R. Studios, and as a result those songs carried forward onto this newer version have benefitted from a re-mastering process since their recording back in the mists of time. As a result the audio experience is appreciably better, even allowing for the less than digital qualities of the cassette medium. The drums sound cleaner and more powerful, the guitar less fuzzy and more distinct, and the vocals now reach down your throat and tear your lungs out rather than darting in to tickle your tonsils. Unsurprisingly, this is considered to be a good thing!

This reissue differs in feel from the earlier Chanteloup pressing, due in part to the change in song content. On the Chanteloup tape the three short instrumental songs - 'Wenn Es Nacht Wird', 'Drachenerzahlungen' and 'Elfentraum' - gave the listener something of a brief interlude between the flesh-flaying assault that comprised the remainder of the album. On this Wulfrune Worxx version such niceties are gone, to be replaced by further savagery in the form of the three transplanted songs discussed above. The overall effect is as bracing as an ice-bath, especially in its remastered glory, and sets this reissue apart.

What all of this achieves is to bring a demo now over a decade old to a new generation of fans with a format and approach that is proudly 'old school', yet which sounds relatively fresh and delivers a substantial and enhanced kick to the seat of your pants. With only 111 copies available (Nazgul is proud to say that his copy is #1 of this edition) it won't be a release around for sale for ever, but certainly any reader of this Blog who has wondered about the barbaric Hrossharsgrani of yore but has been unable to track much material down should take this opportunity to plunder the 'version 2010' series to see what they've been missing. It's the only decent thing to do...

How nice too to see the resurrection - on the inside of the inlay - of the much missed Chanteloup Creations logo, together with a catalogue number that references both an old-style Chanteloup prefixture (AWE) alongside the current Wulfrune Worxx one (WW). An appropriate nod to history during this revitalisation of the past.

Speaking of things historical, here's a photo of the original 2000 Chanteloup demo tape (right) next to the 2010 reissue:

Saturday, 1 January 2011

URUK HAI / MHNUNRRN split

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Eponymous split CD with Mhnunrrn
Format: Professional CD release, pressed in special A5 triptich packaging on the Le Crépuscule du Soir label (France), cat ref LCDS019, and released in June 2010. The fourth song on the album is by Mhnunrrn, a raw and primitive Black Metal project from the Czech Republic, fronted by Klat Ba.
Edition: 50 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

Uruk Hai
1. The Fate of Man 8.57
2. Lebensende:Winter (different version) 11.14
3. Gil-Galad (remastered version) 11.05

Mhnunrrn

4. II 20.26

So, you - the Honour and Darkness readership - voted for an Uruk Hai release to be the first post in 2011. Here it is - namely, the split album between Uruk Hai and the Czech Republic's finest, Mhnunrrn. And before we begin our review in detail, let Uncle Nazgul be one of the first to wish you all the best for the New Year ahead.

Released in summer 2010, this album contains three tracks that had previously been released by Hugin on a variety of Uruk Hai demos and albums in the year just ended. That said, the three particular tracks chosen for this release are collectively interesting as they each show rather different perspectives on the contemporary Uruk Hai sound.

Opener 'The Fate Of Man' has far more of a edgy, black metal feel to it than its two counterparts, courtesy of the buzzing guitar tones and rasping vocals of guest musician Lord Messir (Dark Domination). 'Lebensende: Winter' - here in its alternate 'different' version - manages to cunningly combine harsh vocal parts with spookily effective keyboard effects, the latter especially notable near the beginning of the song where chime-like effects generate a most pleasing ethereal atmosphere. The final track 'Gil-Galad' is a rhythmic and hypnotic keyboard-fest of a track, being far more in keeping with the lengthy musical panoramas recently penned by Hugin on Wulfrune Worxx releases such as "The Lord of the Rings", and is largely instrumental in nature save for some sampled narrative from the Lord of the Rings films.

For reference, the tracks in question can also be located on the following releases:

'The Fate Of Man' - on the "Dragon War" split tape with Bestia (in a non-vocal first take version), on the "Angband" 4CD compilation release, and on the CD pressing of "Black Blood, White Hand"

'Lebensende:Winter' - also appears on "Angband", and on both the CD and tape releases of the self-titled "Lebensende:Winter" demo

'Gil-Galad' - the original version was on the 2008 split release "Vereint Durch Die Kraft Uralter Wälder" with Moloch, but in re-mastered format appears on the self-titled "Gil-Galad / Bounded By Blood" split with Hugin, on the split CDr with Sieghetnar, on the "Angband" compilation, and on no less than two very recent tape releases: "Gil-Galad" on Depressive Illusions, and "Gil-Galad (The Whole Story)" on Wulfrune Worxx.

Given the variety of the three Uruk Hai songs on offer, this is a worthy release for anyone looking for a good representation of what this project is sounding like circa 2010/11. Assuming that you haven't already got a copy of "Angband" then you really might want to add a copy of this album to your collection. Whilst 'Gil-Galad' was fast becoming the ubiquitous Uruk Hai song of 2010 - still, better ubiquitous than iniquitous one would suppose - the other two tracks are not so easy to track down and as an overall listen you could do far worse than spend half an hour of your life in the company of this trinity

It's apposite that the "Vereint Durch Die Kraft Uralter Wälder" should have been mentioned in that round-up, as a first glance at the artwork to this split release shows a edged border quite reminiscent of the jute bag that the split 3"CDr with Moloch came packaged in. The remainder of the artwork struck Nazgul as being somewhat similar to the famous Lascaux cave paintings, a setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic drawings. It's not often that Nazgul hits the nail so squarely on the head (ususally it's more a case of squarely on the thumb) but as we shall see later in this post that initial impression was pretty much on the money.

To complement the Uruk Hai tracks we have a lengthy piece from a band previously unknown to Nazgul, Mhnunrrn. Now, knowing nothing about this project (and assuming the majority of you to be in a similar position) Nazgul took to some online sleuthing to track down the man behind the music - Klat Ba - and put him through the now-traditional 'ordeal' of a mini-interview to enlighten us further on his intriguing music.

This interview is produced below, complete with a few images of Klat Ba himself together with some of his art work:

Klat Ba (Mhnunrrn)

Q1: Can you tell us about yourself, and where you are based?

A1: Zdravice! I am Klat Ba, and I am the main person behind many musical projects. I am also a painter and poem writer. I am from a little town in the east of the Czech Republic in Wallachia, part of a region called Moravia. You perhaps already know, this region is also known from Romania: Wallachian shepherd tribes migrated from the area of present-day southern Romania (along the Carpathian arc to the west) in around the 14th-17th centuries.

Q2: Can you tell us what is the philosophy or purpose behind Mhnunrrn?

A2: Prehistory, Atavism (Nazgul's note: the reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes), and the Stone Age.

Q3: I have to ask of course - where does the name Mhnunrrn come from?

A3: So, this word is from my own mind. Mhnunrrn is word from prehistory, word of prehistoric man, and means "affirmative grunts" or "satisfied grunts". Try to imagine: In an old cave sits a Neanderthal, make something new with stones, bones, woods sticks, something good for him. And when he makes something of interest to him, this man say for himself "Mhnunrrn" – a word for success and satisfaction.

Q4: I'd never have guessed that! The band logo is perhaps the most obscure I've ever seen, and that's amongst some stiff competition in the Black Metal genre - why is this?!

A4: Yes, this is my own font for prehistoric words (it is very similar to calligraphic forms or runes). The logo is simply a calligraphic record of the band name.

Artwork of Klat Ba, part I

Q5: How would you describe your music in general, and in particular the track "II" on this split release?

A5: Raw and primitive in lo-fi form. I use only basic recordings, I don't have any professional equipment. This song ("II") is only instrumental, but on my first split with another band from Czech republic (Kruh) I used improvised vocals in my own language. The song on the Uruk Hai split is an invocation to the Ancient Ones, the first of the Gods. It is ritual, hypnotic, ending with a total eruption of primitive power.

Q6: You designed the artistic layout of this album - tell us a little about the theme you were looking for?

A6: I am an amateur painter and graphic artist. I paint in very primitive form (mostly action painting). For this split I used my collection of old water colours used for landscapes and cave paintings. So, I am deeply into Prehistoric art, this is for me the best art in whole history of art. In another way I am follower of abstract expressionism, 'brut ar', outsider art, tachisme, structural graphics, etc.

Q7: How did you first come across Hugin's music?

A7: I think in about 2000, through Uruk Hai and Hrossharsgrani. I have from this year some Uruk Hai cassettes, and also one or two Hrossharsgrani CD's.

Q8: How did this split release come to be?

A8: I approached Hugin to ask if he would like to contribute to a split release. He was happy to do so, and quickly sent me the three tracks that feature on the final album. I had previously released an album on the Le Crepuscule du Soir label with my band Fonnia, so a deal was quickly done for this split release.

Q9: Do you have a favourite band and/or recording that Hugin has made?

A9: So, in the past I occasionally listened to old ambient stuff from Uruk Hai and Hrossharsgrani, but this music is only for a special listen, not for everyday. And this is a good thing: I listen to Uruk Hai music festively, not every day. Hugin is a total maniac - too many recordings, too many releases - but not all is good (for me), I prefer quality over quantity. But overall Hugin with all of his musical projects makes good work (and I don't have the overview, only a summary of what has been released). For this, your Blog with a list of Hugin's work is a good thing! Hugin is a good person, totally dedicated!

Q10: Clearly releasing a split with Uruk Hai and featuring in Honour & Darkness puts you well on the way to success!! What will 2011 see from Mhnunrrn and any other projects you are involved in?

A10: At the beginning of the year 2011 will come another split release - Mhnunrrn / The Law (great poisonous black metal from Czech republic). On this recording I will use live drums for the first time, and Mhnunrrn on this split will be very harsh and totally lo–fi. My music is from the dawn of time, and falls back into the abyss of history...
Artwork of Klat Ba, part II

Q11: Do you have any thoughts for Hugin that you'd like to put in print on the Blog...?

A11: Alex, old times, good times! Barracuda!!

Q12: ...And any thoughts for the readers of Honour and Darkness?

A12: Support all forms of D.I.Y. and make your own music, do not buy others! And for you : Nazgul flies!

Q13: Thanks for your time, Klat Ba

A13: Great, thanks for your interest, and all good to you!

Incidentally, the label that this album was released on - Le Crépuscule du Soir (literally, The Twilight of the Evening) - is an small-budget, independently-run, underground record label from France. Their stated goal is to release underground music, mostly original dark art, and the release roster is based on their own personal tastes and beliefs. It is a label worth checking out, which you can via http://lecrepusculedusoir.yolasite.com

Also shown for your delight is a copy of the original label advertisement for this split release: