Saturday, 26 February 2011

Nazgul's Top 10 Uruk Hai cover art

As it's nearly the end of yet another month here on Honour and Darkness, Nazgul thought he would celebrate the passing of February with another one of his infamous Top 10 lists. These always provide Nazgul with yet another feeble excuse to have a rummage through his collection, but hopefully entertain at the same time.

Todays list is based around Nazgul's favourite Uruk Hai album/demo covers. Now, in saying that they are my favourite does not necessarily mean that they are the best covers in purely artistic terms. If the list included the definitive range of technically expert covers, then we would be looking at inclusions from "Iron Age" and from "Black Blood, White Hand" which were professionally done and are indeed most excellent. However, Nazgul being the 'square peg in round hole' sort of chap that he is often prefers the more abstract, unusual or not-so-obvious cover illustration and as such this list is a personal compilation of the pictures that I find most entertaining.

You will doubtless disagree, and may indeed end up fuming that your favourite cover was omitted ("how could Nazgul have not included %$&^....!!!") or consider that the top ten choices are just plain crazy ("why has Nazgul included ^£"%....??!"). Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles, of course, and if you'd like to send Nazgul your personal list of favourites then perhaps that could lead to an updated post in a few months time....

What has come out of this exercise is that a goodly number of Nazgul's favourite covers are from the earlier years of Uruk Hai output, although this by no means knocking the quality of more recent covers. It also seems to prove, somewhat unscientifically, that a colour cover is more likely to stand out in the memory banks that black and white ones.

Anyway, enough of the rambling and onto the list, presented here in traditional reverse order:

10. Von Blinkenden Schwertern Im Reiche Des Nordens

And immediately the cry will go up, "and what's so good about this one, then?!" Well, there are some scenes that Nazgul is a sucker for. A good mountain range, forest scene, sunsets and so forth. This image, looking across Middle Earth as the sun kisses the horizon, with Sauron's tower in the misty distance, is just such a scene. Encapsulating the early Tolkien-themed days of Uruk Hai, this split release with Arkillery defines the nature of the beast through this excellent image.
09. In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)

Not a release that has been formally reviewed on Honour and Darkness yet, but gaining an entry at number 9 on the basis of this atmospheric cover image. Akin to some of the Vinterriket covers of snowy peaks, albeit in hues of blue rather black and white as Cz's covers so often are, this is a striking cover even if the logic of showing a mountain scene instead of a subterranean themed image is a little perverse! One assumes Durin's Halls lie due south of this range.

08. In Durin's Halls (tape re-release)

Another cover for "In Durin's Halls" no less! This time, the limited to 50 cassette pressing from Australian label Smell The Stench. Nazgul always liked this cover, although it is hard to explain quite what the appeal is: perhaps there's a simple naive charm to it, or maybe it's because it's just so different from 99% of other covers out there? Certainly more fitting to the subject matter, one can imagine crossing the threshold between the two columns to explore the caverns and strange depths within...

07. Vereint durch die Kraft uralter Wälder

Trees. you can't beat a good image of trees, and this swirled effect from Hugin's own design proves that even a simple image can be effective with the right treatment. The circular design is inspired, the runic script ties the whole thing back to Tolkien, and the overall impression is of nature and mystery entwining to tempt the listener in. Good stuff!

06. Across The Misty Mountains (Far, Far Away)

In all lists such as this there seems to be one item that unexpectedly hurls itself to the fore and cries, 'what about me, then?' This particular cover - to the CD version of this album, the tape cover being blue and more cropped - is that very item in todays list. It positively screams "Middle Earth" at you, and in a similar way to the previous entry has a certain mystery about it that makes you want to open the cover and see what is inside. Who is the character on the front, and what what exactly is in store? Much to Nazgul's surprise, this cover has really grown on him over the years.

05. Thousand Lightnings Strike

I've no idea where this cover originates, although you'd have to suspect it has a war-gaming / Games Workshop derivation somewhere in its past. However, even in simple black and white it is undeniably a powerful scene and one that you'd quite like to see how it all turned out (badly for the human, one might imagine!) This was the cover to a never released CDr demo as you may recall from coverage on the item some while ago, and it will be interesting to see whether the same art will grace the cover of the formal release of this demo within the forthcoming "Everlasting Wrath Of The Tyrant" box-set.

04. Land Of The Shadow

Another splendid cover, this time combining the awesome mountains with some clever framing of the image using orcs in the browny/red border segments. One of those imaginative covers that was 'cursed' with being used on a limited edition demo and thus disappearing into the vast obscurity of history. A great pity, for what is surely one of the finest Uruk Hai covers of all.

03. Nazgul

A similar theme to #10 in our list, this time showing Nazgul on his way to the inaugural Hugin-fest at Sauron's place. Oh wait, that might not be true. Anyway, what this does illustrate is that Ted Nasmith is an most excellent artist, and that any cover showing clouds illuminated by the moon whilst featuring menacing figures like this is going to feature pretty highly in Nazgul's list.
02. My Favourite...

Oh, the irony - "My Favourite..." was very nearly my favourite. How we would have laughed here at Castle Nazgul. But enough of such joviality: this one-off CDr was an early and much-treasured gift from Hugin to Nazgul, and just happened to have one of the best covers of the Uruk Hai discography. The awe-inspiring and majestic dragon mirrors the nature of the music and is another genius creation from Hugin's own hand.

01. March To War

And the winner is ... "March To War". Well, there really no outright winners here, but this image is perhaps the perfect accompaniment to any Uruk Hai album. Taken from the die-hard vinyl limited edition release (another one yet to find its way into the Blog, but it's coming!) it depicts the seige of Helms Deep in fantastic quality and is one of those pictures that you could gaze at for ages and see something new each time you view it. Outstanding

So there we are, the end of another Top Ten list. It all begs one obvious question, of course, which is "what's the worst Uruk Hai album cover of all time?" Hmmmm, that is a question for another day, methinks....!

Friday, 25 February 2011

GESTALTEN, BERGE & WÄLDER


Band: URUK HAI
Title:
Gestalten, Berge & Wälder (literally 'Figures, Mountains & Forests')
Format: Cassette-only release on the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine), cat ref cut058, released in March 2010. This is a split release with the Austrian Pagan black metal horde, Walpurgi. As with all tape releases on this label, the inlay is in colour and printed on quality glossy paper.
Edition: Hand-numbered to 33 copies only

Track Listing:
Walpurgi
1. Vom Wodansberg 11:44
2. Kamerad 02:28
3. Bergerhof 08:55
Uruk-Hai
4. Schwarzblutork (rehearsal 2008) 21.52
5. Das Auge (rehearsal 2009) 11.05

Regular visitors to Honour and Darkness will have noticed a recurrent theme recently, that of songs being repeated in the same or remixed versions between different Uruk Hai releases. It's not just Nazgul who has picked up on this trend, as a few of you have commented on it in emails sent to Castle Nazgul. Indeed, when the "Gil-Galad" story is fully covered in a future post, you'll see what Nazgul means!

This split tape is something of a halfway house in the present climate. Ignoring the Walpurgi tracks for the moment, the two Uruk Hai songs represent something new - in the form of 'Das Auge' (The Eye) - and something borrowed, with 'Schwarzblutork' being a portmanteau of parts from a few other Uruk Hai rehearsals tracks with some new links and added vocal/musical elements. Various melodies in this song definitely derive from other contemporary band recordings of this period, but as a single long recording in its own right 'Schwarzblutork' is unique to this tape in this version. Such is the nature of rehearsal recordings - by their very nature they are practice pieces, and as such may well end up chopped and changed between subsequent songs on other demos. More interesting to hear them like this, perhaps, as a work-in-progress than to have the repetition of the same song over and over again (but more of 'Gil-Galad' anon!)

A quick observation on the length of the tracks: all online sources Nazgul has seen refer to the 'Schwarzblutork' track being 10:15 in duration, with 'Das Auge' clocking in at 13:00. All I can say in response is that my copy of the tape (incidentally, numbered #1/33 thanks to the kind people at Depressive Illusions) has at least 30 minutes of music on the Uruk Hai side, with 'Schwarzblurork' being by far the longer of the two songs, so the song durations shown above are based on Nazgul's own timings. Either that or there is a hidden song in the middle of the two cited, or something odd has happened during the dubbing process!

So - onto the review proper. Let's start at the end, with the new track, 'Das Auge'. At the the time of writing Nazgul believes this song is only available on this tape. And do you know, it's something of a belter. For a start there's a spiky guitar riff propping the whole song up rather than a keyboard refrain, something we haven't heard in an Uruk Hai song for positively yonks. Add to this some good black metal-style vocalisation, some eerie other vocals that sound distinctly childlike (as in innocent and youthful, rather than crap!) and you have yourself what is actually quite a catchy and certainly unusual song from this project. There's even some spoken lyrics, in a neo-folk vein, partway through the song, and the overall feel of the song is quite Summoning-esque, particularly with the vocals and the main riff spiralling through it.

And "there's the rub", as Wishbone Ash once said (or was it Hamlet)? Anyway, the point ('the rub') is that it's all well and good Nazgul saying what an unusual yet highly decent song this is: on a tape of only 33 copies how widely will it be heard? So, perhaps inevitably, at some point Hugin will want to use it somewhere else and turn it from a rehearsal track to a final song on a full album, perhaps fiddling with it a bit on the way, and then voila! - the debate will begin again about reusing songs on different releases. Really, at the end of the day there's really no answer to this other than the old adage of 'you pay your money and you take your choice', and on a personal level I think there is something to be said for seeing an artist develop idea and songs over a period of time.

The other Uruk Hai track, 'Schwarzblutork', begins with a slow, funereal section that rapidly turns into a percussive beat with distant snarling, giving the impression of a band of orcs on foot emerging fleetingly from a bank of mist or fog, only to return there as the music turns once again to a steady synthesised drone. This pattern repeats over the early part of the song. Further in, and a pause leads to the sounds of battle - perhaps our band of orcs have encountered dinner? - and a familiar keyboard refrain takes over as the song heads off in another direction of majesty and grandeur, with chiming bells and epic visions of Middle-Earth. Atmospheric (weather) effects combine with keyboards in what is fundamentally an instrumental classic!

Turning to Walpurgi briefly, this essentially appears to be an Austrian one-man project (run by the enigmatically named Sad1914) and has been running since 1997 utilizing a host of session and live musicians. One such session musician is our old friend Hugin, who is has apparently contributed keyboard parts to some (?) of the Walpurgi demos, if the Internet is to be believed. Nazgul can smell another mini-interview and some sleuthing required here to track this story down for a future post!

The band name presumably derives from Walpurgisnacht - the 17th century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day, influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th and 16th century literature. 'Walpurgisnacht' (Walpurgis Night) is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Brocken and await the arrival of spring. Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany, noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches revels. The 'Brocken Spectre' is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. All of which, Nazgul now realises (cue sound of penny dropping), helps to make sense of the title and imagery of Fates Warning's 1984 debut album, "Night on Brocken". Of course, the band name could equally have come from Walpurgis, the female saint who converted the Saxons to Christianity, but the other story seems somehow more likely.

Musically the three songs rip along like a well-aimed black metal exocet missile, and are certainly worth a repeat listen or two at high volume.

A word on the cover art, which is rather peculiar in its own special way. The size and scale of that wolf/hound/hairy wee beastie in proportion to the human figure is somewhat alarming, and the perspective of the door in the background compared to the figures in the foreground is rather odd too. The whole thing has something of a fairytale feel to it, nothing being quite 'right' if you know what I mean, and is certainly unusual.

Overall another intriguing Uruk Hai split demo, excellently presented by Depressive Illusions, and containing enough creativity and good music to encourage anyone with an interest in Uruk Hai to want to lay their hands on it. And 32 lucky other souls have done exactly that...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Followers of Honour and Darkness ... #3

Morax Draug


It's been over 7 months since Nazgul last ran with a 'Followers...' post, so it's high time to introduce another fellow Huginophile to you all. Please welcome to Castle Nazgul Morax Draug, an enigmatically named fan of Alex Wieser and all round good chap.

Now, Nazgul and Morax have been corresponding for quite a while now and I can honestly say that a nicer and more interesting chap you could not wish to find. Passionate about his interests, Hugin's music being merely one, the Castle Library has on occasion positively lit up with laughter after some of Morax's emails, and many interesting discussions have been had. Long may that continue.

Nazgul entreats you to read the following small interview with one of our growing community, and offers you the chance to feature here too should you wish - see the end of this interview for more details.

Q1. Hello Morax, welcome to Honour and Darkness! How long have you been following this blog now, and how did you come across it?
A1. Hello Nazgul. Thanks for hosting me. I have been following the blog since April 2009. I found it via Google when scouring for information on the Uruk-Hai and Symbiosis split cassette "United". I have been a regular ever since.

Q2. Tell us, where do you live?
A2. I live in a very small town in the South-Eastern United States. I enjoy the solitude of the South, yet I am never too far away from a bigger city (Atlanta) for concerts and that kind of thing. I like to have my own space.

Q3. And your age?
A3. I am 27, waning on 28.

Q4. What do you do for a living?
A4. I am an art director for a graphic design company. It's not as prestigious as it may sound, but I enjoy it. I occasionally get to work with bands I like, and I have all of the tools at my disposal to pursue my own interests and projects.

Q5. If put on the spot, what would you say was your favourite genre of music?
A5. That's hard to say, honestly. My interests really vary and span a lot of genres, from Black Metal to Depeche Mode. For the sake of the interview, I will say that my favorite kind of music is Scandinavian Rock/Metal.

Q6. Who would you say are your favourite bands - pick 5 you couldn't live without?
A6. I would say .... (in no particular order):
* Devil Doll: A Slovenian band fronted by an Italian vocalist, they are best described as classical music meets experimental rock. They split in 1996. I highly recommend checking them out if you can track down the releases.
* The 69 Eyes: Finnish rock band. Their music is kind of a blend of Motley Crue meets Sisters of Mercy. The vocalist is a Goodwill Ambassador for Finland, which I find extraordinary.
* Dimmu Borgir: I enjoy their style of symphonic metal and I am very interested in bands that collaborate with actual orchestra/choir. The Black Metal community opinion of the band is pretty divided, and as for me, I will say that I wish that more bands had the chance (and budget) to work with big orchestras.
* Uruk-Hai: What can I say that hasn't been said 100 times by Nazgul with better vocabulary! Tranquil. Dark. Alluring. Hypnagogic. Brutal. Surreal. I have found that the music never leaves my playlist, which is more than I can say for almost any other band.
* Les Discrets: French ethereal-rock band in the same vein as Alcest. Their first album is great. Members of Les Discrets and Alcest had a now defunct project called Amesoeurs which I also highly recommend. Those bands also would have to keep releasing new material!

Q7. The first album you bought?
A7. Well, I grew up around music, mostly 70-80's rock (thanks, mom & dad) so I had audio and video exposure to bands like Black Sabbath, KISS, Alice Cooper, etc. really early on. The first album I remember purchasing was "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden. It made a big impression on me, and still does.

Q8. And the last album you bought?
Viikate "Kuu Kaakon Yllä" (Finnish heavy metal). Also recently purchased some Uruk-Hai tapes from the castle archives!

Q9. The most bizarre things you've ever eaten and drunk?
A9.Probably the most bizarre food would be Durian fruit. It's rated as one of the foulest foods in the world, but I actually enjoyed it so much that I have eaten it three times. People freak out about that. Just google it.As far as strange drink goes ... I can say that I have consumed Absinthe (quite regularly in my college years), which is illegal and a big deal here in the states, but I doubt that's considered a huge triumph in Europe. I have tried homemade backwoods moonshine as well, which is questionable.

Generally the USA is kind of prudish compared to the rest of the world when it comes to alcohol. For non-alcoholic drink, probably the weirdest thing would be Irish Moss, which is a thick, peanut flavored drink (sold in cans) from Jamaica. It is bad.Once again, those interested, please Google it.

Q10. Your favourite film?
A10. I have a serious appreciation for good movies (aka film nerd) and my favorite of all time would be Ridley Scott's "Legend". The silent epic "Die Nibelungen" would be a close second. I try to watch at least 2 movies every week. I'm a real hikikomori sometimes.

Q11. Your favourite book?
A11. Without a doubt my favorite since childhood would be The Lord of the Rings. I am enthralled with Tolkien's world, from the Silmarillion to The History of Middle Earth series. I am a fan of all the film adaptations that have been made as well. I'm looking forward to The Hobbit films in 2012. Lately I have been reading mostly musician autobiographies and Lovecraft. I have a decent collection of comic books, of which Poison Elves is my favorite.

Q12. So....how did you first come across Hugin's music?
A12. Well, in 2009 I was in contact with a member of the band Za Frûmi whom readers may be familiar with for their "orc saga" albums. They have created their own mythos within the Tolkien world via their music, with Black Speech "lyrics" no less. Anyway, aforementioned person was a fan of Hugin's work and recommended Uruk-Hai to me. I researched Uruk-Hai (and Hugin's other projects) via Metal Archives, and had to know more. This thirst for knowledge inevitably brought me to the gates of castle Nazgul!

Q13. Which of Hugin's projects do you follow most closely?
A13. I would say it is Uruk-Hai without a doubt, though I keep tabs on Manwe too. I have interest in the other projects for sure, but this one appeals to me the most. I enjoy quite a few of the more epic releases Hrossharsgrani and Hrefnesholt. I do not know much about Elisabetha, but that project interests me, and I like what I have heard so far. I am interested in anything that Hugin creates but some of it is not my taste. Luckily, Hugin is a musically prolific person.

Q14. What was the first and last items you bought that Hugin composed?
A14. My first full-on experience with Hugin was via the "Dragons of War" CD that I found at a local underground music shop. However, oddly enough the first item I purchased that Hugin contributed to was "By the Sword of My Father" from Folkearth some years earlier. The latest addition to my collection is the Depressive Illusions release of "Gil-Galad" tape.

Q15. What are your favourite releases from across Hugin's discography so far?
A15. My top 3 Uruk-Hai releases would be: "A Night in the Forest", "Lothlórien" and "Black Blood White Hand". I listen to some portion of "Lothlórien" every day at work. I would have to say Elisabetha's "Über das Prinzip der Unschuld" really impressed me. I thought Hrossharsgrani's "...Of Battles, Ravens & Fire" was great. I like the Manwe tracks I have heard online, and hope to see more releases from them soon. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with the other projects to pick favorites.

Q16. What items/release(s) do you most treasure in your collection of Hugin's stuff?
A16. I treasure all of the releases I own so far, I would not trade any of them. In my years as a music collector, I have unfortunately lost a few irreplaceable things due to fire or theft. When you go through that kind of thing, it's hard to want to get back into the archivist niche, but it is where I belong. Most of the items that I consider to be "holy grail" of Hugin's releases, I do not own yet... "Yet" being the key word.

Q17. Are there any of his items/release(s) that you are particularly you looking for?
A17. I'm always on the lookout for anything I don't have that I can afford at the time. At the moment, I am searching for:
* Elisabetha: Durst Nach Unsterblichkeit tape, & Isten Szek! tape
* Hrefnesholt: Heidensturm tape (WP015, 2004)
* Manwe: First Battle CD and/or tape
* The First Ring vol. 1 CD
* Uruk Hai: War Anthems box; Darkness box; Black Blood, White Hand box (XL); Angband box; Ea CD; Quenta Silmarillion CD; and any of the Wulfrune Worxx tapes.

Q18. What message would you like to convey to Hugin?
A18. Hugin, you're a very talented guy with dedicated fans. We all look forward to your coming releases. Please continue the excellent work. I wish you continued success.

Q19. Do you have a message for your fellow readers of Honour & Darkness?
A19. I do! Keep supporting good music and this blog, buy what you download, and always trust the Nazgul!

Q20. And a tester to finish - what has been your favourite post on this blog, and why?! [not including this one!]
A21. I love everything that you post, but I'm not "in love" with some of the material covered, savvy? I enjoy your honest reviews and wit, and I'm still holding out for an epic, three week long immersion into the Guts for Dinner demo (I joke). Honestly, I enjoy the "Top 10" posts the most because they showcase some truly rare items, and as a collector myself, I sit back, read, and become respectfully jealous, haha.


With thanks to Morax for his time in helping make this post happen

Ever wanted to appear on Honour and Darkness? Have something to say about Hugin's music, the decor in Castle Nazgul, or other aspects of Huginology? Have an unrivalled collection in your possession? Drop Nazgul a line to see if you too could be a Follower of Honour and Darkness: tall_dai@ntlworld.com

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

UNITED BY HEATHEN BLOOD - update

Band: HREFNESHOLT
Title: United By Heathen Blood
Reason for update: Alternative artwork and an intriguing little story...

The three-way split release "United By Heathen Blood" was originally reviewed on Honour and Darkness back on 1 May 2009, and was positively received by Nazgul. This AMF Productions tape featured contributions from Hrefnesholt, Italian project Symbiosis (since interviewed on the Blog of course) and Bulgarian band Bagatur, brainchild of Alexander Ivanov - owner of AMF Productions.

Nazgul was fortunate to renew correspondence with Alexander recently, and a number of interesting items came into the possession of Castle Nazgul. Sharing those with you will be Nazgul's pleasure in the coming months, so let us begin with the fascinating tale of how this particular release came to be.

The image you see at the head of this post - of an advancing body of warriors with the fallen body of an enemy ahead of them (presumably a foe, as he's facing the other way to the advance!) - was the original design for what was proposed to be a split 7" vinyl release just between Bagatur and Hrefnesholt. However, it proved impossible to find a suitable label to release this single, and so it was back to the drawing board. The artwork shown above was the intended cover, hence the inclusion of just the Bagtur and Hrefnesholt band names.

The second plan was to expand the split into a CDr release, at which stage the services of the excellent Italian ambient band Symbiosis were engaged to make the package a better balanced one for a longer compact disc format. The intended label for the release was the Mistress Dance label from Portugal, and a rear CD inlay mock-up shown below illustrates the intended track listing from the three bands (which stayed the same throughout from this point) and shows the Mistress Dance label logo to the left.

However, for various reasons that we won't dwell on here the Mistress Dance label proved to be a case of the wrong label at the wrong time, and so the proposed CDr release was also canned. Thank goodness for old fashioned cassette tape! Sensible heads prevailed, and AMF Productions decided to give the split album a tape release and unleash it on the world at large!
The third image (below) shows a mock-up of another cover - the design for which, incidentally, was by Hugin as was the rear CD inlay - in tape format, identifying the third band Symbiosis to the bottom of the picture and showing the AMF Production label details on the panel to the left.

But wait - there's more! The final version of the tape - issued in 2007 - eventually had entirely different cover art altogether, and is shown below and in the original post of 1 May 2009. The three bands now appear at the top of the cover in equal prominence.

Last, but by no means least, when Nazgul published the original post for this tape the photo used at the time showed only one side of the inlay. To rectify this somewhat, the final photo in this Blog shows the interior panel used to illustrate the Hrefnesholt portion of the album (each band had a panel each on the folded inlay), which I hope you will agree shows a most excellent image!

Of course, none of this fascinating story would have been possible without the kind help of AMF's Alexander: you know, the more Nazgul collects and the further into the history of Hugin's projects he delves, the more characters and interesting stories emerge on the way. The story of the AMF Productions label may be one for another time, but the invaluable help and infinite patience of Alexander will always be appreciated here on Honour and Darkness.

B-MACHINA > band logo t-shirt

Band: B-MACHINA
Item:
Grey cotton t-shirt with the B-Machina logo
Edition: Only 1

The logo you see above - black on grey - is that of the industrial/acoustic project B-Machina, featuring both Hugin and Max. You all know what an XL sized grey t-shirt looks like so let us instead focus on that double-headed crest image, with gothic-style 'B' imposed in the centre. Nazgul rather likes it, and believe you me when striding the seedy streets in the village below Castle Nazgul he is very grateful that the shirt does not pronounce something capable of being misconstrued, like "Bonemachine" for example: that could cause all sorts of unintended misinterpretation in some parts around here...

This particular shirt was one of several that Hugin made available to Nazgul at the tail end of 2010 and is, as far as I am aware, a one-off design. Talk about taking the shirt off someone's back!

An impromptu audit of the Castle Nazgul wardrobes suggests that there are more Bonemachine/B-Machina shirts present than for any other of Hugin's projects, which is a fascinating if entirely pointless observation with which to draw this particular post to a end.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The many faces of Uruk Hai

In a recent email conversation with a friend in the States who follows and supports Honour and Darkness the subject of the latest Uruk Hai 'logo' came up for discussion, with the relative merits of its predecessor being debated against the current design. This chance conversation inspired Nazgul to take a brief look through his collection of material to look into how the Uruk Hai logo has changed over the years. As the following images will attest, there have been a number of different versions and iterations over the years!

The recognition that a well-known image or logo affords a band cannot be disputed, nor should it be underestimated for the potential lucrative merchandising that follows. Consider, as a single example, Iron Maiden: their angular typeface has remained largely unaltered since the debut album back in 1980, and the image of Eddie has been synonymous with the band from day one. You can spot an Iron Maiden t-shirt or piece of merchandising from a goodly distance without necessarily knowing what tour or album it promotes, and this holds true for many other rock/metal bands including Motörhead, Cradle of Filth, Judas Priest, Metallica, et al.

Bands in the underground scene also rely on the strength of their image, and integral to that is the band logo. Nazgul is hardly an expert on the subject, but I can't immediately think of any other band that has had so many different ways of presenting its name/logo as Uruk Hai. Reinvention is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, and as these are not products generally found on the high street shelves the same brand-recognition doesn't perhaps come into play as strongly.

So let's take a ramble through a selection of Uruk Hai logos, past and present. This assortment does not pretend to be definitive, nor is it necessarily in strict chronological order, but it does capture a number of strikingly different examples from the 11 years history of the band.

1999 saw the release of Uruk Hai's "In Durin's Halls" demo, and with it a hand drawn band logo courtesy of Hugin. It resembles quite strongly the typeface of the Hrossharsgrani demo "Uruk Hai", which shouldn't be surprising as that was the demo that led to the ambient Uruk Hai project being formed. This curvy and fairly basic logo was used on the original "In Durin's Halls" demo tape and nowhere else thereafter.

By the time Hugin had decided to run with this new project and put out a few CDr pressings for friends - for example, the "Uber Die Nebelberge Weit" rehearsal from 2000, illustrated above - the logo changed once again, to this more Burzum-esque version

The first Uruk Hai compilation came in 2003, and yes we've jumped a few titles and years to bring you this logo early in the list. A function of some cunning on Nazgul's part you might think, but no: actually Nazgul simply put the "Orchish Battle Hymns" logo in the wrong place on the list. Ah well, even Dark Lords are human: or were, once... Anyway, back to "Battle Yells" and the more rounded, less gothic typeface used on that cover.

We're in "Darkness" now, from 2001, and another stylised logo for the project. If I were a graphic designer or artist I could probably tell you all sorts of interesting things about the font or style, but sadly you're on your own on that score.

In the same way that it's said for the actors who played James Bond, the old maxim states that the first one you saw tends to be your favourite. This angular logo - the only one for the band that has no recognisable lettering - was used actually first used in 2001 on the split vinyl single "Schall Und Rauch / Infernal Winter 666". However, it came into its own in the 2003-04 period when some classic demos were released with this image on, including "Elbentanz", "Nazgul" and "Land Of The Shadow". The first demo that Nazgul purchased was "Honour" where it also features, and the rest is history. There's something quite enchanting about this logo to Nazgul's mind, and it remains his favourite to this day.

Ah yes, "Orchish Battle Hymns"! We got there eventually. This demo was released in 2000 and had yet another style of logo attached to it. Interestingly, not only was it a pretty mature image for the early years of the project, it has also been reinvented for recent (2011) tape releases on the Depressive Illusions label, as we shall see later. It also introduces us to runes for the first time, linking the Tolkien-themed music to the imagery of Middle-Earth.

And speaking of runes, here's a swordful for you, courtesy of Uruk Hai circa 2004. One of the earliest examples of this logo was on the original (promo-only) 2CDr set of "Upon the Elysian Fields", but it is perhaps best remembered from demos such as "Barbarians", "Dragons Of War" and "Northern Lights". This logo was extensively used in the period through to late 2005.

And here is an excellent example of something that spans the years. In the preparation for this post, Nazgul was pulling examples of this weapons-based band logo from releases such as "A Viking's Journey" and "Across The Misty Mountains" from 2006, and it seemed a fair guess to say it was derived in this period. Indeed, it was extensively used throughout the period 2006-2008, with later releases utilising it including "Lost Songs From Middle Earth" and the "Vereint durch die Kraft uralter Wälder" split release with Moloch, and appeared as late as 2009 on the Valgriind reissue of "Upon the Elysian Fields". Fascinatingly, however, the actual debut of this logo was way back in 2000 on the "Elbenwald" tape demo, where it promptly lay dormant for 6 years before its subsequent resurrection.

The year is 2009. Another style of Uruk Hai logo hits the decks, in the form of another gothic-style typeface. Few people got to see it though as it was on the "Nachtkrieg" release, and longer-term readers of this Blog will recall the various issues surrounding the release of that album. Again, something of a one-off style for this release...

...as was the logo used on the disc itself, different again and actually rather good. Personally I like this one more than some of the others, but whether we will see its use again remains to be seen.

This black and green logo Nazgul has plucked from the front of the band's 'Legacy Of The Tyrant' t-shirt, just to illustrate the point that it's not just the tapes and CD's that sport a variety of band logos.

Award yourself a gold star if you recognise where the logo above comes from. A clue, you say? Well, it's from a 2010 release, and is the design on the disc itself rather than the album artwork. To that extent, it's stretching the theme of this post a little, but what the heck! Oh - and it's the "Angband" compilation release, by the way, where this is used.

This epic and complicated design has been the most recognisable of recent years, not just for the striking quality of the artwork but also because there has been a veritable explosion of releases from Hugin in the 2009-10 period, most of which bear this design on their cover. One of the first to use it must have been the "Lebenin" and "Zeitzeichen" tapes from autumn 2009. If you've bought anything from Uruk Hai in the period since then, chances are it bears this logo in either the black and gold print shown here, or in a black and white version.

But like all things, change is ever-present. No sooner had we got used to the flowing lines of the last logo when demos in late 2010 started to use this design, which bears a striking resemblance to the "Orchish Battle Hymns" logo from ten years earlier. Examples of this new design can see seen on "Elves & Men" and on both versions of the "Spirits" demo tapes from the excellent Ukrainian label Depressive Illusions.

And last but by no means least, the inside inlays of these late 2010 / early 2011 demos bear yet another style of design, shown here.

What does it all mean - well, not a lot quite honestly, but it's been a pleasant way to reminisce through some much loved demos on a wet, Sunday morning here at Castle Nazgul. I dare say there may be the odd design that has failed to hit this list, and if you know of it by all means drop me a line to let me know. What 2011 and subsequent years will bring we can only imagine...

With thanks to Morax Draug for the original inspiration

Saturday, 12 February 2011

THE NAZGUL

Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Nazgul (40 years in Honour and Darkness)
Format: Unique tape edition in blue case and surmounted with a hand-crafted paper sash, released from W.A.R. Productions (Austria) in June 2010. Artwork is derived from Ted Nasmith's Tolkien illustrations. There is no catalogue reference on this one-off piece, and the epic single track is recorded on both sides of the tape.
Edition: 1 copy only

Track Listing:

01. The Nazgul 60.00

Within the collection that sits in the library at Castle Nazgul, there are few more splendid items than this.

Back in June 2010 Nazgul hit one of life's more significant milestones and attained 40 years as lord and master of his domain. Mrs Nazgul determined that the only treatment possible for such advanced years was a trip to the western United States, which proved to be one of the highlights of Nazgul's fourth decade. A second highlight, however, came in the receipt of this wonderful gift from Alex, quite out of the blue and hidden away in a parcel of goodies received at the Castle in May.

This unique tape is not to be confused with the similarly titled and illustrated "Nazgul" split release with Vinterriket, which was reviewed in the Blog back on 30 June 2010. The cover differs in a number of ways, not least with the new Uruk Hai logo being used in replacement of the angular typeface used circa 2004, and the presence of the W.A.R. Productions crest on the spine. The Ted Nasmith illustration, so admired by Nazgul, is cropped and tightened to emphasise the Nazgul in the foreground and to allow for the legend "The Nazgul: Honour and Darkness" to fit.

But of course the principal difference to the "Nazgul" split tape is that this version contains a unique composition from Hugin, and not just a quick two-minute bit of noodling about but an extraordinary one hour epic! Where the man finds the time remains a mystery....

Now, any self-respecting Dark Lord has to maintain some secrets. As such, the musical content of this tape is to remain an illicit thrill for Nazgul's ears only, to be shared only infrequently with other visitors to the Castle. Suffice to say, the bagpipes are appropriately high in the mix, the fusion of reggae and black metal is both ground-breaking and bowel-loosening, the use of oboe is muted but still significant, and who would have thought that Hugin was such a good yodeller?!

It was a gift both unexpected and marvellous, and one for which Nazgul is still immensely grateful and proud to have received. Thank you, Alex.

But wait - that was not all! Also inside the larger parcel was an anonymous white box, which once opened revealed part two of Hugin's cunning plan! Here was another unique item - a coffee mug to match the tape, shown below in full glory for the first time online. Nazgul is sure that you'll also agree that this is a thing of beauty!


So now you can see what Nazgul was alluding to at the end of the 30 June 2010 post, when he wrote, "Incidentally, there was an interesting and exciting development around the "Nazgul" release that your old uncle Nazgul will bring to you in a future Blog - another of Hugin's legendary one-off specials for your delight!"

Legendary is barely the half of it....

Friday, 11 February 2011

ROTATION ZWEI

Band: B-MACHINA
Title:
Rotation Zwei
Format: Professionally packaged CDr on the Valgriind label (Russia), cat ref VG23, released in 2009. Glossy one-sided colour cover housing a plain white CDr disc in a white envelope.
Edition: Unknown - possibly only in the low hundreds?

Track Listing:
01 Donnergott 1.47
02 Iron Stallion 4.18
03 Other Visions 2.20
04 Forgotten 2.22
05 Ganesha 3.06
06 Dieu Du Tonnerre (with Herz Tod) 2.54
07 Aji-Suki-Taka-Hi-Kone (with Kenji Siratori) 7.07
08 Zeus 11.09
09 Prophecy (Part1) 19.39
10 Prophecy (Part 2) 19.37
11 Arena 4.28

A second compilation CDr from the B-Machina project, following the 2088 release "Erste Rotation (Eine Retrospektive Von Krieg Und Zeit)", reviewed in Honour and Darkness on 7 December 2010. Unlike that 2-disc set released through Sabbathid (Japan), this selection comes packaged by Valgriind in a simple wrap-around cover. It's rather a simplistic approach to presenting what is actually a rare and desirable collection of tracks, and one that is prone to crease too as the paper sleeve is protected only by a plastic wrapper (kindly signed by Hugin on Nazgul's copy). Ah well, not to worry, what it lacks in robustness it makes up for in appearance - there's an absolutely classic B-Machina illustration on the cover that merges war imagery with natural and almost Egyptian imagery in a most successful way: it would make a striking t-shirt!

Valgriind themselves describe this release as a "synthesis of acoustic guitar sound and background noise" and that, in a nutshell, sums up the slightly-insane-but-always-interesting mixture of Max's acoustic guitar strumming alongside Hugin's various electronica and industrially percussive effects. It all works extremely well but is actually difficult to convey in a meaningful way until you've heard it. As such, I would strongly urge anyone remotely interested in a musical direction that is both different to the mainstream and original in concept to give this a try: there are always copies of "Rotation Zwei" for sale online, it seems, and it would be a shame for the relatively modest price not to give this a spin. Try the Steinklang Industries webshop or the label directly, and tell 'em that Nazgul sent you!

For your investment, you'll get a disc of two halves: around half of the songs are taken from ultra-limited edition releases from the B-Machina back catalogue, now sold-out and entirely impossible to find for the most part (unless you are willing to spend big money when they do - rarely - appear). Let's quickly review these gems, with the applicable Honour and Darkness review date shown in parenthesis:
  • 'Iron Stallion' - coming from the W.A.R. label in only 25 copies on card-disc format, it's a dead-cert on the racetrack with it's blend of acoustic folk and grim sonic soundscapes and still manages to sound a tad like Bathory's 'Odin's Ride Over Nordland' as it begins [21 November 2009]
  • 'Other Visions' - another card-disc that came packaged in an orange envelope, complete with magnets, stickers and postcards. Top notch presentation, and a short acoustic piece with some extraordinary effects! Only 17 copies of the original pressing were released [20 August 2009]
  • 'Forgotten' - the second track on the "Other Visions" release above, described at the time by Nazgul as sounding like a 'Mexican stand-off in a classic spaghetti western' [20 August 2009]
  • 'Ganesha' - the brilliant track from the split CDr with Rose Rovine E Amanti, produced in a limitation of 44 copies and long since sold-out [23 January 2010]
  • 'Dieu Du Tonnere' - from the insanely limited box-set edition of 5 copies (!) that appeared - briefly - at W.A.R. in 2008, and featured the vocal contributions of Flo of Herz Tod [4 July 2009]
  • 'Prophecy Part 1' - the first part of this epic track, released as a mini-CDr on Smell The Stench and limited to 24 copies only [10 October 2009]
  • 'Prophecy Part 2' - and yes, guess what, the second part of the 'Prophecy' trilogy, again with 24 copies only being produced in 2007. Both Parts 1 and 2 also feature on the "Anti-Genesis" tape, but of course that is equally impossible to find! [25 June 2010]

As hard to find as these original releases are, it's interesting to think that only one of them gets a mention in the 'Top Ten of rare Bonemachine/B-Machina items' when reviewed by Nazgul on 10 July 2010 (excluding "Anti-Genesis"). That gives an impression on the sheer obscurity of this project, and the relative difficulty in trying to put together a significant collection of its output.

Certainly anyone who missed out on the releases above would find this compilation very helpful (check that - a lifesaver) in finally getting to hear this material. As a collector, one of the questions that occasionally buzzes through Nazgul's tiny mind revolves around the age-old subject of 'do I feel cheated' that I (and others) shelled out for the expensive limited editions - with their implicit promise of exclusivity - only to see the tracks emerge within a year or two on a compilation album? The answer to this is a resounding "no" - we still have the original item in their excellent packaging, and can delight in knowing that few others can admire the release in the same way that we can - and the bottom line is surely to elevate and bring Hugin's music to as wide an audience as possible?

And, of course, there are some interesting bonuses on this collection that are to be found nowhere else. This is a singular delight, as all too often compilations can be thrown together without thought for the fan who already has much of the material. In this case, there are four songs on offer that offer us something new and exciting to unveil. It starts immediately, with the instrumental opener 'Donnergott' ('Thunder God'), which lives up to its billing by juxtaposing rumbles of thunder with an electronic noise that sounds marvellously ominous. 'Aji-Suki-Taka-Hi-Kone' features the input of Japanese artist Kenji Siratori and is - pleasantly enough - very much in the style of the "Crypt Child" release in as far as it features largely spoken word vocals (this time with a bit of passion and vim) set to a the background of vague oriental acoustics and discordant industrial background noise that swirl around and keeps the listener alert. And, trivia fans, the deity theme is being continued here as the song title refers to Kami, one of the Japanese gods of thunder.

Mighty 'Zeus' keeps us on the 'gods of thunder' theme, being the Greek god of the heavenly rumbles, and mercifully spares us from a visitation from Gene Simmons of Kiss in his god of thunder persona. From the opening instrumental section featuring a multitude of chimes and bells (or possibly a herd of Austrian cattle falling down an Alp) the song develops into a riveting classic with some really powerful pieces of flamenco guitar - indeed, a couple of minutes in there is a tremendous section from Max, neo-classical in style and underpinned by the sounds of whistling winds, that you could imagine being plucked from a guitar by Zeus himself atop Mount Olympus. The album ends with the last of the new songs, 'Arena', and with more of the traditional Bone-sounds of this pair of Austrian maestros at work.

Of all the various compilation tapes and CD's that have been issued over the years compiling Alex's many and varied bands, Nazgul would stick his neck out and suggest to you that in terms of quality, value for money and overall selection of material "Rotation Zwei" might just edge the rest as the one to go for. Certainly if you are still to venture into the weird and wonderful world of B-Machina this easily available release is a necessary and affordable purchase so why not have yourself another resolution in 2011 and buy a copy of this release: it could just be the best few pennies you invest all year...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

DARKNESS

Band: URUK HAI
Title:
Darkness
Format: Cassette-only demo released on the Chanteloup Creations label (France) in 2001, catalogue reference AWE82. The tape comes as a numbered edition, with black and white photocopied inlay. Tracks were recorded in the period 1999-2000. The demo has resurfaced in 2010 as part of the very limited edition 5-part "Darkness I-V" box-set released on W.A.R. Productions.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 300 copies

Track Listing:
01. Kör 02:15
02. Of Thingol And Melian 21:05
03. The Thousand Halls 01:18
04. A New World Was Born 05:31
05. Ghost Of The Ring 01:12
06. Then The Gloom Gathered, Darkness Growing 10:09
07. Over Dead Sea And Withered Land 01:38
08. Lenore 04:50
09. Moondance 02:09
10. March Or Die (Motörhead Cover) 06:28

Today celebrates the second anniversary of Honour and Darkness. When Nazgul first put online his miscellaneous thoughts about the various works of Alexander "Hugin" Wieser it never really seemed that likely that the Blog would still be running today, as the clever money would surely suggest the material would soon dry up and nothing more would be left to review. After all, surely even Hugin's prodigious output could never keep pace with an online commentary posting up to 20 items in any given month?! Well, as things turn out, the regular broadcasts from Castle Nazgul show no sign of slowing down, and with every month the audience tuning into these strange emanations continues to grow. Long may this happy state of affairs continue

To mark this second anniversary, Nazgul has plucked from the Castle library the "Darkness" demo. When Nazgul originally named his Blog the title came from two Uruk Hai demos - "Honour" which formed the original review article back on 10 February 2009, and "Darkness", which Nazgul had fondly supposed might prove to be the final instalment in this online record, and a fitting way to end his endeavours. Happily for all, the library shelves are still packed to groaning point with more material from your favourite Austrian composer, so rest assured both Nazgul and Honour and Darkness intend to be sticking around for a while longer yet...

This 2001 demo was one of the earlier pieces to come into Nazgul's collection, this particular edition being #17 of the 300 tapes released. The "Darkness" tape that forms Part I of the "Darkness I-V" box-set is also an original pressing, incidentally, and in Nazgul's case is tape #76. The musical style shown on this demo is very keyboard based and creates many instrumental and lightly ambient passages, quite different in nature to many of the other demos that Hugin was putting out at this time. It is also heavily influenced by the works of Tolkien - to begin the demo is the short but strident instrumental piece 'Kör' (in J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendarium, Tirion upon Túna was the city of the Noldor in Valinor, when Finwë and then his sons ruled).

There follows the epic second track 'Of Thingol And Melian': Thingol was one of the three chieftains of the Elves who departed from Cuiviénen with Oromë as ambassadors of Valinor and later become Kings. Thingol encounters Melian the Maia in the woods of Nan Elmoth and, enchanted by her, he falls in love with her. They remain entranced together for some 200 years. Twenty-one minutes to depict a 200 year love affair seems only right, really, and the breathless vocals displayed here are stylistically different from anything Hugin had recorded beforehand and add a certain romantic poignancy to the song.

The demo has a number of very short instrumental tracks, which are as much as anything examples of the development of the much-loved Uruk Hai keyboard style as they are songs in their own right (much like tracks on the 2003 "Elbentanz" CDr demo). 'Kör' falls into this category, alongside third track 'The Thousand Halls' (Menegroth, perhaps?), the regal 'Ghost Of The Ring', 'Over Dead Sea and Withered Land' and the final original composition 'Moondance', which is a rather fanciful title suggesting gossamer-thin threads of musical beauty but which, in reality, shows a much harder and more ominous edge than one might imagine from the name alone.

The second long track on this demo is 'Then The Gloom Gathered, Darkness Growing', a slow and piano-driven song with more of the ethereal 'breathless' vocal style seen previously and some simple chord progressions to keep things moving along. Very relaxing, and you can see why from recordings like this the nature of the music did not comfortably fit within the Hrossharsgrani project that was prevalent at the time, hence the formation of the Uruk Hai project. The demo nears its climax with another literary-themed song, this time 'Lenore', which must presumably link to the 1843 Edgar Allan Poe poem rather than any Tolkien work, unless it is an oblique reference to the daughter of Samwise Gamgee! The German spoken word part at the outset of the song does have a somewhat poetic ring to it, so until further information comes to light Nazgul will assume it comes from Poe and, in so doing, anticipates and pre-dates the Elisabetha "Über das Prinzip der Unschuld" album by a good 8 years!

To end this most excellent tape comes a rare Uruk Hai cover song - 'March Or Die' no less, from the apparently immortal Motörhead. The original song came from the band's 1992 album of the same name (which had the nigh-on impossible task of following their fantastic "1916" opus), and whilst it's not one of Nazgul's favourite Motör-moments it is a refreshing change to see a cover version from such a band as this on the end of one of Hugin's demos! It's recorded in a distinctly Uruk Hai fashion, with sampled movie battle-sounds at the outset - from Gladiator: the "strength and honour" section with hell unleashed shortly thereafter - and at the end. It's an good way to end this tape, and is an interesting curio too with its largely spoken lyrics. I wonder what Lemmy would make of it all...?

Overall, a fine demo and one that any true fan of the band should really seek out and make theirs: A defining moment in the development of the early Uruk Hai sound, and integral to the approach taken on many of the subsequent demos released by this project. Repeated plays makes for a fitting way to help blow out the candles on Honour and Darkness' second birthday cake!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

An interview with ... Vinterriket

One name that repeatedly comes up in on the inlay of recent recordings by Uruk Hai is that of Cz, perhaps best known to readers of this Blog as the inspiration and driving force behind Vinterriket. This is a band that has recorded a number of split releases with Uruk Hai in the past, and in recent times Cz has been responsible for the final mastering of many Uruk Hai demo and album releases.

Much like Hugin, Cz is a man for whom one project is not enough, and as the narrative below shows a multitude of projects bear his name. Honour and Darkness caught up with Cz during his hectic winter schedule, and a brief interview took place to give a little more insight into the frozen realm of Vinterriket, working with Hugin, and other matters...

Hails Cz, and welcome to Honour and Darkness
Hi there! Thanks for the interview.

Where in the world are you based?
I am living in beautiful Switzerland

Whilst best known for Vinterriket, you've also been part of a number of other projects I believe, such as Nebelkorona, Atomtrakt, Dânnâgôischd, Nocternity, Graven, Battle Dagorath, Sturmpercht, and Fräkmündt ! Can you briefly tell us a little about them and the philosophy behind your music?
It depends on which project you are talking about because they are dealing with different aspects / topics / themes. The main philosophy is to express feelings and atmospheres. Here we go: a short description of every project (Nazgul has expanded upon Cz's own brief description with some representative thoughts culled from the Internet. Necessarily these reflect views other than Cz's own, but for context they are designed to be helpful, not to put words in his mouth!)

Dânnâgôischd: Wood Folk. Dânnâgôischd (the ghost of the dark forest) is a project coming directly out of the deep Alpine and Swabian woods. Recent release "Emm Dichdâ Ondrholz" (in the dense brush-wood) features 16 tracks of Alpine Forest Folk, telling tales in ancient Swabian language about creatures living in darkest woods, with all their legends, atmospheres and myths. The atmosphere spreads between melancholy, tradition and pure forest life. Dreamy songs are mixed with dark and natural (sound)tracks, as well as with more folky tunes and is a perfect trip to the misty fir tree forests.

Atomtrakt: Martial Industrial. Atomtrakt, Cz's industrial/ambient incarnation is sometimes a whining, hissing insect in the ear of martial industrial music, and others a cold and empty wilderness in the wasteland of dark ambient. Along with the minimalist key riffs and military style of percussion, Atomtrakt are able to provide a commanding atmosphere of the power of gloom and melancholy. The project also makes ample use of samples which fit nicely with the discordant feel of the music to give it a reflective, introspective tone

Nebelkorona: Romantic Neofolk/Neoclassic. Stylistically its all about ambient/neoclassic music and instrumentation-wise it could be compared with Nachtreich and Blakagir, although a lot calmer. The main element is acoustic guitars and piano, paired with calm drums and occasional strings.

Vinterriket: Dark Ambient / Atmospheric Black Metal. surely any further description of this cult band is unneccessary for such a cultured reader as yourself...

Sturmpercht: Alpine Folk. An Austrian experimental, traditional folk and neofolk group inspired partially by indigenous alpine tradition.

Fräkmündt: Swiss Ur-Folk. Atmospheric tracks with keyboard drones, cow bells, strummed guitars accompanied by drum rhythms of near marching quality, accordion and vocals in between spoken word and nearly-singing with texts of spoken word in Swiss dialect spoken by some old mountain man. Some of it has danceable qualities in its origin, the atmosphere remains like a dark vision.

Battle Dagorath: Atmospheric Black Metal. Battle Dagorath play a very cold, astral style of black metal but is as brutally piercing and raw as it is powerful and majestic. Dubbed by some as intelligent black metal, this style reaches beyond the mere reaches of earthly distaste for humans, war, or satanism, and reaches out into the universe towards the great emptiness that infintely surrounds our bleak momentary existence on this plain...

ThruByRed: Eclectic Elevator Music...

Graven: Black Metal (I am not playing with them anymore)

Nocternity: Black Metal (I am not playing with them anymore)

What is a typical day in the life of Cz, the musician?

Nature, making music, sleeping, eating, work.

Which of your songs would you recommend to someone who has not heard your music before? This is very difficult to say. There is no top song of each project, I would say.

You've known Hugin for how long now?

I assume it is since 2001. I sometimes meet him in Austria.

When and how did you first get to know each other?

I cannot remember, sorry. Probably it was through e-mail in 2001

Tell us a little about Hugin the man - what is your perception of him?

Hugin is a very nice guy. Very active and addicted to music!

By my reckoning Vinterriket and Uruk Hai have released 3 split releases together - "Nazgul / Landschaften Ewiger Einsamkeit", "~2~", and "Nachtschwarze Momente / The Uruk-Hai". How did these releases come about, and do you have a personal favourite?

My personal favorite is Landschaften ewiger Einsamkeit I would say. The releases just came out because we thought it is a good idea.

Are more split releases being planned?

Nothing concrete at the moment. But more split releases might come, this is for sure.

Looking across Hugin's range of bands, do you have a particular favourite album or demo from his many recordings?

Mmh, very hard to say. I like Hrefnesholt very much

If you were to record 1 cover version of each other's songs, which of yours should Hugin record and which of his would you cover?

Hugin: maybe a Dânnâgôischd track. I would cover a track of Hrefnesholt, I would say.

A recent development has been for some of Hugin's recent releases to be mastered by yourself - can you tell us a little about how this process works?

He just sends me the rough WAV files and I am doing the final mastering. This is the standard approach.



Turning back to you, Cz, what is your view of the current metal scene? Is it a healthy one for bands such as your own and Hugin's?

I am not interested in the metal scene at all, I would say. I am not restricted to any scene. I listen to what I like, regardless of any scene.

Some of the releases in the past from Vinterriket have been cleverly packaged - the 7" 'Aura' vinyl mounted on a wood-cut being one of my favourites. If money was not a problem, what would be your ultimate format for a release?

This is very hard to say. I love all kinds of original packing. And I think from release to release. I always have new ideas. Lets see what I will have in mind next...!

Is there any truth to the rumour that Vinterriket has set a world record for the most album covers to feature images of snow, mountains and trees?!

Probably yes!

What musical ambitions have you left that you want to achieve?

To continue to create good music for some more years

Tell us Cz - what was the first album you ever bought, and the last?

Last: no idea. First: probably Sodom - 'Agent Orange' or 'Persecution Mania'

And your favourite album cover of all time?


No idea, sorry

If you were stuck on a desert island for a year, what 5 albums and 3 books would you wish to have with you?

To select 5 albums is impossible…. Also books… I would rather take my keyboard and my guitars and would record my own music.

What song do you never want to hear again (yours, or someone elses!)?

I never heard something that bad that I would not listen to it again.

Before we go, have you a funny story about Hugin that you can share with us....?

Hugin is a serious guy, hehe. Nothing funny!

Do you have any message for Hugin via the Blog?

C u again soon and all the best!

And do you have a message for the readers of Honour and Darkness?

No

Many thanks for your time and insights, Cz, and good luck with your future endeavours. What do Vinterriket fans have to look forward to in 2011?

Thanks for the interview! A new album will probably be released in 2011 - let's see...



You can find out more about Vinterriket via www.myspace.com/vinterriketofficial and also www.vinterriket.com


Friday, 4 February 2011

KAMPF

Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Kampf
Format: Cassette-only rehearsal demo released in 2000 by the Chanteloup Creations label (France), catalogue reference AWE52. The tape comes with a black and white photocopied inlay and is numbered in red pen. Nazgul's copy is dedicated on the case cover by Hugin with the words "Kampf & Krieg".
Edition: Believed to be 300 hand-numbered copies (see text)

Track Listing:

01. Die Letzte Schlacht 15:35
02. Steel Meets Steel 03:13
03. Wallbruna 04:18
04. The Path Between Sea And Sky 04:02
05. Schlalied 01:08
06. Wogenbrecher 03:31
07. Untergang 04:10

"...more hymns to the ancient times..."

As one of the few remaining early releases from any of Hugin's projects yet to be covered in Honour and Darkness, the 1999 "Kampf" ("Battle") demo tape should be savoured like a fine wine after dinner. Some internet sources debate whether this was a 1999 or 2000 release, and whether it came out on the CCP or Chanteloup Creations label, so Nazgul is happy to stake his colours to the mast on that score by declaring this demo to be a particularly fine 2000 vintage from the French CC vineyard, errrr label. Inside the inlay is a note from Hugin that reads, "All tracks grimly performed during MM" which thus rules out a 1999 release date.

Whilst the source for this confusion is unclear - there is, after all, a pretty visible Chanteloup logo on the inlay! - one online review of the demo (on the Arcanenoctis webpage) might conceivably explain how some of the confusion arose:

"This is the demo that made Hrossharsgrani sign to the Austrian label CCP. In my opinion this is their best demo; the music keeps the same coordinates as the other demos but at a higher level, especially the ambient passages that are the best in my opinion. The movie samples are well selected and placed. The song 'The Path Between Sea And Sky' is the best here, and also I can say another good song is 'Wogenbrecher', which has cool ambient landscapes."

With this, Arcanenoctis awarded the demo a healthy 6 out of a possible 10 skulls.

Whether it's true that this demo was especially pivotal in Hrossharsgrani signing with the Austrian CCP label is unknown, although it's true that in July 2000 CCP did release the first of a few of the band's releases with the "...Of Battles, Ravens and Fire" EP. However, a number of band demos were released by Chanteloup Creations around the same time including "Der Ring der Macht", "Die Rückkehr Zum Pfade", "Ewig Winter" and "In the Mystic Forest", not to mention Hugin's own self-released CDr/tape "Ancient Tales" in January 2000. CCP would have had much to evaluate from in this period before deciding to sign the band.

It's a shame in some ways this wasn't a 1999 release as Nazgul could have warbled on about how 1999 was probably most famous as the last year before the new Millennium; the year in which various prognosticators of doom suggested that the world as we knew it was certain to come to an end, whilst techno-phobes around the planet warned us of the Millennium bug and the likelihood of computers turning on mankind and eating our brains. Or some such drivel. Anyway, as we all sailed gracefully into the 2000's, brains intact, we left behind a year notable for various musical events including the reformation of The Animals (famous for their 'House Of The Rising Sun' single, which - Nazgul is proud to note in a beautifully seamless segue - was the subject of a bizarre cover song by Hrossharsgrani as the post of 6 April 2010 revealed).

"Kampf" was - an remains - really rather a good demo from a band in its formative stages and was one of a flurry of Hrossharsgrani releases in this period - the workaholic Hugin showing his mettle even back then. Prior to Uruk Hai this was where Hugin was investing the majority of his time musically, and it is testament to the longevity of the project that it is still putting out releases 12 years later, albeit in rather different styles to this early Tolkien-themed epic black/viking metal.

One interesting thing about this demo is the fact that the songs are unique to it. Unusually for tracks from this period they have not (or, more accurately perhaps, have not yet) reappeared as bonus material on a recent release, been the subject of a reissue in their own right, or appeared on any compilations. Given that there is an early Hrossharsgrani tape compilation from these early days that pulls together material across a host of Hugin's early demos - "Demo Compilation Volume 1" from 2001 - this seems quite remarkable . It also means that for a fan and collector this is a must-have demo!

All of the familiar musical hallmarks that Hrossharsgrani committed to tape during this early period are here. Plenty of samples from films, of nature (particularly water, be it a running stream or waves breaking over a shoreline) all augmented by casual acoustic guitar strumming or dirge-like keyboards and pummelling percussion.

There is also a sample of 'O Fortuna' from Carl Off's 'Carmina Burana' in the third song 'Wallbruna', a extract of which you may recall also appeared in another Hrossharsgrani song - 'Weltenbrand' from the "Ancient Tales" release. At that time Nazgul only recognised the piece from its use on television (Philistine!), but can now confirm it is 'O Fortuna' - originally a thirteenth century medieval Latin Goliardic poem set to music in the 1930s by Orff. It opens on a slower pace with thumping drums and choir that drops quickly into a whisper building slowly into a steady crescendo of drums and short string and horn notes peaking on one last long powerful note and ending abruptly. You'd know it if you heard it....

As tradition dictates for early Hross' demos, there are also the sampled sounds of battle and war, notable on the epic first track 'Die Letzte Schlacht' ('The Last Battle') and in the appropriately titled instrumental track 'Steel Meets Steel'.

The bottom line with this release is that you know in advance exactly what you'll be getting, and for the majority of us that's just dandy. It's not a case of repetition and a lack of ideas, more an example of Hugin consolidating his position within a genre of his own making and giving his audience what they want to hear. Admittedly some of the elements are quite primitive compared to other songs in the band's discography - in particular, I find the vocals in 'Wogenbrecher' a little on the raw side - but it's part of the charm of the early body of work from the band as much as the signature instrumentation: the deep, sonorous keyboards and the booming drums that sound like they were recorded in the caverns beneath Mount Doom.

Incidentally, the Metal Archives post for this demo suggests a limitation of 100 copies, which cannot be correct as Nazgul's edition is #109. It's more likely that the edition is of 300 tapes in the same way that other releases of the same period on Chanteloup were (e.g. "In The Mystic Forest).