Thursday, 29 September 2011

DARKNESS (PART III)


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Darkness (Part III)
Format: Formally a tape-only release on the Wulfrune Worxx label (France) in 2010, cat ref WW167, although a CDr version does exist that compiles all parts of the "Darkness" series but only within the very limited edition box-set version on WAR Productions. This tape comes with Wulfrune's standard black and white copied inlays.
Edition: 33 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
Side 1
01. Total Darkness
Side 2
02. Total Darkness

Have you ever found that certain albums or songs put you in mind of a particular place or time? Your old uncle Nazgul, for example, can't listen to "Hold Your Fire" by Rush without being drawn into thoughts of winter and the Christmas season (for reasons too arcane to get into here), and just one song from Iron Maiden's "Killers" takes him back to his formative school days and happy recollections of the day that album was originally released back in February 1981.

The point being that "Darkness (Part III)" is one of those albums. The generally cheerless and morbid nature of the sounds on offer (it would be a stretch to call them 'songs' as such) always brings to my mind the scenes from Ridley Scott's film 'Legend' where we are taken into the terrifying underground kitchens of the Lord of Darkness. I suspect this derives from a combination of factors, possibly Nazgul's subconscious linking 'darkness' as the name of the demo with the similarly titled evil protagonist of the film, but more significantly deriving from the dark, disturbing sounds (with attendant intermittent clanks, bumps and infrequent sepulchral vocals) invoking the raw essence of that grisly, subterranean nightmare.

Musically this demo is a world away from the "Spirits (Of Ancient Times)" tape that Nazgul recently reviewed on Honour and Darkness and you'd be hard pressed to guess it was by the same project. The lines between the atmospherics of WACH and B-Machina and the keyboard opulence of a 'typical' Uruk Hai release (if such a thing exists) are pretty blurred on this outing, and it is most certainly the sort of demo that works best late at night as a background soundtrack rather than as a piece you'd casually pop onto the death-deck to hum along to. That said, and with Halloween on just around the corner, why not give it a considered listen wearing headphones and scare yourself witless with all of the devilry going on!

As will be apparent from its title, this is the third part in Hugin's 'Darkness' saga. The original "Darkness" demo tape was a collection of Uruk Hai tracks from 2001 (see review from 10 February 2011) and so whilst its name inspires the series it doesn't really have a close connection with the successive releases. "Darkness (Part II)" was reviewed on the Blog on 16 March 2011 and really got the ball rolling with the inky blackness of despair being analysed and dissected in memorable style by Hugin. There are 2 further parts in the series yet to be reviewed, so with a bit of luck these will be covered on these virtual pages in the near future.

Would this be an obvious purchase for you, the loyal yet discriminating Uruk Hai fan? Well, opinions would doubtless vary immensely over this depending on what end of the spectrum your listening preferences lie. If you are a advocate of the symphonic Middle-Earth approach of recent Uruk Hai (and here we're talking about releases such as "Gil-Galad", "Death Is Just Another Path" et al) then you'd probably wonder what on earth you were listening to on this demo. Conversely, if you enjoy a brooding, atmospheric piece of dark ambience with your morning cornflakes this might very well be right up your street.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

SPIRITS (FROM ANCIENT WORLDS)





Band: URUK HAI
Title: Spirits (From Ancient Worlds)
Format: Cassette tape release from January 2011, which comes in two versions. The first, with full colour cover, is on the Depressive Illusions Records label (Ukraine), cat ref cut182. The second version, in a smaller limitation, is on the Wulfrune Worxx label (France), cat ref WW184, and comes with black and white cover and with a bonus track on the second side, the remastered 'Songs From The Woods' from 2011.
Edition: Depressive Illusions version limited to 111 hand-numbered copies, whilst the Wulfrune Worxx version come in only 22 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:


14.51


9.01

Wulfrune Worxx version-only bonus song
03. Songs From The Woods

First off, your dilemma: do you purchase the Wulfrune Worxx version and benefit from that extra track (previously released, of course, via Depressive Illusions as covered by the post of 18 January 2011), or is your heart's desire the glossy colour version lavishly created through the Depressive Illusions label? Well, you could always 'do a Nazgul' and purchase both, and see such dilemmas slip away into the ether....

And it would be well worth supporting both labels by laying your hands on dual copies of this release, not least because you'd have the opportunity to own one of the more modern recent - and most excellent - recordings by Uruk Hai. There's not been the deluge of releases from our favourite Austrian horde so far this year as in prior years, but this tape from early 2011 contains two lovingly composed tracks that demonstrates the varied repertoire in the current sound of this project, complete with epic percussion and detailed sound mixes but with no vocal parts at all.

In many respects dwelling on individual aspects of this release is likely to be a moot point: those of you keen on the project will most likely have a copy to hand already, whilst those yet to be converted may struggle to find a copy for sale at this late stage anyway, particularly the less common Wulfrune Worxx version. But in the interests of completeness, let Nazgul just note that the tracks on offer are of cinematic quality in terms of their grandeur and expanse. If only someone would send a tape to Peter Jackson for one of his Tolkien-related films then surely Hugin's music would be a shoe-in for the soundtrack!

The first track is by far the more 'upbeat' of the two, thanks to a quirky and at times funky drum pattern and a catchy synthesiser that ebbs and flows like tide on distant shores. Elements of symphonic Uruk Hai of old appear in this track (think of some of the more epic and orchestral parts of "Black Blood, White Hand") yet there is a definite dance-vibe present throughout the whole of this song that elevates it from some mere dark ambient performance into an entirely separate realm altogether. If Uruk Hai were to dance around their camp-fires there's a good chance it would be to this...

The second song is a far more sombre affair, composed largely on piano and definitely a more downbeat experience after the previous tune. That said, there's bags of stuff going on in the mix and whilst it is a slower, more atmospheric track it certainly grabs the listener by the scruff of their neck for the duration.

Both song titles are depicted by runes rather than by a name. The runes in question most probably come from Futhorc (or fuþorc), a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, in turn descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes. This alphabet was used from around the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian. There are competing theories as to the origins of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc. One theory proposes that it was developed in Frisia and from there spread later to England. Another holds that runes were first introduced to England from Scandinavia where the futhorc was modified and then exported to Frisia.

I say 'most probably come' as different runic alphabets exist that use similar characters in their composition. However, in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Hobbit the Anglo-Saxon runes are used on a map to emphasize its connection to the Dwarves and they were also used in the initial drafts of The Lord of the Rings, but later were replaced by the Cirth rune-like alphabet invented by Tolkien.

The symbol to the first track is the Algiz, often equated to the modern day 'x' yet traditionally pronounced 'yr'. The letter has come to symbolize many neo-pagan religions and is often worn as a pendant. When casting rune stones it is most commonly determined to represent refusal to move on, or one's family and heritage.

Guido von List's 'Armanen Futharkh' were very loosely based on the Younger Futhark. List's runes were later adopted and modified by Karl Maria Wiligut who was responsible for their wide useage on insignia and literature during the Third Reich, notably in SS-obituaries (of all things). Various forms of the Algiz rune are still commonly used by various Germanic Neo-pagan groups as a symbol of their religion.

The second track utilises the 't' rune, named after Tyr, which was identified with this god; the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name is Tîwaz (the rune is sometimes also referred to as Teiwaz). According to the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, at one stage the gods decided to shackle the Fenris wolf (Fenrir), but the beast broke every chain they put upon him. Eventually they had the dwarves make them a magical ribbon called Gleipnir. It appeared to be only a silken ribbon but was made of six wondrous ingredients: the sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear's sinews, fish's breath and bird's spittle. The creation of Gleipnir is said to be the reason why none of the above exist. Fenrir sensed the gods' deceit and refused to be bound with it unless one of them put his hand in the wolf's mouth.

Tyr, known for his great wisdom and courage, agreed, and the other gods bound the wolf. After Fenrir had been bound by the gods, he struggled to try and break the rope. When the gods saw that Fenrir was bound they all rejoiced, except Tyr, who had his right hand bitten off by the wolf. Fenrir will remain bound until the day of Ragnarök. As a result of this deed, Tyr is called the "Leavings of the Wolf"; which is to be understood as a poetic kenning for glory. According to the Prose version of Ragnarok, Tyr is destined to kill and be killed by Garm, the guard dog of Hel.

Incidentally, in researching this post Nazgul has discovered that an image of this act - Tyr sacrificing his arm to Fenrir - forms the cover to the split release between Uruk Hai and Walpurgis, and is a 1911 illustration by the artist John Bauer. There's still much to learn from this collection.

Nazgul is very proud to own edition #1 of both pressings of this release, both of which have been signed and dedicated by the great man himself (Hugin, of course, not Tyr!)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

FALLEN - update



Band: Orcrist (featuring Hugin)
Title: Fallen
Reason for update: A signed vinyl pressing of this release

'Twas almost like the night before Christmas when Hugin visited Castle Nazgul, such was the stream of generous gifts bestowed by Austria's finest on the Nazgul clan.

This particular item is an absolute cracker, and most probably the only one of its kind anywhere to be found!? It's the limited to 500 vinyl pressing of "Fallen" on Aphelion Productions (this is #109) that has been signed and dedicated by Hugin, and also by members of Orcrist too!

You may recall the detailed review of the CD version of this release (together with promo tape) back on 11 January 2011, and to be honest Nazgul didn't even know that there was a vinyl version of the album until seeing this copy.

What a gem of an item for any collection, and a true sign of friendship from our man in the Alps!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

THE BARBARIAN


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Barbarian (A Tribute To Basil Poledouris)
Format: Cassette release from Wulfrune Worxx (France) in 2010, cat ref WW170. The tape comes with black and white photocopied inlay. The tracks are copied on both sides of the tape.
Edition: Limited to 27 hand-numbered copies only

Track Listing:
01. Theology & Civilisation
02. Barbarians (first take mix without vox)
03. Conan Piano Suite
04. Anvil Of Crom

It's fair to say that Hugin is something of a fan of the Conan films. In his recent sojourn to the UK, Hugin and Nazgul took themselves off to view the new 3D Conan The Barbarian film which was entirely enjoyable if not quite in the same league as the original 1982 version. If you are familiar with that original film you may well have a strong and positive memory of the film score, written by one Vassilis Konstantinos "Basil" Poledouris and considered by many to be one of the finest examples of motion picture scoring ever written.

The work of Basil Poledouris was common in film and television shows between 1971 and 2003 before cancer led to him living the final years of his life on Vashon Island (Washington State, USA) before his death in November 2006. Many of the films are well known, including Red Dawn, Iron Eagle, RoboCop, The Hunt For Red October, Free Willy, Under Siege 2 et al, and let us not forget the Conan The Destroyer sequel too!

Poledouris composed enough musical pieces for approximately two hours of the film. This was his first large-scale orchestral score, and a characteristic of his work here was that he frequently slowed down the tempo of the last two bars (segments of beats) before switching to the next piece of music. Poledouris said the score uses a lot of fifths as its most primitive interval; thirds and sixths are introduced as the story progresses.

The composer visited the film sets several times during filming to see the imagery his music would accompany. After principal photography was completed, Milius sent him two copies of the edited film: one without music, and the other with its scenes set to works by Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev, to illustrate the emotional overtones he wanted.

Poledouris said he started working on the score by developing the melodic line—a pattern of musical ideas supported by rhythms. The first draft was a poem sung to the strumming of a guitar, composed as if Poledouris was a bard for the barbarian. This draft became the "Riddle of Steel", a composition played with "massive brass, strings, and percussion", which also serves as Conan's personal theme. The music is first played when Conan's father explains the riddle to him. The theme stirs up the appropriate emotions when it is repeated during Conan's vow to avenge his parents.

The film's main musical theme, the "Anvil of Crom", which opens the film with "the brassy sound of twenty-four French horns in a dramatic intonation of the melody, while pounding drums add an incessantly driven rhythmic propulsion" is played again in several later scenes. The film's music mostly conveys a sense of power, energy, and brutality, yet there are tender moments. The sounds of oboes and string instruments accompany Conan and Valeria's intimate scenes, imbuing them with a sense of lush romance and an emotional intensity.

Poledouris deviated from the practice of scoring love scenes with tunes reminiscent of Romantic period pieces; instead, Poledouris made Conan and Valeria's melancholic love theme unique through his use of "minor-key harmony". Page Cook, audio critic for Films in Review, describes Conan the Barbarian's score as "a large canvas daubed with a colourful yet highly sensitive brush.

There is innate intelligence behind Poledouris's scheme, and the pinnacles reached are often eloquent with haunting intensity." From late November 1981, Poledouris spent three weeks recording his score in Rome. He engaged a 90-instrument orchestra and a 24-member choir from Santa Cecilia, and conducted them personally. According to Poledouris, Rafaella De Laurentiis balked at the cost ($30,000) of a stereo soundtrack and was worried over the paucity of theatres equipped with stereo sound systems. The 24 tracks of sound effects, music, and dialogue were therefore downmixed into a single-channel, making Conan the Barbarian the last film released by a major studio with a mono soundtrack.

On his tape Hugin pays tribute to the man who penned the epic score to the 1982 classic film with four songs, which take samples of music and narrative from the original score and blend them with original instrumentation. Indeed, anyone familiar with Hugin's various projects over the years cannot fail to have heard samples from the Conan film appearing in the mix at some point or other, particularly the 'Riddle of Steel' passage where Conan's father tells him to learn the secret of steel and trust only it.

Opener 'Theology & Civilisation' and closing track 'Anvil Of Crom' draw heavily from the original 12 song score and are all the better for it, producing the sounds of great battle and sounding like ten thousand horsemen galloping forwards. 'Barbarians' in this non-vocal demo version is a pounding war-hammer of a track, bristling with spiky guitars and huge pounding drums. One imagines that a version with vocals will be forthcoming at some point and will most likely remove the heads of anyone within 50 paces. As a counterpoint to this ferocity comes the altogether more civilised 'Conan Piano Suite', which picks some delightful melodies and weaves them around the listeners ears like a fine gossamer blanket.

The cover artwork for this tape is quite different in style to the rest of the Uruk Hai discography, featuring as it does an image from the original film of Arnie (that arm surely couldn't possibly below to anyone else?!). The limitation on this tape is also interesting, being 27 in number: is it a number of arcane significance one wonders...?

Nazgul suspects that given the scarcity of this release and the suggestion of a second vocalised version of 'Barbarians' being in the offing then the music here will appear on a subsequent release in the fullness of time, thus allowing more Uruk Hai fans to enjoy the majestic sounds of a classic film score meeting the talented hands of Mr Wieser. For those of us in possession of this soon-to-be rare tape, however, rejoice: it's another great item worthy of any collection.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

FLUSTERWALD - update


Band: HREFNESHOLT
Title: Flusterwald
Format: This is a reissued version of the release in cassette tape format, supplementing the W.A.R. Productions CDr version originally released in 2009. This tape was released by Wulfrune Worxx (France) in 2011, cat ref WW201, and comes with light green paper inlays with alternate artwork compared with the original version.
Edition: Only 19 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Asaland 2:20
02. Wald 9:06
03. Uralt 8:09

It's been a hectic time at Castle Nazgul, so my humble apologies for the protracted delay between this post and our last visit to the wonderful world of all things Hugin. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this particular item, however, let Nazgul give you a quick update on a couple of matters that have been keeping him busy these past few weeks.

Firstly, of course, was the visit of none other than Hugin himself to the Castle! Quite the honour as you might imagine and cause for much celebration and a sound whipping of the serfs to prepare suitable chambers for Hugin's stay. A splendid long weekend was had by all, topped off with a privileged position at the excellent London gig of recently reformed legends Atomkraft, who Hugin himself is championing through his W.A.R. label. And what a genuinely great guy Hugin is too, quite the gentleman and extraordinarily good company.

Secondly, some exciting news on the domestic front: there is to be a new addition to the Castle in the form of Nazgul junior, expected to make his appearance in the world in mid-March 2012. Needless to say, the Nazgul clan is bursting with pride and excitement, and yes - there's likely to be other gaps in transmission as this story unfolds!

"Well, that's all very interesting", Nazgul hears you cry, "but what about this Flusterwald tape?" Well, let me quickly refresh your memories: the original review of the CDr version in Honour and Darkness was back in November 2009 and it heralded the origins of what we now know to be the contemporary 'folk-tinged sounds of the forest' adopted by the Hrefnesholt project. It was, in short, an excellent release, yet one that was only available in very small quantities but replete in some typically well thought out packaging from Hugin's own W.A.R. Productions label.

Now, two years later, comes a tape release of the same three songs, in an equally limited run of only 19 numbered copies (this particular one, Nazgul is proud to note, is numbered #1). The logic of releasing what had been a very limited edition CDr on a similarly low volume basis (and this time on tape!) may elude many, but that's the way that Hugin (and Skogen at Wulfrune Worxx) like to do business so who are we to argue?!

The new artwork on this particular release is very fitting to the forest-feel that the music conveys, and having this tape in the collection is a very welcome reminder to replay these tracks on a regular basis.

With recent releases - the quite brilliant Kruez being the most recent - the Hrefnesholt project has been going from strength to strength, carving out a unique place in the genre whilst at the same time beginning to compete with more established neo-folk bands. Listening to this EP confirms that the seeds of promise were generously sown in 2009, and have resulted in a bounteous harvest in 2011.