Monday, 31 October 2011

Nazgul's Top 10 Hrossharsgrani cover art

As it's the end of yet another month here on Honour and Darkness, Nazgul thought he would celebrate the passing of October 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 Hrossharsgrani album and 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 might be looking at inclusions from releases which were professionally done. 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....

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

10. Ea
Almost certainly adapted/adopted from something else, this is nonetheless a splendid piece of Celtic-tinged battle artwork for this one-off demo CDr that Hugin put together for a friend many moons ago. The reverse artwork is also strikingly effective.
9. The Secret Fire
Taking us straight into the hidden volcanic depths of Mount Doom, the stricking cover of "The Secret Fire" shows the forging of the One Ring amidst a suitable array of sparks, molten metal and Tolkien imagery. Dark and menacing, yet laden with symbolism for any fan of Middle-Earth to pick up on.
8. Blut (tape re-issue)

This was one of the earlier Hross' tape demos that Nazgul came across, and whilst its cover is best described as weird it does have a certain striking nature that's difficult to forget. What fate awaits the unfortunate damson in distress? Is she, in fact, in distress or merely biding her time before losing off a salvo of magical fire to burn her supposed captors into ash...?
7. Urd

Aah, "Urd". When Nazgul finally gets around to doing the post on this one-off promotional item the story of what Urd actually means will doubtless emerge. Until then, let's revel in the hand-drawn design of a rampaging dragon on the loose across the spiny mountains of your deepest imagination. Colourful, memorable and in the classic design-school of early Hrossharsgrani work...

6. Der Pfad Tor Der Toten (original CDr pressing)

...which leads us rather cunningly to number 6 on our list, and the original 1999 CDr cover for another epic demo outing. There's something enticing yet ominous about this particular mountain range, the freakishly elongated spires and cavernous valleys combining to produce an almost surreal landscape.


5. The Secret Fire (vinyl)

The sole vinyl release bearing the Hrossharsgrani name also happens to have one of the most dramatic images in the band's back catalogue. The split 12" with Mittwinter is a particularly fine picture disc, and whilst the Mittwinter side is a rather drab affair (a photograph of a cowled figure looking down past some ancient stoneworks), the Hrossharsgrani side is a vividly painted display based on the John Howe painting, 'The Death of Smaug'. It has to be said that at this stage Smaug seems to be very much in the ascendency rather than in his death-throes, but what the heck.

4. Of Battles, Ravens and Fire (CD 1st pressing)
Two versions of the CD art for this release exist, and a few more grace the tape reissues on Depressive Illusions and Wulfrune Worxx. For Nazgul, however, the original is the one of choice, featuring as it does a mighty scene of Norse splendour akin to Peter Nicolai Arbo's 'Åsgårdsreien' painting of 1872 that was used by Quorthon on the Bathory release "Blood, Fire, Death".



3. The Long Grey Road (3" CDr pressing)

The original tape release of "The Long Grey Road" used as its cover image, well, a long grey road. Quite subtle, I think you'd have to agree. The CDr reissue - on a natty 3" disc - is an entirely diffferent kettle of fish, however, and bears the epic sight of a tri-masted Elven ship sailing off into the distance. The colours, the image, the rare sight of the sea on Hugin's covers, all combine to make this a most memorable image.


2. Blut/Sanguis tape

Yes, it's the wolf! An absolutely belting cover image, dripping blood at every turn and ranking amongst the most effective of all Hugin's artwork, and used on the cover of the one-off tape Blut/Sanguis in its unique red case. This image was so good that it was also turned into a numbered in blood t-shirt as you may remember, and over the years the striking nature of the image increases in my estimation. Definitely a good 'un!

1. Fimbulwinter

I know what you were thinking: well, it must be a clear walkover for the cover of "Rising Sun" featuring Hugin and The Animals in glorious (dis)harmony. Of perhaps the favourite cover is the blacker than a coal-black black thing release that was "Ewig Winter". Well no, here we are at the top of the tree and Nazgul's favourite piece of Hrossharsgrani cover art turns out to be the one-off cover for the 3"CDr release of "Fimbulwinter". The crisp white snow, the blood red river, the imagery stands out like a barbarian at a bar mitzvah and makes this another no brainer for a future t-shirt design.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

ELBENTANZ promotional version




Band: URUK HAI
Title: Elbentanz
Reason for update: Full promotional CDr version of this demo on Odium Records, in different artwork to the final version released by the label in 2003.

If Charles Dickens were alive today and admiring the prodigious musical output of Hugin, one thing that he might have been likely to comment upon is the additional evidence for his theory of evolution as demonstrated in the early releases of Uruk Hai.

Take "Elbentanz" from 2003, for example. When reviewed in this blog back on 3 October 2009 it was shown in all of its glory with the 'old man in the tree' artwork (which could possibly be a representation of Old Man Willow from the Old Forest in Middle Earth, though this isn't certain).

You may also remember we had an update to this post on 02/01/10 where an alternative cover for the release was supplied from W.A.R. to Castle Nazgul, showing a black and white cover with misty forest imagery. That second cover also evolved for use on the 2001 demo "Stahlzeit", identical apart from its colour: "Stahlzeit" using a rather nice blue paper, "Elbentanz" black and white. "Stahlzeit" itself was a odd evolution of Bonemachine songs under the Uruk Hai flag (the post of 3 June 2011 refers to this in more detail).

All of which we've covered before, hence you wondering what the point of Nazgul's current ramblings are. Well, the point is this - Hugin has recently unearthed a rare promotional version of Elbentanz from 2003, which brings together the elements mentioned above. It has the same inlay booklet artwork front and back as "Stahlzeit", although the wording on the rear cover is different as the "Elbentanz" version shows the contact details for Phil Knight's Odium label and the "Stahlzeit" version has the 2 track details of that release.

The rear jewel case inlay is wholly different, however, and shows a clear 'promo' designation in the top left-hand corner against the limitation of 100 copies, and the full track listing on the reverse. This was, one must assume, the intended final full cover artwork for "Elbentanz" but at some point prior to release Odium (presumably) decided to do the colour cover with the wholly different imagery that became the actual version.

This final version also came in a slimline jewel-case as it had no rear jewel-case inlay, but did have a double-sided colour cover. The promo cover is unprinted and remains plain on the inside.

So there, as Dickens would say, we have it. The evolution of the "Stahlzeit" cover into a hybrid, yet undeniably, related "Elbentanz" promotional cover, followed by a major dip into the gene pool and the emergence of a totally different version for final publication. This adaptation to its surroundings marks out the final artwork as the strongest of the species and is, on balance, a nicely crafted cover that gives the end product a unique look.

And here are the three releases in question:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

COLD SWEAT



Band: ATOMKRAFT
Title: Cold Sweat
Reason for inclusion: Whilst not a project of Hugin's, our Austrian friend's label issued this CD single on W.A.R. (cat ref W.A.R. 067 / torkyn) on 23 June, 2011, and Alex also directed the bonus video clip. There is a vinyl pressing of this single in a coloured 7" format, plus an enhanced CD version with 2 bonus tracks and a video clip.
Editions: 7" EP limited to 200 copies, MCD limited to 1000 copies.

Track Listing:
01. Intro (original intro from 1985 tour) [CD bonus track] 1.39
02. Cold Sweat (Thin Lizzy cover) 3.07
03. Dead Again 5.01
04. The Darkening 2.47
05. Gripped [CD bonus track] 4.18
06. Cold Sweat (video) 3.14

Let's clear up the reason for this item appearing on Honour and Darkness - Atomkraft are not another new project from the ever-fertile imagination of Hugin but rather a British heavy/speed metal band who were originally part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, having formed in 1979 and disbanded in 1988 before a reformation in 2005. What is referred to as their "total metal" approach has been called "somewhere between fellow NWOBHM bands such as Motörhead and Venom, punk rock bands such as The Dickies, and early Exodus or Slayer".

One of the mainstays in Atomkraft is Tony "Demolition" Dolan, perhaps best known for his soujourn in legendary black metal horde Venom, but less well known for having created what some call the original thrash metal band in Atomkraft back in those heady days. Some brief highlights of the band's career: following recording "Conductors of Noize" in July 1987, the band promoted the record as part of support to Agent Steel and Nuclear Assault. The first date of the tour, at Hammersmith Odeon, featured an expanded line-up of Max Penalty, Atomkraft, Onslaught, Nuclear Assault and Agent Steel, and was promoted as 'The Longest Day'. Atomkraft’s performance was filmed for the 'Live Conductors' video as well as being recorded for a live BBC radio broadcast. They also played Dynamo Festival alongside Testament, Destruction and Stryper with the show going out live on Dutch radio, and embarked on a 1988 European tour with Nasty Savage and Exhumer. On completion of this tour Tony left the band and was offered a position in Venom as replacement for Cronos.

It's mostly through the Venom link that Hugin (uber-Venom fan that he is) came to form a business relationship with Tony that led to the release of this single, in what can only be called amazing artwork!

The cover of 'Cold Sweat' (clearly a popular choice amongst bands, as Nazgul notices that US rockers The Sword have also recently released this as a single) was originally recorded seven years ago but never actually released. According to Joe Matera, who makes a guest appearance on lead guitar on 'Cold Sweat', "This is a recording that was done around 2005 (I remember laying down my guitar solo around that time). It was going to be released back then but due to circumstances at the time, it got shelved."

All in all the MCD is a mighty romp through some excellent tunes, from the Metallica-esque riffing of 'Gripped' to the historically significant intro tape from way back in 1985 from the London Marquee when the band supported Slayer. 'Cold Sweat' itself is a rollicking singalong in classic Lynott style, whilst the remaining tracks give a welcome nod to the band's history whilst paving a way for them to escalate their operations into 2012 and beyond. The video track starts with the artwork from the cover of this single and ends with the W.A.R. Productions logo, and in between jams in a live performance from Atomkraft edited in old-fashioned grainy style black and white footage and intersperced with scenes of gambling at the roulette table (the lyrics of the song centre around gambling).

Hugin made a trip to London in late August 2011 to catch the band playing at Camden's Purple Turtle in support to Helstar (gig poster shown above, based on the original cover of the Hrossharsgrani "Blut" release no less), and on the way dropped in at Castle Nazgul for the Anglo-Austrian Alliance to catch up on world events. Indeed, such was the teamwork displayed at the gig and attendant promotion from Hugin for the band that both he and Nazgul ended up running the merchandise stall for much of the night with the unique and very limited edition London gig t-shirt the hot item for sale, whilst Hugin himself went suitably nuts in front of the stage for the duration of the Atomkraft set!

This would also be a timely point for Nazgul to say a quick "hello" not only to Tony but also to Atomkraft's guitarist on the evening, Rich Davenport, both of whom proved to be splendid fellows and awesome string-benders on the night!

Copies of the "Cold Sweat" single are still available from Hugin - check out his Discogs.com shop (under the name 'Hugin' would you believe) to see.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

BLACK ORCISH BLOOD


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Black Orcish Blood
Format: Cassette tape on the Wulfrune Worxx label (France), released in 2010, cat ref WW164. This tape comes with a black and white paper cover (signed in this instance by Hugin) and a standard C60 style tape. A CDr pressing of the album appears in the "Gorgoroth" box-set of 2011.
Edition: Tape limited to 66 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Black Orcish Blood 29.37

This demo is one from that particularly productive period from 2010 when albums, demos and all manner of oddments were being released by Hugin with breathtaking regularity. This demo was issued at around the same time as "The Lord of the Rings", "Wrath of the Ring", "Ash Nazg..." and the "Middle Earth Pts. 1 and 2" releases, all coming out on the esteemed Wulfrune Worxx label.

The cover might give a passing nod towards Bathory's "The Return" artwork (and can it really be 27 years since that album was released?!), but the sounds emanating from the two respective releases probably couldn't be more different if they tried.

'Black Orcish Blood' the track presents itself as another long, ambient experience (I use the word 'experience' rather than 'song' intentionally, as this lengthy undertaking is more of an event than a mere song you'd hum along to) in the vein of "The Lord of the Rings" et al. Apart from sporadic percussion in the form of tolling bells and some wind effects, for the most-part this track wafts along on a gentle raft of synthesiser and keyboard effects. It's certainly not an in-your-face musical explosion, rather a more gloomy and foreboding set of sounds that conjure up visions of the forests by night.

Before listening to this and solely from the title Nazgul had formed the impression that this demo might be full of pounding beats and up-beat tempos, akin to the pumping blood of Uruk Hai on their march to war. In fact, the music resembles the introduction to a film in as far as it builds gradually to various crescendos and peaks (in terms of drama rather than volume) and the cover art is particularly apt: standing on the uppermost ramparts of Castle Nazgul on a recent stormy night, watching the clouds scudding past the full moon whilst listening to this demo, gives the piece a real sense of place.

One could be slightly critical of the releases in places - it's hard to consistently maintain concentration for tracks of this duration, and certain passages in the middle sound quite familiar to other Uruk Hai releases - but this is marginal criticism at worst, as the demo has the trademark stamp of Hugin all over it and is an entirely enjoyable listen.

Perhaps not the most outstanding Uruk Hai demo of recent times, but by no means the least impressive, this is an atmospheric listen that will reward the intrepid listener.

Monday, 24 October 2011

MIT FESTER HAND - ALLERSEELENLIEDER [V/A]



Band: HREFNESHOLT (as part of a compilation)
Title: Mit Fester Hand – Allerseelenlieder
Format: A six-panel digipak CD release on the Ahnstern label (Austria) in 2011. Full colour panels, silver factory pressed CD, catalogue reference Ahnstern 43.
Edition: presumed unlimited

Track Listing:
01. Ernte * Santa Sangre (Jodorowsky Mix) 2:10
02. Tyr-Kreis * Ernting 3:34
03. Haberfeld * Olle Lust Wui Ewigkeit 4:53
04. Die Weisse Rose * Flamme 3:52
05. Fanes * Sonne Golthi-Ade 4:14
06. Sagittarius * Musa 4:31
07. Scivias * Idun 4:04
08. Fräkmündt * Firnföuskamerad 4:08
09. Hrefnesholt * Herbstlied 5:34
10. Ô Paradis * Marqués De Púbol 4:45
11. Blood Axis and Sangre Cavallum * Sonne Golthi-Ade 3:51
12. Sturmpercht * Sturmlied 5:24
13. Larrnakh * Knistern 4:30
14. Àrnica * Foc De Salamandra 5:11
15. Klammheim * Allerseelen 5:23
16. Der Arbeiter * Flama 4:53
17. Der Feuerkreiner * Feuersalamander 5:05
18. Cawatana * Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit 3:57
19. Svarrogh * Heiliges Blut 4:40
20. Allerseelen * Mit Fester Hand 3:40

Brand new and literally hot off the press into Nazgul's eager hands comes this tribute disc to the mighty Allerseelen, released on the Austrian Ahnstern label (an imprint of the Steinklang label).

Perhaps a compilation dedicated to the evergreen Austrian project Allerseelen was always going to be a likely event given their twenty years plus of activity in the European underground, but this is nicely done as it features personal friends of Gerhard Hallstatt of Allerseelen. Drawing mostly from the rich roster on the Steinklang/Ahnstern labels, "Mit Fester Hand" presents an interesting overview of Allerseelen work in varying interpretations, though mostly within the neo-folk genre.

Though Nazgul may not be an expert in the area, not everything on "Mit Fester Hand" is pure gold to these ears although of course the vast majority of tracks I'm hearing for the first time in these interpretations. It's a very timely and honourable tribute to Allerseelen though, and an interesting release for anyone with interest in the European industrial/neo-folk arena.

Rather than attempt a ham-fisted attempt at a track by track analysis, Nazgul will leave you momentarily in the capable hands of Filth Forge (www.filthforge.org) for their review of the entire album:

"This articulate compilation is a tribute to the work of Gerhard Hallstatt as Allerseelen. Nineteen different bands interpret one of the long-running Austrian project's classic, according to their personal sound and sensitivity. It's Ernte who open this collection, with a vibrating and electric remake of 'Santa Sangre' (coming in a 'Jodorowsky Mix'), not by chance the track Allerseelen contributed to the historical sampler "Im Blutfeuer", released by Ernte's legendary label Cthulhu in 1994. To follow are the unknown Tyr-Kreis, who offer a not too brilliant cover of the martial and powerful 'Ernting', possibly the most representative song out of Gerhard's industrial / ritual period, originally appeared on the famous "Gotos=Kalanda". This uninspiring version, using samples directly from the original, can't stand next to it.


Much better is achieved by another new name, Haberfeld, whose 'Olle Lust Wui Ewigkeit' is a reinterpretation (probably in some Southern German or Austrian dialect) of 'Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit', in which the orchestral sample from Test Dept.'s 'Pax Britannica' is perfectly reproduced with acoustic instruments. The song itself is played with a personal touch. This is definitely a band to check out in the future. Die Weisse Rose deliver an epic and solemn 'Flamme', an obscure tune that doesn't come from the album of the same name, but from the remotest past of "Stirb Und Werde". Their organ and choral vocals seal one of the best episodes of the entire CD.


Fanes, another new-comer, play a very good version of 'Sonne Golthi-Ade', with electric bass boosting the song's power, whereas Sagittarius appears with a 'Musa' very close to the original, without any significant personal variation. Scivias give more welcome signs of life with 'Idun, in which their ritual and martial sound doesn't fail to offer another proof of these Hungarians' value. Frakmundt translate 'Kamerad' in their Swiss dialect, turning it into 'Firnföuskamerad', a faithful transposition of Allerseelen's original, and so does Ô Paradis with 'Marqués De Puból'. Another 'Sonne Golthi-Ade' is splendidly recreated by the joint forces of Blood Axis and Sangre Cavallum, reaching another of the compilations very peaks.


Sturmpercht turn the otherwise sparkling 'Sturmlied' into something dark and mysterious, whispered through forests and valleys, just like Àrnica do with "Foc De Salamandra", a tribal and savage Catalan variation of 'Feursalamander'. The same song is further moulded in the hands of Der Feuerkreiner, who manage to render it as an even more martial and gloomy anthem, with Valentina's awesome vocals as usual irresistible.


Another great moment is Klammheim's rework of 'Allerseelen' a recent song appeared on "Hallstatt" in 2007. Dea's beautiful voice and the quasi-religious solemnity of the band's sound conceive a special atmosphere. Last but not least, Svarrogh set fire to an electric 'Heiliges Blut', as powerful as the original on 1997's "Sturmlieder", and Hrefnesholt do the same to 'Herbstlied', with scorching e-guitars and violins. The other three bands featured, Larrnakh, Der Arbeiter and Cawatana, deliver covers way too identical to the originals, lacking the freshness of other interpretations available on this compilation (it's the case of the latters 'Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit', much inferior to Haberfeld's inspiring version).


Summing up, tribute CDs can be a very precious occasion to see a bunch of interesting artists paying homage to a friend or inspirator, putting their hands on his / her songs to offer a personal view, with either good or bad results. It can, however, turn into a rather useless exercise, especially when second-league bands are involved. "Mit Fester Hand - Allerseelenlieder" falls into the first category, as more than half of the collection features very good names and intriguing interpretations of Gerhard Hallstatt's music. And the artwork is, as usual with Ahnstern, outstanding."


There, you can't say that wasn't both thorough and interesting.

The Hrefnesholt song is referred to above as 'scorching', which isn't the word Nazgul would necessarily have employed: rustic, quaint, folksy, slightly demented (ok, that's two words) all might have been contenders though. It's a whirlwind of wooden folk percussion, bursts of guitar, and couldn't sound more 'of the forest' if you took the CD down to the woods and nailed the bugger to a tree.

Great to see one of Hugin's projects on this release, cementing his reputation as an artist of value and renown in the field (or, indeed, the forest). You can find your own copy via the online shop at www.steinklang.at and begin your journey today...

Friday, 21 October 2011

ANCIENT TALES - update II



Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Ancient Tales
Reason for update: Third edition pressing for this release, in a self-released tape format with colour cover but no catalogue reference.
Track Listing:

Side 1
1. March Into Battle
2. The Riddle of Steel
3. Fire and Ice
4. Mjölnir
5. Hel (Goddess of the Underworld)
6. Song To Hall Up High
8. Blood on My Sword
9. Weltenbrand
Side 2
10. The Unknown Land
11. The Eternal Halls of Valhalla
12. Ancient Tales
13. Myrkvid
14. Riding the Wind
15. Triumph in Every Fight (extended version)
Bonus Tracks
16. Fimbulwinter
17. Heroism
18. When The Gods Come To Earth

Congratulations to those of you still checking back at Honour and Darkness to see if Nazgul is alive and well and posting still. He is, although evidently not as frequently as of yore through a variety of prosaic reasons to do with work and live in general. Fear not, however, this tribute to the outstanding work of Alex Wieser is far from over so if you can put up with the delays then there will be some treats ahead for fans around the globe!

Let's start with something quite straightforward today: another update to the "Ancient Tales" saga. Now, the original review of the original tape release came on the 21 March 2009 and was followed by coverage of the extended 2CDr version released on Valgriind that you may recall from 3 December 2010. Later still came the "Ancient Tales" t-shirt in all of its limited edition glory, posted on 26 April 2011. And now, something else...

Yes, referenced on the inlay as the 'third edition' (although Nazgul's hazy memory seems to suggest there is an original CDr version still uncollected in the Castle library, complete with limited edition poster), which rather implies that the Valgriind 2CDr reissue actually comes after this tape release in chronology. That said, with no dates or catalogue details on this particular tape it's impossible to tell, though common sense would seem to support that supposition.

What you get on this version is a slightly different version that from the original tape release: 'Heroism' moves from side 1 of that tape to side 2 of this one, whilst the final track of the earlier tape 'The Gates of Mordor' disappears from the end of side 2 to be replaced by 'Fimbulwinter' and 'When The Gods Come To Earth', which also appear on the 2CDr version.

Some new cover artwork has appeared to, on this copy kindly signed and dedicated by Hugin, and depicts what looks likely to be one of the Valkyrie in wooded surroundings.

Since this tape appeared in one of Hugin's regular parcels to Castle Nazgul it has to be said it has remained unplayed as yet, with the CDr pressing coming in for more regular airing on the Castle death-deck. It also has to be said that Nazgul has yet to see another copy of this particular tape anywhere else online, suggesting it's edition volume may be pretty restricted. Perhaps our old Austrian friend will be able to advise us...?

Another stone-cold collectable for the library shelves, however, and to celebrate this fact let's revisit the "Ancient Tales" family in the concluding photograph: