Friday, 24 February 2012

NORTHERN LIGHTS - update





Band: URUK HAI
Title: Northern Lights
Reason for update: 2011 reissue of this album on the Valgriind label (Russia), cat ref VG47.
Edition: Presumed unlimited

Track Listing:
01. Ancient Pride 21.24
02. Northhammer 9.23
03. Mount-Doom 20.50
04. Iceland 6.42
05. May It Be (Enya cover) 3.11

Bonus Tracks
06. Hermodr A Helferd (Burzum cover) 2.56
07. The Plague 8.49

The inspiration for today's post comes from one of this morning's visitors to Honour and Darkness, who Nazgul spotted was from Rovaniemi in Finland. A beautiful part of the world, which Nazgul and his beautiful lady wife were fortunate to be able to visit a few years ago to enjoy the winter pursuits and seek out the northern lights. And, providentially, with the reissue of Uruk Hai's "Northern Lights" album on the Russian Valgriind label waiting in the wings for a review, the stars seemed suitably aligned to get on with this task!

In terms of comparison to the 2005 CD and tape releases there are some notable differences. Firstly, the artwork has been completely revised and to good effect: some of the internal artwork on the booklet and inlays is really good, particularly in showing the different dimensions of the Lights themselves. It's also rather nice to have a quality picture CD, mirroring the same thing that Hexenreich Records did with the 2005 version. Paper quality is a little on the thin side in the inlay booklet itself, and you'd have to be careful not to tear it over time.

The songs have been remastered by Hugin in 2010 and - following on from Nazgul's griping about the "In Durin's Halls" reissue - I have to tell you that this treatment works very well on this release, with but a few sympathetically added additional loops or samples. In essence, the new version spruces-up of the original songs rather than re-engineers them, and the end result sounds marvellous to these ears.

The track listing has changed a little: the core of the first 5 songs remain consistent between the versions, and as ever there is enormous contrast in sounds and atmosphere created here. Two of the tracks - 'Northhammer' and 'Icland' - feature Arkillery's Krom on guitar and vocals, and have a definite 'metal' vibe going on generated by Krom's dirty guitar buzzing away and rasping vocals. In contrast, the cover of Enya's 'May It Be' is performed with Hildr Valkyrie and couldn't sound more different to the Krom collaborations. Equally the epic and sweeping atmosphere of 'Ancient Pride' is very different to the claustrophobic rumblings created within 'Mount-Doom'.

So far, so very good! Two bonus tracks await on this 2011 reissue, replacing 'Moria (Covered In Black Fog)' from the 2005 CD pressing and also replacing the two exclusive tape-only songs from the early cassette pressing, being 'Dark' and 'Pagan Spirit'. Valgriind's offerings in the bonus slot are Burzum cover 'Hermodr A Halferd', previously seen on the "~2~" split with Vinterriket, and 'The Plague' from the "Elbenmacht" demo. And, Nazgul recalls, both of these bonus tracks also appear on the tape release "A Viking's Journey" too.

Interestingly, as well as this reissue the monstrous Uruk Hai 10CD box-set "Courage Is Found In Unlikely Places" also features "Northern Lights" amongst its contents, albeit with a further three songs to augment the seven on offer here. More on that humongous release in due course...!

Friday, 17 February 2012

KRIEGSRYTHMEN


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Kriegsrythmen
Format: Cassette-tape only release from 2006. There are no label details on the inlay but this is a self-released demo from W.A.R. Productions, with cover artwork drawn by Hugin and a paper sash around the cassette case.
Edition: 30 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Vereinite Österreichische Eisen & Stahl Werke 4.56
02. Bis Zum Tode 1.24
03. Knochenwerk 17.58

This demo release from 2006 had completely slipped through Nazgul's usually carefully cast net until one fateful afternoon a few months ago, when Hugin emailed through a list of W.A.R. Productions releases from 1999 onward. Scanning the list and nodding appreciatively, Nazgul spotted no less than 2 tapes whose names didn't sound familiar, and sure enough a couple of gaps were found to exist in the collection. Heresy! However, with his usual unbounded generosity, Hugin made available his own copies of both releases and the moment of crisis swiftly passed.

And so onto "Kriegsrythmen", which one might safely presume literally translates to meaning the rhythm of war. Recorded in the 2006 period, it sports 'classic' hand drawn artwork which, as we know from the post back on 5 June 2009 comes from Hugin's own hand, and is hand-numbered in an edition of only 30 copies. Being Hugin's own version, this edition is #1/30.

After the strange encounter in our return to Durin's Halls recently catalogued, Nazgul is pleased to report that things are very much back on track with expectations when it comes to a review of this Bonemachine tape. Quite literally throwing the kitchen sink into the mix, the soundscapes are both expansive and claustrophobic in turn, with pounding percussion and harsh industrial sound being streamlined into the sort of mechanised maelstrom that this project was known for prior to evolving into B-Machina. A harder man than I might argue that some of Bonemachine's recorded output sounds like a man laden with steel pipes falling down a staircase, but that would be unkind and not a little disparaging to the efforts involved in composition and execution.

This is exemplified admirably by the opening track. The lengthily titled 'Vereinigte Österreichische Eisen-und Stahlwerke AG, Linz' (abbreviated to VÖEST) translates as the United Austrian Iron and Steel Works, and what better way could there be to capture the internal machinations of such a plant than through the medium of a Bonemachine instrumental song?!

It has an interesting history (the plant, that is, as opposed to the song): Founded on 4 May, 1938, as a subsidiary of "Reichswerke" in Berlin under the improbable name of "Reichswerke AG für Erzbergbau und Eisenhütten Hermann Göring Linz", it merged in May 1938 with Alpine Montan AG. In July 1938, building construction began on the smelting plant at Linz, the first blast furnace was blown in on 1 October, 1941, 3 more blast furnaces were completed by 1944. Dredged from the depths of the internet, here's a picture for your edification:

The Eisenwerke Oberdonau AG weapons factory was built on the site (supplying components for tank hulls and turrets) and, as a result, from July 1944 onwards the plant was destroyed by successive air raids. It's assets were confiscated by the occupying American troops and re-named "Vereinigte Österreichische Eisen-und Stahlwerke AG" (VÖEST) in July 1945, re-nationalised and handed over by the Americans to the Austrian authorities in 1946. From 1947, VÖEST experienced a formidable upswing as a sheet metal manufacturer and became an export-oriented model enterprise of Austria's nationalised industry.

The former VÖEST plant apparently continues to operate as VÖEST Stahl Linz AG, located in Voestalpine Straße 3, 4020 Linz, presumably just the throw of a handful of rivits away from the 2006 residence of one Mr Alex Wieser...!

My goodness, a history lessen into deepest Nazi industrial history - who knew?! Anyway, enough of that: let's get on with the rest of the tape. The aural assault continues to the death with 'Bis Zum Tode' (meaning, ermm, 'to death'), something of an oddity in as far as it briefly combines the frenzied drum patterns and vocals of a death-metal track with a background of industrial noise, disappearing into the ether as rapidly as it arrived. Definitely an unusual song, and not a stylistic approach followed in the rest of this demo.

And so to the epic 'Knochenwerk' (translating quite literally as 'bone work'). It's a fascinating amalgamation of ideas, sounding at the outset like an interstellar radio transmission and then running through the gamut of many of Bonemachine's trademark sounds. There's something fresh to listen to at every turn, and rather than becoming a parody of itself the song actually works rather well as a demonstration of the varied and often indescribable music that this project has produced. There is a distinctly rhythmic nature to much of this song, mirroring the title of the tape itself rather nicely.

As a collector who has pretty much everything Bonemachine has officially produced (and some releases unofficially released) it's a great pleasure to report that even in this one short rehearsal tape there's still plenty of new material to enjoy alongside the familiar refrains of Hugin's industrial wing.
The sash around the tape must be a recent addition, not least because it's been dedicated to Nazgul (an impossible feat if it was originally with the piece back in 2006) and is numbered in silver rather than in gold as on the red inlay. As it sits nicely amongst the other Bonemachine demos with similar bands - "Veteran" and "Blutgrund", for those of you keeping score - Nazgul certainly isn't complaining!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

HREFNESHOLT/FIRINGHUMAN split - update


Band: HREFNESHOLT
Reason for update: Original artwork for this split release from 2010, with some unexpected differences...

Originally the plan seemed quite straightforward - retrieve from the Castle archive the original artwork for this release (kindly sent to Nazgul by Hugin some time ago) and post a quick piece on the basis of this simply being the original template on which the final printed version was based.

However, a more careful inspection determined that in actual fact this simple tale is far from what evidently did happen.

For starters, the Hrefnesholt track listing on the final release - reviewed on Honour and Darkness on 2 December 2010 - was a two-song affair, featuring 'I Bin Da Woid' and 'Wurzlmann'. This original art shows that the plan was for but a single track, the epic 'Furchtlmandln'. The composition of the Firinghuman track listing remains unaltered.

Secondly, the actual tape was a Wulfrune Worxx release, part of their Split Series from 2010. The earlier artwork shows the W.A.R. Productions crest, with a 2009 date on the reverse. Also different is the proposed number of copies in the edition: the final pressing had 66 numbered copies, the proposed design shows that only 30 copies were intended.

The final difference, but more expected this time, is that the template here is a deep grey/blue colour whereas the final version is black and white. Given the tendency for photocopying of the various final edition covers, this apparent discrepancy is readily explainable!

So there you have it: a brief insight into the original plans for this split release and the differences encountered on the way to producing the final version as the project took shape.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

IN DURIN'S HALLS (RETURN TO THE MINES OF MORIA)






Band: URUK HAI
Title:
In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)
Format: There are tape and CD versions of this release, released in 2010 and 2011. The cassette version is on Wulfrune Worxx (cat ref WW161), whilst two CD pressings exist, both released jointly through Runenstein Records, Bletchmond Tonschmiede and W.A.R. Productions in 2011, cat ref WAR067. One version comes in a slimline DVD-sized case as a single-disc release, whilst a limited edition metal tin version exists in a double-disc pressing with the original 1999 demo on the bonus disc. The metal tin has different cover art on the box lid, and also contains a badge, a postcard, a band logo sticker, and a hand-signed Uruk Hai card.
Edition: Tape pressing limited to 22 hand-numbered copies. The standard CD is believed to be unlimited, whilst the limited edition metal box is restricted to 100 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
All versions feature the following tracks:
01. Luthien
02. Kortirion
03. Durin's Halls
04. Moria
05. Uruk-Hai
06. Nordhimmel
07. The Unknown

Both CD pressings have the same bonus and video track:
08. Over Old Hills (Summoning cover)

09. In Durin's Halls (video)

Tape pressing has a different bonus song:
08. Mormegil

The metal box edition has a bonus disc containing the original 1999 version of this demo


It was, at best, an inauspicious start to the review of the album: Hugin - as always, very generously - had forwarded to Castle Nazgul an early, unmastered promotional CD of "In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)" ahead of the offical release date. It sat in the Castle library quite a while whilst other reviews took place until, one afternoon, the cassette version of the release on Wulfrune Worxx turned up and it seemed a timely moment to crack open the CD case and see what this revisited affair was all about.

So, settle down after a hard day's work, insert disc, press play. BOOM! Cries approximating "what the fuck was that?!" rang out across the Castle. In short, chaos reigned! It was nothing like Nazgul had expected, and the sheer unsettling nature of the enterprise was enough to lead to the disc being consigned back to it's box until such time that Nazgul's constitution might be expected to cope with it...

You see, there's always something of a risk in revisiting an old work and updating it. It's a bit like deconstructing a classic dish and adding exotic ingredients in the hope that a whiff of white truffle oil and sea urchin will somehow enhance and bolster what was already a classic creation. So it is with music too - witness the ill-fated plan of Axl Rose to re-record Guns N' Roses classic "Appetite for Destruction' with his all-new G N' R line-up. Rarely can an artist capture the excitement, innocence and immediacy of an early recording even when time and technology allows - in theory - for a complete overhaul of the product.

The one caveat to this rule is when an old release is simply re-mastered to bring the sound quality up to date, where the huge advantages in enhancing the quality of sound are both bounteous and welcomed. Adding new material to the original recording is definitely a risky proposition, however, as the distinct risk of alienating the older audience at risk of gaining a new one is a knife-edge best walked with care.

And so it proves to be with the all-new version of Uruk Hai's "In Durin's Halls" demo, now expanded in both music and title to become "In Durin's Halls (Return To The Mines Of Moria)". The CD releases come in two versions: a standard 8 song slimline issue, and a limited edition metal box-set double-disc issue that comes with a second CD featuring the original recording of the demo from 1999. That original tape demo had been remastered and reissued a twice since its initial release, once in 2004 by EoLP and the second time in 2008 by Smell The Stench as the Honour and Darkness post of 10 March 2009 identified, yet a proper CD release of those tracks had been long awaited.

Now it's no great secret that Nazgul finds great charm and majesty in the early recordings of Uruk Hai. Whilst it's entirely fair and true to recognise that Hugin's own musical growth has come on in leaps and bounds since those early one-fingered pickings at the keyboard there is still something magical about the early demos - we're talking here about the likes of "Elbenwald", "Uber Die Nebelberge Weit" and "Elbentanz" through to the "Honour" period - that occupies a little place in music history that seems tantamount to sacrilege to disturb. Of course, it's Hugin's own heritage to revisit as he pleases, and given that the release of "In Durin's Halls" (the CD version) comes neatly about 10 years or so after the original was released, it might well have been a timely moment to re-contemplate the origins of the project.

However, the challenge that Nazgul finds here is that the added elements in the songs do not necessarily add to them, and in some cases actively distract from the core of the original. The vast majority of the songs on the 1999 tape were simple keyboard tracks; simple in as far as they were uncomplicated by extraneous instrumentation or effects, had no lyrics or samples to speak of, and were of plain but enjoyable melody and merit. The new versions are an entire world apart from this, and are augmented with all manner of orchestration, new lyrics and samples, and perhaps - most disjointedly - have the unique rasp of Pr. Sergiy (Moloch) punctuating the atmosphere.

On paper this should work - it's a combination that has worked before, as evidenced through the "Iron Age" and "At The End Of The First Age" releases. Yet in this case it's all a bit too much, too overwhelming in the context of the simplicity of the original work. To revisit our culinery metaphor once again, it's akin to someone taking your delicately flavoured pizza of choice and attacking it with handfuls of extra ingedients and a liberal splashing of hot pepper sauce: you know the original classic is in there somewhere, but the subtle nuances are lost amongst the myriad of changes. Or to put it another way, it's as though there were some unused recordings from a past session that have been spliced into the bare bones of the "In Durin's Halls" tracks, presenting the listener with two totally different elements which reside in something of a marriage of convenience.

Let's halt the moaning for a second, to have a quick look at the reverse side of the promo version of the CD, which you will notice has different artwork to the final album and has also been dedicated by our hero Hugin:

There are, of course, some redeeming points to be taken from this exercise: when the melodies from the original material are given enough space to breath and come to the fore, the majesty of the songs is recaptured. The best examples of this come late in the day, but nonetheless both 'Nordhimmel' and 'The Unknown' manage to pull off the feat of remaining true to the original song but updating the context without swamping the material. It's also fair to note that were you one of the 22 souls to lay your hands on the tape version of this release you would have the exclusive bonus track 'Mormegil' to enjoy too. The bonus video track from the CD pressing we'll pick up in a future post of it's own.

Similarly, the inclusion on both versions of the CD of the cover version of Summoning's 'Over Old Hills' is a good cover and a great song, and is suitably rescued from the relative obscurity of the tape-only release "The Songs Never Remain The Same". The metal box version also allows you to enjoy the original demo in CD form (assuming you have contacted the label and changed your disc from the initial mispressing of the album, which put an entirely different demo on the second bonus disc!), and this in itself is as good a reason to purchase the more expensive pressing as any.

Overall, however, whilst this is a splendidly packaged album to Nazgul's ear it is ultimately less fulfilling than the original recording from 11 years before. It's doubtless taken an awful lot of time and effort to pull it all together, and some considerable praise should fall on those (both the respective labels and individuals) who have tried to pull off the nigh-on impossible task of creating a Frankenstein monster from many and varied parts. Then again, perhaps Nazgul is merely being somewhat Luddite in his views, and is consequently overly protective and parochial in his protection of the jewel-like early Uruk Hai demos?

In any event, an album that will doubtless find favour with many and which adds an interesting twist to Durin's legacy as viewed by Uruk Hai. To end, a glimpse of the "In Durin's Halls" family at play in the Castle library...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

GIL-GALAD (THE ULTIMATE STORY)



Band: URUK HAI
Title: Gil-Galad (The Ultimate Story)
Format: Double 3" CDr pressing on the Smell The Stench label (Australia) in 2011, no catalogue reference. The release comes with 2 colour inlays and 2 white-faced 3" discs. Songs recorded at W.A.R. in Austria between 2002 and 2010.
Edition: Hand-numbered to 15 copies only

Track Listing:
CD1
01. Gil-Galad (re-mastered version) 10.44
02. The Fall Of Gil-Galad (first take collaboration with Golden Dawn) 5.37
CD2
03. Gil-Galad (original version) 10.47
04. Hymn Of Gil-Galad (new track 2010) 3.53
05. Gil-Galad (version 2002) 1.21

Both the ongoing saga of Gil-Galad, and its ongoing recurrence in the Uruk Hai discography, are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend. Originally released in tape form - and reviewed back on 1 May 2010 - the years that followed have seen tracks from the demo appear in a variety of forms on a plethora of releases, including a freebie track on an Infernal War 'zine cover CD; on another 3" release from 2008 (with Moloch); and on split releases with Mhnunrrn and Sieghetnar. All covered in past posts on Honour and Darkness, you too can have great fun typing the name 'Gil-Galad' into the search engine on the blog to see how many matches it produces!

More recently, we seemed to be reaching a crescendo with the tape release of "Gil-Galad: The Whole Story" on Wulfrune Worxx (see post of 5 March 2011) but wait: now we have 'The Ultimate Story' on CDr from renowned STS label to contend with.

Truth be told, the songs on these various releases are entirely enjoyable and so for a fan of the project it's no great hardship to sit and listen to them again, no matter what the release and what the format. Having the Gil-Galad quintology (is there such a word?) on CDr is a definite boon, however, as the tape pressings have all been pretty hard to track down and digital recording should pass the test of time rather better. And hell, you don't actually have to go out and buy every damn version of this release, despite Nazgul cracking the fiery whip in the background.

As an added bonus, along with the same four tracks as "The Whole Story" this 2 x 3"CDr version also has a bonus fifth track of the early 2002 track, which is a real 'rave from the grave' in terms of enjoying visiting that distinctive early keyboard sound that Hugin had back then. It makes a very interesting juxtaposition to listen to this almost spartan early recording against the lush sounds of Uruk Hai some 10 years later - different, and yet...strangely the same.

Of course, the main issue with this Smell The Stench version is the limitation once again: With only 15 copies released, if it's not long sold out and nigh-on impossible to find now then Nazgul would be much surprised. However, for those wanting to dip a toe into the realm of Gil-Galad then this version is most certainly the one to aim for. Hats off too for the quality of the colour printing of the cover on this release - the battle scene on the front cover is something to behold in this format, with many-headed beasts swarming against Elven defences.

The Ultimate version then? Oh yes, most certainly.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Hour Of Scare Radio Show


What's all this then? It's recorded broadcasts from the 'Hour of Scare' Radio Show
Fascinating, but why should I care Nazgul? Because a number of the early broadcasts from 2000 featured none other than our hero Hugin in the role of presenter
Amazing! Tell me more: Happy to, read on...

The Austrian CCP Records label have released at least two parts in their compilation album "The Hour of Scare". The first of these - cunningly entitled Volume 1 - was reviewed on Honour and Darkness on 6 June 2009 as it featured Hrossharsgrani amongst its content.

What Nazgul had no knowledge about until relatively recently was that there was also an Hour of Scare radio show that ran (and possibly still runs, if the links on Google are anything to go by) in the early 2000's, on FRO 105.0 MHz (Linz).

Yes that's right: alongside writing and recording music, running a label, being a dad and generally being busy Hugin also managed a bit of radio presenting too in his spare time (as you do)!

These tapes were put together by Hugin in a limited edition of 1 copy each, with those he was directly involved with being signed with either "Alex" or "Hugin" on the rear flap of the inlay (as shown in the accompanying photograph). The narrative on each tape is in German, either featuring Hugin being interviewed by the host, or presenting material in his own right. Nazgul must get these tapes translated and transcribed at some future point, as I'm sure they would be a fascinating document of the thinking behind the CCP era material that Hugin released, and would doubtless uncover some lively songs in the category of 80's metal!

Hugin remembers that "the conditions surrounding the recordings were generally pretty chaotic, with nothing going as planned."

Alongside the cover photo for the 11 volumes of this series that Nazgul is proud to possess, here a brief description of their content and original broadcast date:
Volume 1
Features Hugin in a release interview for the Hrossharsgrani "Ancient Tales" album, complete with extracts of songs, broadcast on 15 May 2000



Volume 2
Features Hrossharsgrani once again, this time with an album presentation for the "...Of Battles, Ravens & Fire" EP, broadcast on 10 July 2000


Volume 3
The broadcast centres on an interview with Mittwinter on 23 October 2000, and feature Grev Morsktorn (aka Count Grimthorn) from this horde.

Volume 4
Another presentation featuring Count Grimthorn, this time the focus is on Black Metal before 1994 A.D. Broadcast on the 30 October 2000

Volume 5
A Hrossharsgrani interview featuring Hugin, broadcast on 13 November 2000
Volume 6
This week sees a Viking Metal special presented by Alexander "Hugin" Wieser, broadcast on 20 November 2000
Volume 7
Covers the second half of the Black Metal history (from 1993-2000 A.D.) featuring Count Grimthorn. Broadcast on 4 December 2000
Volume 8
A special programme, a label portrait on Mausoleum Records, presented by Hugin on 11 December 2000
Volume 9
Hrossharsgrani's "The Secret Fire" album is presented, featuring Hugin. Programme broadcast on 23 July 2001. The final tapes in the series are out of chronological order, the reason being (one suspects) the way that Hugin found the latter material in his archives.
Volume 10
80's Metal special, presented by Alexander "Hugin" Wieser on 8 January 2001.
Volume 11
Xmas Chaos, featuring that man again - Alexander "Hugin" Wieser - recorded 18 December 2000
Certainly one of the more unusual collections in the Castle library, and one that will be updated in the months to come once the mammoth task of translation and transcription has been completed.