Tuesday, 23 December 2014

J.O.Y.


Band: ILL 
Title: J.O.Y. (or j.o.y.)
Format: Currently a free download available through the band's Bandcamp page, recorded in December 2014
Edition: unlimited 

Track Listing: 

01. j.o.y.  7.26

We last encountered ILL back in the mists of time (July 2011 to be precise) when their debut demo "s.t.r.a.n.g.e" came to light.  It was a someone eclectic mix of Bonemachine-esque machinations, both in the industrial/martial sense but also in the more synth based recording style that was "Extraterrestrial Death".

Despite being an enjoyable listen, the general belief was that the ILL project had been a short-lived whim of Hugin's and that single tape release was both their beginning and their swansong.  As Hugin himself commented at the time, 'with ILL I wanted to do something noisy but still atmospheric - it was just this release only, I never wanted to me with with ILL....

And so it had proven to be ever since, until a random email found it's way to Castle Nazgul from deepest Austria, clearly suggesting that a germ of an idea had been flourishing in the dark, dank Austrian forests and that the time was now right for ILL to lurch forth once again from fetid ruins into the glare of the public spotlight...

Or - in other words - ILL is back!

Hugin's been very busy penning and recording new music for the project, as you will quickly see by a quick visit to their Bandcamp page.  Now reveling under the title of Doom Ambient Metal, Nazgul's expectations for the band was for some dark and perilous material to invoke fear and trepidation in unwary listeners the world over.  And the first proof of that supposition would be the newly deceased - errr, sorry, released - song 'j.o.y.' released in December 2014.

Thus prepared the media player was cued up, and the Castle Nazgul inhabitants prepared for an onslaught of doom metal of bone-crushing weight and of soul-destroying vibe, where the title of the song 'j.o.y.' would surely prove to be a monstrous irony.  But.... that's not what came from the speakers at all.  Oh no, Hugin's played a cunning card here, and instead of jumping into an existing genre at appropriately funereal pace he has instead created quite unexpected and actually rather awesome!

It's just possible that 'j.o.y.' is the catchiest thing Hugin has ever recorded, and it's in some pretty good company across the canon of Uruk Hai and COI releases in that regard. Seemingly out of nowhere, that wily old Austrian fox has summoned the deceased souls of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal musicians and has channeled the resultant organ and guitar riffs into one monumental song.  Don't believe your old uncle Nazgul?  Then follow the link above and check it out - for free - for yourself.

From the first keyboard trills (repeated at the conclusion of the song) your expectations are thrown far out of the window, to drop aimlessly into the moat below.  Composure regained, some mighty riffs from what sounds like Uriah Heep's 1970s Hammond organ kick in, complemented by tasty guitar licks and bags of groove.

With all due respect to the Beastie Boys, if this is the future direction of the band then we should all lobby to give Hugin a 'Licence to ILL' at the first opportunity.  

Magnificent!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

FROZEN IN TIME


Band: When We Live (featuring Alexander Weiser)
Titles: 'Frozen In Time'
Format: Available as a physical CDr released in November 2014 on the Smell The Stench label (Australia), no catalogue reference, and as downloadable tracks on Bandcamp.  Both were recorded as collaborative pieces between Russian project When We Live and our old chum, Hugin.
Edition: CDr pressing limited to 33 hand-numbered pieces.  Download version unlimited in availability at date of writing.

Track Listing:
01. When We Live (featuring Alexander Wieser)  *  Frozen In Time 02:18    
02. Kirill Makushin  *  Fallen Leaves 00:58  

Today's offering is one of those collaborative efforts that Hugin is oft asked to become a part of.   We last crossed paths with Russian project When We Live back in September 2013 when their split release with Uruk Hai was reviewed (and well received it was too).  

The Russian project When We Live was founded by Jerry Norton and Kirill Makushin in March 2013, and taking account of the credits on the Bandcamp page, there certainly seems to have been some industrious work put in by the three musicians in question: credits for sounds and effects are taken by Jerry Norton and Kirill Makushin, whilst Hugin picks up the honours for electric guitar, keyboard and the final mix.  Meanwhile, synth, mixing and mastering is attributed to Jerry, and synthesizer and accordion (that most metal of instruments) goes on down the slate for Kirill.  

The track 'Frozen In Time' appeared on the aforementioned split release with Uruk Hai, but the kicker in this instance is that the 2013 version was not a collaborative effort whereas this version is.  Hence the additional 'featuring Alexander Weiser' credit appearing on the blurb, you see.  So what do we get on our very short two-song CDr's worth of plastic, then?

Well, the eerie nature of guitar and keyboards on the 'Frozen In Time' track can't be overstated.  Nazgul's morning commute is an early one, and ghosting through dark and abandoned city streets at 06:30 listening to this song is strangely apt, even given the imagery on the cover art of frozen trees and barren, snowy landscapes.  It all comes across as a bit 'unreal' if you know what I mean, not so much a song as it is the sound of a zephyr of wind passing gently through the branches of a gnarled oak.  It's nothing you'd hum to yourself as you go about your day, but equally nothing that you'd ignore if it were playing in the background.  All instrumental, and all good.

Second song 'Fallen Leaves' is very much the brainchild of Kirill Makushin, and is dedicated to his son.  It's so short that it almost defies description, and is even more sparse than the already lean-to-the-bone 'Frozen In Time', but at under a minute hardly has enough time to grab your attention before it's gone like a tiny leaf swirling away in a little eddy of sound...

One merciful thing about this release is that it has absolutely nothing whatever to do with that interminable 'Let One Go' song from the film Frozen (or is that 'Let It Go'...?  No, I think Nazgul had it pretty much nailed the first time), although the prospect of a future Uruk Hai cover song of this current seasonal favourite is not without its dubious charms.  After all, we all remember the sterling effort that was Hrossharsgrani's version of 'House Of The Rising Sun'....

Monday, 15 December 2014

REI REA / BONEMACHINE split - update


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Rei Rea / Bonemachine (untitled split CDr)
Format: CDr release in card-sleeve with inner wallet, released in 2007 on the Crater Records label (Canada), catalogue reference CTR02.
Edition: Believed to be limited to only 70 unnumbered copies
Reason for update: A different colour copy of this release has been located!

Track Listing (same as 'standard' release):
Rei Rea
01. Ulcer Vile
02. Degrees Of Guilt
03. Onward
04 .Silent Hunters
05. Sunken Part 1

 
Bonemachine
06.  Feindschlag 3:01
07.  Military Desaster 10:55
08.  Coldashell 3:00
09.  Hölle:Modern 3:25

In the grand tradition of Sesame Street, today's post is brought to you by the name 'Alex' and by the colour 'Yellow'.

'Alex' in two respects: the shadowy figure behind Bonemachine is - of course - our old friend Alexander "Hugin" Weiser, a man never far from an unusual sound effect to augment a song or two.  But also Alex as in another of Honour and Darkness' old friends, Alexander Ivanov of A.M.F. Productions in Bulgaria, who located this unusual release in his stockpile secreted somewhere in the underground catacombs of Sofia...!

'Yellow' for the very simple reason that the card sleeve of this version of Rei Rea / Bonemachine's split CDr is undeniably yellow in colour.  And that is something of a surprise, given that every other copy Nazgul has clapped his eyes on over the years has been the same muted grey/brown-toned affair as originally featured in the Blog way back in May 2009.  

That said, there haven't been too many copies surfacing over the years, given that there were (it's thought) only about 70 of the blighters to begin with.  However, as time has inexorably marched onwards Nazgul's found a few of these and shared them with fellow collectors around the globe.  But never one of a different hue, which is what we have to contend with here.

Precious little information can be gleaned through the Internet, although Hugin (our man in the know for these things) did offer the suggestion that Crater Records - home to Rei Rea - has been known to issue releases in multiple colours before.  So perhaps there could be a veritable rainbow of these things out there, just waiting for someone to catalogue them in all their glory?  Or perhaps this copy is the anomaly, the sole variant in an otherwise monochrome sea of card and plastic....?

In terms of practical issues - track listings, catalogue labelling et al - this is exactly as the 'standard' release, so other than the novelty factor there's actually nothing else of huge relevance here.  But that would be to miss the purpose of Honour and Darkness as the online cataloguing site for Hugin's work, and also would undervalue the efforts of Mr Ivanov who so kindly unearthed this little gem from his collection and made it available to Nazgul (along with a few other weird and wonderful things, more of which in future posts).

Friday, 12 December 2014

URUK HAI / MÜLDEPONIE split


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Untitled (split release with Müldeponie)
Format: Released as both a CDr in DVD size case (cut1177) and as a cassette tape (cut1504) on the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine).  The CDr release date was July 2013, with the tape following in March 2014
Edition: The CDr pressing is limited to 33 copies, the tape to 66 copies, neither edition hand-numbered.

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. Back to the Shire  4.26 
02. Bags End  1.38 
03. Samwise (Always a Friend)  7.14 
04. A Visit from Mordor  5.38 
05. Very Close to a Nazgul  2.56 
06. The Ring and His Slave  4.44 
 
Müldeponie
07. Vers l'Au Delà, à Travers les Montagnes... (version 1)  6.10
08. Necromancie I  4.02 
09. Necronancie II  8.00 
10. Retourner au Dongeon de l'Existence (version 2)  4.08 
11. Winterreise (ColdWorld Cover)  4.16
12. Vers l'Au Delà, à Travers les Montagnes... (version 2)  4.00

Another day, another Uruk Hai release to review!   As if Hugin's rate of issuing recordings wasn't high enough already, in the past few months he's gone positively crackers with the number of things coming out of W.A.R.  Indeed, a recent parcel that has winged its way over from the Austrian Alps contained so much new material that Nazgul immediately felt faint and had to have a restorative pint or two of Old Buttplugger's Hornswoggler finest brew to recover his composure.


This a largely instrumental release from both bands.  Müldeponie we came across fleetingly once before on Honour and Darkness, with their contribution to the "Tribute To Burzum" release.  Of their style, one website said of Müldeponie that their music "is composed entirely synthesiser in a style reminiscent of some Burzum album or the one-man band Austrian Uruk Hai". A-ha!

Their Bandcamp page depicts a much more varied context, however, citing a mix of Drone, Epic Ambient, Medieval Ambient, Dungeon Synth, Black Ambient, and lots of others styles in their music.  Well, that eclectic set of influences largely rings true with their songs on this release too, and it's all perfectly listenable without necessarily leaping out of the speakers and assaulting your ears.  And, by the way, there's a hell of a lot of releases to their name, so well worth some investigation one would suppose...?

Now, let's be honest: normally at this juncture Nazgul would wade off into a lengthy narrative about the Uruk Hai songs, but as he's suffering from a stinking cold and is up to his ears in leaves that need to be dredged from the Castle moat, you'll have to have some forbearance for a shorter spiel than usual.  Today also marks the birthday of that most fearsome of entities, the Castle Monkey, and as such its demands also create a terrible pull on Nazgul's time.

Let me be brief: 6 instrumental songs (save the odd spoken part), some beautiful piano flourishes (particularly on opening song 'Back To The Shire'), a heady mixture of driven melodies and more drawn-art epic parts, spiced with a healthy nod to the works of Tolkien and a rather touching allusion to your humble scribe in 'Very Close To A Nazgul'.  This latter track is accompanied by the gentle sounds of nature, highly relevant at this present time given Nazgul's seemingly endless traipsing through the mountain of foliage piled up on embrasures and enceintes alike.

Put another way: if you like the Uruk Hai stuff you've already heard from the past few years, then you'll get on famously with this collection!

In splendid old school fashion, Depressive Illusions have seen fit to issue this split as both a limited edition tape release and an even more limited edition CDr pressing.  Both are illustrated here, and both well worth seeking out for your personal horde.  One imagines the CDr would be a better seller than the tape, though in balance Nazgul has been contacted in recent times by a few individuals who still eschew modern formats for their music and seek out nothing but cassettes for their collections, so perhaps Depressive Illusion's strategy is more cunning than you'd think...?

With normal (lengthy) service to be resumed as soon as better health and less hectic schedules come his way, Nazgul bids you festive greetings from the snow-capped peaks surrounding his domain, and hopes to have at least another post up on Honour and Darkness before the impending arrival of Santa.... 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

NOSFERAT "BLUT EDITION"

Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Nosferat "Blut Edition"
Format: Tape edition of this demo released in a special limited edition by W.A.R. Productions (Austria) in 2003.
Edition: 10 numbered copies
Track Listing:

Side A
01. Des Abends Rotes Seelenblut 1.20
02. Wurdulak 3.44
03. Das Blut Meiner Ahnen 1.34
04. Todessehnsucht 6.45
05. Nachtherrscahft 1.33
06. Der Vampyr 8.30
07. Fleisch 1.22
08. Leb' Wohl Lieb Land 17.29
09. Akasha 1.59

Side B
01. Im Schatten Jener Nacht, In Der Ich Starb 11.54
02. Verwoben Im Netze Ewiglicher Finsternis 11.18
03. Kabinett Der Angste 14.08
04. Bathori (Sturm Einer Winternacht) 8.28

Some things take a little time to work out.  In this case, however, it's taken Nazgul about 5 years to piece together the full story behind this most enigmatic of releases, the "Nosferat - Blut Edition" demo tape!  To be fair, mind you, it's not as if Nazgul has been slaving away at the puzzle for 5 years non-stop: even he's not that slow!

No, this is just one of those little stories where a sequence of events over time has shed light on a previously untold story in the Hugin discography.  So pull your chair closer to the fire and listen to the words of wisdom from your old Uncle Nazgul....

So back on 4 August 2009 the original Honour and Darkness review of "Nosferat" was published, covering both a rare CDr version of the demo, and the official tape version released by Smell The Stench (Australia).  It is the tape version that we are interested in today, with the original version being an unlimited edition and wrapped in a white inlay cover.  This is the version that most of you will probably have in your collections.  However, an update to that original post followed within a matter of days (oh - those were the days, upward of 20 posts a month on Honour and Darkness...!) which showed the same demo but with a red cover.  This was also a Smell The Stench release, number of copies unknown, which Nazgul had seen on the internet and had eventually managed to track down via the Hexenreich label.

And as far as Nazgul was concerned, that was that: two different colour copies seen online and procured for the Castle collection.  Job done ... or was it?  For only last month some random browsing online threw up another strange find.  Listed for sale under a stock picture of the red-cover Nosferat tape was an interesting sounding item from our old friends Tanya and Igor at The Eastern Front; their copy was titled "Nosferat Blut Edition" and purported to be a limited edition of 10 copies!

Correspondance began between Israel and Austria to get at the heart of the matter, and it emerged that back in the day Alex had released a very limited W.A.R. Productions copy of the "Nosferat" demo in a so-called 'Blut Edition', each being wrapped in silver ribbon and having a hand-written and numbered tag attached to it.  This uber-rare release had flown under the Castle Nazgul radar for years, but happily had now come to light!

And that is why the pictures you see accompanying this post show a 'new' edition of this long in the tooth (pun firmly intended!) demo.  The songs are the same as all of the other editions, but the source and edition distingish this version as the one to have!  Indeed, in such good condition is this copy that the ribbon clearly has never been removed from the tape since it was put together all those years ago by the hands of Hugin himself.  

Nazgul's copy is #3 of the 10 made, which begs the inevitable question of where the other 9 copies are now.  If you are lucky enough to own one, why not let Nazgul know about it....? 

The Nosferat family ... not so much Nosferatu as it is Nosfera-three...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

EPIC


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Epic
Format: Not formally released, so all bets are off, but from the artwork it looks like a CD and/or vinyl pressing may have been planned.  A credit on the artwork goes to session member Krom (of Arkillery) for guitar and vocals.
Edition: 1 promotional copy only

Track Listing:
Side 1
01. Immortal Hordes
02. Northhammer
03. Minas Morgul
04. May It Be (Enya cover song)
Side 2
05. Mithrandir
06. Iceland
07. Isengard

#16 From the Vaults of W.A.R.


No, not a bizarre cover of the Faith No More song, this is another release of interest and wonder from the depths of the W.A.R. archives.  Or, more accurately, another proposed release, as this rather tasty looking item joins the growing list of 'the things that failed to be', which may sound like a Metallica song but trust me ... it isn't.

The provisional track listing for this one is split into Side 1 and Side 2, implying to Nazgul's tiny mind that perhaps a vinyl release had been thought about in pulling this together.  Hugin's original email with the image referred to it as the "unreleased CD" so perhaps the division of the songs was more a nod to the old school vinyl format than an intent to actually release something in that manner, as we know that the amount of vinyl releases in Hugin's discography is very small compared to disc and tape.  

Clearly a bit of amateur sleuthing was required, which of course involved the always fun elements of having a chat with Hugin and hunting around on the internet for clues.  It turns out that "Epic" was in fact a one-off promotional copy was made for the owner of No Colours at a time when Hugin was engaged in that ongoing mission for independent artists - scouting for potential labels to release his album.  No Colours, it seems, felt that this material didn't fit with their other bands on the roster so declined to release it.

Looking at both the songs and the style of Uruk Hai logo we can pin this one down fairly accurately at around 2005/2006: the songs featuring Krom ('Iceland' and 'Northhammer') appeared on 2005's "Northern Lights" album, whilst the cover song of Enya's 'May It Be' appears on that album and also on "Lothlorien" a year later in 2006.

Other less familiar songs are more intriguing.  'Mithrandir' (being one of the many nicknames of Gandalf, in this case from the Sindarin language as used in Gondor and meaning Grey Pilgrim or Grey Wanderer) may well be the same as track 9 on the original "Thousand Lightning Strikes" demo of 2003.  The song 'Immortal Hordes' on the other hand is previously unknown, so may be another gem from the vaults that has yet to be released or - equally possibly - has been released under a different title elsewhere.

The artwork shown is entirely suitable for the title, being grandiose and epic in its own right and really rather wonderful.  It would have made a ... well, epic release had it come to pass....  

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

THE SADNESS OF FALLEN LEAVES


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Sadness Of Fallen Leaves
Format: A split album with Swiss band Black Jade, released in 2013 on the Aphelion Records label (England), cat ref AP078.  This professionally produced CD comes with full colour covers in a standard jewel case.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. Twilight      
02. Music of the Ainur      
03. The Lost Road      
04. Black Speech      
05. The Return of the Shadow      
06. Homeward Bound

Black Jade      
07. Intro: The White Town      
08. Arien      
09. Valinor's Light      
10. We Booze in Golden Halls      
11. Eärendil      
12. Where the Leaves Not Fall      
13. A Homeless Shadow (The Dark Legacy of Túrin Turambar)      
14. Where Eagles Fly      
15. Maedhros’s Pain      
16. Outro: Far Away from Home  

We last encountered Black Jade on the four-way split release Guardians Of The Rings, which featured Onyx, Uruk Hai and Ringbearer in a cavalcade of Middle-Earth infused music.

Here, two of those bands come together once again to blaze a (leafy) path through the realm of orcs and hobbits.  Cold Spring Records webpage tells us that this is "all-new material from Uruk-Hai (Austria) and Black Jade (Switzerland), clocking in at an epic 78 minutes over the 15 tracks. True Black Metal barrages, quiet ethereal songs and even a raucous sing-a-long track, "We Booze In Golden Halls". A musical journey through the realms of JRR Tolkien" and by Gandalf's beard they've hit the nail squarely on the head even if they can't count (there are 16 songs on this album!)

Black Jade's own webpage, the Black Tower, gives us some insight into their half of this split, noting that:  

"The split CD "The Sadness Of Fallen Leaves" with Uruk Hai is a project that was planned for many years. In 2012 Alexander and I decided to finally put the plans into action. The time has come, and our split CD is finished. On this release you will find a stylistic mix. With 'Arien' and 'A Homeless Shadow' there are two bred black metal numbers. 'We Booze In Golden Halls' is also a hard rock number although there is currently no comparable Black Jade song, as it is a true "singalong song". With 'Valinor's Light', 'Where The Leaves Not Fall' and 'Where Eagles Fly' there are three wonderful, quiet songs, sung by Betty."

There is quite a mixture of things going on with Black Jade's songs, as their own description would imply, and the raucous 'We Booze In Golden Halls' does sound like Korpiklaani mugging Alestorm on a dark and stormy night and will get toes tapping right across the Shire.  There's a right old collection of instruments and styles on here too, with death metal vocals and female vocals credited, plus instrumentation including guitars, piano, flute and that most-metal of all instruments, the bagpipes!

It's all good stuff, in a madly schizophrenic sort of way, and is well produced and orchestrated.  Black Jade achieve the slighty crazy result of sounding so varied their songs seem like a compilation of lots of tracks from different bands!  'Where The Leaves Not Fall', for example, is all Gothic in feel with lovely female vocals (think Hekate meets Madder Mortem), but is followed with an opening riff for 'A Homeless Shadow' that is pure 80's thrash metal!  Throw random tracks like the aforementioned 'We Booze In Golden Halls' into the mix - complete with a bagpipe solo no less - and things get properly weird: Nazgul is pleased!

To the Uruk Hai half of proceedings, then.  And strike me down with a feather if our old friend Hugin hasn't gone and surpassed himself once again.  There are some brilliant songs on this release, also containing a lot of variety (a bit of ethereal keyboard here, a bit of black metal style vocal there, and even some virtuoso guitar solos from Joe Matera) and it all works wonderfully well.  Take 'Homeward Bound' for example (not a Simon & Garfunkel  cover version!!): it bounds along at a propulsive pace, much more up-tempo than many of Hugin's compositions, and features what might well be a first on any of his albums - not one, but two bass solos!  You can tap your toes, hum along and beat out the rhythm on a dead dog's head if you feel so inclined, this is catchy stuff!

The Black Metal-esque vocals come along courtesy of Metatron of US band Rex Mundi in 'Music Of The Ainur', another fast paced song albeit with a couple of slower instrumental parts thrown at it in rather a random way, and then we're into track four 'Black Speech' (ironic, in as far as it's an instrumental) in which a moody and atmospheric keyboard opening swells into a guitar dominated conclusion that raise the ravens from the battlements of Castle Nazgul.  

Introductory track 'Twilight' possibly sums up the whole venture in one fell swoop, with piano, keyboards and guitar all entwined to form something far greater together than the sum of their parts.  Marvellous!

There is a lengthy review of this release in issue 42 of Fatal Underground from which the snippets below are drawn.  Suffice to say, I think they liked it too!

"Austrian project Uruk Hai offers musical fare that is far away from any trends or 'typical' performances, and for years has gone his own way. From the beginning the sounds literally enchant and leave you in a world of beauty, immersed in peace and contemplation.  There arises in the music a certain grandeur that is almost something programmed into this artist.  Only occasionally is this silence broken by something stronger and emerging guitars, which add a somewhat progressive element, do the whole thing some good.

In the third piece "The Lost Road" he changes his style and even tends more toward Black Metal, in particular through the dark, slightly nagging vocals used for the first time.  Conversely, the next piece sounds damn romantic, sometimes even a little classical, partly tinged something orchestral and spreading a more than pleasant, warm atmosphere .  The violins and piano parts are very dominant in this piece and build an extremely sensitive mood .However, there's also a chance to hear some harder riffs through pure guitar solos, which just fit in naturally and provide wonderful variety."

The review is equally as effusive about Black Jade, so why not visit the Fatal Underground site for a read of the remainder of the review and take a look at their other interesting material?

You would have to be certifiably bonkers not to add this to your collection of Uruk Hai material, in truth, so Nazgul is pretty sure that he's preaching to the converted through this post and that you'll all have your own copies tucked away safely at home.  If not - for shame!  Go forth and purchase immediately!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE MIGHTY FOREST


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Mighty Forest
Format: A 3" CDr release on the Smell The Stench label (Australia) from 2013, complete with 2 colour card inlays
Edition: 20 hand-numbered copies 

Track Listing:
01. Dancing Leaves  5.43
02. Age Of The Ents  9.15
03. On The Edge Of The Forest 3.04

Do you know, it's little releases like this one that reaffirm Nazgul's resolve and faith in all of Hugin's projects and musical enterprises.

Why?  Well, the answer is a simple one.  This is evidently not a release made for spectacular commercial gain, nor one that received a huge amount of publicity.  Even for devoted followers of the man's work - and, after all, why would you be here if this doesn't apply to you - this release may come as something of a surprise and may not be one that you've seen before.

And in a tiny edition of 20 copies, why would you necessarily have crossed paths with it?

Yet, in the three songs offered up here in a forest-themed package you have everything that sums up Hugin's world of music, at least when garbed in the mantle of his Uruk Hai project.  Lushly orchestrated and composed instrumental songs that transport the ever-willing listener to realms beyond the hum-drum of everyday existence.  Glistening jewels of songs that succeed in a few passing minutes where entire albums of lesser bands would fail in abject misery.

In short, transformational music to entertain, uplift and invigorate.  Gentle, peaceful, as solid and immovable as the roots of those trees that the songs refer to (with passing exception to the Ents, for obvious reasons of mobility!) this is timeless music that you either dial into and 'get', or you don't.  And what a shame if you fall into the latter category.

The reason this is so life-affirming is that it's simply Alex doing what he does best: tinkering around in W.A.R. Studios and coming up with some elegant and delicate pieces of music, recording them for his own pleasure and for our pleasure in that order.  We all know that this release will receive zero publicity or published acclaim - although if a magazine or website elsewhere on the planet wishes to push this little demo and prove me wrong Nazgul would be delighted - but that's really not the point.  It's music from the heart, and from the heart of both the man and the forests of Middle-Earth.

With the advent of Autumn, even cold-hearted Nazgul feels tiny tugs of emotion at the turning of the seasons and the majestic colours to be found in the leaves and trees surrounding Castle Nazgul. Music such as this augments and enhances such experiences, and as always leaves life better than you found it.  Hugin has been doing that neat trick for many years now, and we all owe him a debt of thanks for making our lives better in some way or other, right across the globe. 

And long may it continue.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

DEMO 99 - update


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Demo 99
Format: Cassette-tape only, independent release through Alex Wieser in 1999.
Edition: Hand-numbered and limited to 30 copies
Reason for update: A true rarity has entered the Castle Library....

Track Listing:
01. Ozeane der Zeit
02. Kalte Nacht
03. Der Morgen nach dem Leben
04. Herr über die Winde
05. Aufstieg verlorener Seelen
06. Apokalypse
07. Zuende

It's almost 5 years to the very day when the original review of Nazgul's copy of this demo - #2/30 copies - appeared in Honour and Darkness.

Nazgul noted in that review that this demo tape from 1999 (hence the cunning title, you see) was a variant on theme from the "Blut" demo that preceded it in 1998 and that it contained 6 of those 14 original tracks plus one new song, 'Der Morgen Nach Dem Leben', together with a new cover and limitation to only 30 tapes.

The reason for this update so many years after the fact comes courtesy of an amazingly generous donation to the Castle Nazgul archive by Hugin.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is copy #1 of the 30, and the only version to exist with a colour cover!  So now Number 1 is partnered by Number 2, and the Library resembles nothing less than a scene from the set of The Prisoner (no free men here, however)

Looking at the colour version the visual effect of the cover is (a) far more striking and (b) far more evidently Oriental in nature.  It does, in short, look absolutely fabulous and shows off a lot more detail and nuance than the monochrome cover does.  It is - it goes without saying - a very welcome addition to that most secret and prized area of the Library collection, housing those rare one-off and unique versions that Hugin has been known to produce.

Nazgul was going to end this post with a linkto the Hrossharsgrani page on the Metal Archives site, where this very tape was pictured (the photo having been pinched from Hugin's old MySpace page), but it transpires that Metal Archives - in their infinite wisdom - have now seen fit to take both Hrossharsgrani and Hrefnesholt out of their database, as they did for Uruk Hai some time ago.  The miserable gits!

#1 meets #2

Thursday, 30 October 2014

THE FELLOWSHIP

Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Fellowship
Format: Professional CD release on the Metallic Media label (America), catalogue reference METALLIC 023.  This album was released on 20 March 2014 and comes with full colour covers and a picture disc.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01.  The Red Dawn  5:21  
02.  Broken Blade  3:12  
03.  Mordor Coldness  8:12  
04.  Immortal Flame  5:24  
05.  Ring Of Water  3:21  
06.  A Blade Of Fire  4:42  
07.  The Wars Of Beleriand  6:17  
08.  The Great Battle  3:42  
09.  Mirkwood  6:48  
10.  The Stone Of Erech  3:19  
11.  Before The Battle  6:24  
12.  The White Tower  6:06  
13.  The Iron Doors Of Angband  8:10  
14.  Valar - The Rulers Of Arda  7:28  

Recently the delightful Lady Nazgul and yours truly have been enjoying watching the hit crime series The Following (in as far as one can 'enjoy' watching serial killers running amok in the community).  The title of that series bears uncanny similarity to Uruk Hai's "The Fellowship", the 'release of the day' here on Honour and Darkness, and so inevitably in Nazgul's tiny mind the two words have conflated to the extent that they have now become inextricably linked.

Which is all jolly unfortunate, really, as Nazgul had intended starting off this post with the up-beat thought that the wider Honour and Darkness community is something of a Fellowship in its own right, being an informal group of us all sharing a mutual interest in Hugin's projects and allied in the spirit of companionship and camaraderie.  Now, of course, it's become almost impossible not to think of you all as a crazed bunch of psychotic nut-jobs roaming the streets in murderous pursuit of victims.  Which, of course, may be true in some cases, but hopefully not for all....

None of which should distract us from the task at hand, namely giving "The Fellowship" a damn good airing and seeing what this recent Uruk Hai release (March 2014) has to offer us.  And the answer to that simple question is equally straightforward: it has loads to offer us, a veritable cornucopia of Middle-Earth themed goodness that will keep any fan of the project smiling broadly from ear to ear.  Or is that what you get from the so-called Razor Blade Smile, where a poor unfortunately is cut a new (ear to ear) smile with said razor blade?  Oh dear, murderous intent surges to the fore once again, please excuse Nazgul whilst he allows the blood lust to subside....

Ah, that's better.  Now where were we?  Well, first of all let's take a look at the album, with its striking artwork credited to Jaron Evil of Xenoscape.  This, it transpires, is none other than Jaron of Ringbearer and Funeral Fornication renown, who has worked with Hugin on a number of historical and contemporary releases.  Evocative silhouettes, colours and imagery combine to thrust you deep into the heart of Tolkien's realm, with the original literary Fellowship depicted on the cover booklet and led by that wily old fox Gandalf, looking for all the world like a rag-tag procession of ne'er-do-wells stumbling out of a Joe Matara gig.

And you can be certain from the song titles that we remain deep in the heart of Tolkien country, with numerous direct and indirect allusions to places and events across his majestic work.  The inspiration for 'The Red Dawn'?  Very possibly that part in The Two Towers when Gandalf cries, "It is a red dawn. Strange things await us by the eaves of the forest.  Good or evil, I do not know; but we are called.  Awake!"

'Broken Blade'?  Narsil springs to mind.  The 'Wars of Beleriand' would be those fought by the Sindar against Morgoth.  Mirkwood? Well you should bloody well know where Mirkwood is by now, or I'm assuming you've stumbled into this blog by accident.  Mind you, did you know that Mirkwood is a name used for two distinct fictional forests on the continent of Middle-earth: one from the First Age of Middle-earth, when the highlands of Dorthonion north of Beleriand were known as Mirkwood after falling under Morgoth's control; the other - and the more famous of the two - was the large forest in Rhovanion, east of the Anduin. This had acquired the name Mirkwood during the Third Age, after it fell under the influence of the Necromancer; before that it had been known as Greenwood the Great, and it is this Mirkwood that features significantly in The Hobbit.

And we could go on: 'The Stone of Erech' was a great black stone, spherical in shape and roughly six feet in diameter. It was half-buried at the top of the Hill of Erech. The Stone was a mysterious and eerie place, shunned by the people of the valley, who claimed it had fallen from the sky, and was haunted by restless spirits. 'The White Tower' will be the Tower of Ecthelion, a tall white tower (no, really!) atop Minas Tirith, which contained the the throne of the King of Gondor and a secret room housing a palantír.  And you may award yourself a gold star if you remember what a plantiír is, and where we last encountered its reference in Honour and Darkness?! *   

And much like Mirkwood, you'll surely be familiar with the Valar and also with the iron fortress of Angband by now....

So, we've firmly established a very strong Tolkien theme here.  And the music that follows reinforces this initial impression, with a dazzling panoply of styles and range being presented to us by Hugin.  Imagine yourself astride Nazgul's mighty Fellbeast, flying high over the land of Middle-Earth and looking down on it's denizens below.  The music on this album is the perfect cinematic accompaniment to such a journey.  The gentle strings and piano in certain songs bring to mind the countryside of this realm, as if you were looking down on majestic forests crisscrossed crystal-clear babbling brooks, teeming with fish and cavorting Hobbits (yummy - lunchtime for Nazgul!)

Other tracks are bombastic and dramatic, and would be the perfect soundtrack to watching battalions of Elven cavalry in gleaming armour sweeping across windy ridge tops, or to witness the countless hordes of Orc and Uruk Hai hosts swarming the walls of the fortress at Helm's Deep and decimating the armies of  King Théoden.  There's such a breadth and variety of music on offer - all with the hallmark sounds of Hugin's keyboard, guitar and instrumental talents - that it's a pleasure to delve into this album again and again just to re-listen to particular songs.  The album has been on almost constant rotation in the Castle Library these past few weeks, and still it impresses with its depth.

Frankly, if you are any sort of fan of Uruk Hai you need to own this album.  It's not optional - this really can be seen as the definitive statement of the modern Uruk Hai sound and is the perfect example of where Hugin is at the current moment in terms of compositional skill and entertainment value.  By rights the edition of 500 copies should be long sold out, as if that small number can't be shifted by those of us sufficiently interested in this project then God help us all.  If you've not got a copy, email Hugin via his various band/Facebook pages to ask him for one.  Besiege the record label, or if you have to search the depths of the Internet online auctions to snaffle a copy.  This should be a mandatory purchase for any true follower of Uruk Hai, simple as that.

Quite honestly, someone ought to pop a copy of this CD in the post to Peter Jackson ahead of his next Tolkien film project!

As a statement of intent Nazgul would go so far as to say this is the defining album by the band in the last few years, surpassing "...And All The Magic & Might He Brought..." as the epitome of the Uruk Hai sound in 2014.  Complex and epic as that anniversary album was, the contributions from so many other musicians did pull the sound in all sorts of unusual (albeit interesting) directions: on "The Fellowship", however, it's the pure spirit and sound of Uruk Hai that you encounter and the experience - in Nazgul's humble opinion at least - is all the better for it.


* A palantír (sometimes translated as "Seeing Stone") is a spherical stone that superficially resembles a crystal ball, used for both communication and as a means of seeing events in other parts of the world.  Last referenced in the Uruk Hai/Onyx split release, trivia fans....!   

Saturday, 25 October 2014

MYSTIFIED Versus BONEMACHINE - update


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Mystified Versus Bonemachine
Reason for update: CDr disc and paper inlay from Mystified with their half of the split release tracks

A very quick update for you tonight, courtesy of this CDr in plain wrappers received eons ago from Hugin as part of a supply parcel to Castle Nazgul.

It is the very same disc - and accompanying paper with song and artist details - received by Hugin from Thomas Park of Mystified.  These were, of course, the tracks that formed the 2007 split release between this project and Hugin's Bonemachine, which was reviewed way back in the early days of the Blog over 5 years ago.

There's not an awful lot to comment on about this particular piece, save it shows Mystified to have been based at the time in St Louis, MO, USA, as the 7 songs are as on the final release of the very limited edition split that Hugin wrapped so carefully in a metal tin and handmade fabric bag.

Still, as the official archive for all things Hugin-related, this seems a suitable piece to attain a post of its own, and perhaps may prompt those of you with the official release in your collections to dust it off and enjoy it all over again....?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

BALROG - update

Band: URUK HAI
Title: Balrog
Format: Professional CDr release on the Depressive Illusions label (Ukraine) in July 2013, cat ref cut 1132, in DVD-size case with full colour covers.
Edition: 33 unnumbered copies
Reason for update: Re-release of this epic as a CDr in its own right, following the original tape appearance and subsequent inclusion in the box-set War Anthems.

Track Listing:
01. Balrog  56:08

Don't be fooled by that deceptively innocent-looking tree on the cover, sitting there minding its own business in a field of pure-driven snow.  It's not a tree at all, really, you know.  Oh no, you see it's all a cunning deceit , designed to trap the unwary and naive.  What's lurking in that field is - in point of fact - a Balrog....

Now, you can trust Nazgul on this one: you really don't want to get on the wrong side of a Balrog.  Tolkien describes them as tall and menacing (roughly twice human size) with the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appear armed with fiery whips of many thongs and occasionally use long swords to wreak their havoc and misery. They cannot be readily vanquished and only dragons rival their capacity for ferocity and destruction.


There was a time when these creatures were prolific in number: A host of a thousand of them is mentioned in the Quenta Silmarillion, while at the storming of Gondolin Balrogs in the hundreds ride on the backs of the Dragons. They were fierce demons, associated with fire, and armed with their fiery whips and claws like steel they were readily deployed by Morgoth, who delighted in using them to torture his captives.

In the language of Gnomish Balrog literally means 'Cruel Demon', whilst the equivalent in the languages Quendi and Eldar gives a translation as Demon of Might.

Most senior in the hierarchy of Balrogs were Gothmog (who appears in the Silmarillion), described as physically massive and strong, some 12 feet tall, and who wields a black axe and whip of flame.  He holds the titles of the Lord of the Balrogs, the High Captain of Angband, and Marshal of the Hosts.  However, you'll probably be more familiar with the Balrog who dwarves called Durin's Bane.

It survived the defeat of Morgoth in the War of Wrath and escaped to hide beneath the Misty Mountains. For more than five Millennia, the Balrog remained in its deep hiding place at the roots of the mountains in Khazad-dûm, until in the Third Age the mithril-miners of Dwarf-King Durin VI disturbed it (or released it from its prison). Durin was killed by the Balrog, hence the name of Durin's Bane.


The dwarves attempted to fight the Balrog, but its power was far too great. Despite their efforts to hold Khazad-dûm against it, King Náin and many other Dwarves were killed and the survivors were forced to flee. This disaster also reached the Silvan Elves of Lórien, many of whom also fled the "Nameless Terror" (it was not recognized as a Balrog at the time, and even kindly uncle Nazgul picked up some of the blame for the atrocities committed).   For another 500 years, Moria was left to the Balrog; eventually Sauron began to put his plans for war into effect, and he sent Orcs and Trolls to the Misty Mountains to bar all of the passes: Some of these creatures came to Moria, and the Balrog allowed them to remain.

You'll know the story of what eventually happened: the Fellowship of the Ring travelled through Moria on their way to Mount Doom and were attacked in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Orcs. The Fellowship fled through a side door, but when the wizard Gandalf the Grey tried to place a "shutting spell" on the door to block the pursuit behind them, the Balrog entered the chamber on the other side and cast a counter-spell. Gandalf spoke a word of Command to stay the door, but the door shattered and the chamber collapsed. Gandalf was severely weakened by this encounter. 

The company fled with him, but the Orcs and the Balrog, taking a different route, caught up with them at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. The Elf Legolas instantly recognized the Balrog and Gandalf tried to hold the bridge against it. As Gandalf faced the Balrog he proclaimed, "You cannot pass!", and broke the bridge beneath the Balrog. As it fell, the Balrog wrapped its whip about Gandalf's knees, dragging him to the brink.  As the Fellowship looked on in horror, Gandalf cried "Fly, you fools!" and fell.  Rumours that Gandalf's actual words at this time were, "Oh bollocks" are yet to be verified.

After the long fall, the two landed in a subterranean lake, which extinguished the flames of the Balrog's body; however it remained "a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake". They fought in the water, with the Balrog clutching at Gandalf to strangle him, and Gandalf hewing the Balrog with his sword, until finally the Balrog fled into ancient tunnels of unknown origin. Gandalf pursued the creature for eight days, until they climbed to the peak of Zirakzigil, where the Balrog was forced to turn and fight once again, its body erupting into new flame. Here they fought for two days and nights. 

In the end, the Balrog was defeated and cast down, breaking the mountainside where it fell "in ruin". Gandalf himself died following this ordeal, but he was later sent back to Middle-earth with even greater powers, as Gandalf the White, "until his task was finished".


Strong buggers, these Balrogs.  As Nazgul advised earlier, you really don't want to mess with them.

Oh, and the music?  Epic, grandiose, powerful and emotive: you really don't want to mess with Hugin, either.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

ERZSEBET BATHORI - KAPITAL 2 promo


Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Erzsebet Bathori - Kapitel 2: Eine Mär Aus Fleisch
Format: Double CDr disc housed in a plastic wallet with typed lyric sheets.  This was not officially released as a demo as far as is known and is presumed therefore to be a one-off promotional item.
Edition: 1 copy (assumed)

Track Listing:
CDr1  
01. Erzsebet Bathori - Kapitel 2: Eine Mär Aus Fleisch
CDr2  
01. Wenn Docn Der Morgen
02. Der Vampyr

Out of a clear blue sky (well, a grey overcast sky actually, as the perpetual miasma hanging over Castle Nazgul abhors anything resembling a sunny day) came this hitherto unseen promo CDr!  The source of the missive to Nazgul was none other than Fernando, of War Productions in Portugal (this being a different WAR Productions to Hugin's label, by the way), who had comes across something strange in his travels.  

Thus spake Fernando: "I got this double CDr call "Erzsebet Bathori - Kapitel 2: Eine Mär Aus Fleisch". I know from your site that "Erzsebet Bathori - Kapitel 2" was suppose to be out in a 7" but it never come out. Is this CDr some kind of a promo?"

Well, Fernando, it turns out that this is indeed is some kind of a promo, and no less an authority than Hugin himself has confirmed this.

But a quick bit of history: once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a plan to release 3 vinyl EP's to tell a saga of ritualistic bloodletting!  The first part of this trilogy was the "Erzebet Bathori Eine Ode In Blut" 7" release.  As the Blog entry for the release details, this 2002 EP - 'a story about blood and everlasting life' - was due to be followed by the "Erszebet Bathory (Eine Mär Aus Fleisch) Kapitel II" 7" EP except that it never came about: the lengthy 22 minute song appears instead on the "Vampyr" CD EP from 2003 and not in vinyl format. The proposed third 7" EP covering the Venom track "Countess Bathory" was also advertised, but again was never released.

As you might imagine, there was some horse-trading going on between the release of the first EP and the planned release of the second, in as far as the record label who released the initial EP did not want to do a second one, and thus an alternative label was needed to move the trilogy forward.  In the event, a label could not be found to support the project and as a result the second and third parts were scrapped.

One can only suspect that as part of that shopping around process this promo CDr was created.  Hugin confirms that this is not one of his creations, and that the handwriting is that of Uwe Backer (aka Elisabetha's own Blutgraf Gha'gsheblah) so it makes for an unusual item in the desirability stakes.

As such, a rare and unusual piece, and as the accompanying pictures will testify not one currently held in the Castle Nazgul archives.  Lucky old Fernando...!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

BLOOD & IRON


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Blood And Iron
Format: A wooden box-set on the Fallen Angels Productions label (South Korea), catalogue reference FAP048, released in August 2013.  There are two versions of this release, with the same albums inside but with colour and black & white artwork distinguishing them.  The box contains 1 x CDr and 6 x cassette tapes, featuring previously released Uruk Hai material.
Edition: There are 25 hand-numbered copies in total - 7 copies are in full colour, with 18 therefore being black & white.

Contents:
CDr  *  The_Nazgul

Tape 1  *  Lord_of_The_Rings
Tape 2  *  Wrath_Of_The_Ring
Tape 3  *  Gil-Galad
Tape 4  *  Blutreich
Tape 5  *  Felagund
Tape 6  *  Iron Age

This handy box-set unifies a number of past Uruk Hai releases into one tidy little collection.  The theme of unification is most appropriate, given the title of this release, as Blood and Iron (or 'Blut und Eisen' in the original German) is the title of a speech given in 19862 by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck about the unification of the German territories.  That eventually led to a war in Europe, and of course W.A.R. is in Europe and is the spiritual home for all things Uruk Hai.  A most cunning coincidence....

This beautifully presented set - as are all of the Fallen Angels Productions releases, to be fair - lacks the usual smattering of stickers, posters or accoutrements typical of such boxes, save for a couple of feathers.  One is taped to the inside of the lid, the other loose within the box.  What might they signify - who knows?!  White feathers were used as a symbol of cowardice in the First World War, but these aren't white (nor would they fit with the thunderous theme of the box either!)

So, strike Nazgul with down with, errrm, well, a feather, as it turns out that there's a whole sub-culture about the meanings behind feathers (well, it keeps people busy I suppose).  Feathers were worn by Native American Chiefs to symbolize their communication with Spirit, and to express their celestial wisdom, and also represented the power of the thunder gods, along with the power of air and wind.  In a Celtic context, the feather was worn by Druids in the form of ornate feathered robes to invoke the sky gods and gain knowledge of the celestial realm. It was believed that the feathered cloak along with the presence of the sky gods would allow the Druid to transcend the earthly plane and enter the ethereal realm.

The Egyptians believed that feathers were symbolic of sky gods too. Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, would weigh the hearts of the newly dead in the underworld against the weight of a feather to determine the worthiness of his or her soul. In Christianity feathers represented virtues.  Even dreams aren't out of the equation: here (apparently) dreaming of feathers means travel or the ability to move more freely in life. White feathers in dreams indicate innocence or a fresh start in a spiritual sense.

So perhaps we should infer from this that "Blood & Iron" will invoke both thunder gods (but hopefully not Gene Simmons) and virtue, and will elevate us fortunate to own it to ethereal realms in the sky as long as we wear ornate robes and travel extensively...?

Anyway, back to the other contents!  

This set is notably for compiling some genuinely hard-to-find Uruk Hai releases and for that there should be much rejoicing.  The CD pressing of "The Nazgul" is by far the rarest of the bunch, not least because there was only a single tape copy made of the release as a gift from Hugin to Nazgul back in the day!  This airing in CD format with new artwork too, and is an instant gem in a collection of many treasures.

Also of note in this box are a tape release for the highly elusive "Blutreich" compilation - again with bespoke artwork on this version - and a tape release for the previously vinyl only limited edition outing "Iron Age".  Those three releases alone would make any box-set worth acquiring as they are all pretty hard to find now (less so Iron Age, but it's hardly commonplace!) and copies can get pretty expensive if when you can track them down.

To this trio you can then add some classic tapes from a few years back - the "Wrath of the Ringsand "Lord of the Rings" both epic and grandiose in their scope, whilst the multi-song "Felagundis also well worth hearing and - despite being in an apparently unlimited initial pressing - suffered slightly by being on a relative obscure label.  Here all three get new artwork and a fresh breath of life and add value to the collection.

The sole 'oddity' in this release is the inclusion of "Gil Galad", which is a good demo in fairness but was made available in so many formats and versions that it hardly needed another release here.  There are plenty of other contemporary demos that would have benefitted from inclusion, but then again perhaps the game-plan is to save them for later releases and not put all of the golden eggs into one basket?

A stupendous release, in short, and a good excuse - if you need it - to listen to some classic Uruk Hai releases all over again!

And look at the fabulous artwork too - the black and white covers are the same as the colour ones in terms of design and content, so forgive Nazgul for majoring on those colour versions here.  Some awesome looking covers for these tapes and discs, which really establishes the quality of the box overall. 


A minor mystery to end with: the Fallen Angels Productions webpage listed this as being in an edition of 26 copies, 7 colour and 19 black and white.  Nazgul's copies show that the edition number inside the tape inlay runs to only 25 copies, so there is a presumption that there will be 7 colour copies and 18 black and white versions (although it could be 6 and 19 respectively).