Thursday, 26 February 2015

SONGS OF BLISS


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Songs Of Bliss
Format: A cassette tape-only release from 2014 on the Aschefruehling Records label (Germany), no catalogue reference, single-sided colour cover on thick photographic paper.
Edition: Hand numbered to 40 copies only

Track Listing:
01. Days Of Bliss  2.54
02. The Great Battle  3.42
03. Music Of The Ainur  3.41
04. The Wars Of Beleriand  6.17
05. Ring Of Water  3.21

You always feel that Honour and Darkness hits its true purpose in life when something like this pops up in the Uruk Hai discography - a good old fashioned tape EP release, in a hand-numbered limited edition, showcasing tracks from forthcoming releases and adding in the odd nugget for good measure.

Timing wise Nazgul can't immediately remember whether this cassette preceded the CD's from which the majority of tracks are drawn, but the likelihood is it did as that's become rather a tradition in recent years: Hugin whets our appetite using a limited edition tape release ahead of some multi-dimensional sonic attack on CD that follows thereafter.

"Songs Of Bliss" would fit rather neatly into this pattern, so let's cross our fingers and hope for the best!  Other than the instrumental title track which appears unique to this tape, the remaining four songs will be familiar to you as being on compact disc releases of 2014: 'Music Of The Ainur' appears on the split release with Black Jade, "The Sadness Of Fallen Leaves", whilst the remaining three songs are on the epic album "The Fellowship".  They remain splendid songs, and it's always a pleasure to revisit quality music!

These four Uruk Hai songs are interesting as they contain vocals, and orc-like harsh vocals at that, unlike the majority of contemporary Uruk Hai songs that are instrumental tracks.  This in of itself is no bad thing, as it keeps us - the loyal band of followers - on our toes and demonstrates another useful weapon in Hugin's arsenal. And if it's instrumental tunes you want, then the 'Songs Of Bliss' will fill the void with just under three minutes of lush opulence that will have you mellowing out in the midst of all manner of reveries.

The cover artwork is interesting, in as far as it's more in the naturalistic vein of recent Hrefnesholt releases than the more 'typical' Uruk Hai cover of late.  That said, Hugin is never one to typecast himself so who knows what we should expect on the next release....?

All in all, a most excellent release that makes for a handy bite-sized portion of recent Uruk Hai goodness without the need to juggle compact discs to achieve it.  A tasting dish before the next main course, as it were...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Hrossharsgrani > Nordische Götter- und Heldensagen


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: Nordische Götter- und Heldensagen (Nordic Gods and Heroes)
Format: It's a book, originally published in `961 and authored by Professor Dr. Edmund Mudrak.  Written in German, it has particular relevance to the Hrossharsgrani band name....

A footnote in the history of one of Hugin's enduring bands, Hrossharsgrani.

The unusual name - as detailed in previous posts - derives from the name Odin used when he accompanied Starkad, a great warrior who performed many heroic deeds but also many crimes in Norse legends. A cognate of the many, bloody Starkad legends can be found in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and a ripping read it is too.

This particular ripping read, however, was authored by Edmund Mudrak (1894-1965), who was an Austrian ethnologist and editor of several collections of folk tales, legends, and myths for young people, some of which are still in print.  At the University of Vienna Mudrak wrote his dissertation on the Wieland legend. His nationalism led him to become a professor of ethnology at the University of Posen in occupied Poland.

Why this is relevant to anything remotely Hugin related you may have deduced already: it was in this very book - indeed, this very volume that is pictured here today, that Hugin came across the name of Hrossharsgrani and decided that it was a name worth taking for his fledgling Viking-infused battle-metal project.

And from a historical note, that pretty much is all there is to todays post.  However, as you'll doubtless be chomping at the bit now to learn more of the Hrossharsgrani story, Nazgul has researched a summary version of events from various online accounts: enjoy....

"One day King Vikar sailed to Hordaland with his large army. Off of a small group of islands the winds suddenly went against him and he could make no headway. Through divination King Vikar discovered that Odin required a human sacrifice if he was to proceed. King Vikar decided that the warrior was to be chosen by lot. Everyone in the army was shocked when King Vikar's lot was the one chosen. They decided to have a meeting the next day to discuss this turn of events.  

Just before midnight Grani Horsehair (Starkad's foster father) woke up Starkad and asked him to come with him. They rowed a small boat over to an adjacent island, and after beaching their craft, they walked along a path in the woods until they reached a clearing where a large group of warriors had gathered for a meeting. Starkad counted eleven men sitting in chairs, but noticed the 12th chair was empty. Starkad and Grani Horsehair joined the assembly, and Grani sat down in the 12th chair. Every person seated in the assembly introduced themselves as Odin, and they each declared that they were there to decide Starkad's fate.

Then Thor spoke out against Starkad: " Since Starkad's grandmother, Alfhild, preferred a clever giant to Thor himself as the father of her son, I ordain that Starkad himself shall never have a son nor a daughter, and his family will end with him. "

Odin hearing Thor's curse upon his favoured warrior then answered back : " I ordain that he shall have three life spans. "
Thor : " He shall commit a most foul deed in each one of them. "
Odin : " I ordain that he shall have the best of weapons and clothing. "
Thor : " I ordain that he shall have neither land or estates. "
Odin : " I give him this, that he shall have great riches. "
Thor : " I lay this curse upon him, that he shall never be satisfied with what he has. "
Odin : " I give him victory and fame in battle. "
Thor : " I lay this curse upon him, that in every battle he will be badly wounded. "    
Odin : " I give him the art of poetry, so that he shall compose verses as fast as he can speak. "
Thor : " He shall never remember afterwards what he composes. "
Odin : " I ordain that he shall be most highly regarded by all the noblest and best of men. "
Thor : " I curse him that every common person will hate him . "

The judges, all named Odin, decreed that all that had been declared should come to pass. Then the assembly disappeared, and Grani Horsehair and Starkad went back to their boat. On the way Grani Horsehair turned to his foster son and said : " You owe me foster-son for all the help that I have given you. " Starkad replied : " I will repay you. " Then Grani said: " You must sent King Vikar to me son. I will tell you how to bring him. " Starkad agreed to bring him King Vikar, and then Grani Horsehair gave Starkad a spear that to others would look like a reed stalk.  

They reached the rest of the army at daybreak and the king's counsellors held a meeting to discuss what they should do. They agreed that they would have to hold a mock sacrifice, and Starkad told them how to go about it. During breakfast a calf had been slaughtered and its entrails lay on the ground. Starkad asked for them and threw them over a low branch on a pine tree. He then turned to King Vikar and said : " I have prepared your gallows my king, and they do not seem too dangerous. " The king replied : " If this gallow is no more dangerous than it appears then it can do me no harm. If however it turns out to be more than it appears then I leave my life to fate. "

A stump lay under the branch and the king stepped up on it and Starkad pulled down the branch and placed the makeshift noose around the king' s neck. With the spear, that looked like a reed stalk to everyone else, he stabbed the king before saying : " I give you now to Odin ! " Then everything changed into its real shape ! The reed stalk turned into a spear, and the calf guts turned into strong rope. Starkad let go of the branch and King Vikar shot up into the foliage wher he died. This place is now sacred and is called Vikarsholmar.    

As was pre-ordained by Thor this made Starkad a much hated man among the common folk, and he was banished from Hordaland and eventually had to flee from Norway and live in Sweden."

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

THE MARCH REHEARSALS


Band: EISMOND
Title: The March Rehearsals
Format: Promotional CDr self-released by Hugin, with instrumental-only versions of untitled songs from the forthcoming Eismond release "Moonchild".  Plain silver CDr in a colour printed paper sleeve, inside a plastic wallet, hand-numbered in silver marker pen
Edition: Only 2 hand-numbered copies made

Track Listing:
01. untitled  2.24
02. untitled  7.28
03. untitled  8.48
04. untitled  8.00
05. untitled  4.42
06. untitled  4.56
07. untitled  5.28
08. untitled  5.20
09. untitled  8.48
10. untitled  6.08

I thought this one would make for an interesting addition to the winter schedule of Honour and Darkness releases!  It's a promotional-only CDr from Hugin with instrumental tracks (guitar and synth) for the upcoming Eismond album "Moonchild", due later this year.  So, in other words, it's an early working demo without Jaron's contribution at this stage, and the limitation of just two copies might suggest that whilst one nestles comfortably in the warmth of Castle Nazgul the other is with Jaron for some of his trademark vocals, swirls and flourishes to be added.

This is going to be quite a short post, more celebrating and cataloguing the mere existence of the demo, rather than an in-depth analysis of the music herein.  And the reason for that is that it only seems fair to pass judgement on the final item once it's fully compiled and released: it's a bit too early to form any meaningful opinions as for all Nazgul knows this may all change nearer the time and the final version may sound more like Ice T than Eismond (though, to be honest, that's not too likely!)

All that Nazgul would say is that even as a purely instrumental demo this is very easy to listen to, very much in keeping with the Pink Floydian styling of recent Eismond releases, and overall something to very much look forward to listening to when its all finished.  The title derives - surprise, surprise - from the fact that these recordings were made in March 2014 and Hugin tells me that they are all first take recordings at that.  All the more reason to suspect the final version will be a little ripper!

Accompanying this CDr came a card flyer for the "Moonchild" release, bearing a similar image to that on the demo sleeve.  And that image, as you will clearly see, is a homage to the famous Pink Floyd "Animals" cover with its inflatable pink pig weaving its way through the towers of Battersea Power Station, outside London.  The Eismond cover photograph is, Nazgul is proud to record, one taken from the train by Hugin on the way between Castle Nazgul and London in late February 2014 as we were heading to the capital for a well earned day out.

Rumours that Eismond's "Moonchild" will emulate the Iron Maiden song, leading to mass sightings of screaming mandrakes, exhausted twins and Gemini rising are yet to be substantiated....

Cardboard promotional flyer

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 4: Helm


The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 4
Item: Horned Helmet (or Helm)

So the clue was sown in the "Gondor" post, but did you correctly guess the content of today's blog?  For it is a return to the W.A.R. Armoury, that dusty place of weird and wonderful weapons and armour that have featured as part of Hugin's publicity material and demo/album artwork over many years.

Today - as depicted on the "Gondor" cover - it's time to consider that most pivotal of pieces of armour, the helm.  Now, according to online authorities, the helm started as a simple cylinder with a flat top but later developed a curved "sugar loaf" pointed top to deflect crushing blows. Ours has a flat top, giving it a cultural reference back to the earlier days of such devices (bear in mind this is not an authentic antique of the period, but a modern reproduction).


Our design is in keeping with a Great Helm, and although it offered greater protection than previous helmets, such as the nasal helm and the splendidly titled spangenhelm, it limited the wearer's vision to some extent, and provided poor ventilation. A knight might have worn a close-fitting steel skull cap known as a cervelliere (or its later development, the bascinet) beneath the great helm for additional protection. More often than not, particular in tournaments, such a helm would be removed after an initial clash of lances to give the knight a sporting chance of being able to breath and to see who was trying to maim him.

Where our design is somewhat different from the traditional ones of yore is that it sports two horns.  Now, given this is a modern piece this is probably more for style than function, but it might beg the question why Hugin's eye would have been taken with such a thing (other than the fact it looks cool, of course).  Most horned helms of antiquity were ritualistic in purpose, and it turns out that ceremonial use of horned helmets during the Germanic Iron Age persisted until the 7th century.  As such, their use could be argued to possibly have overlapped with the early Viking Age, which overlaps with the theme of early Hrossharsgrani demos of course, giving us a possible link back to why this particular style was used.

Academically speaking, however, there seems to be little or no evidence that horned helmets were ever worn in battle at any point during the Viking Age. Such spoilsports suggest that the popular association probably arose in 19th century Scandinavian Romanticism, and also through the work of Carl Emil Doepler, who in 1876 created horned helmets for use in the first Bayreuth Festival production of Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'. Personally, Nazgul blames the Minnesota Vikings football team for perpetuating the myth, as their logo is a horn on each side of the helmet, but each to their own in theories.


Oh: if you're the curious type, by the way, you may be wondering what the difference is between a 'Helm' and a 'Helmet'.  Well, it's very simple - two letters, 'e' and 't'.

Of course, no review of material from The Armoury can be complete without some input from the man himself, so what does Hugin have to say about his memories of this piece: "I bought that helmet from a friend of mine: the boyfriend of Sabine, who sang on "The Durinsday".  Oh yeah, it was really not very comfortable and at minus 10 degrees it was VERY hard to wear; the cold steel touching the skin was really bad, especially on my ears"


So there you have it:  as Shakespeare once said, "it was foretold in days of old that knights so bold were uncontrolled in weather cold and ears would mould and then - behold: They'd be buggered..."

All that remains to comment on is the fact that one of the horns on the helm regularly falls off, giving the piece a cute, rather lop-sided appearance, and for anyone wondering what on earth the previously unreferenced "The Durinsday" release is ... watch this space!

Friday, 6 February 2015

GONDOR


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Gondor
Format: A plain silver CDr disc inside a single-sided colour cover, released in 2014 by Smell The Stench (Australia), no catalogue reference.
Edition: 22 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. When Gondor's Trumpet Sounds  4:48
02. Holy Metal (instrumental version)  11:30

Preconceived ideas are funny things.  On reading the title of the first song on this short EP Nazgul was immediately put in mind of a song by Spanish ambient band Lugburg, namely 'The Silver Trumpet Sound of Gondor' from their 2003 album "Behind The Gates Of Black Abyss".  That song begins with an approximation of a silvery trumpet note (score no marks for originality but full marks for relevance), and it's such a good song that since that time any reference to Gondor, trumpets or the like in a song tend to get Nazgul's mindset thinking along similar audio lines.


So - inevitably, perhaps - Hugin decides to to throw us a curve ball on his take on all that is trumpet-like from hallowed Gondor by kicking this song off with a colossal guitar riff and then barrelling through another epic and tasteful piece with scant regard to any brass or silver instrumentation!  Clearly this particular Uruk Hai has taken out in his forage pack one large axe (probably forged in the red-hot furnaces of Hohner) and has given it one almighty strum whilst bored one day. "Kerrang!" as someone once wisely proclaimed.

Still, we should learn not to be hung up on song titles and expect the music to necessarily match the words: After all, Nazgul doesn't recall hearing many orgasms in Motorhead's 'Orgasmatron'...

Far heavier than anything recently under the Uruk Hai banner, this new-found guitar and keyboard 'buffness' takes you by the scruff of the neck and persistently wrings the breath out of you.  It carries on in respect of the second song of the pair, an instrumental version of a new track called 'Holy Metal' which is similarly robust and metallic in its influences.  It will be interesting to see what the final version is like, in the sense of hearing what style of vocal delivery is married to the song.  'Holy Metal' is the perfect title for a Hugin song in many respects and one can also imagine it being used as a useful expletive, ringing out and through the Austrian Alps when disaster arises: "What do you mean the latest Uruk Hai shipment is lost in the post?  Holy Metal...!?!"

Gondor itself is described as the greatest realm of Men in the west of Middle-earth by the end of the Third Age.  It was located in the west of the continent of Middle-earth, and the main part of its territory lay on the northern shores of the Bay of Belfalas and around the White Mountains. Tolkien noted that the capital Minas Tirith was situated on a latitude comparable to that of Venice and the total area of Gondor as represented on Tolkien's maps has been estimated by some well meaning soul at 716,426 square miles.  Honestly, and I thought I had time on my hands....?!

To the north-west of the kingdom originally lay the realm of Arnor; to the north, Gondor was neighboured by the Wilderland and, after its settlement, by Rohan; to the north-east, by the land of Rhûn; to the east, by Sauron's realm of Mordor; to the south, by the deserts of Harad.  The original borders of Gondor were: rivers Gwathló and Glanduin up to the Misty Mountains; eaves of the Fangorn forest and river Entwash; marshes of Nindalf and the Mountains of Shadow; and river Poros.

Many accounts have been written about the Siege of Gondor, which of course yours truly witnessed and can attest the written record to be scandalously generous to humankind.  The received wisdom for the start of the siege for example, is that in from beyond the outermost gate of Minas Tirith five dark Nazgûl swooping over a small, rapidly approaching group of Men on horseback. The leader of the horsemen sounded his horn; Beregond (Captain of the Gondor White Company) recognised the trumpet call of Faramir, Denethor’s son.   The men, thrown from their terrified horses, ran for the city gate on foot. Just as a Nazgûl descended on Faramir, Pippin sees what appears to be a brilliant white star in the north which proves to be that bloody nuisance Gandalf on Shadowfax. Gandalf raised his hand and sends a shaft of light shooting upward into one of the Nazgûl. 

The Nazgûl , so the story goes, allegedly cries and circles away, whilst the other Ringwraiths supposedly follow on behind.  Well, rubbish, let this Nazgul tell you, and when we've got a few minutes free one day we'll hear the true story of who sent shafts of what up where, and it'll bring tears to your eyes let me tell you....

Anyway, back to this item: There's been something of a glut of these CDr EP's from Smell The Stench in the past few months, which probably suggests we're looking at a big new Uruk Hai album coming out fairly soon in 2015 with final versions on that album to be collated from these separate releases.  The limitation on numbers for the EP's makes grabbing a copy a bit frantic, and with only 22 of these out there one suspects if you've not got one yet then you'd better get to Leigh Stench pretty darn fast!

There's a clue in the artwork on the front of "Gondor" to the subject matter of the next post on Honour and Darkness, incidentally, and in leaving you thinking about that cryptic note, let Nazgul bid you adieu....