Thursday, 26 November 2015

BITTERE ERKENNTNISSE DURCH NAHTOD - update


Band: BONEMACHINE
Title: Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod
Reason for update: A variant in the Foghorn series release of this song has come to light

By an entirely unplanned coincidence it's almost 5 years to the day since the original review of the 3" release Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod CDr in Honour and Darkness.  If you've followed the link back to refresh your memory, you'll have seen that this particular release was on the Foghorn label (part of the German Apocalyptic Radio family) and that it came in an edition of 100 copies.  Nazgul's personal copy came via Denmark, and not another copy have I seen since that one.  

Until now, that is....

Quite out of the blue, an email popped into the Castle inbox from none other than our old friend Alex of A.M.F. Productions in Bulgaria.  Alex had a few Bonemachine bits and pieces to sell or trade, including what he had identified as a different version of the "Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod" release.  Different how, you ask? Well, simply down to the colour of the 3-inch disc, which is red in the version he had but green on the copy originally reviewed.  Naturally, the collector/horder latent within Nazgul sprang into action like a well greased ferret, and within a week the item (plus one or two other goodies) had a new home in the Castle archives.

And yes, as you can clearly see from the pictures, it's definitely red!  Which, of course, begs a few questions:

  • Do other colours exist within this edition of 100 copies?
  • Do either of the other Hugin-related Foghorn releases have different coloured discs in their editions?
As usual, questions galore but no answers to grab hold of!  A quick look through the Foghorn 3" series as described on Discogs is not particularly illuminating, as despite there being a number of such releases there are no notes to suggest multi-colour discs exist as a rule.  A quick visit to the Castle archives confirms that a normal silver 3" disc was used on the Bonemacine "Acidhumanix" release, whilst a black colour disc seems to be used for The Sounds Of Earth's "Struggle For Control".  

The other 5 known releases in the Foghorn series don't have pictures on Discogs, nor do any obvious images for them pop up online, so it's all something of an unresolved mystery I'm afraid.

So this is a chance for you, the incredibly fervent fans of all things Hugin, to step and and ransack your personal collections to see what colour the discs are on your releases!  If you've got something different from those known and recorded in Honour and Darkness currently for the Foghorn 3" series as relates to Hugin, drop Nazgul an email at the address shown! The relevant pair of releases are:

Bonemachine "Acidhumanix"  

Bonemachine "Bittere Erkenntnisse Durch Nahtod" (called 'Untitled' on Discogs)  

Happy sleuthing!

It's interesting that it almost always seems to be Bonemachine that generates these additional versions and strange sub-sets within formal releases: there must be something about the nature of this project that motivates labels to get creative and create subtle waves of confusion....

Brothers .... from different mothers?!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

HOLY


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Holy
Format: This is a professional CDr released in 2015 by the Winterwolf Records label (Germany), with no catalogue reference.  The album is a split release between Uruk Hai and Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh (France), the quasi-legendary underground black metal/ambient noise project featuring Luc Mertz. For the purpose of this review, this latter band's name will be abbreviated to ZBT, as seems to be customary.
Edition: Unnumbered edition of 100 copies

Track Listing:
01. ZBT  *  Sadness  4.13      
02. ZBT  *  Black Soul  4.33      
03. ZBT  *  Eternity  4.00      
04. ZBT  *  Dirt  3.09      
05. ZBT  *  Sinister  5.57  
06. ZBT  *  Holy War  4.38      
07. ZBT  *  After the Nightmare  4.49      
08. Uruk Hai  *  Northwards  6.42      
09. Uruk Hai  *  Ringwraiths  13.13      
10. Uruk Hai  *  Of Beren& Luthien  13.54      
11. Uruk Hai  *  Holy Metal  11.30  

Oh. My. Goodness.  

There are those who lurk in the shadowy parts at the bottom of the internet who seem to enjoy nothing more than to pour scorn and bile onto the work of musicians around the world. Hugin has attracted his fair share of criticism over time (particularly in the early years) in being typecast - somewhat disparagingly - as a 'one-man bedroom project'.  It comes with the territory, to an extent.  However, those occasional poor reviews hold nothing to the general abuse and vitriol thrown at French band ZBT, another long running one-man project (2000-current).  Of course, with approximately 2 gazillion demos to his name there is always likely to be a surfeit of product and the risk of low quality control between releases.  But nevertheless, it's extraordinary what you can read out there.  

Let Nazgul illustrate his point with some statistics.  If you take the Metal Archives site, for instance, the first  page of the ZBT discography shows the following review scores (out of a maximum of 100%):  Demo 07 - 'Draft'  (12%); Demo 09 - 'IX' (0%); Demo 10 - 'Satan's Servants' (1%); Demo 19 - 'Dead for All' (1%); and so it goes on.

And as you might imagine much of the narrative is hardly complementary, and these examples are the cleaned-up versions:

Of Demo IX: "This, gentlemen, was the worst mistake I could have made. Through my cheap speakers comes nothing but pathetic noise. Not one note can be told from another. Not a single drum hit can be told from another. It is nothing but pathetic, and useless noise.  In summary, this demo is nothing but complete and utter sh*t. Don't even bother buying it, if you can find it. Hell, don't even f*cking download it. It's a waste of a few megabits. Seriously. Don't."

Of Satan's Servants: "Luc Mertz's body of "work" consists of a (out of tune) guitar playing sloppy "riffs", silly "shredding" solos which make Burzum's "War" solo sound like Iron Maiden, in terms of melody (and I like that one) and "drumming" consisting of different kitchen tools being thrown at an unknown device. There is no structure or coherence to be found, the vocals are monotonous, boring and at times even hilarious. Luc chokes, coughs and spits in various talentless forms, desperately trying to get a few laughs out of the listener, even though I doubt that was the writer's original intention."

and to close, perhaps my personal 'favourite' of the bunch, if only for the effort the reviewer has put into setting out his grievance whilst at the same time drawing unexpected references to Donald Duck:

Demo #28 Sado Ambient - Mind Control Part 5:  "The track starts out with some annoying static noise, with sounds that sound like something dying. After that, a Donald Duck sound signals the change in ambience. The second part has a girl humming (?), I think. Another Donald Duck noise, and the third part begins. It sounds like a giant monster heavily breathing, and then noises a duck would make at night, also what sounds like far off war, and those sounds kids make with their armpit. The fourth part is signalled by another Donald Duck sound, then for about 30 seconds a loud, annoying...thing, goes on. It sounds like some demon dying, with car alarms going off in the background. Again, a Donald Duck noise, with some creepy ambience, which doesn't sound too bad by itself. But it's not by itself, you have some sniffing, and some electricity sounds, and the Donald Duck sound ends the fifth section. By now I wanted to turn it off, but I had to finish it. The final (thankfully) section, sounds like passing traffic, and someone trying to unlock their car, and it ends with a loud noise that sounds like a distorted burp.  I ripped this from the website that was selling it, for 15 cents, judging by the other reviews, that was too much. I nearly gagged from this horrible attempted ambience. Apart from the first 2-3 seconds of the fifth section, it sucks, completely. Overall I give  a 0.5/10 or a 5%. 1% for those 2-3 seconds, and 4% for him keeping a good spirit and ignoring the bad feedback and going strong."

And so it goes.  Wow, this stuff really does polarise opinion and almost universally negatively!

I don't want to labour the point, as surely the guy's had enough thrown at him already, but a quick Google of ZBT brings up another summary which I record below as a pretty representative viewpoint:

"With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown 'recorded through a trashcan on a boombox' aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band."

You will understand, therefore, why Nazgul has been eyeing this split release with some trepidation over the past few weeks!  However, the diary produced a few days with long enough stints in the car to merit popping this CD in the player for a few spins which, if nothing else, promised to provide suitably lively distraction on an otherwise uninteresting journey.  And, of course, with the added bonus of some Uruk Hai tracks to restore sanity at the end of the album.

So, brave pills ingested and speakers adjusted to suitable level, on we plough with Nazgul's first exposure to ZBT with lead-off track, 'Sadness' (if ever a song title was tempting fate....).  Driving down a quiet country lane with this CD about to play, Nazgul had his window wound down on what was a perfectly pleasant warm autumnal day.  Given all the hype around ZBT the very least I expected was for some diabolic noise to commence and immediately thereafter all surrounding vegetation to wither away and for small mammals to drop dead at the roadside.  How could anything less come to pass, given the online build up from the great unwashed?

Well, rather disappointing, let me tell you nothing of this nature happened, even remotely. True, a squirrel had a lucky escape as it bounded into the road ahead of me before thinking better of its suicidal crossing strategy, retreating to the verge pronto, but even I couldn't blame ZBT for that.  The songs - most unexpectedly - actually quite cool, with some punky black metal riffs and some admittedly odd melodies and structures combining to be relatively entertaining.  Of course, you may conclude Nazgul simply has atrocious taste in music in which case I invite you to take your coat and see yourself out!

Incidentally, Luc's wife (Flo Mertz) also has a dark ambient project of her own named Herz Tod, and made an appearance doing the vocals on the ultra rare Bonemachine release 'Dieu Du Tonnere'.  

Whilst I don't wish to sound like I'm damning with faint praise, it has to be said that I've willingly sat through repeated playbacks of ZBT's contribution to this split, and remain sound in mind and body.  Sure, it's not going to trouble the people who decide what gets played on the radio and it is raw and basic to the point of being something you feel you might be able to emulate yourself, given sufficient motivation and a few pints of strong beer.  But what the hell, Odium and our old chum Phil Knight also made a hell of a racket and committed it to tape every once in a while so Nazgul contends that one can get quite into primitive metal if you try hard enough.  I know bad music, trust me: I've endured Kenji Siratori after all, for God's sake....

And so on to Uruk Hai (or UH as I might now have to call them) for their contribution to this release.

Four songs, and a bit of a mixture of the old, the new and the revamped!  A quick recap shows that two of these songs are familiar to us: 'Of Beren & Luthien' was the fifth song on "The Dusk, The Dawn, The Earth, The Sun...", itself a previous WinterWolf CD release.  'Ringwraiths', you will remember, originally featured on Honour and Darkness in what was at the time an exclusive edition of only 2 (different) copies, and for which Spanish uber-fan Zigor contributed our musical review:

"As for the music, we will see that only one song is included in this release, the one that gives the title to the work. It is 13 minutes long and in it, we will find that is composed by some epic parts (with percussion, strings and winds) perfectly merged with parts with guitar and a dark voice. This whole gives an essence which perfectly fits the concept of the box, where the epic part can be related with the white and the guitar and voice parts can be related with the dark."

This is, by the way, a really good example of how Hugin uses music from extreme limited editions on subsequent mainstream format releases, so for all of you gnashing your teeth over the "Durin's Day" tape, be assured that that song will almost certainly pitch up on a CD at some future point.

That leaves us with two remaining tracks.  'Holy Metal' is the easiest of the two to tackle, not least as we've come across it before.  That song was on the Smell The Stench released "Gondor" CDr (you see how Nazgul's successive posts form a nicely linked narrative over time?  No extra charge), in an early instrumental-only guise, running at 11:30 in duration.  This version adds vocals, so is suitably revamped and rebooted.

A review of this particular song will follow in a future post, however, as there's rather an interesting and relevant tape release under which that honour will fall... 

Diving off at one of my usual tangents, I confess I had imagined that the Internet would be awash with songs or albums with the title 'Holy Metal', particularly given the rise of White Metal bands like Stryper et al in the late 80's, but curiously this proves not to be the case.  However, obscure American band Vaughn did call their 1984 12" single 'Holy Metal' though, and for that singular inspired reason gets his artwork shared below for you all to savour.  Similarities to the rest of Hugin's work diminish immediately, however, when we see that the title of the second song on their vinyl masterpiece is the distinctly un-Tolkien like 'Get Down Nancy' ...!

Nothing to do with Hugin, but both relevant and amusing nevertheless!
Which leaves us with only 'Northwards' to consider.  A very interesting track, starting off with some drums and guitar that aren't a million miles away from ZBT, at least not as much as you might have imagined the bands to be different.  It turns out that 'Northwards' is one of those songs where Hugin deploys his black metal rasp alongside a fuzzy guitar attack, and is not at all in keeping with the beautiful trills and keyboard parts of a song like 'Of Beren & Luthien'.  It certainly works well enough, sounding sinister and menacing as it worms its way into your brain.  I'm not at all sure who is moving northwards, nor for what purpose, but trust me - if they cross your path, let them by unchallenged!

It was inevitable that two of the most prolific sole artists' paths would finally cross on a split release: the obvious question really is not 'why?', but 'why did it take this long?'  As it happens, in this shadowy acronym filled abyss, it's something of a triumph that both ZBT and UH can come away not SHAT ON ('Should Have Abandoned The Original Notion') but PROUD ('Promising Release Of Undoubted Distinction')!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Smell The Stench promo flyers


Band: URUK HAI
Item: A set of promotional flyers from the Australian label Smell The Stench.  These advertise a series of CDr releases on that label, all from Uruk Hai, plus a couple of 3" releases.

Something different for your delight today.

These promotional flyers (described in the old school sense, I can't imagine they were ever printed up and stuck onto record shop windows or left to blow around the streets, but you never know) come from the weird and wonderful world of the Smell The Stench label, fronted by our old friend Leigh Stench.  Or, to his mother at least, Leigh Julian.

They show a range of limited edition releases exclusive to that label in 5" and 3" CDr format.  Some of these have featured in reviews in Honour and Darkness and some have yet to have that particular accolade, but it seemed like as good a time as any to gather them all together into one pungent STS related posting.

The first design (at the head of this post) shows 7 releases that the label issued in CDr format, with the subsequent 2 flyers showing the releases on the top row of this first 'card' in slightly more detail.  So, first things first, the 7 advertised albums of flyer 1 are: top row "Of Beren And Luthien"; "Welcome To Isengard"; "Follow The Wind"; "Gondor"; and on the bottom row "Rehearsal 2 (September-November 1999)"; "Rehearsal (October-November 1999)"; and "Destroyer".

And here are two separate promos for pairs of these releases, one with the Uruk Hai logo and the other with a warrior motif:


Finally, at the foot of today's post, we have the flyer for the reissue of "Destination: Hell" (thanks to Hugin for that one) plus one showing a brace of 3"CDr releases, namely "The Mighty Forest" and "Legends Of Fire And Death".

Let's pause for a second in consideration of the STS label.  It's been running since at least 2000 if the Discogs database is anything to go by, and the first of Hugin's releases seen at the label was in 2002, being Bonemachine's "Destination Hell" demo.  There are a total of 1,407 entries for the label on Discogs at today's date, which is a staggering number for a one-man concern operating out of private premises in Melbourne (the distinctly un-stenchy sounding Clematis Court in Meadow Heights!).

A quick trot through STS's extensive release catalogue identifies a host of releases associated with Hugin's bands, including such delights as:

B-Machina's 
  • "Prophecy Part 1"
  • "Prophecy Part 2"
  • "Burn Down Psychosis"

Bonemachine's 
  • "Destination: Hell" debut and subsequent reissue
  • "Soldat"
  • "Monolog & Rythmus"
  •  the split release "Bonemachine/Gruuthaagy"
  • "Rehearsal 2002-2004"
plus web hosting for the intenet only releases "Extraterrestrial Death" and "Jagdschauspiel"

Elisabetha's
  • "Nosferat" demo tape 

Hrefnesholt's
  • "Ranbentanz"
  • "Wolfsnacht"

Hrossharsgrani's
  • "Rehearsal 1999" demo tape
  • "The Long Grey Road" 3" CDr

ILL's
  • "s.t.r.a.n.g.e." demo

Uruk Hai's
  • "In Durin's Halls" tape
  • "The Barbarian"
  • "Gil-Galad"
  • "Battle Of The Southern Flame: Edition 2012"
  • "Valkyrian Romance"
  • "Dagor Dagorath"
  • "Long Before The Creation"
...plus the releases featured in the flyers above!

And there's also the compilation "The First Evil Spell" too, let's not forget!

How many of those have you collected...?

Truly one of the good guys, for it is labels like this with hard working supporters like Leigh that keeps bands like Uruk Hai and Bonemachine buoyant in the difficult early years of getting established.  

Good on ya, mate!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

DURIN'S DAY


...a quick word from our sponsors...!
Band: URUK HAI
Title: Durin's Day
Format: Cassette tape in colour cover released as the debut release of a new but excellent label Honour & Darkness, cat ref H&D01.  Similarities between this label's name and the blog you are reading are not coincidental...!  The inlays are signed in black by both Hugin and Nazgul.
Edition: Limited to 5 hand-numbered and hand-signed copies

Track Listing:
01. Durin's Day  11.35

Clearly you're not going to get an impartial and unbiased review of this wonderful release on a splendid new UK label.  Clearly not, as your humble Nazgul has been given the opportunity by Hugin to release this previously unheard song by Uruk Hai onto the wider world.

Hugin popped up a post on his Facebook page about this tape after I'd added to the Discogs listing for Uruk Hai, and it led to a few comments being placed about the merits of it being such a limited edition and the motives therein.  So let's deal with the background to this release, first and foremost.

The idea to put the tape out as a legitimate release was spawned in conversations between W.A.R. and Castle Nazgul well over a year ago, following the discovery in the fabled W.A.R. archives of the master CD for this song.  Quite who it was who suggested it be released as a limited edition tape release is lost to history (or, would require a lot of digging around in old emails which I'm sure you can appreciate may not add a lot to the narrative) and so the idea was borne.  

Hugin very kindly did the cover - in his scarily efficient manner it were done in record time and emailed across - and then the last time Hugin was in the UK on a visit he signed the printed versions, ready to be counter-signed by yours truly prior to release.

Now, you have to bear in mind a number of practical issues at work in all of this.  Firstly, Castle Nazgul isn't geared up to mass duplication of tapes, and a small edition was obviously the way forward.  The notion of only doing 5 copies I do seem to recall was mine, and was based on the following thought process: in all of the years that I've been collecting Hugin's work and supporting his art there have been one or two other die-hard fans in periodic contact with me who seemed obvious candidates to receive a little gift as an acknowledgement of their support for the maestro.  Hugin clearly would want a personal copy of the release, as would I, so that was 4 tapes geared up to be distributed as gifts.  So why not create a fifth copy (an edition of 5 seems somehow more rounded than 4, or 6 to my mind) and give the opportunity for one other crazy fan to join this elite club?

If that seems unfair on the wider audience, or somehow financially discriminating against lower income collectors, then I would offer up the following two mitigating factors:

(a)  Hugin still retains full copyright over the song.  If in the future he chooses to include it on another release, in another format or the same as this one, then that's his absolute right and prerogative.  The same applies for any online use of the song in the future.  We're not saying here that only 5 people in the world are ever going to get to hear it; what has happened is that an extreme collectible has been created and someone out there is going to own it.  Which leads us to the issue of money...

(b)  The cost and method of selling.  This is the plan - the tape has been added to the Discogs database already, and some of you clearly have followed Hugin's Facebook page link and had a look as there are 3 "want's" registered at today's date.  At a predetermined date nearer Christmas the fifth and final copy will have an price allocated to it, and can be bought (or bartered for via 'best offer') up until it's sold.  Yes, the intention is to make this quite a pricey item but I have the very best of motives for that: all income from the sale is to go to Hugin's two children.  Let's nip the arguments of profiteering in the bud, therefore, and make it absolutely clear that neither I nor Hugin will directly benefit from the money raised, and it all goes to a very worthy pair of lovely kids.

Now, I can't control future resale of the tape of course, and there is always the risk of someone paying for it with the intention of reselling it on eBay or somewhere although the market for making a huge profit is probably smaller than you'd imagine.  I can to a point control unauthorised duplication of it, mind you, which is why every copy bears the hand signature of both Hugin and Nazgul inside it, and has been hand-numbered in my utterly appalling writing (which doubles as a superb anti-counterfeiting aide!)  

So that's about it, really, and certainly all Nazgul is going to put forward on the matter for now otherwise it will all seem terribly defensive rather than terribly exciting!

Watch this space....

Saturday, 7 November 2015

LABYRINTH OF THE MIND


 


Band: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE        
Title: Labyrinth Of The Mind
Format: A self-released mini-album on W.A.R. Productions (Austria) in April 2015, cat ref WAR 099. This comes in a dvd-size case with a single-sided colour inlay, and a plain white CDr disc.  It is a split release between COI and American project Onyx.  The artwork was designed by Hugin, as was the new Onyx band logo.  The track listing shown below is as printed on the inlay, although is not the actual running order (see text).
Edition: 300 unnumbered copies

Track Details (as printed):
01. Ceremony of Innocence  *  La Consturera  3.10
02. Onyx  *  Enchanted Rivers by the Forest  5.09
03. Ceremony of Innocence/Onyx  *  ZX7 vs. 007  6.28
04. Ceremony of Innocence  *  A Talisman  2.12
05. Onyx  *  Fabric of Love (for Kate)  5.26

Short and pithy.  That's the way with this Ceremony Of Innocence (COI) release from early 2015, which is in fact a split release with an ambient project familiar to us all, the American band Onyx.  As is almost always the case, aside from the commentary offered by Nick Diak (the lyricist and vocalist of COI) at the band's own website there is precisely no coverage of this release anywhere else on the web. Once again it's down to your old pal Nazgul to don his cape of judgement and install the batteries of justice into the torch of truth to shine the light of righteousness onto it [Sauron's note: 'stop this prevarication, Nazgul, and get on with it...'] as part of his ever-expanding narrative into all things relating to Hugin... .  

Ah yes, you'll notice that we're joined today by the all-seeing Editor-in-Chief Sauron, Necromancer and part time blogger, visiting Castle Nazgul for a random audit and quality control inspection...

Back to the matter at hand though, and let's briefly consider the nature of a labyrinth: clearly it's designed to be confusing, convoluted and impossible to follow your way around.  Which may give us an explanation - albeit a curious one - why the two COI tracks 'La Constuera' and 'A Talisman' are reversed in the actual running order, so in reality 'La Constuera' becomes track 4 and 'A Talisman' is lead-off track 1.  Aah, you won't catch Nazgul out that easily with your tricks fellas, oh no.  But let's go with what the lads intended, and start the review with track 4 and 'La Consturera' ('The Seamstress'), which unless I've lost the thread is tailor-made for unravelling ['and stop it with the seamstress based puns too...'].

Fortunately the efficiency of Mr Diak's website management means that at least the lyrics for the two unique COI songs - and their meaning and background - are already set down for Nazgul to shamelessly filch for this post.  I'm on my own for the pair of Onyx tracks, however, and then there's the collaborative track 'ZX7 vs. 007' which will need a little unpicking too ['ahem...!'].  

The lyrics to 'La Consturera' are as follows:

"En la cueva del grito
La oscuridad tiene voz
Te llama
Te canta
No la hagas caso
La costurera de la oscuridad te tendrĂ¡
Y nunca veras la luz de Nuevo"


which may leave you puzzled and offering forth little more than ¡Ay, Caramba! if you don't speaka-da-lingo.  Google Translate offers a fairly wonky looking English version of these lyrics, so let's bypass the specifics and see what young Nick has to say for himself about the song generally:

"La Consturera" is the ninth song written for Ceremony of Innocence, composed sometime in the summer of 2014.  It is a sequel to the song, "Fortuna y Gloria" and continues the adventures of the protagonist in that song.  In "Fortuna y Gloria", the hero was able to traverse a dangerous cave to get ahold of a treasure, and though he has claimed it, it seems the cave has more in store for him!  In this instance, we have a seamstress, one who creates darkness, and lures adventurers to their doom.

The poem is actually inspired by another poem about a Darkweaver, a creature found in the Planescape setting of Dungeons and Dragons.  I actually took the original poem, and modified it to fit a new mythos and translated it to Spanish to make it a continuation of the "Fortuna y Gloria" story.  Mario of the Spanish band Suverana helped to make sure I wasn't talking total nonsense.  I hope to actually do a few more Spanish songs, and keep the adventure going!"


Well, if Mario says it's ok then it's good with me.  The music for this one strongly brings to mind glow sticks and sweaty nights in Ibizan clubs (highly appropriate given the Spanish lyrics), and with only a small leap in imagination you could picture Nick hollering out, "I'm a Firestarter, twisted Firestarter" in full-on Prodigy mode to this score.  Extraordinary.

As with all recent COI songs, what is evident from the get-go is the lighter, synth/dream-pop feel to the music, which to be fair probably best complements Nick's rather particular style of vocals.  It would be an interesting experience to graft a sample of Nick's vocal performance onto, say, an early Hrossharsgrani track, if only to give him the needle and stitch him up ['Oi - Nazgul, I'm warning you, no more seamstress puns!'] but for the purpose of this track it works just fine.  Throughout all the compositions on this release, incidentally, both bands seem to evoke/dredge up melodies and riffs that linger in the mind and resurrect partial memories of new wave and 80's synth tracks from yesteryear.  More of that anon.

With an unfailing inevitability track two follows track four, and gives us Onyx's 'Enchanted Rivers By The Forest'.  Both Onyx songs open and close with sounds of nature, so the first thing that is required is a mental readjustment to a tranquil green space somewhere deep in your imagination.  The second thing that's required is a desperate lunge for the bathroom, triggered by an excessive sampling of tinkling water to create those enchanted rivers at the song's outset!  It all runs on pleasantly enough thereafter (the song, that is, just to be clear), entirely inoffensive and peaceful and ultimately very enjoyable.  The beginning does sound oddly reminiscent of the start of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" mind you, and as the song proceeds the keyboard/piano parts seem to share the base DNA of an Elton John song!  Very strange.  But, very pleasant.

And so to the collaborative track, 'ZX7 vs. 007'.  Now it's a little known fact - unless you Google it, whereupon it becomes a well evidenced fact - that the Diak/Brittany household (the latter being the better half of the former, as it were) is rather keen on James Bond.  I think it would be fair to surmise that the recent release of the new 'Spectre' film would have led to many frissons of excitement and more than a few moments of quivering anticipation.  This song, as you will have guessed, plays homage to the great spy both through the music (spot the multi part James Bond theme segues) and in the lyrics.  As Sauron is champing at the bit for some proper investigative research from your truly, let me quote to you from Michelle's online resume:

"Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar residing in Southern California and is the editor of 'James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy'. Michele is the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association's annual conference."

Well, who knew such a role existed as the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair!  One imagines such a chair might be rather perilous if fitted with the traditional Bond-esque ejector seat mind you ['right, that's it, final warning....no more puns, jokes or humour']

Huge fun, and possibly the most immediately accessible song on the disc, this is a fittingly blend of melodic tune and dramatic lyrics and draws influence in its short verse from the famous exchange in Ian Fleming's book between Mr Bond and Auric Goldfinger: 'James Bond: Do you expect me to talk? Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!'  Personally, whilst we have opportunity for a quick diversion, my particular favourite quotation from the book is where evil Auric meets James Bond for a second time in more suspicious circumstances than their first encounter and observes: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action'.  I live for an opportunity to use that one in the day job....

In an odd coincidence of our own, Michelle's aforementioned book ends with an afterword from none other than Trevor Sewell, the British blues musician who has a bit of form in Honour and Darkness as a result of his "Men Of Straw" release with Uruk Hai. What are the odds!?  Sewell muses about the impact James Bond and his iconic score had on his music, and in turn how he made some espionage/spy music himself. Strange how these little coincidences or synchronicities pop up in life...?

Trevor's contribution also helps to explain the enigmatic title of this song, 'ZX7 vs. 007'.  I think we all recognise the 007 code name for Mr Bond, but it turns out that ZX7  comes from Trevor's history with The Revillos: "Many years later I would record an instrumental with the band I was playing with at the time The Revillos for EMI Records in the U.K.  The track "ZX7" paid more than a passing nod to that great John Barry 007 arrangement.  It was then that I promised myself that one day I would compose a full album of instrumental and inflict it on the unsuspecting world."  Whether he did or not only will be revealed unto you only by buying the book, but if you're interested in hearing Trev in full flight then you could do worse than looking here.  

But let's drag ourselves back to "Labyrinth Of The Mind" and consider the first actual track on the album , 'A Talisman' (I do hope that you're keeping up with all this jumping around).  Not a cover of Iron Maiden's epic, as it turns out, but another construct of Nick's fevered imagination:
 
"Four tiny opals
A talisman
My medallion
 
The first stone has a sigil
That wards me from the beasts
 
The second stone stays me vigil
And malevolent incantations cease
 
The third stone is set with a rune
That warms me in winter's frost
 
The last stone points north and true
And ensures I'm never lost"

 
"The lyric for 'A Talisman' is the 8th lyrical composition," notes Nick, "and was written the night of 27 December 2013 but recorded, mixed and produced by Alex the morning of February 4th in 2014 using an instrumental Alex had composed in early 2013. Unlike songs like 'A Sign in Space' and 'The Turk', there is no historical or cultural inspiration for 'A Talisman', so it owes more to 'Fortuna y Gloria' as more of a catchy or fun song and more or less devoid of any covert meaning.
 
Quite simply put, 'A Talisman' is about a magical talisman/medallion/jewelery piece set with 4 opals, with each opal possessing a magical property. One opal provides protection from animals, the next wards off spells, the third protects against cold temperatures, and the final piece acts like a compass.  Basically, if you play any table-top role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons, this would probably be an awesome item for your character to have.
 
The song was composed I the matter of a night after a burst of sudden clever inspiration hit me. I was out on a nightly walk listening to the Verney 1826 album "Ex Libris". Perhaps the neoclassical sounds put in a magical frame of mind. I was walking down a sidewalk and spied a utility box on the ground with a smashed rock on top of it fragmented into segments. I just stood there and looked at the rock when some of the phrases of the song started to pop into my head. I jotted notes on my iPhone, walked home and fleshed the rest of the song out real quick. So it's not exactly an in-depth or deep song, but I think it's catchy and has some rhymes. Perhaps it’s a nice slow appetiser of a song to start 2014 off with for Ceremony of Innocence."


Basically a gritty urban-themed update of the 1954 classic 'Three Coins In The Fountain', whereby it becomes 'Four Stones In A Utility Box' and magic stalks the land of Orange unbidden.

We end with a rather unexpected twist, in what appears to be a paean to true love by Onyx to a girl named Kate.  This might explain the curious noises heard at the start of the song (calm yourself, for they are not those sort of noises) as strange croaks or calls echo out from your stereo.  Perhaps these are the mating calls of whippoorwills at dusk, building into an emotional frenzy within a primitive forest of Lovecraftian aspect and portraying a mood of love and affection?  The song develops into a piano and synth piece, with a fragile little melody that would nicely complement an old music box and brings to mind the sort of tune that Lacrimosa used to knock out in the late 90's (though less 'circus-y' in style than theirs!)  The piece ends with the lulling sound of waves on a shore, and all becomes quiet as we fade to a close.

Of course, with Sauron breathing over my should Nazgul applied some due diligence and asked the mighty Hugin for his thoughts on the release.  He responded:

"It was born out of an idea from Onyx, Nick and myself to create a split with two songs each and a collaboration track. I created the artwork for it too, and the new Onyx logo as well. We have printed 300 copies of that release, 100 for each of us, and have shared the costs of the release between us.  More and more the COI sound changes - I don't know where the journey will take us..."

Rest assured, it's a journey we'll all be more than happy to follow with you to the bitter end!

Let us end today's rambling jaunt through COI and Onyx's complex labyrinth and finish with a final quotation, this one taken from the greatest Labyrinth of all....

"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!"

[right, that's it, you're fired!!!  Sauron]

Thursday, 5 November 2015

LOST TALES OF MIDDLE EARTH - independent review!


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Lost Songs From Middle-Earth
Reason for Update: A previously uncaptured online review of this album from Reptilian Solitude is discovered, dated 7 June 2013, and reprinted here with permission.

Technically this is the 4th update for this item since the original July 2009 coverage of this Uruk Hai release in Honour and Darkness.  But today's offering is something a little different from alternative artwork or some evolutionary variant; it's that rarest of things, a lucid and lengthy online review of the album from someone entirely independent of Castle Nazgul!

So in the accumulation of all things Hugin-related it only seems fair to gather this review under the ever-expanding umbrella of related items, which may yet form part of an occasional new series if more of these can be found.

Found in the deepest, dankest parts of the Web, the following unexpurgated review summarises the thoughts of the aforementioned American reviewer Reptilian Solitude to the Uruk Hai release "Lost Songs From Middle Earth" and reads thus:

GREATEST FANTASY AMBIENT EVER!!

Hah! OK..

Is it possible to literally shout and rave like a mad fan over what is essentially just relaxing quiet ambient?!?!

I'd say so!

Uruk-Hai is essentially new-age music for the black metal world. Although many people care next to nothing for this highly prolific project, this one man ambient band lead by the chainmail clad Hugin has been able to do something that no other metal artist has truly been able to achieve for me.

I look for metal to take me away to mystical worlds I've created in my mind, or to memories of natural landscapes I've explored. Music has served for me what fantasy novels or video games have done for so many others. And even in my earliest of days that is what I got out of my first heavy metal CDs from Tiamat and Type O Negative. It has been for me the wellspring of inspiration and spiritual refreshment. 

Uruk-Hai came to me after looking through his long discography of fantasy themed ambient. I got a few CDrs from this group, which I enjoyed for the most part. But it was with the demo tape "The Lord of the Rings" that I found a recording capable of actually making me feel like I was really there! That I was really IN the world I envisioned in my mind! The music was EXACTLY like the landscape on the tape's cover! It probably will later become one of the most inspirational experiences of my life. After that I was sold on tracking down the most interesting Uruk-Hai publications I could.

'Lost Songs of Middle-Earth' would not have been the most immediate choice to someone psyched up on having just discovered Uruk-Hai although this release is an actual professional CD album rather than Hugin's typical CDrs and demo tapes, it certainly did not have all the nifty home-made package additions that his unprofessional albums have. Ahh but don't be lured by all the fancy packages and obscure print numbers. I would opt to say that Lost Songs of Middle Earth is likely one of Uruk-Hai's most perfect albums ever released!

So when I got this CD, I sat out in a field in the afternoon, looked to the south-east horizon, and watched time go by. I was shocked to discover that this release would do exactly what the Lord of the Rings demo tape did, and even succeed it! This has without a doubt become one of my most favourite albums of all time!

Here, Uruk-Hai has created a great symbiosis. It is not like the early years where the music was long long minimalist stretches going for 30 minutes or more. Neither though was it the chaotic sample, symphonic, and sound effect epics of albums like Black Blood White Hand. Lost Songs of Middle Earth is a perfect blend of both! It has all these rich passages with interesting sound effects and synth melodies... then long quieter meditative ambiance that sets you into a trance and puts your whole being at peace. It is sublime! Wardrums, whispering voices in an Elvish tongue, droning synths, flute harmonies, dreamy acoustic guitar, spatial waves of galactic energy... wow wow WOW! It is amazing how a talented artist can bring out the purest meaning out of the most simplest of elements.

I don't normally do a track by track review, but this release warrants it...

"Ecthelion" begins the album in a huge wave! It grabs you immediately with a roaring rush and trumpeting horns and immediately hurls you down into right into the world. And then just like that it is gone leaving winds of atmospheric rush far overhead and whispering voices of the inhabitants pondering your entry into their dimension. The music is now all minimalism with as you begin to explore. With a few intriguing subtle melodies arising here and there. But it does not last long before you enter the next piece.

"The Last of the Dragons" begins with thunder and dread and solitary oboe, marching drums.. its very foreboding as you begin to wonder in fear of what's ahead. But then you become aware that you are in a wonderful dream and the music suddenly becomes a beautiful solitary acoustic guitar and piano peace. Its like sunshine in a mountain field or through a window warming your flesh. You bask in it as ghosts of passing armies wander through the clearing. Then you find the wind picking up and you are high in the air, alone, like a dragon in flight. A beautiful flute sings the creature's song of lonesomeness in the blue sky. Its enough to make you cry, afterwards you glide back on airs of ambient and guitar to rest.

"When Daylight Is Gone" is a much more minimalist track of simply washing hums of ambient mimicking monastic mantras accompanied by reverberating crashes. This piece takes you in a cosmic space where you leave the fantasy behind and instead occupy some singularity at the dawn of creation. Matter crackles and undulates all around you, as you feel privileged to witness this dimension where energy and particles are the only occupants. The unformed universe.

"Last March of the Orcs" is the best song on the album, therefore probably the best song ever written by Uruk-Hai.  This piece is impossible to describe. It sounds not so much like orcs in combat but an ancient memory of the end of war, or the end of the greatest of empires.  A heroic and noble end. It's melodies of cello and viols play some of the most saddest yet beautiful tunes you could imagine. It's a rich and varied track with harps, flutes, marching drums and some of the best synth patches I have ever heard all mixed diversely.  Here is your peace in the sunny forest!  Here is fair Elven music at times rising to even a parade march lead by playful flute before then sinking down into ambient remembrance of the most emotional variety.  It will set your spirit to vibrate and move you to tears!  I know it does me!  And on this long song goes. So much here!  A world encapsulated, a gateway to the daydreamer's realm.  Your world you've always dreamed of!  Beauty... such beauty...

"The Shire" comes after the long cleansing bath of "Last March of the Orcs".  And at this point it feels like you've arisen from a sleep and you are unsure where you are.  The music here is ghastly and dark, much like the beginning of "The Last of the Dragons".  It's chilling and cold and fearful, then suddenly it all abruptly changes in a flash and you find yourself surrounded by a celebration of gnomes and folktale critters in a pastoral countryside.  All here is charming and homely, like Tolkien's home for the Hobbits, though I'm sure you can use your own imagination to come up with your own fairytale creatures to invite to this party!  Its wonderful!

"The Nazgul" begins once again like the first song "Etchelion", borrowing the same structural backdrop from it.  However, the whispering voices are more malevolent and the air rings with haunting buzzes and a great deal of dread has been added.  Soft horns herald a dusty moor inhabited only by the tombs of the dead, and here you are left to blow on the wind, your soul lost.

"Die Legende..." finishes the album.  It's a 6 part symphonic poem from long back in the history of Uruk-Hai.  However, its inclusion here becomes the perfect cap onto the end of this fantastic album.  Without it, I feel Lost Songs of Middle Earth would have ended too early and on a sombre note.  "Die Legende..." with its more primitive synths and shriller processors adds variety to this masterpiece and creates a fantastic unbalance that makes the album feel less predictable and always an adventure! The piece moves between many moods on an established theme, out of darkness, into light, though a heroic sombre march, and eventually to the solitary glint of golden treasure in your hand.  The sound of thunder, wind and peaceful rain divide each momentary mood piece of the epic story while Hugin softly roars, echoing out from canyon valleys and around you.  

Each mood from peace, fear, bravery, and lonesomeness passes only briefly but just enough to get a little taste. Its an encapsulated album on its own, and you will find many a moment where the music ends leaving just an ambient sample... and you will think the album is over.. and then suddenly the music renews again!  Wonderful!

So there you have it!  I have tried my best to explain my experience to this amazing album.  Not everything that Hugin has created is pure brilliance, but the music on THIS album is absolutely so!  And it is by far my most favourite release of his art!  Here all the music syncs up in a sublime way and you are presented with a masterpiece. So far it is the best I have ever experienced of the project.  And if you are thinking about getting into Uruk-Hai, this release will make you a rabid fan for sure!

To complete this perfect album is in fact is an amazing package of artwork befitting of the music.  The cover of this CD drew me in, for its stark, less photogenic image of nature looked so much like some one observation I would make or a photo I would take when off on one of my many nature hikes. Inside the booklet is a complete spread for every song on the entire album save for the "Die Legende" symphony.  Every picture gives you a glimpse of images that Hugin feels best to be a springboard of mental visualisation for each song.  And on top of it is 2 photos of Hugin himself in chainmail and armed with a broadsword posing like a warrior!  Amusing and fun!  

The album also comes with a lot of runic text, even a paragraph of some for each song. You might have to do some research to decipher the runes and receive additional thoughts from this artist!  The only down side is I feel that the label printed the artwork a little too dark.  Also, fans of computer games may get a good chuckle out of the picture of the orc in the booklet, they may recognise him!

Ambient is not a genre many have liked, metal-heads especially.  Some often cite it as great to get lost in and to have as background music.  That certainly is true, and a lot of Uruk-Hai, especially his full hour long sets, are often such a kind of ambient.  But not this album!  Sure it makes for good 'ambiance' but to get the full experience you MUST listen with full attention!  Everything here is so well crafted.  Minimalist you would say, but in fact it is lush and filling!  Hugin has stripped away the progress of time and lets us enjoy every individual sound impression to its fullest!  The sonic equivalent of meditation on a wooded mountainside where only nature occupies your entire senses and you are aware of every little brush stroke!  

An art critic from the 1950's, Clement Greenberg, once established the genesis of modernism by saying that paintings of the past acted like little windows to get lost in rather than be 'art discussing art'.  He implied that art should do what it could to avoid being a 'therapeutic' 'little corner'.  Frankly I dispute his assertion. I would also like to say that Lost Songs of Middle-Earth is exactly that!  It is a little corner, a window into an imaginative and ultimately therapeutic place that brings joy to its viewer but giving voice to their own inner worlds.  After my experience I could not help but do such a long and gushing praise of Lost Songs of Middle-Earth.  My own paintings will benefit so much from this masterpiece!  It surely is one of my favourite albums of all time!

Perhaps it could be yours too?"


Phew!  Too much more of this, though, and you'll not want to read any more of Nazgul's comparatively stilted and mangled prose....