Friday, 29 January 2016

FOLLOW THE WIND


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Follow The Wind
Format: A plain silver CDr in colour cover housed inside a transparent plastic wallet, released in 2015 on the Smell The Stench label (Australia), no catalogue number.
Edition: Hand-numbered to 22 copies only

Track Listing:
01. Follow The Wind  5.00
Bonus Track
02. Das Raetsel  3.04

"May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks"  
J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit)

With high winds and storms battering the ramparts of Castle Nazgul in recent days, it seems to be a timely moment indeed to pluck a wind-related CD from the archives for perusal.  And when a label by the name of Smell The Stench unleash a CD called "Follow The Wind" you just know there's going to be trouble ahead!  But let's quickly move past a detour into flatulence related jokes and into the meat and potatoes of this latest Uruk Hai review!

'Twas back in September last when Nazgul did review the full-length release "The Dusk, The Dawn, The Earth, The Sun..." upon which 'Follow The Wind' sits, and Lo!  It was rated as good!  In actual fact, the precise words used were:

"It's worth pointing out that if Hugin did singles then 'Follow The Wind' would be a clear front runner for that accolade, and would have a pretty fair chance of charting somewhere too I would imagine, as it's packed with tasty guitar licks and lovely keyboard melodies and something that sounds like a dulcimer early on in the piece too.  Priceless!"  

The song remains similarly wonderful here, in what is going to be the nearest thing to an Uruk Hai single we're likely to see, I'd wager.  With a limitation of 22 copies, mind you, it's unlikely to dent the charts of even the smallest island nation, but what the hell - it's a nice collectible piece and good on Leigh Stench for putting it out there.

Hidden away on what traditionally would be called the b-side of this disc is a hidden track 'Das Raetsel', or 'The Riddle'.  Initial hopes that it might be a metalized version of Nik Kershaw's 80's classic dashed, what we discover instead is a piece rampant with old-school Uruk Hai keyboard riffs.  You could quite easily imagine some of this music on demos from 14 years ago, which is by no means meant as a criticism as it lends the song a really traditional feel in the overall body of Uruk Hai work.  Dark, brooding and memorable - all good in my book.

Vocals on this bonus song - which snap and snarl in German like a rabid Münsterländer - are credited to Asche, who turns out to be Dan, of Aschefrühling Records.  Well, they certainly make the song boundlessly more evil than without them, though quite what he is terrifying us about I couldn't say.  One imagines it might be something more profound than our recently encountered friend Nik Kershaw, whose 'riddling' lyrics  caused much puzzlement and speculation among listeners as to their meaning; subsequently, and with commendable honesty, Kershaw claims that there is in fact no meaning at all, simply being a "guide vocal" thrown together to fit the music. Kershaw has stated: "In short, 'The Riddle' is nonsense, rubbish, bollocks, the confused ramblings of an 80's popstar."

A small but interesting digression, and thank you for indulging your poor old Uncle Nazgul, who remembers spending whole minutes of his life back in the day wondering what the hell Mr Kershaw was blathering on about.

To finish what is rapidly becoming an even more incoherent ramble than normal, let us both consider and then complement the most excellent cover art for this release. Absolutely outstanding in colouring and composition, a landscape so atmospheric you can't help but wish to go and stand in it. A good job done there, no question.

By the way, there's been a bit of a rush around Castle Nazgul with various other demands and pressures on time , leading to rather a gap since the last post.  Nothing for you to worry about, dear readers, just the peaks and troughs of life and work.  A semi-normal service will hopefully be resumed in the months ahead!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

ATLANTIDA VOL. 20 [V/A]


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI

Title: Atlantida Vol. 20 [V/A]
Format: A silver CDr disc in black and white professionally printed covers, once again courtesy of Mike at Dragon Design.  Yet another entry in Ruslanas' Atlantida series, this one sporting 18 different international artists.  Released circa 2003.
Edition: Unknown

Track Listing:
01. HROSSHARSGRANI  *  March And Fight (different version)
02. ASTRAY  *  Bleeding Here
03. HATRED DIVINE  *  Clay And Crystal
04. FRAIL ENTITY  *  All Alone
05. KEY OF MYTHRAS  *  Hecate's Chamber
06. DEADLOCK  *  Converted Warmachine
07. YGGDRASIL  *  Frid
08. INGURGITATING OBLIVION  *  Descent To The Temple
09. VALHALLA  *  Devil's Rock
10. EVOLUTION  *  Just On Nothing
11. DEATHFROST  *  Idle Brain
12. DETONATION  *  An Epic Defiance
13. MALEVOLENT SNEAKER TOOTH  *  Mouth Babies
14. SPELLCRAFT  *  Kiss Me From The Darkness
15. MORRIGU  *  From The Paths Of The Gods
16. ELYMAS  *  I Wear The Crown Of Malkuth
17. DARK CLOUDS  *  Diamond Gutter
18. SPECTRE DRAGON  *  Psychopath

The prospect of reviewing a new Atlantida compilation is one that never fails to raise a wry smile on Nazgul's face.  There's simply so much to enjoy, on so many levels.

Take the names of some of the bands, for example, which are often ludicrous to the point of imbecility (you explain to me how Malevolent Sneaker Tooth can be anything other?) or try to sound evil and fail miserably (Ingurgitating Oblivion, I'm looking at you!)  Others come from the 'Japanese translation' school of mashing two promising words together in the forlorn hope that they form something more than a sum of their parts (Spectre Dragon?  Frail Eternity??)  However you slice it, there's much to snort at from even a cursory read though an Atlantida rear inlay, and that's before you get onto the even thornier subject of song titles....

...and don't get me wrong, Nazgul's not just filling up column inches by dissing bands willy-nilly, but what exactly are 'Mouth Babies' when they're at home?  And is it just me, or does a song called 'Converted Warmachine' bring to mind a secondhand VW Transporter van where the windows have simply been covered in metal sheeting?  It must be said that Volume 20 is relatively light on truly crazy song titles, thankfully, so we're spared the normal excesses of enthusiasm over common sense.

Which, of course, brings us to the greatest joy of all - playing the music!  As usual, it's a mixed bag of styles and something of a random assortment of nationalities too.  There's more than one band here who clearly were submitting their song as entries in the 2003 'Singer Sounding Most Like A Bullfrog' awards (as sponsored by Strepsils antiseptic throat lozenges), whilst Deathfrost seem to have forgotten to submit a song at all, preferring to entertain us with noises that could well have been their singer on the bog reading a newspaper for all the sense it made.  

Based on the cacophony they create, I can only deduce that Spellcraft have chosen the unusual approach to record themselves playing live whilst simultaneously pushing their singer through the drum kit.  At least one band - I'll spare their blushes and not name them - appear to have only met that morning, possibly at morning coffee break in the sanitarium, and decided to attempt a spontaneous song based on whatever they could lay their hands on at the time.  An interesting experiment - though sadly not interesting for any musical merit - but not one that I'd be included to sit through again.

Amidst all of this chaos lurks Hrossharsgrani, a shining beacon on the front of a mighty Viking longboat.  This different version of 'March and Fight' has an initial passage that sounds rather like an out take from a Sisters Of Mercy song, with Hugin even doing a passable version of Andrew Eldritch for good measure.  This is no bad thing actually, not least because Nazgul is partial to a bit of the Sisters once in a while, but also because it is done very well.  A Gothic tinged introduction before the (Thor's) hammer blow of Hugin's booming first line, "The final battle - and the final fight"!

Worth noting for a creditable entry on this CD are Valhalla, known to Honour and Darkness from aeons ago when their split 7" EP with Elisabetha - "Erszebet Bathori (Eine Ode in Blut)/Defenders of Midgard" was reviewed.  Their song here is hugely reminiscent of some of the older English punk bands, both in terms of how the vocalist sounds and in some of the guitar riffs used.  It works surprisingly well, though I'm sure that they hadn't intentionally gone down that particular musical path and away from their epic power/speed metal roots.

One lingering thought that always plays on my mind when looking through an Atlantida release is that old chestnut of a question: where are they now?  So many of these bands seem to have disappeared without trace; or, to be more accurate, have never crossed the Castle Nazgul radar again at least.  Is it because the trajectory of their musical careers plummeted downwards more steeply than Lee Dorrian's hairline?  Or did they achieve (in)famy and glory in their chosen path?  Or does Nazgul simply not listen to the right sorts of compilations and demos any more?  To test out a sample of cases, 4 bands were chosen randomly from the contributors to this compilation above to see what fate befell them...

DETONATION
A Dutch death metal band from Utrecht: Founded under the name Infernal Dream in 1997 but changed name to Detonation in 1998. In early 2011 the band announced that 3 founding members Danny, Otto and Michiel had left the band, whereupon they've been in hiatus.  4 full length releases since their appearance on Atlantida Volume 20 suggests a modestly fruitful existence, so well done them!

INGURGITATING OBLIVION
Well, we couldn't not find out what had happened to these guys could we - hang the random sample methodology!  It turns out they've been going since 1997 (originally called Of Trees and Orchids, which is marginally less nonsensical) and god help us all, they are still active as of 2015!  With 7 releases in that period, including a mixture of splits, demos and full-length albums, they've soldiered on manfully from their Berlin base - who knew?!  Two thumbs up on the finger-o-meter.

KEY OF MYTHRAS
Another Austrian band, no less!  They are listed online as 'active' though seem to have been very quiet since 2008.  Amusingly, pictures of their sole member - strikingly corpse-painted and positively reeking evil - identify him by the name of Duncan.  Satan lives, and his name is Duncan... .  God, however, appears not be be alive any longer, if the bizarrely titled song from their 2008 opus is to be believed: 'God is dead (I ate him)'....  By odd coincidence, our man Duncan also was a member of a band called Sanguis, which you will recall was the title of a Hrossharsgrani album too!

DARK CLOUDS
A Hungarian outfit, they soldiered on under this name until 2004 with 1 EP and 2 albums behind them before re-branding themselves as Nadir: despite the hope that I could make some joke about them plunging from sight as a result, they have in fact surged ahead with 6 albums and a handful of EP's and split releases since, the most recent release coming just last year.

So that's actually quite reassuring: whilst you might imagine that many of these bands are one-hit wonders (and I uses the term 'hit' as loosely as it could ever possibly be used) the evidence is - on the basis of this entirely unscientific test - that metal bands have cockroach-like powers of resilience when it comes to survival.  Even those appearing on Atlantida compilations.  Sort of explains how it is that when a band hits a good formula - think Iron Maiden, Judas Priest et al - they tend to stand the test of time and be around forever.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

GLAURUNG


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Glaurung
Format: There exists both a cassette tape and a CDr version of this release: the tape is a W.A.R. Productions (Austria) release in glossy colour cover, cat ref WAR092, and comes with 3 small photo card inlays featuring different images of Glaurung's gleaming eye!  The CDr pressing comes through Kristallblut Records (Germany) and W.A.R., no cat ref, and comes in a DVD-style box.  Limited numbers of the CDr came with a large, glossy colour poster of the album artwork.  The music was recorded in the W.A.R studios in November 2014.  Both versions contain the same tracks, though in a different running order to accommodate the running length of the cassette.
Edition: Cassette tape hand-numbered and limited to 8 copies only.  The CDr version is unlimited, though only around 80 have the limited edition poster.

Track Listing:
CDr version
01. Nirnaeth Arnoediad  12.03
02. The Worm Of Morgoth  8.48
03. Urulóki: The Fire Drakes Of The North  21.59
04. Destroyer  7.50
05. Outro (Wormfire)  1.33

Tape version
Side 1
01. Nirnaeth Arnoediad  12.03 
02. The Worm Of Morgoth  8.48
03. Destroyer  7.50
Side 2
04. Urulóki: The Fire Drakes Of The North  21.59
05. Outro (Wormfire)  1.33

The natural order of things has never been a concept to worry your humble scribe when it comes to recording thoughts on Honour and Darkness.  Releases have often been reviewed in a mixed chronology, partly for the fun of randomly selecting items from the library depending on my mood, and partly to keep you lot on your toes!  So the fact that today's post concerns part three of a trilogy whose other two parts have yet to feature here should come as no surprise in Nazgul's fiendish modus operandi, even if it seems illogical in terms of a sane running order.  Sanity is a much overrated concept, in my book.

"Glaurung" is part of the Beleriand trilogy, constructed by Hugin over - yes, you guessed it - three Uruk Hai releases: "Die Kriege von Beleriand Teil 1"; "Die Kriege von Beleriand Teil 2" and "Glaurung".  Hugin was advertising these 3 releases for sale as far back as February 2015 on Facebook, with the attendant poster being in hand in November 2014 (how time flies), so it's only reasonable that at least one of these albums to make an appearance before its second anniversary comes around!

Before we get too much further, however, we ought to give some thought to what Beleriand and Glaurung actually refer to.  And you wouldn't be too surprised to learn, Nazgul imagines, that they are part of the sprawling Lord Of The Rings mythos created by our old friend, Tolkien.  

Beleriand was a region in northwestern Middle-earth during the First Age.  There are many realms in Beleriand: Arvernien; Doriath; East Beleriand; Falas; Gondolin; Hithlum; March of Maedhros; Nargothrond; Nevrast; Ossiriand; and Dor Daedeloth.  Each has its own particular history and place in the Legendarium as you might imagine, though it would be an epic post indeed if Nazgul attempted a complete summary here.  Should you be interested, then check out this link for more!  

The relevance of Glaurung comes in the realm of Nargothrond: Túrin Turambar came to Nargothrond and became one of its greatest warriors, but he also persuaded the people to fight openly against Morgoth, which eventually led to its sack by the army of the dragon Glaurung. Glaurung then used Nargothrond as his lair until his death not long afterwards at Túrin's hands.  And what of the dragon himself?

Glaurung was a very powerful dragon, if not the most magical. According to Tolkien, he sired the rest of his race, or at least the brood of Urulóki, wingless fire-breathing dragons. He was bred by Morgoth from some unknown stock and was the first dragon to appear outside of Angband. In 455 First Age Glaurung led the attack of fire that defeated the Noldorin Elves and their allies and broke the Siege of Angband in the Battle of Sudden Flame, the Dagor Bragollach. In 472 during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Nírnaeth Arnoediad, Glaurung led the final reserve and the beasts of Angband in an attack that prevented the joining of the two Elven-hosts, breaking and routing the Host of the sons of Fëanor, resulting in the total defeat of the Union of Maedhros. During this battle Glaurung was stabbed in his vulnerable belly by the Dwarf-king Azaghâl and fled back to Angband.

In 495, Glaurung was given his first independent command and led an Orc-host to victory in the Battle of Tumhalad against the Noldor of Nargothrond led by Túrin Turambar. He followed up his triumph by sacking Nargothrond, enslaving or slaying its people, making a bed of the treasure of the city, and ruling as a Dragon-king. In 498 Túrin led the Men of the forest of Brethil and defeated a force of Orcs sent against them by Glaurung. Glaurung then roused himself and next year came against Túrin and Brethil. In the attempt to cross the ravine of Cabed-en-Aras of the river Taeglin, Glaurung was stabbed from beneath by Túrin wielding Gurthang. Glaurung died soon after, but not before he had managed to drive Nienor to suicide with his last words, lifting the spell of forgetfulness he had cast upon her about her kinship with Turambar.

Well, there's nothing like a happy ending: and that's nothing like a happy ending!


Indeed, our Austrian hero Hugin seems similarly moved by the plight of Galurung, as his 2012 interview with Radio Rivendell revealed:

 
"Radio Rivendell: If you could be anything in any fantasy setting, what would you choose and why? 

Alex: If it is not based on Lord Of The Rings I would choose the everlasting life of an Vampire. I love Ann Rice's "Interview With The Vampire" and I would love to see all those ages myself!  In Lord Of The Rings I would choose Glaurung the Dragon, because I love the mystic story around him and the magic spells he could use. Sad that he died in the end :-( "

Hugin's interest in this mighty dragon has been previously referenced in his work, as you might expect.  Track 12 of 2013's "...And All The Magic & Might He Brought... " album bore the dragon's name, whilst much of 2012's "Nargothrond" was centred around the scaly chap. And, by way of a small but relevant complication, some of the music on this release has links to previously reviewed on Honour and Darkness, notably 'Destroyer', for which an 'Part 2' version (an out-take from these sessions) was the subject of a very limited edition Smell The Stench CDr pressing.

Anyhoo, enough of the back story and the Tolkien context, what's this album like when given the beans on Castle Nazgul's death deck?!  Well, not half bad is the short conclusion to that question, but clearly you'll want more so let's delve in a little further....
 
'Nirnaeth Arnoediad' or Battle of Unnumbered Tears was the disastrous Fifth Battle in the Wars of Beleriand.  Fought by The Union of Maedhros, which consisted of an alliance of the Noldor, Edain, Easterlings, and Dwarves, against the hordes of Morgoth (multiple hosts consisting of Balrogs, Orcs, and trolls; supplemented by turncoat Easterlings), it proved to be a decisive victory for Morgoth, partly due to treachery (hey - a win is a win in my book).  It led to the depopulation of Hithlum with replacement by Easterlings, and the occupation of much of Beleriand.  A sprawling battle then, which is recreated in music by Hugin as a sprawling ambient track, though with fewer blood-curdling screams than the battle contained I'd wager.  You can almost feel the wind on your face as legions of heroes race across epic landscapes and on to their ultimate doom....


'The Worm Of Morgoth' follows on, with a far darker tone and menacing approach.  Still ambient and epic, it creates a mood of apprehension and suspense, a nice counterpoint to the opening song. 'Destroyer' is subtly different to the STS release version.  It kicks off like Motorhead's 'Killed By Death' played by Candlemass, such is the titanic riffage delivered at glacial speed.  Bludgeoning is a word that springs to mind with this song!

'Urulóki: The Fire Drakes Of The North' is a beguiling combination of percussion and choral chanting, producing something rather schizophrenic in nature with the drums blowing 'hot' and the choral passages blowing 'cold'.  This is most apt, as the Urulóki (which is another name for Fire Drakes, by the way) included not only the winged dragons but also the wingless fire- and cold-drakes too.  

Glauring, lest us forget, was a fire-drake (like Ancalagon and Smaug). The only explicit reference to this term comes from The Silmarillion (Of the Return of the Noldor), which rather conveniently identified the original of this song title; "…Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the fire-drakes of the North, issued from Angband's gates by night."

We end with outro track 'Wormfire', crackling and hissing its way through your speakers and searing itself into your mind!

Overall, this delivers exactly what an Uruk Hai album should do - grandiose sonic landscapes, emotive ambient passages, and enough Lord Of The Rings references to keep Christopher Tolkien in manuscripts for years to come.  

Magnificent!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

RABEN NACHT - update


Band: RABEN NACHT
Title: Raben Nacht - Demo 1
Format: This is a CDr pressing of the original 2000 demo tape, released on the Smell The Stench label (Australia) in 2014, no catalogue reference.  The release comes in a slimline case with a plain white-faced CDr disc and a colour cover.
Edition: 20 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Trees Of Kortirion 10.57
02. Eternal Fire 4.26
03. Fleischeslust 2.40
04. Regungslose Erotik 1.53

Nazgul has been time-travelling today, back to the Millennium and to the days of Raben Nacht's pounding assault on the eardrums of the huddled masses.  So here we are, fresh and eager in the first week of 2016 but listening to music penned over 16 years ago - never let it be said that Castle Nazgul doesn't have its finger on the pulse of current events!

The back story to this most obscure of Hugin's projects is an interesting one and was detailed in the review of the original tape release (limited to only 66 copies, but far in excess of the meagre 20 copies that this STS CDr release has been released in).  In short, the story goes that sometime around 2009 Skogen (he of Canteloup Creations fame) unearthed a single copy of the Raben Nacht tape whilst on a rescue mission to salvage old Heimatleid demo tapes for Nazgul, and thus takes sole credit for rescuing this release for posterity.  The tape was a joint release/distribution between Chanteloup Creations and Irrlichter Distro, hence an old copy being in Skogen's possession, and thank goodness it was otherwise this artifact would most likely have been lost to history.

Wind the clock forward 6 years and Smell The Stench have done the decent thing and given this rare demo a new breath of life.  Well, more of a light puff of life perhaps, as with only 20 copies being released one has to presume that either Leigh felt it had a very limited audience, or he was a little light on blank CDr's that week?!  I would imagine a significant number of Honour and Darkness readers would have jumped at the chance to own this collectable release, horders as we are...?

The music within is exactly as on the tape version, namely 4 songs hammering out primitive and distinctly Hugin-esque songs!  Nazgul's original review of the tape version noted:

"It may not come as a great surprise to learn that the four songs on this demo - which are unique to this tape - are both structured and performed very much in the style of Hrossharsgrani of old, say circa the "Krieg" era. In actual fact, if you were to study the inside of the 'Raben Nacht' inlay you would spot in the background behind the trees on the credits listing some rather familiar stone towers, which Nazgul believes to be the same towers that adorn the front of the earlier 'Krieg' demo tape cover. To that end, musically these are familiar in sound and have that 'dry' buzzing guitar tone set above the pounding battle-drums beloved of many Hross' songs, whilst synthesiser and keyboard riffs contribute the melodic element of the tracks. Vocals are in the harsh style, sung in English."

It's hard to truthfully say that putting the songs on a digital format has massively enhanced them, and if anything it brings out further the rawness of the music.  This does lead to the odd humorous moment - the opening vocals on 'Eternal Fire' sound like a precursor to the Dalek invasion of Earth - whilst the wall-of-sound drumming can get a little wearing over four songs.  That said, it's historically of interest and shows again the development that Hugin has made in his music since those heady early years.

Revisiting the 2009 tape review, Nazgul noticed that the song references had remained unexplained, so let's address that.  Opening track 'Trees Of Kortirion' was a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien from 1937, which rewrote an earlier 1915 one called 'Kortirion among the Trees' and is found most notably in The Book of Lost Tales Part One.  It references the inspiration that Tolkien drew from the English medieval town of Warwick, and in his mythology is portrayed as the Elvish island of Tol Eressea.  Kortirion's beauty lay in its trees - ash, yew, beech, willow and poplar - and the poem's quality is that of an elegy that captures the passage of time, the approach of ruin, and the fading of something extraordinarily beautiful.  Mighty Austrian band Summoning have a song by the earlier name of 'Kortirion among the Trees' on their "Nightshade Forests" EP, should the title have rung some distant bell in your memory...

'Eternal Flame' may or may not be a veiled reference to Tolkien's "Flame Imperishable" (or, indeed, a tribute to the hit song by The Bangles for all I know), whilst 'Fleischeslust' is almost certainly not the online dog food brand that advertises that it 'Consists of 80% fresh meat & 100% human grade ingredients' (whatever they may be - the mind boggles!) ' Regungslose Erotik' (literally: Motionless Erotic), on the other hand, brings up so many dubious looking links online that Nazgul dare not click through on any of them, for fear of incurring the wrath of the erotic and most definitely mobile Lady Nazgul....