Wednesday, 30 March 2016

DIE KRIEGE VON BELERIAND (Tiel 1)


Band: URUK HAI
Title: Die Kriege von Beleriand Teil 1
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, no catalogue reference, and unusually comes with no additional inserts or cards   The CDr pressing comes through Kristallblut Records (Germany) and W.A.R., again with no catalogue number, and comes in a DVD-style box. The music was recorded in the W.A.R studios in November 2014.  Both versions contain the same tracks.
Edition: Cassette tape hand-numbered and limited to 8 copies only.  The CDr version is presumed to be unlimited.

Track Listing (both versions):
01. Die Erste Schlacht  10.12
02. Dagor-Nuin-Giliath  17.30
03. Dagor Aglareb  19.31
 
One of the earliest posts this year was of Hugin's epic "Glaurung" album, the third part of the Beleriand trilogy and reviewed entirely out of sequence by Nazgul just for the hell of it.  And so, without any logical reasoning whatsoever, here is the first part of the trilogy, "Die Kriege von Beleriand Teil 1" (The Wars of Beleriand Part 1)

In that January post we covered off a little about what the reference to Beleriand was all about, and you will recall (or you should, if you were paying attention - didn't you know that there's a test immediately after you finish reading this?) that Beleriand was a vast region in north-western Middle-earth during the First Age, with many realms: Arvernien; Doriath; East Beleriand; Falas; Gondolin; Hithlum; March of Maedhros; Nargothrond; Nevrast; Ossiriand; and Dor Daedeloth.  

The wars are a reference to the many battles between the Elves of Beleriand and the forces of Morgoth in the centuries making up the First Age, and are also referred to as the Wars of the Jewels due to the involvement of the Simarilli (three jewels of immense might and beauty) in them all.  The ensuing conflicts were long and extensive, resulting in untold torment and boundless suffering, much like watching an Aston Villa home game, amplified a few degrees.  As ever, Morgoth used Angband as a mighty fortress, and the base from which to launch his devastating attacks. While the Ñoldor had their victories, the Doom of Mandos always hung over their efforts. Many Men fell in these battles on both sides, and for a long time after the Elves had scorn for the Houses who supported Morgoth.

There are generally regarded to have been six major battles in the Wars of the Beleriand and innumerable skirmishes, falls, sackings and sieges.  The third part of Hugin's trilogy picked up the story of Galurung the dragon, who features towards the end of the saga in the the Sack of Nargothrond, where the city was destroyed by Glaurung and his Orcs during the 5th battle.  Given that leaves 4 preceding battles to account for, it could be argued for the sake of neatness that this Part 1 release covers the first two, and the second part the middle two.  

Curses - logical thinking at work!  Bah!

But let's proceed on that basis and see where it gets us - indeed, let's see if the song titles on the CDr and tape versions of this release have any bearing on that thought process. Well, strike me down with a feather if it all comes together!  Track 1 translates "The First Battle" whilst track 2 is the name of the second battle in the Wars of the Beleriand, which leaves us nicely with Dagor Aglareb (the 'Glorious Battle') as the third battle.  As Colonel Hannibal Smith would say, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

So this would seem a good opportunity to briefly acquaint ourselves with the concept of the Wars of the Beleriand.  


The First Battle of Beleriand was fought before the Ñoldor arrived, and was fought by the Sindar and Laiquendi against Morgoth.  While the Noldor still toiled through Araman, Morgoth had already arrived in Middle-earth, and had occupied his old fortress of Angband where his servants Sauron and Gothmog had long been breeding Orcs.  Unexpected by the Sindar, Morgoth decided to try and secure the area quickly, and he sent out his armies. This was the only battle against the Dark Lord in which the realm of King Elu Thingol took an active role. Morgoth's forces broke into two hosts, passing west through the vale of Sirion and east between Aros and Gelion, some of them even scaling the passes of Anarch and Aglon.

In the east, King Elu Thingol of Doriath took the offensive, meeting the Orcs at Amon Ereb. There King Denethor of the Laiquendi met him, and the Orcs were forced back-to-back. The lightly armed company of Denethor fell on Amon Ereb before Thingol could rescue him and King Denethor himself was slain, but the Orcs were eventually defeated. Those few survivors were slain by the Dwarves of Mount Dolmed.  The death of King Denethor in this battle led the Laiquendi to pledge to never again name a king or participate in the wars between other Elves and Morgoth.

In the west, the Elves of the Falas under their Lord Círdan attacked the western host, but they lost that fight, and retreated in their cities of Eglarest and Brithombar. These cities were besieged afterward, and Doriath was unable to gather a strong enough force to send aid. The Havens were only freed when the Orcs withdrew to fight the Noldor under Fëanor.

After the First Battle, Doriath was protected by the magical Girdle of Melian.  Although sounding like some form of athletic support, this was actually fence of enchantment set around the kingdom of Doriath by Melian his Queen, preventing entry into his land without his will and consent.  Which in modern parlance might be termed the magical Firewall of Pensak.... 

Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle-under-Stars) was the second battle of the Wars of Beleriand, but the first fought by the Noldor.

The battle began when the Noldor of Fëanor had arrived unexpectedly at the Firth of Drengist, and passed through the Gate of the Noldor into Hithlum. They encamped on the northern shore of Lake Mithrim. Morgoth hoped to destroy the Noldor before they could establish themselves, and sent his forces through the passes of the Ered Wethrin. Although the Orcs of Morgoth far outnumbered them, the Noldor were still empowered with the Light of Valinor, and quickly defeated them. 

The Orcs retreated north through Ard-galen, with the Noldor in hot pursuit. The forces of Morgoth that had been besieging the Havens of the Falas since the First Battle of Beleriand marched north to attack the Noldor in the rear, but a force led by Celegorm ambushed them at Eithel Sirion. Trapped between the two Noldorin forces, the Orcs fought for ten days, encircled at the Fen of Serech.

All but a few Orcs perished, and Fëanor in his wrath pursued even this small group. The tables turned at the edge of Dor Daedeloth, as Balrogs poured forth from Thangorodrim. Fëanor stood his ground and long fought alone, until he finally fell. Then the armies of his sons reached him, and the Orcs and Balrogs retreated. Fëanor died in sight of Angband, thrice cursing Morgoth.  It was rumoured that Fëanor cried like a baby at the moment of his death. Rumours, it must be said, that I have just started.

Immediately following this the Moon rose, and with the rising of the Moon Fingolfin and the second, greater Host of the Ñoldor arrived in Lammoth. There they were attacked by Orcs which had been sent there by Morgoth to attack Fëanor from the rear, and they fought their first battle, the Battle of the Lammoth. The Ñoldor were caught off-guard, and Fingolfin's son Argon was slain. Fingolfin and his host pursued the Orcs until they were completely destroyed, and then passed into Mithrim as the Sun first rose.

It was thus a bittersweet victory for the Noldor, as they had destroyed most of Morgoth's forces in one strike, but their greatest leader had been mortally wounded, and they had lost one of their princes.

So there's certainly a lot going on with the plot, but what of the music?  Well of course you should know what to expect by now, shouldn't you: sweeping instrumentals of majesty and grandeur, lots going on and more than you can readily absorb on just a cursory listen or two.  It's evocative stuff, guaranteed to transport you to the battle fields and hidden corners of Middle-Earth or your money back.*  In actual fact, from the clashing of steel and the sounds of struggle that heralds the first song, you know Hugin is reaching back into his past for influences as well as bringing his contemporary sound to bear on the piece.

In the words of Gandalf the Grey, "A rollicking roller-coaster of an album, or my foot's a kipper."


Absolutely essential for any fan of Hugin's art, and a real joy to listen through and immerse oneself in.  Trying to pick it apart song by song really can't do it justice, and believe me I've tried over the years (suggesting, most likely, that it's your humble scribe that needs a creative reboot) so take it from me when I note that it is certainly worth seeking out and playing loud.

Noted in the credits for this release is the fact that the cover photograph was taken by one Zigor Ozamiz Yarza.  This is, of course, our old friend Zigor of Extreme Ambient  

He tells us: "The cover of "War of the Beleriand" is from a photo that was taken by me and it was an honour that Hugin choose to use it. The photos were taken during a trek to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, back in 2013.  That is the Dhaulagiri massif and it was taken from Poon Hill early in the morning. The highest point is the Dhaulagiri mount which is the seventh highest mountain in the Himalayas.  The full picture can be seen here.

STOP PRESS!  Just as Nazgul was about to commit this post to the web a picture was spotted on Hugin's Facebook page that showed an extract of a Terroraiser review, which features coverage of all 3 of the Beleriand series!  It's in Cyrillic of course, and the resolution isn't great so Nazgul is still none the wiser about what it says other than the overall rating for the trio of releases was a robust 7/10.  If there are any Russian speaking readers of Honour and Darkness out there who can shed more light on this review, do get in touch through the usual channels!


Interesting Russian review ... if only we knew what it said...?!

* there is, of course, no money back under any circumstances.  Caveat Emptor!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

ELIA'S LEBENSGESCHICHTE - update


Band: ALEXANDER WIESER
Title: Elia's Lebensgeschichte
Reason for update: This item is the master CD that led to the release in 2009 of this celebratory album for the 'Langen Nacht der Kirchen' in Austria
Format: Silver CDr with colour cover and typed track listing, annotated by Hugin in blue ink, coming in a slimline case.  
Edition: Presumed to be the only copy

Track Listing (one long track, a concept story in summary):

  • King Ahab honours a god of strangers 0:00 – 01:36 
  • Elia is threatened with a drought 01:36 – 02:36 
  • Elia hides at the river Kerit – Ravens bring bread and meat to him 02:36 – 03:26 
  • The river dried and Elia goes to the widow, she parts the last bread with him – now she has flour and oil forever 03:26 – 04:30 
  • Elia has a contest with the Prophets of Baal and his God wins 04:30 – 06:12 
  • Elia is persecuted and flees from the vengeance of the Queen 06:12 – 06:54 
  • He hides in the desert and faces death death. God gives bread and water to him. 06:45 – 07:48 
  • Elia walks 40 days to the mountain 07:48 – 08:24 
  • At this mountain Elia enters a cave and whispers about his sorrow 08:24 – 09:01 
  • A storm rumbles mountains 09:01 – 09:31 
  • An earthquake crushes rocks 09:31 – 10:19 
  • A fire follows – but still God was not there 10:19 – 10:43 
  • After that comes silence: Elia came out of the cave and God passed by 10:43 – 12:07 
  • Elia comes back annointed a new king and prophet 12:07 – 12:55 
  • Elia transcends and rides a chariot of fire into Heaven 12:55 – 14:31

Here's a blast from the past, a return to the wonderful "Elia's Lebensgeschichte" release that we last had in our sights back in December 2011.

You may recall that the album was released as a single long song, as part of the celebrations for the 'Langen Nacht der Kirchen' (Long Night of the Churches).  This was a joint project of the 14 Christian denominations that were represented in the World Council of Churches in Austria. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the beauty found in religion though arts and music. 

The original review noted that on May 28 2010 more than 720 churches throughout Austria opened their doors, and with over 3,400 different programme points invited people to get acquainted with them, and on 27 May 2011 the process happened all over again.  As far as the InterWeb informs me, the process still continues into 2016.

Hugin created this particular disc back in 2009 with the subject of the piece being the Prophet Elijah, arguably the greatest prophet of the Old Testament next only to Moses. Reducing his 'career' to a short paragraph might seem somewhat churlish, but in brief he sought to abolish idolatry and restore justice during a time when the Hebrew nation was divided. He raised a dead child; he brought fire from heaven, through prayer, three times; he did not die but was carried skyward in a chariot of fire; and, so it is said, will return to prophesy once more before the end of times. Interestingly, the Vangelis "Chariots of Fire" release was also about Elia.

As this was the precursor to the eventual formal release of 30 copies on CD, the music on this master CDr is exactly the same to the finished item: segments in the life of the Prophet himself, all contained within a single piece of music spanning about a quarter of an hour. The style and tone of the song is unmistakably Uruk Hai-ish in places, and in fact Nazgul would go so far as to suggest that there are distinctive samples and elements of existing Uruk Hai songs that get a dusting down and re-airing on this disc. This seems an entirely practical approach, given the likelihood that many of the people hearing this would have been unlikely to be familiar with Alex's other music, and with all the other pressures of life it would be the most natural thing to use what was readily available to evolve something new.

That's what I said at the time, and that's still what I'm saying now!

It's been really interesting to revisit this piece directly after Hollenkreis too, which also comes across as a compendium of previously recorded work re-branded for a particular cause (this is an entirely coincidental event here in the scheduling of Honour and Darkness reviews, by the way!)  To my ears, it is the Elia release that give you a more rounded and satisfying experience, though both releases are well worth your attention.  Albeit this one is infinitely more difficult to find, of course....

Saturday, 12 March 2016

HÖLLENKREIS (Des Bruders Böser Garten)


Band: ALEXANDER WIESER with Fra Diavolo (aka Bruder Cle)
Title: Höllenkreis (Des Bruders Böser Garten)  
Format: A professionally formatted CD on Alex's own W.A.R. Productions label (Austria), cat ref WAR 098, released on 12 March 2015.  The artwork is in full colour, and this is in a multi-panel digipak format.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01.  Die Maschine  4:48  
02.  Himmel & Hölle  4:18  
03.  Berserker  5:25  
04.  Shanghai  3:49  
05.  Höllenkreis  3:56  
06.  Trollsturm  4:11  
07.  Das Hungergespenst  2:46  
08.  Unten  5:12  
09.  Josef Sichelgruber  3:21  
10.  Mutter  4:18  
11.  Erstkontakt  3:24  

"Are you strong enough? Then enter Bruder's evil garden and taste the foul fruits of torture, death and blood and experience the harmful strike of letters, words and paragraphs. You will definitely need 'guts' to meet characters like Josef Sichelgruber or Herbert Uhlendorf, whose perverse deeds would even challenge the twisted mind of a Marquis de Sade. On your walk you will also meet aliens, even more bizarre and cruel than H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Ones. 

Find out about the rotten, stinking and bloodstained world of the underground in Vienna and witness nameless cruelties in the bowels of Slovenian cave systems. Experience a zombie apocalypse in Berlin, meet ghouls in the slums of Shanghai that deal with organs and find yourself in the midst of the horror of blood and steel in ancient battlefields. Even Churches will be destroyed - by raging trolls in Scandinavian woods and black metal fans in the alps in an orgy of blood and fire.  Finally you will feel the hunger and painful isolation of a teenager trapped in a cesspit. "Höllenkreis" is not a collection of chilling ghost stories, but a tornado of cruelty and perversion, that leaves you confused and shocked.

Do you still want to read this book?  We congratulate you on your courage, the doors to 'brother's wicked garden' push open.  But remember - you might not be the same when you leave it again ... If you ever leave it again.... 

Under the influence of these morbid tales, Alex Wieser of Uruk Hai, Eismond and Bonemachine-fame, wrote a frantic soundtrack: dark and epic, sinister and haunting. A perfect score for the enhanced experience of the horror of "Höllenkreis – Des Bruders böser Garten". Imagine a mix between Goblin, Hans Zimmer and Ennio Morricone and you know what this score sounds like. Get yourself a copy of this dark ambient masterpiece and enter a Gothic world of unspeakable horror!"

Goodness!  Clearly not a stroll down the country lanes into the Enchanted Forest for a gentle climb up the Faraway Tree, then...

In respect of everything but the artwork, which you will have surmised is based upon the book cover, this is pretty much an Uruk Hai style album in feel and construction.  And this is no bad thing, of course, as we love Uruk Hai releases with a passion bordering on mania in Castle Nazgul. It is a bit strange, through, to read the song titles and try to interpret the musical passages in context.  Normally these expansive songs are named after the sweeping and majestic plains of Middle Earth, or pay tribute to the grandiose battles or epic weaponry of Tolkien's realm.  Trying to interpret such music against a title such as 'The Hungry Ghost' (Das Hungergespenst) or 'First Contact' (Erstkontakt) feels a bit odd, somehow.  

I confess that I'd been saving this one for review, putting it into a little corner of the library until I was ready for a trip to somewhere new and frightening, assuming that what I would be listening to would somehow be markedly different from the 'normal' releases that Hugin has recently put out.  Given that it isn't markedly different, however, it does seem a little deflating initially, with the music being very familiar to recent Uruk Hai demos, percussive and ambient. 

You'd almost expect Hugin to have employed the Elisabetha approach of yore to this project, in melding disorientating and discordant passages of music to narrative and effect-filled sections, thus recreating the much-touted gruesomeness of Bruder Cle's book.  Or perhaps that was a route that was seen as too obvious and cliched?  In any event, other than the very occasional deviation away from the business as usual pattern of Uruk Hai keyboardery, there's not an immediate connection that - to my mind at least - makes you think how the song might be connected to the book.


That said, the book is solely available in German so my understanding of specific stories within it is about as complete as my understanding of the rings of Saturn (and not the Californian deathcore band of that name, either).  Bruder Cle was obviously very happy with how the project turned out, which we can ascertain from his thanks-to section in the liner notes, so who am I to cast doubt on the artistic integrity of the concept?

But let's not be ungenerous. Played in its own right there's much to savour on this album, and if you can step away from any expectations you might entertain about how this release would be different from Hugin's normal work, you will find much to enjoy in the very familiarity of the material on offer.  And do my ears deceive me, or does our man pinch the melody line from the Game of Thrones theme and shoehorn it into 'Trollsturm' as it goes galloping past....?!      

Ultimately the contents of the book may well represent a trip to the Circle of Hell, and the gist of the few online reviews (in German, of course) that don't simply parrot the promotional blurb do rather back up the assertion that this is a collection of splatter horror stories that will genuinely gross you out.  The accompanying album does not succeed in paralleling that experience, but does once again shown that Hugin knows his way round this instruments and can knock out a good set of tunes in his curiously unique and engaging style.

A quick plug for the book, by the way: it's available quite easily on Amazon and online book retailers, and can be bought for a reasonably good price given it must be a fairly low volume publication.