Thursday, 25 August 2016

THE BATTLE - update


Band: URUK HAI
Title: The Battle
Format: Reissue of this album on CD in 2016 on the Valgriind label (Russia) catalogue reference VG60.  This copy has full colour covers - with different artwork to the original album - and a professionally pressed disc.  It includes a bonus song not on the original 2005 Drama Company CD pressing.
Edition: Unknown - no edition stated

Track Listing:
01. The Battle  0:58  
02. Calm After Storm  1:40  
03. Thunderpower  4:33  
04. Poem To The Dead  10:56  
05. Icy Winds Over Battlefield  8:01  
06. Strength And Honour  1:28  
07. Rabensang  5:04  
08. And The Battle Continues  7:23  
09. The Secret Of Steel  0:57  
Bonus Track
10. Men Of Straw  3.41

In the grand tradition of periodically reissuing old demos and albums lost to history (but kept alive through Honour and Darkness!), here's one of the latest of Hugin's rediscoveries: "The Battle", courtesy of the Russian Valgriind label.

The original review of this album was a very early entry in Nazgul's scribing coming as it did in late February 2009, so it's a rather nice thing to be able to look up an old friend (as the actress said to the bishop) and see what's new after all this time.

The first thing evidently different is the cover artwork, which Hugin himself has orchestrated and it's rather good I think you'd agree?

The songs are the same for the main album, albeit benefitting from a re-mastering for this release, though the 2016 pressing adds a different bonus track from the song 'Black Mountains River (Midgard Warriors Pt.2)' which appeared on the 2005 CD pressing (the tape pressing on AMF that appeared in 2006 just kept the 9 main album songs).  So this time around we get a very different offering for the bonus song: 'Men Of Straw', the duet with Trevor Sewell.

This, you will recall, was the subject of a post in its own right back in July 2015 and was - and indeed remains - an excellent song.  It's slightly out of keeping with the theme and style of the rest of this album though, not least as the preceding 9 songs are all instrumental (bar the odd sample from films), so having Trev's sonorous tones coming out of the speakers at the end of the album may catch the unwary off guard to start with, as clearly this isn't Hugin singing!  A great chance for a wider audience to appreciate this song though, so nothing to complain about at all!

Another thing you'll notice on this reissue is the fact that the parentheses after the song titles are no longer there, as they were in the original pressing.  So, for example, compare the track listing above to that of the original (below):

01. The Battle (Introduction to War)
02. Calm After Storm (Blood on the Battlefield)
03. Thunderpower (Praying to the Gods of War)
04. Poem to the Dead (Remember the Fallen Heroes)
05. Icy Winds Over the Battlefield (The Dead Become Einherjer)
06. Strength and Honour (Preparing for Battle)
07. Rabensang (The Blackwinged Messengers)
08. And the Battle Continue (Only War is Real)
09. The Secret of Steel (The Price of Each Battle)

Not exactly an earth-shaking issue I would concede, but interesting nonetheless as the longer title adds a frisson of epic grandeur to the songs that arguably is missing now they've been truncated.  Perhaps there should be a small competition to find the most suitable addition to the song 'Men Of Straw'?

Also something Nazgul spotted that could be a typo (or if not is a bit of a mystery) is that on the inside of the booklet the liner notes state the original music was recorded in the Winter of 2007: clearly this can't be right, given the first pressing of the CD was released in 2005 and the tape version a year later.  Whether it should be read that this re-mastered version was recorded in late 2007 is unclear, though that seems unlikely as I'm sure it would have seen the light of day a little sooner than nigh on 9 years later!

Listening again to this recording after quite a time brought one thought of crystal clarity to Nazgul's mind: gosh, this is a quiet album!  Really quiet, to the point that trying to play it in the car in normal traffic requires the volume knob to be enthusiastically twisted upwards just to hear the music.  And revisiting the original Honour and Darkness review, not having recalled what I'd written first time around, there in black and white was the original review saying much the same!

"I recall buying this CD, pointedly titled "The Battle", and thinking to myself "well, we're in for some pagan battle music here with plenty of samples, blood and guts drumming, vocal overkill and the works."  Or some euphemistic thoughts on a similar vein.  What this album delivers is very different - possibly the most laid-back and serene album that Alex had put his name to as Uruk Hai at this point. It must have been a bit confusing for any newbies buying the album on the basis of the title, expecting a mix of gung-ho epic swordplay mixed with a bit of black metal!

Despite the powerful descriptive names of some of the tracks - and you can't tell me that "Thunderpower" and "The Secret of Steel" would lead you to assume some ethereal noodling would follow - this is very piano-based, ambient music. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's what the man specialises in after all, but it came rather against expectations for this release and as a result it didn't gel with me first time around."

There's a time and a place for everything, of course (with the possible exception of line dancing) so if you pick your moment and are fully prepared to be wafted away on a gentle journey into the further reaches of your imagination, then this album will work very nicely.  Well, up until Trevor comes along, that is, and rouses you from your torpor.  

So what do we make of this reissue overall?  Well, on the upside it's always good to know that these older releases are still being made available to buy, as the perennial problem of having so many limited edition pressings in Hugin's extensive discography is that they are often unobtainable.  Amusingly, Amazon claim that the original CD release is #2,171,144 on their all-time best sellers list, which boggles the mind and surely must be a triumph of bad data over fact?   Anyway we digress; I would imagine that there are a goodly number of people who have acquainted themselves with this album though re-release programmes like this one.  Approached with the right frame of mind there's plenty to lose yourself in with these songs, and much to commend the musicianship and quality of what's on offer.  So it's definitely a thumbs-up from Nazgul.

There's a general consensus to this celebratory air online too, with various distros and online shops welcoming the return of this release, one noting  it to be a classic of "heathen neo-classical folk darkness. Somewhere between the wide ranging sounds of Amber Asylum, Vinterriket and Vangelis" no less.

Let Battle commence...

Monday, 15 August 2016

URUK HAI / HULDUEFNI split


Band: URUK HAI with Hulduefni
Title: Untitled split release (though the back inlay simply states 'Split Album 2015')
Format: Professionally released CDr on the WinterWolf Records label (Germany) on 15 October 2015, cat ref WWP0134, being a split release between Austrian Uruk Hai and Portuguese Huldeufni.  Colour covers, picture disc, comes in a clear jewel case.
Edition: 100 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:

Hulduefni
01. Medieval Space  12.42
02. Spring Time  4.40

Uruk Hai
03. After The Fall Of Gil-galad  6.12    
04. Even The First Shadows Were Felt In Mirkwood  2.31
05. The Blood Of Beren  4.38

Another day, another Uruk Hai release on WinterWolf Records.  It's become a bit of a thing recently, in the virtual pages of Honour and Darkness, but if that's where the action is then that's where Nazgul will drag you (kicking and screaming optional).

It's a relatively short release this, between Hugin's best known project and one that was new to me - Hulduefni, of Portugal.  Indeed, so intrigued was Nazgul with this project an interview was set up to find out a little more about it, and that will be gracing your browser soon to complement this post.  Thus any burning questions that you may have about the origin or meaning of the band's name, their inside trouser leg measurements or whatever else it is that you find essential to know will be covered then.

As usual, a nicely presented item greets the owner of this split release (rather uninspiringly titled 'Split'), which is the usual way with items from this German label.  A restrained cover image in pastel hues meets the eye first off the bat, with the viewer's attention eventually drawn to the figure standing rather forlornly half down down the right of the slope, raising the inevitable questions, 'who is it, and what's the silly bugger doing standing there?'  Perhaps we shall never know...

The entry for this release has been added by the man behind Hulduefni (João Simões) and it's interesting to note the range of musical styles that he's put in the descriptor for the album: Electronic, Rock, Classical, Folk, World, & Country, Ambient, Black Metal, Celtic, Dark Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Neofolk, and Neo-Classical.  That doesn't leave too much to chance, does it?! We'll obviously be picking up this eclectic set of influences in more detail in the upcoming interview, but suffice to say being armed with that information one presses play on the death-deck without an awful lot of clues what to expect from Hulduefni's pair of songs, other than the first one might have a medieval twang to it (or not), and the second one might either be about blossom and little flowers, or involve a lot of bouncing around.

Oh, the anticipation is killing me.  Let's get on with it....

Well, as it turns out, Nazgul was half right.  Sort of.  Opener 'Medieval Space' does indeed vaguely invoke a rather antiquated sound, achieved through the apparent use of (presumably synthesised) dulcimer and other medieval instrumentation.  But it's certainly not a feudal battery in the style of what a band like Jaldaboath are knocking out, dear me no.  It's a form of adding some texture to what is otherwise a bubbling medley of ambient and almost cinematic endeavour.  If Flash Gordon had taken a court jester along with him and left old Hans Zarkov behind, this is the sort of thing they might have jammed to on the way to Planet Mongo.  

The song starts out with some distant little 'pings' of sound, creating the idea of being cast adrift in space, before slowly but surely instruments come along to fill the void and bring all manner of interesting little tweaks and nuances to the track, including the aforementioned 'medieval' dulcimer and other sounds.  It's a grower, this track: the more you listen to it the more you hear, which is usually a good sign of a well composed song.

Second song 'Spring Time' is a little more 'normal' in that it is dominated by the lush sounds of strings and keyboards, and has a fine melody that creates an interesting listen full of light and shade.  Definitely more towards the neo-classical end of the spectrum than drone or electronica, it's a pleasant listen although suffers slightly - like many songs in these genres - by being a touch forgettable after the track has ended.  It could almost be the music that accompanies the credits at the end of a BBC period drama, such is the atmosphere created.

In turning to the Uruk Hai side of the disc (not literally turning, you understand, for that way lies madness) the immediate question is simple: which iteration of Uruk Hai will be on display today?  Given the various flip-flops in style on recent releases, ranging from guitar and vocal-laden pieces through to instrumental ambient metal orchestrations, it's anyone's guess what will greet the intrepid listener today.  And the answer .... a bit of both!

Take lead-off song 'After The Fall Of Gil-galad' (evidently a mere contrivance by Hugin in a quest to put together yet another Gil-galad compilation album, following on from the 'presumed-to -be-definitive' compilations "Gil-galad (The Whole Story)" and "Gil-galad (The Ultimate Story)".  Look out for "Gil-galad (The Neverending Story)" for Christmas 2016!?).

It kicks you in the teeth immediately with an evil guitar riff and Hugin on vocals, and barrels its way along menacingly with yet more of the woes of Ereinion Gil-galad, the last Great Elf-king of Middle-earth and the last High King of the Eldar, following the Siege of Barad-dûr.  It was Bilbo Baggins, of course, who translated the popular song about him into the Common Tongue, thus giving the world this splendid little ditty:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing;
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.


Rumours have abounded for years that there was, in fact, a fourth verse which ran:

At midnight, 'neath a starry sky
anguished wails through nighttime fly
They tell a tale, as time doth pass:
Sauron's fire sure kicked his ass


Though to be strictly accurate these rumours may well have just been made up on the spot by Nazgul.

The song kicks ass too, launching the unsuspecting listener into a maelstrom of music and vocals as Hugin holds nothing back and presses the 'kill' button from the get-go.  It's the Austrian equivalent of Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound', creating a dense and impenetrable tidal wave of music set to engulf anything not firmly tied down.  Both alarming and enjoyable in equal measure, and complemented with some varied effects and female vocals too.  Quite the modern Uruk Hai sound.

Which is ironic, as the very next track 'Even The First Shadows Were Felt In Mirkwood' - a short, instrumental piece - feels like a throw back to early days by comparison.  Although, that said, only to circa 2013-14 rather than back to the early period 2000-2005 you understand: there's a lot of polish within this short piece.  It's only flaw - similar to the comment made above relating to some of the Huldeufni music - is that whilst its great fun during playback it does leave you floundering a little after it has ended to recall a particularly memorable moment.  The easiest solution to that, of course, is to whack it onto continuous play and immerse yourself in an endless loop until it's finally gone in!

The concluding song 'The Blood Of Beren' is lovely, though.  I presume the song name may come from the legend of Beren's genealogy and lineage, for Lúthien bore Beren a son named Dior, who was considered to be one of the fairest beings to ever live, "for in him flowed the blood of Men, the blood of Elves, and the blood of the Ainur".

If you take out the almost ritualist hypnotic vocal part, in which the title of the song is intoned in a surprisingly effective manner over a crunchy guitar riff, the remainder of the music is actually something that you can imagine appearing on a latter-day Blue Oyster Cult album!  There's nice guitar riffs, uptempo sections where things get a bit more spicy (think 'Moon Crazy' from their "Mirrors" album), great melody and no little panache.  Probably the stand out track on this little album, I'd say.

All in all then, a worthy purchase and another step on the evolutionary path for Uruk Hai whilst introducing us to the interesting world of Hulduefni.  Which leads us rather nicely in a full circle back to the promised interview, which will be heading your way very soon.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

NEO-FORM III [V/A]

Band: B-MACHINA
Title: Neo-Form III [Various Artists]
Format:  A free download on the Neo-Form label (Germany) originally dating from 2009, cat ref NF3, and comprising MP3 tracks.  A mixture of modern classical, industrial, ambient, and/or neofolk genres from the seventeen bands featured.  The compilation is still available for free download today (see text).
Edition: unlimited

Track Listing:
01. Cold Fusion  *  Strasse  4:04  
02. Life's Decay  *  Novarch (re-mastered version)  3:19  
03. Gerechtigkeits Liga  *  Funeral March 4:27  
04. Kreuzweg Ost  *  Die Geierwally  5:29  
05. Kammer Sieben  *  Die Letzte Schlacht  4:21  
06. Défilé Des Âmes  *  Trivial (V-mix version)  5:06  
07. Sangre Cavallum  *  Orvalhadas Orvalhudas  3:20  
08. B-Machina  *  Other And Forgotten Visions  4:35  
09. Heldentod  *  Loyalty (original mix)  3:38  
10. Die Rote Form  *  White Trash  3:17  
11. Shining Vril  *  Wet My Whistle 5:49  
12. Code Voire  *  The Silence Of Memories  5:56  
13. Wertham  *  All Is Gone  5:52  
14. Mani Deum  *  Blasphemy, The Word  5:25  
15. Jägerblut  *  Waldpracht (live Schloss Bechburg)  3:23  
16. Les Affres De La Mort  *  Ruins Of Time  5:55  
17. Dawn Projekt  *  The Last Consumer (re-mix)  5:32

Here's another one of those online download compilations that occasionally creep up on Nazgul and tempt him into the darker corners of the Internet.

This 2009 example came courtesy of Neo-Form, a German online magazine based out of Leverkusen in Germany . According to their legacy site, the magazine had been active for a long time, organising and presenting events, publishing music and journalistic material and creating a lasting social network among members of the Neofolk/Industrial/Avantgarde scene. Even though the magazine has been defunct for some time, the free online compilations are still being distributed through several hosting sites, with information about them being disseminated through their website.

The rather sad reason for the decline of the magazine is reportedly the "complete data loss caused by a server migration and two unreliable webmasters in a row" - a sad story indeed.

However, you can still download this compilation (and also Volumes I and II in the series) from here, and Nazgul would endorse such a free resource in the interest of exploring all manner of new music and artistic styles.  Well done, Neo-Form, your spirit lives on!


Our interest is piqued by the inclusion at track 8 of none other than B-Machina (the later day more upmarket neofolk version of Bonemachine, if you will!) and an intriguing track called 'Other and Forgotten Visions'. Intriguing as there has not been a track by this name yet recorded in Honour and Darkness.  However, those of you with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Hugin will recall the 2008 mini album release "Other Visions" by B-Machina, which contained but two songs: 'Other Visions' (running time 2.18) and 'Forgotten' (2.20).  Stitch them together, sprinkle on some fairy dust, and bish-bosh-bash ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, a 'new' song!

Rather handy too, really, given the the original mini album only came in a run of 17 copies so probably went under many people's radars back in the day (and where, realistically, are you going to find a copy for sale anywhere eight years later?!)
 
Revisiting Nazgul's original review of this one, it reads: "Track 1 'Other Visions' kicks off with an effect that sounds equal parts horses on the move and/or magma escaping the earth's crust, before the most delicate of guitar interludes appears over the top. Equally, on second track 'Forgotten' the guitar is right at the front of the mix over a gentle synth background, at times strident and full-on like a Mexican stand-off in a classic spaghetti western and at times gossamer-thin and a thing of beauty."

Makes you want to dig out your copy and give it another spin, doesn't it!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

FROM THE DARK AGES - promotional flyer update


Band: HROSSHARSGRANI
Title: From The Dark Ages
Reason for second update: The arrival of this previously unseen flyer for this tape-only release

This could be the shortest post in the 8 year history of Honour and Darkness, but Nazgul will be making up for it with a belter of an item to be featured in an upcoming post this month!

Today's feature, however, is to simply acknowledge the arrival into the Castle collection of that Hrossharsgrani promotional flyer for "From The Dark Ages" that was referenced back in May.  It's a nice enough piece of memorabilia - though ultimately rather expensive in the grand scheme of things for a simple piece of printed colour paper - but what the heck, the point of maintaining a collection is to be as authoritative as possible so Nazgul can't very well go around ignoring such items, can he?

Obviously now you get to see the image rather more clearly than in the previous post, it becomes apparent that it's a raven on the cover (not a lopsided man brandishing a sword, as I'd initially thought when I first spotted the item online!)

Should you have some rare, collectible or downright strange items of Hugin-related memorabilia or publicity material in your collection then do feel free to share them with me via the usual email address...!