Thursday, 29 September 2016

An interview with ... Hulduefni


What's on offer today then, Nazgul? A rarity nowadays - it's an interview!
With whom? Hulduefni
Bless you? No, I didn't sneeze, it's the name of the Portuguese band that recently had a split release with Uruk Hai released through WinterWolf Records
Aah I see! And it's a good read too, so enjoy!

We've seen a few Uruk Hai releases coming out of the WinterWolf stable in recent months, which is a nice thing indeed and one that promises much for stabilising the release schedule from one of Hugin's most popular bands. One such release came as a split album, featuring two songs from a band previously unknown to us on Honour and Darkness - Hulduefni - alongside three tracks from Uruk Hai.  This has, of course, already been reviewed and most favourably too. 

So it seems like a golden opportunity for Nazgul to adopt his 'old hack' persona and conduct an interview with Huldeufni founder João Simões about his band, collaborating with Hugin, and life in general. 

Welcome to Honour and Darkness, João! Where in the world are you based? 
Hello! and thanks for this interview! I'm based in the suburbs of Lisbon, in Portugal (but now I'm actually in Berlin studying, and I will be here for some months and then back to Portugal).

I read online that your band name comes from an Icelandic word?! 
Yes! After searching and looking, and thinking for long hours I found this name "Hulduefni", which means 'Dark Matter' in Icelandic. Dark Matter is tied to space, mystery and at the same time the word "black", all connected with my music. I chose Icelandic because I wanted a weird name, confusing and even difficult to pronounce, so to speak, but at the same time not too exaggerated. Even the Icelanders themselves consider their difficult language. And for all these reasons, it is perfect!

And how would you describe Hulduefni's sound? 
The sound is generally speaking a mix between dark ambient, drone and experimental, with a touch of psychedelic, but I also have recorded music that is close to black metal and to noise, so it's a mix of strange music genres and styles!

It's a potent mixture for sure! How did it come to evolve? 
It started in November 2011 when a friend of mine shared with me the soundtrack of the game "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines". I really liked the album, and I was extremely interested in the music. After further investigation into these musical styles - the darker, minimal and sometimes repetitive ones like Dark Ambient, Drone, etc. I decided to try writing an inspirational track based on several songs I had heard so far, using only an electric guitar and sometimes a bass.

Over time the tracks started to get more and more interesting, until I decided to start to pay more attention in the production of each of them. From December to early February 2012 I created and produced several songs until I decided it was time to put the best songs into a demo. After showing the songs to several people, most encouraged me to release it so I did, and in March the "Deep Darkness" demo, limited to 20 copies, was released (which also had the participation of two friends). The reception was very good, which made me immediately start thinking about the creation of new music....

You have an extensive discography: over 35 releases to date on Discogs - including solo releases and a number of splits with familiar bands in this area, such as Saturn Form Essence, I AM Esper, etc. Do you prefer collaborative work, or solo recording? 
I worked with some musicians in most of my albums. In "Deep Darkness", for example, I did 2 tracks that were recorded with some friends at my house, and in another example, like the split "Life (When Nightmares Become Reality)" I have 2 tracks that were played by both artists, and there are some more examples... When I have some friends over my house and we start jamming, sometimes those recordings end up in albums, some times don't. I just remembered another one, the track 'Depressive Spring' from the album "Journeys Of The Mind", the guitar was played by a friend of mine that lives across the street and the drums were played by me, and then the mixing and production is always made by me:, that is the only thing that I do not want anybody to do but myself, you know it's that "final" touch in completing the tracks.

For most split releases I just see who are the artists that are usually active in the dark ambient scene and the ones who care about music and love music like I do and contact them and try to work with them. And up until now almost all have been very open to splits and to work in collaboration and stuff. Great people, I have to tell you :)

Can you share with us the very first, and most recent, albums that you bought?! 
The first... hmm... probably Iron Maiden or Metallica, from Metallica I remember the "Black album" and from Iron Maiden "Death On The Road". The most recent?  Ha ha It was a compilation of Darkthrone demos, "Darkthrone ‎– Sempiternal Past (The Darkthrone Demos)". I love this band.

On your albums you have had song titles that deal with occultism, aliens and horror, can you tell us a little bit more about your interest in these topics? 
Well the occultism it comes from my love of black metal since way back, and horror topics too, like death metal bands and such. Before I knew what dark ambient was I was already an "metal head" so that's why! Regarding aliens well it's obvious, space and terror mixed, giving topics like the "end of the human race" of something like that that you normally see in the movies, like Alien or War of the Worlds, where aliens enslave and try to kill humans.

I like to do themed albums. So some albums can bring to your mind the image of space in a good (relaxing) way or an image of space in a bad way, again like the movie Alien or something. Or it can be very industrial like in the album "Synthetic Works", where you can only imagine a grey, industrial city. Very different themes and landscapes as you see between albums.


Are you also involved with any other musical projects? 
Yes, I'm involved in LostsoL my black metal band, that is running a bit slow now. I'm also running my own label (Dark Matter Records) and my new adventure is hip-hop and beats, with my crazy/funny artiste name Crazy John: John because of my name João, that is John in English. It's a totally different world the beats and hip-hop instrumentals, but it's also great to be able to work with new people from a totally different music background.

You sound like you've been influenced by a fairly eclectic set of bands over the years, then? 
The music styles that influence me are black metal and metal in general, a lot of the soundtracks to games and movies, and the list goes on and on. But if you want names, I can give you some including Burzum, Xasthur, Darkthone, Mayhem, etc. but also a band that I would like to give a special thank you for existing is Darkspace ! This one is just 'wow'... I don't have any words to describe this band, other than MASTERPIECE!

Regarding games, it is without doubt the soundtrack to "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines" and these days I listen to anything, I mean it! From black metal to classical to hip-hop, I listen to it all ha ha. (But right now I have been listening to a lot of old school punk! UK PUNK! Like Chaos UK for example).

For readers unfamiliar with Hulduefni's music, which of your albums would you recommend as a good starting point for an intrepid listener? 
Hmm good question.. I think that it varies from listener to listener... if you like something more (dark) ambient well... "Deep Darkness" is the way. For something more "spacey" you can go with the split with Saturn Form Essence "Outer Space", or my album "The Alignment". If you like something more experimental "Synthetic Works" is a good starting point.. But please notice that a lot of my old albums are/are almost sold out everywhere, so it will not be so easy to find those....

But that's why I also like to do compilations from time to time, so that the fans that miss my old albums can still have and enjoy a physical/ hard copy of a Hulduefni release with some old sounds on it ! :)

Are there any songs or albums out there that you think, 'damn, I wish I'd written that'?
Burzum...
Dunkelheit...
Amazes me every time ....

On a global level, what feedback have you received by fans of experimental and dark ambient? 
This is a great and controversial question in my opinion. Well, one great artist that guided me through the scene and how "dark ambient works" that is the artist "Merankorii". He is also Portuguese, and told me that the dark ambient and experimental music takes time to settle down, people need time to listen carefully, to grow the love for the music as the artist grows itself, and it's very true.

In the beginning I thought that because I was releasing a lot of stuff and dedicating myself like 200% to this that I could like getting a music contract or something and that I could get into "big business" with it, but well ... with time I saw that it takes time, it's not like from night to day. And with time I think that my fan base is growing and that a lot of new people are discovering and liking my music, and that feels great! But yes, I still dream of one day do music for a major video game or a movie or something, that would be awesome!!

Which leads us nicely into the matter of where do you see yourself heading into as a musician in the future? 
Well, I really do not know, but like I just mentioned I would like to start making music for movies and games, and to be able to be "more" than just some tracks on some CD and to "bring to light", bigger stuff like, when working with image (movies or games for example) you can feel the music and see it also in the face of characters in games or actors in movies, you know what I'm saying, right?

Do you have time for any outside, non-musical interests? 
Ha, interesting question! Well right now because of college unfortunately I do not have much free time. When I do get some I try to relax a bit, go out with friends, sometimes do a music jam, and when I can, I like to go to the country side to relax away from the stress of the city and just to breathe some fresh air.


Regarding the split CD with Uruk Hai, I believe that it's your first collaboration with Hugin. Are you familiar with Uruk Hai or any other of his bands/projects, and if so do you have any favourite releases by him? 
Well I know Uruk Hai from the music industry a long time. And, well, for me he is BIG, one of the most active and probably with a lot of fans too! Sincerely I never thought that he was so chilled and open, in emailing him (like I did with some other artists - that ignored me!) I never thought that he would answer back! I dont know.. I really do not know if the name "Hulduefni" is a big name in the dark ambient world or not... maybe it is and I do not have the sense of that?

But yes, I knew of him and emailed him and he was a very easy guy to talk to and said yes to the split and I think that the final result is great ! And it's great for me to work with an artist that in my view is way bigger than Hulduefni! And I have to thank him for this oportunity of course! :)

About his other projects I don't think so: I know the Uruk Hai project only, but I have to check out the rest, then!

How pleased were you with the final WinterWolf release of this album? Have sales been good, do you know?
Ha ha ha - you know .... these underground labels never talk much.  We tried a lot of labels and then WinterWolf was the one that accepted it ... finally! Hugin dealt with the label so I don't know if he knows about sales, but I know  nothing! I hope that is selling well and that the people are liking it, but the truth is that I personally just do not know.. :/

But yes the release by WinterWolf is great! Great quality! And they are also selling the item on eBay which is good marketing so, yes it's great!

What are your future plans for Hulduefni - are there releases being planned, or surprises around the corner? 
Yes, yes.. for the future I plan to release less material , because releasing a lot sometimes makes the fans miss out on some CD or something and I don't want that.  So what I want to do is release like 1 or 2 albums a year or less, but with that time work even more on the tracks.

I always do my best on my albums, but there is a time that you already done a lot of stuff and you can not repeat yourself and for me that time is now. To evolve and to make a more refined Hulduefni... music with EVEN MORE details and being more immersive, etc.

The thing here too is that the labels release less and less stuff now, so it's also hard for the artists who like to do CD or any other physical copies like myself. And a lot of people also prefer to listen on the internet than to buy a CD, although a true fan will always buy, so I do not worry.. ;) )

Would you like to take this advantage to send Hugin a message through this blog? 
Yes! Thanks a lot for this opportunity! And please keep up the good work with your music also! :D

And to end, do you have any final message for the readers of Honour and Darkness? 
If you are still reading ... you are a true fan! Thanks a lot!

Support the artists you like and please buy their stuff do not simply listen to it online...

Thanks a lot again!!! TO ALL!

:D


So as the Icelandic black matter swirls and spirals back to its temporary base in deepest Berlin, we wish João nothing but success in his musical and other endeavours in the future, and look forward to seeing the next chapter open in this interesting story...

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

THE ASHES OF BATTLE


Name: URUK HAI
Title: The Ashes Of Battle
Format: A split CD release with ambient project Balrog (France), released in October 2015 on the Vibrio Cholerae Records label (Ukraine), cat ref VHR326.  The album comes with a picture disc, colour paper inlay all housed inside a plastic wallet.
Edition: 66 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
Uruk Hai
01. Eagles  11.07
02. Elbenklang  14.26
Balrog
03. Spirit Of Fire  3.46
04. Wild Warriors  5.10
05. Eye Of Smaug  4.29
06. Grey Heavens (Summoning cover song)  1.51
07. Outgoing Of Flames  4.39

There are, at the very least, 5 very good reasons why this split CD should be sitting in your burgeoning collection of all things Hugin:

(1) The introduction to 'Eagles' - a shimmering piano piece amidst swirling winds, reminiscent of earlier Hrefnesholt ambient wind effects - is quite possibly the most beautiful thing ever recorded by Uruk Hai

(2) The pair of Uruk Hai songs provide more Middle-Earth bang-for-your-buck than many a full length album from lesser artistes, and offer plenty to enjoy over their lengthy durations

(3) Balrog - a new act to Nazgul - not only have the great sense to sound a little like legendary band Wongraven in places (particularly on 'Wild Warriors'), but also give us a cover song from equally legendary act Summoning too.

(4) The sampling of Smaug from "The  Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" at track five is a stroke of genius, which should be repaid with untold wealth and good fortune for whoever had the bright idea to do it.

(5) It's a thing of beauty and wonder, from the artwork to the picture disc to the content.

Vibrio Cholerae Records are responsible for putting this little gem into the world, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can tell you that they are a small underground label, running since 2011, oriented on Lo-Fi, Noise, Drone, Ambient, and Experimental sounds: mostly in raw, harsh and ever primitive form of sound. Their releases come in various familiar forms: cd, cd-r, audio cassettes, vinyl, as well as in some non-standard including floppy diskettes, VHS cassettes, 2-inch reels, 8-track tape etc.

As far as Nazgul can tell, their parent label is Depressive Illusions, who will be familiar to most of us who have been buying ambient releases online over the years!

In a very small edition of 66 copies only, this has probably flown in billowing sheets of fire off the shelves of distributors and online shops worldwide.  However, Nazgul has learned that a cassette version may yet follow, so all is not lost if you failed to secure your copy first time around.

Great things should befall Balrog if the rest of their output is anything like this, and as we know great things have already befallen Uruk Hai for precisely the same reasons!

As Xavier Russell, Kerrang! journalist of yore, used to say: "Buy-Or-Die!"

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Hugin > autographed photo


Item: Signed photo of Hugin
Format: Well, it's a photograph ... signed with a blue pen ...

Earlier this week one of the loudest storms I've ever heard raged above the rooftops of Castle Nazgul.  Proper eye-widening booms of thunder rent the air, lightening positively lit up the darkened rooms in vivid flashes, causing the Castle monkey to scurry for cover beneath the bed.  It sounded like the end of the world and would have been quite something to have been outside in, had Nazgul not spent the majority of its duration cowering beneath his sheets.

At the conclusion of this biblical outpouring came the usual sounds of a deluge - the dripping of water from rooftops, the splashing of vehicles through miniature lakes that had spawned on the roads, and the baleful sounds of next door's cat which had clearly been given the fright of its young life.

The ambient peace of dripping water lulled Nazgul back to sleep, reminding him as it did so of the introduction to Uruk Hai's wonderful 'Gondolin Falls'.  So many little things in daily life now have a resonance and connection with elements of Hugin's music it never ceases to amaze how often these sorts of connections can be made.

All of which is a rather long introduction to the star of this afternoon's post: a signed picture of the man himself!  Rather strangely I can't actually remember getting this, but recently found it tucked away safely within an envelope on one of the library shelves. 

An outrageously poor use of such a splendid item, which has since been framed and sits pride of place next to the Hobbit-grinder.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

THE FIRST RING - PART 2


Bands: MANWE, DRACHENFEUER and URUK HAI
Title: The First Ring - Part 2
Format: A deluxe A5 digibook with full colour booklet insert (called an 'art book') and 2 discs secured inside the front cover, one an audio CD and one a DVD.  The set was released in 2014 by Notturno Productions. There is also a Blu-ray version of this release available.  The release brings together a host of bands crossing many styles of ambient, experimental and other rock/metal genres in Notturno's second homage to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Edition: unknown

Track Listing:
Audio CD
01. AD DIOS  *  Moria (unreleased mix 2010)  
02. AINUR  *  Rivendel  
03. ARCANA CHRONICLE  *  Niphredil (unreleased extended version)  
04. ARTURO STALTERI  *  Legolas (unreleased track)  
05. ASNI THE HARPER  *  Dwarven Dub (unreleased dub mix 2010)
06. ATLANTEAN KOEX  *  Pilgrim
07. HERC  *  The Mewlips (exclusive 2011 recording)
08. GRAHAM PLOWMAN  *  The Hobbit Suite (exclusive track 2012)
09. GIL GALAD  *  Ungoliant Of Avathar (exclusive track)
10. MILAREVAN  *  Wanderer In The Shadowed Land (exclusive track 2013)
11. NOSTRA SWAMP  *  Narneneol (unreleased track 2009)
12. FORNEUS  *  The Oath Of Feanor (unreleased song 2009)
13. OPSEENE  *  The First Ring Symphony (unreleased song)
14. MANWE  *  Tears In A Burning Eye (unreleased song 2010)
15. LONGSHANKS  *  I Love The Road
16. FEARBRINGER  *  Deep Helm's Deep
17. FRAYRDAAM  *  Gil Galad (unreleased song 2010)    
18. EITHELIVRIN  *  Nimrodel (unreleased song 2010)
19. DRACHENFEUER  *  Dagor Bracollach (unreleased song 2010)
20. JIM KIRKWOOD  *  Saruman Of Many Colours (unreleased song 2010)
21. LINGALAD  *  Lunargento
22. NYMAN  *  Dead Marshes Remix (unreleased song 2012)
23. NUMENOR  *  The Legend Of Master Ring (Summoning cover song, 2010)
24. ROB SENDYS GRECO'S METAL TRIBUTE TO TOLKIEN  *  Death's Path (exclusive mix)
25. SARRY  *  I Bind Myself To You (unreleased song 2009)
26. STEFAN KENSENNE  *  Beren& Luthien (unreleased song 2010)
27. OUT OF ORION  *  The Elven Forest Of Lothlorien (alternative mix)
28. TROLLRATH  *  Through The Trollshaws
29. URUK HAI  *  Cirith Ungol (exclusive version 2010)
30. VALARIEN & ELOHYMN  *  Twilight Isles On Shadowy Seas
31. ZA FRUMI  *  The Cult Of Helzichor

There's one phrase that sums up this release to a tee: Criminally Overlooked.

Quite how such a lavish product - clearly a labour of love, with an awful lot of effort being put into it - has fallen into such obscurity is something that Nazgul's tiny mind struggles to contemplate.  The original 'The First Ring' CD was relatively well known, still available from a few of the usual online haunts, and was beautifully put together by Fabien (aka Notturno) back in 2009.  This sequel - cunningly titled 'The First Ring Part 2' - surpasses the debut effort by some margin, from the sumptuous artwork booklet to the sheer breadth and scale of the contributions made.  And it's a double-disc set, with music tracks on the audio disc and a host of visual treats on the media disc(s).


And yet ... can you find out much about it online?  'Nope', is the short answer.  It's completely bonkers and not a little mysterious that something this good could be so, well ... criminally overlooked.  Everything about this release screams quality, from the lovely A5 hard cover book format and efficient way the discs are retained, through to the lavishly illustrated art booklet with a page dedicated to every band on the release (in fact, Arcana Chronicle get two pages for the same song, so let's chalk that one down to an excess of enthusiasm over proof-reading, something Nazgul is all too familiar with...)

Nazgul had toyed with the idea of showing you each band's page, but to be honest the restraints of available time and the sheer number of photos that this would entail rather cut short that project.  Ditto the plan to add some pictures of the DVD/Blu-Ray screen too. Perhaps a future update to this release might cover off such things... . 

The release is of interest to us on Honour and Darkness primarily for the inclusion of no less that three projects Hugin is associated with - the ubiquitous Uruk Hai, the lesser spotted but nevertheless excellent Manwe, and then the joint project Drachenfeuer, which features Jim Kirkwood (who also appears in a solo capacity on this album).  Given the excellent array of bands featured here there's far more than just Hugin's projects to enjoy of course, with a rich seam of genres to delve into that range from self professed 'Psy Progressive Trance' to 'Electronic Pop', from 'Medieval Harp Instrumental' to 'Orchestral Cinematic' (with the emphasis on the 'Orc' part, presumably?), and from 'Neo Classical Folk Ambient' to 'Epic Black Metal'.


You pretty much get it all, with this one, and it makes for a varied and mesmerising experience if digested in one sitting.  I have to note, though, that the release isn't without issues.  If you have the Blu-Ray version then in theory all of the music is playable through your player.  However, on my copy not all of the folders are accessible (and typically one of those is the one with the Uruk-Hai and the Manwe songs in it), which ultimately mars the experience.  

The DVD disc doesn't have the capacity to have the music, so instead you have alternative artwork and other bits and bobs.  Both discs do contain the short film "Nenya" though, shot by Nottorno as a homage to Tolkien and is, rather surprisingly, rather good!  Both discs also allow you to browse a select few video clips that support some of these songs, and Nazgul is delighted to report that the Uruk Hai video for 'Cirith Ungol' is all present and correct.

A magnificent effort for sure; not without fault (some of the English languages pages could have usefully used some proof-reading and editing, as their translation from the French counterparts are a bit lacking in places) but something that at the end of the day deserves a massive amount of credit for the sheer hard work it must have taken to put it all together.  Which again begs the inevitable question of why ever did it disappear seemingly without trace....?


Touching on the pertinent musical entries, just for a second: the Uruk Hai track (in an edited 'exclusive version' here, from 2010) is constructed from a song well known to reader of this blog, not least for being the subject of one of the more complex posts on Honour and Darkness when reviewed back in 2013. The Manwe track is also familiar territory, having been released previously as a very limited tape release by Wulfrune Worxx, and it sounds as excellent as ever in repeated listening here.

Where we enter new waters is with the Drachenfeuer track "Dagor Bracollach", which as the liner notes tell us was an unreleased song from 2010 when the double album "The Realm Of Light" was being composed.  Amazingly, to my mind at least, this collaboration with Jim Kirkwood still hasn't seen the light of day as an official release, so we have the slightly bizarre fact here that the unreleased song sees commercial release before the album from which is was (presumably) discarded.  Dagor Bracollach, incidentally, was notable for Melkor (with his crown of Silmaril) leaving Angband to fight against Fingolfin, high king of the Noldor.

Also notable in "The First Ring - Part 2" collection is an appearance from our old friend Jim Kirkwood under his own name, with another previously unreleased 2010 song punningly entitled 'Saruman Of Many Colours'.

Though flawed in places in the post-production stage, this is truly an epic release and the sheer effort that has gone into putting this together makes Nazgul's nit-picking rather redundant to be honest.  If ever you get a chance to pick up a copy it would be well worth the investment of time and money, but given the scarcity of the thing that might be a pretty tough proposition at the end of the day.  And more's the pity for it. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

HOLY METAL

Band: URUK HAI 
Title: Holy Metal
Format:  A cassette tape release on the W.A.R. Productions label (Austria) from 2014, cat ref WAR C86.  Hand produced by Hugin, this comes in a red case with hand-numbered inlay on red paper.  The shell of the cassette itself is also red (though I'd forgotten to take a photo of it as it's playing now as I'm typing - m'eh, what are you gonna do?!)
Edition: 5 hand-numbered copies only

Track Listing
01. Holy Metal (version 1)  10:30
02. Holy Metal (version 2)  10:30

Today's post fulfils yet another of Nazgul's outstanding promises: to do a review of the 'Holy Metal' song that was previously referenced in the split release "Holy" between Uruk Hai and Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh that we looked at back in November last year.

Firstly, let's consider the typically nice bespoke artwork from Hugin: a red paper inlay that features not only the lyrics, but has a cracking cover of an armoured warrior that would have graced a much more widely distributed release than this.  Indeed, there are but 5 copies of this tape worldwide, of which this is #1 I am very honoured to note, so it's not one that you'll be finding in HMV anytime soon....

The music is splendid - both versions start with a keyboard wash that's so typically Hugin you could set your clock by it, full of his natural verve and ambiance and leading us into darker, more percussive waters whilst maintaining its melody.  There's also some tasty guitar riffery going on as the track enters into full-on mode, much in keeping with the hybrid behemoth (and I use that term with appropriate reverence) that Uruk Hai has become in recent years.

The lyrics are part whisper, part sung, with the refrain 'holy metal' preceding the next part of the line in much the same way that Blue Oyster Cult did on their "Heavy Metal - Black and Silver" song.  Despite its simple title, that latter song was based on the 1979 book by Adrian Berry called "The Iron Sun: Crossing The Universe via Black Holes" in 1979 which inspired the song - the idea of interstellar travel via "Iron suns", or black holes.

I'm not sure we can lay such galactic symbolism at the foot of Hugin's song, despite it reaching for the heavens both in title and musical grandeur.  Sadly Nazgul's clearly failing eyesight fails to pick out the full lyrics even though they're printed on the inlay, though a combination of faint black type on red in point size 2 (or something pretty damn small!) hardly helps!

The difference in versions, incidentally, is fairly profound: version 1 has lyrics and version 2 is instrumental.  It's version 1 that appears on the split CD with ZBT, so this tape is rather special in capturing an alternative of the song ... even if Nazgul's review is rather less special in failing to tell you what the song is about!  The CD version sounds a lot more in your face, partly due to the digital sound quality but also down to what I perceive to be enhanced percussive elements within the song and an stronger vocal mix in the overall sound.

A fine song, and well worth a small release in its own right - this is a great throw back in format and limitation to days of lore in W.A.R. Productions, and more power to Hugin's elbow for doing such a crazy thing!

Can you believe that it's September already, and thus this tape forms the first post of that month as the year inexorably draws into its autumnal phase.  It will soon be time to light the fires in the Castle halls and ensure a healthy supply of ale for the soon-to-be darkening evenings.  I like autumn.... 

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.