CIRITH UNGOL

"Forever Black" (Metal Blade; 2020)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

This is a review I never expected to have the pleasure to write. But here we are, the year 2020, thirty-nine years after Cirith Ungol's debut album was released, five years after their comeback show at the Ventura Theater, and I've got a new Cirtih Ungol album in hand, complete with a cover by renowned artist Michael Whelan.

And it's like these guys never missed a beat. "Forever Black" is as solid a Cirith Ungol as there's every been. It may even be their best album.

After a brief instrumental intro called "The Call," the band gets right down to business with the galloping "Legions Arise," a song that heralds the band's return. If there was any doubt that Cirith Ungol could live up to the hype that's been passed around world-wide after the past few decades, they are erased immediately with this track. "The Frost Monstreme" is up next (a Cirith Ungol song title if there ever was one) and it's a chugging monster of a tune, with vocalist Tim Baker's banshee vocals (there's really no better way to describe them) tearing up throughout the track. The next track, "The Fire Divine," is more of a traditional metal song, with an irresistible chrous "The blind will lead the blind, straight to the Fire Divine." A melodic guitar intro opens the next track, "Stormbringer," which, of course, eventually erupts into full heavy metal.

I won't go through the remaining tracks with you (there are nine tracks total) but I will say that none disappoint. When the album closes out with the title track, you feel like you've got your money's worth. Yeah, I've heard some people gripe about the "campy" lyrics and there may be some of that but, if Lemmy can get away with "Sittin' here in a high tuxedo; You wanna see my bacon torpedo" I think we can give Cirtih Ungol some slack.

Cirith Ungol—who have been re-formed since 2016 with Night Demon's Jarvis Leatherby now on bass—are back with a vengeance. The band has been playing swildly successful tours (mostly in Europe) to wildly enthusastic crowds and I think that renewed popularity will only continue with the raging success of "Forever Black." I suggest that, if you're unfamiliar with the band, that you check out their history. They've influenced countless musicians throughout the years and their return to form is evidence of why that happened.

Cirith Ungol: Tim Baker vocals; Jim Barraza - guitars; Robert Garven - drums; Jarvis Leatherby - bass; Greg Lindstrom - guitars/keyboards.

For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/cirithungolofficial/.  

"Paradise Lost" (Restless; 1991)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

"Paradise Lost" is easily the most accessible title in the Cirith Ungol catalog. With heavy metal swelling to its highest popularity, Cirith Ungol released a CD that was far more standard and clichéd than any of their previous releases. Tim Baker's banshee vocals are brought down a notch, making him sound like a more serious Vince Neil. And the songs are written in a much more standard vein. Whereas earlier Cirith Ungol was unique in its loose songwriting style, the songs on "Paradise Lost" are even and - dare we say it? - smooth. Tracks such as "Go It Alone" almost sound like the popular anthems we were all hearing on the radio back in the late 80s and early 90s.

Still, perhaps not surprisingly, "Paradise Lost" is still better than the vast majority of the band's competitors at the time.

Although they sacrificed much of their originality with "Paradise Lost," Cirith Ungol also showed an impressive ability to adapt. Without selling out their sound, the band created a CD that would appeal to fans of what was hot at the moment, but also draw them into the unique Cirith Ungol world. In other words, those unfamiliar with Cirith Ungol might do better to start here before moving onto the band's more singular style on CDs like "King of the Dead," "One Foot in Hell" and "Frost And Fire."

Cirith Ungol continue to be cited as a band from which others drew inspiration and influence and their impressive, although far too minimal, catalog is proof of their place in heavy metal.

Cirith Ungol: Tim Baker - lead vocals; Jim Barraza - guitars; Robert Garven - drums; Vernon Green - bass. Additional musicians: Joe Malatesta - guitars; Robert L. Warrenburg - bass.

For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/cirithungolofficial/.  

"King of the Dead" (Metal Blade; 1984)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

If you were to take Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and the highest pitched vocals of Rob Halford, grind them up, and then mix them into one sticky rock'n'roll soup, you'd have a band that sounds a little like Cirith Ungol.

Formed in the late 70s or early 80s, Cirith Ungol was a metal band that made a name for itself based on their live performances and their self-released records. The band garnered surprising airplay and a huge fanbase that eventually landed them a record deal on Metal Blade Records.

"King of the Dead" the band's second album, was self-produced and recorded in Rough Edge's hometown of Ventura, CA (at the legendary Goldmine Studios). Originally released on vinyl, the album was re-issued on CD by Metal Blade and an additional bonus track was added - a live version of "Last Laugh" recorded in 1984.

Even to this day, twenty years after the initial release of "King of the Dead," Cirith Ungol's sound is still original. With a simple guitar/bass/drums/vocals base, Cirith Ungol never sacrificed or compromised their music. "King of the Dead" is pure heavy metal, as defined by the bandmembers. Although it is probably the banshee-like vocals of Tim Baker that most fans will remember (as well as being the one aspect of the band that you either loved or hated), the other musicians were just as important. Jerry Fogle's stripped down but startlingly sophisticated guitar work was the backbone of most Cirith Ungol tunes. There's a raw power to Fogle's work that still shines today. Bassist Flint and drummer Robert Garven gave the band its thundering drive.

Lyrically, as one might guess from the band's moniker (taken from J.R.R. Tolkien) and cover art, the band leans toward the fantasy and battle epics popular in this genre. Of course, there are no lyrics on the band's "cover" of Bach's "Toccata in D" which is done quite well here. Too bad they didn't use this in that godawful re-make of "Rollerball." It would have helped that movie ... a little.

Cirith Ungol may not be for every heavy metal fan. They certainly don't fit any commercial type of heavy metal but , for many,  that's part of the attraction. And, as mentioned above, the vocals herein drove as many people away as they attracted.  Still, it's quite an accomplishment for a band's sound to remain this fresh even after twenty years. That uniqueness may be what kept the band from becoming as big as the aforementioned Sabbath or Maiden, but it's also given them an sizable underground audience that still holds them in high regard today.

"King of the Dead" isn't the best Cirith Ungol album. As of this writing, I'm leaning toward the band's first record, "Frost and Fire," but "King of the Dead" is pretty damn good. Those wanting to try something a little different that still boasts a mighty kick, could do worse than pick up this CD.

Cirith Ungol: Jerry Fogle - guitars; Tim Baker - vocals; Flint - bass; Robert Garven - drums. 

For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/cirithungolofficial/.  

"Frost and Fire" (Metal Blade; 1981)

Reviewed by Snidermann

This is the debut release by Cirith Ungol, originally released in 1981. Cirith Ungol is from Rough Edge's hometown, Ventura, California. However, I have to admit, this is the first time I have ever really listened to this band.

For those of you wonder, the term "Cirith Ungol" comes from J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series. It means "Pass Of the Spider." I may not have listened to this band but I've heard of them over the last few decades and I'm sure I've listened to a track here and there (probably on Rough Edge Radio) but, dammit, I cant remember when. However, let’s get back to the recording.

Now I've had the time and I delved deep into the band's debut recording. What I found was pure power rock'n'roll and a shit load of attitude to boot. This is where rock'n'roll wants to be before it turns into heavy metal. From listening to this recording, I think the band was right where they wanted to be: Having fun, kicking metal ass and not worrying about what people think.

I've done a little research during the writing of this review and I just realized Cirith Ungol was on Metal Blade Records (duh!). Rough Edge has reviewed Metal Blade releases for years so, of course, that's where I've heard them. Anyway, this music is in-your-face and if you don't like it, well fuck you. This music rocks like a bitch and the sky is the limit.

For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/cirithungolofficial/.  

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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