New music from Cirith Ungol in 2020. Things are finally starting to look up.
The name of the band comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing, but I didn’t know that when I first saw the King of the Dead album at Stonehenge Records in Muncie, Indiana. What a cover painting (by Michael Whelan)! This was in the early 1980s and I had never heard of the band, didn’t know they were from California, or even what they sounded like. I put the record on and the first song started, “Atom Smasher.” I still remember the opening line, “Welcome to the brave new world! The future’s here or haven’t you heard?” The music was heavy, the vocals were out of this universe, and the guitar break was completely different from anything I was used to hearing. I was hooked. My favorite song on that album is “Master of the Pit,” which I still play surprisingly frequently decades later. I remember trying to find more music from the band and I couldn’t. Their first album, Frost & Fire, had been released in very small numbers and no copies had made it to rural Indiana where I was. I had to wait.
The band released two more albums, One Foot In Hell (1986) and Paradise Lost (1991). The former one is a killer, and you know from the jump (“Blood & Iron”) you are in for a wild ride. Their fourth album didn’t have quite the punch of the first three, but there is still a lot to like there. The writing might have been on the wall about the end of the band but I didn’t want to see it. Heedless of my wishes, in the early 1990s, the band broke apart.
Twenty plus years later, Cirith Ungol resurrected, with the lineup largely intact. The band today is comprised of long-time members Robert Garven (drums), Tim Baker (vocals), Greg Lindstrom (guitar), and Jim Barraza (guitar). Added to the pack is Jarvis Leatherby whose running the bass now. They sound great together, like no time has passed. The big question for me was always going to be Tim Baker’s vocals. His voice was so big and unique back in the day, and you could hear the force he exerted every time he sang. On the new album, Baker’s vocalizations are slightly smoother than on the earlier albums, but there is no mistaking him, and there is no question that this is Cirith Ungol music. The dark fantasy themes are there in the songs, the epic guitar structures, too. You can hear the classic metal forms in the writing, the heavy rhythms creating a fortress of sound for the voice and lead guitar to rise around and leap out. I like the album all the way through. The three songs that stand out for me are “The Frost Monstreme,” “Fractus Promissum,” and “Forever Black.” Especially “Fractus.” I can’t get it out of my head. It is a pounding anthem with an amazing lead break and lyrics you can’t forget, like, “Do we cower in the shadows or step into the light / Embrace the blinding fury borne of chaos’ holy might / Rise up from the darkness, put an end to wicked schemes / Or do we bow our heads and follow someone else’s dream.” Whether it is the 1980s, the 1990s, or the now, that sentiment is going to speak to people.
Forever Black is out now. Grab a download at Bandcamp, or get the CDs and vinyl while they last at your favorite retailer. This is exactly the album I was hoping for from Cirith Ungol. Highly recommended.