Genre: Epic/Heavy Metal
Label: Metal blade Records
The road is open now. And the ground was thoroughly prepared. You have an EP in 2018, live albums coming out in 2019, and in general, you’ve made your presence felt for a long time on stages that, at the time you were recording for the first time, you would not even see in your sleep. It’s time to win back a bet. 29 years after the album that put the nail in your coffin. It wasn’t a bad album, far from it. Though, it was a strange time.
Well, you better make a bet, because you know better than anyone that with seaweed for silk ribbons, the job doesn’t get done and that without new music you can’t move forward. Some people may have written “history” with 5 songs, but you’re Cirith Ungol, and if anything, you’ve always come out with music, not bullshit.
This is what I think while listening to “Legions Rise” -album’s first single- for the thousandth time, whilst in the meantime, having answered a message from Tsekas asking me about the review. I start writing while listening to the grim introduction of “The Call” spreading out in the space, just before “Legions” catches me by the throat.
Things have fallen into place. The galloping main theme of my track shows that the band pushes the “Paradise Lost” form(s) ahead, for this track at least. Tim Baker’s voice is present. Same and unchanged as if not a day had passed. And let me make it clear now that the voice is the undeniable center of gravity of the entire album, as it has always been.
“The Frost Monstreme” proudly declares the presence of Greg Lindstrom in the band (either playing-wise or as far as composition goes). Listening to the late 70s proto heavy/epic style of composition with the introductory lick “mirror” of “Frost and Fire”, you quickly realize that the band will pass stylistically through all its periods on this album as well and that Greg did not change half a course, following a lifetime of the -that’s what I feel, that’s what I play- formula (take for example any Falcon material, what, no?). The same old pattern will follow “Fire Divine” to remind you that Ungol is a band that was made in the 70s and to let you sing the most gloomy chorus you have heard in the last nearly thirty years.
With “Stormbringer” Ungol will return to the “Paradise Lost” world to step on a clear “Chaos Rising” pattern, then. Natural continuity or safe choice? That of both and happening, the piece writes just fine.
At this point I want to stress, listening for the umpteenth time to the lead parts of “Stormbringer”, that I generally consider the lead guitar themes of the album as the strongest element for the new material, after the vocals, of course. It really is one of the few times that I see lead guitars acting so importantly on a Heavy Metal album of our time. No, they’re not just emphasizing, they’re literally taking off every piece. Inspired, full of substance and above all recognisable by kilometers, lead themes, watered with this characteristic Ungol gloom. Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza have performed their miracle on guitars in general, but the album’s leads in general are a reference point and this should be emphasised.
“Fractus Promissum” is the most “One Foot In Hell” track of the album and for this finding blame the classic stripped Cirith riff, on which the composition is set. But, there is also here the late 70s touch and, of course, the outstanding solo which brings out the song to the maximum, as I wrote before, do not make me say it again. Ah, if you can find of which song is reminiscent the closing theme and win a commemorative Metal Invader sticker.
With “Nightmares” bringing forth a characteristically ominous atmosphere, the band insists on this “less is more” practice that showed us as well with the “Witch’s Game” single of 2018. Slow themes, spread guitars and Baker’s performance to lift the whole weight of the track, on his backs. When Cirith Ungol lower(s) gears, their sound really transforms into something completely special and completely their own. Even in this track that you do not objectively characterize as the absolute moment of the album, it seems clear that the old Cirith recipe still works. It is these very slow motifs that have occasionally stuck the label of “Doom Metal” to Cirith. No, that’s not Doom Metal. It’s much more than that. It’s Cirith Ungol.
With “Before Tomorrow” watered to the marrow with “King Of The Dead” influences, nothing can go wrong. Here, yes, we are definitely dealing with one of the strongest moments of the album, it was not chosen by chance as the second single for the “Forever Black” album.
The epilogue belongs to the homonymous “Forever Black” track, which is probably the absolute “Paradise Lost” worship of the album, but from the second half until the epilogue dives into the “King Of The Dead” mire (listen to the closing, you will understand what I mean). Robert Garven gives everything he’s got here as well. There is, anyway, plenty of fertile ground for rhythmic transcendence in the track since Jarvis Leatherby’s bass lines are the basis of the composition.
I would also like to write a couple of words about “Brutal Manchild”, an old Cirith Ungol track from 1978 which was recorded in the sessions of “Forever Black”, but did not enter the album. However, it will be released as a Flexi Disc with the issue 187 (May, 2020) of Decibel Magazine, and you can listen to it online. It is a torrential composition in the familiar late 70s style of the band, stormy drums and riffing and Tim Baker in a rabid performance.
The production of the album highlights the tracks. In no case does the material sound pretentiously old-fashioned (I mention “pretentiously” because generally this pattern is a thing out there, and in the very wrong way). The sound approach highlights the hard and heavy Ungol riffing, puts the bass forward and leaves plenty of space for both Baker and the lead guitar paradise that adorns the album. And all this with the classic grim and eerie approach of the band remaining not only synthetically, not only in terms of atmosphere and interpretation but ALSO sonically, their trademark.
Elric, of course, dominates the cover of Michael Whelan, which achieves its purpose. Be recognizable, that is. This was largely what was wanted with the Cirith Ungol covers. To be recognizable and of course to serve their dark fantasy lyrics which I don’t even need to mention is here also ubiquitous. It couldn’t have been otherwise.
Of one thing I can be sure about this album: Cirith Ungol gave their heart and soul. And this for me counts far more than any other criterion, musically or non-specific, especially in the case of Cirith Ungol.
I know you’re going to ask if the album will last through time or if it can stand next to the classics. The answer will be given by each of us individually. In one way only: dedicating time to the album for serious listening.
My time gets real (meaning) with the music of a band like that. Who besides talent has faith in what it professes. As long as there are such bands for me there is hope in Heavy Metal. From an artistic and moral point of view. Yeah, there’s a one-in-a-million identification. Cirith Ungol taught me that, you know…