Genre: Epic, Heavy Metal
Label: Metal Blade REcords
On December 13, 1991, Cirith Ungol performs their last concert at the nearly empty Majestic Ventura Theater in Ventura, California. This date will mark the beginning of the end for a band that began in the early 1970s, finally sealing one of the most important pages of Heavy Metal history, with only three things: music, their name and their blood.
Things weren’t at all smooth for Cirith Ungol. Especially since they started recording. It was April 1981 when their debut , “Flost and Fire” was released on their own record label, Liquid Flame Records. From there starts a course full of adventures, which I would definitely not call a “walk in the park”. And if I’m not here to repeat their story, you can bother looking for it if you want to, dear reader.
The facts are down, the band’s 4 total albums are on the shelf and the essence remains: The more Cirith Ungol encountered doors closed or hard to open, the harder remained firm in their sound and aesthetics, something difficult to grasp at the time of their birth. Their enigmatic steel spoke of antiheroes, turning J. R. R. Tolkien to fairy tale in touch with fear itself, assuring you there was no salvation. An anthem to the disarray and destruction that will come from our own hands, together with certainty of the absolute domination of Chaos. A good reason to turn your back on them.
And there were people who turned their backs on them. At the time when they were looking to move to Europe, accompanied by “reviews” talking about “the worst album in Metal history”. At a time when almost every album was on a different label, at a time when they performing for a dozen people… That’s why I’m telling you, beloved reader. Cirith Ungol were spitting blood once.
From the Majestic Ventura Theater began their return journey, the calendar showing October 8, 2016. This time the place was packed and Cirith Ungol were headliners at the “Frost and Fire II” festival. Two days after October 10, 2016, the state of Ventura is honoring them, endorsing this day as “Cirith Ungol Day”.
A lot has changed from 1991 to 2016 you’ll say. Maybe, maybe not. The point is that 25 years was more than enough for Cirith Ungol to gain the dimension of a legend, at least in the consciousness of those who really felt their music. This is how their posthumous recognition began, with a new wave of listeners who were not only fascinated by the music, but also surprised by the fact that this band had been extinguished, some even begging for some kind of justification … Yes, the past has a different beauty to some, and with that beauty comes the desire to return. As in a fairy tale.
During these 25 years, a small – or larger – industry within the Metal sphere has been set up,for better or worse, with the objective of instigating such comebacks. And you know well both that the motives and the results vary. From small re-release labels to record contracts being dug up or rewritten by multinational corporations, and from small live shows in “made in USA” burger joints, to major European festivals aiming at a Metal resurrection.
For years this industry has been approaching Ungol in many different ways and with many different motivations. The red carpet had already been laid out, and Metal Blade re-releases began in 1999. However, another waiting period was required. On one hand, Jerry Fogle’s death on August 20, 1998 from liver failure was a fact that made the reunification scenario seem impossible. On the other hand, Robert Garven had learned his lesson after so many years, repeating again and again that he would never play drums again, and all this was mainly due to some form of dislike for the music industry, which made him pay attention to his every move with those who approached him about his broken up band. But it was clear that chapter Cirith Ungol concerned him greatly. Like an open bout, like a story that hadn’t closed properly … At least that was what I understood when I was chatting with him shortly after the 00’s. I had been able to track him down and persuade him to give me a focused interview in the past, and this was also the reason for publishing the Forgotten Scroll Zine with my good friend Yiannis Tziligakis, which in that first issue in February 2004, had featured that talk with Garven. At that time, however, the beast seemed unable to wake up … But at some point – when the stars aligned just right, as Tim Baker himself said in an interview with Metal Invader -, the return finally came to…
Robert Garven (drums), Tim Baker (vocals), Greg Lindstrom (guitar), Jim Barraza (guitar) and Jarvis Leatherby (bass). Jarvis from Night Demon was the one who gave the ultimate spark of rejuvenation. As an organizer of the Frost and Fire festival, as band manager and now as a regular member of the band. As for the others, you have already read what the line up is, it does not consist of concert mercenaries. It consists of the same members who wrote the Cirith story. Especially the return of Lindstrom – who had left after the first record – is at least moving. Okay we’d also like Flint on bass for a permanent member. But for now, let’s just settle for his upcoming guest appearance at the upcoming Keep It True Festival (April 24, 25, 2020 – yes they are playing both days as headliners).
The ground has been prepared since 2015. For a whole year the band has been steadily rehearsing. In October 2016 they were ready, they put the timer back on and this time not the other way around.
Live performances came one after another: Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, Germany and of course Greece. We also had the first sample of new material with the single “Witch’s Game seeing the light of day in September 2018. Cirith Ungol back to life … It sounds like a lie …
The band’s first live appearance in our country -Greece-, was at Gagarin 205 on May 27, 2017. From this appearance comes the main part of the “I am Alive” release which is also the first official live recording of Cirith Ungol. There are double CD and double DVD releases, as well as a double vinyl featuring the entire Athens (Up the Hammers festival) show as well as some individual tracks from the November 18, 2017 show at the Hammer of Doom festival in Germany.
There is also a box set version full of extra goodies (see end for a detailed list), which to my eyes is particularly important not so much for its fetishistic and future collectible value but mainly for one of the extras it contains. I’m referring to the third bonus DVD in the box, which includes the first appearance Cirith Ungol has made in Europe since they began to exist as a band. I’m referring to the April 29 show at the German Keep It True festival of 2017. There is also an in-depth interview – a documentary by John Frangos of rockway.gr in which the band makes an on-camera recounting of their story. This is an addition that exemplifies the historical value of the recorded material in my opinion, both in general and in this extra DVD in particular.
For the overall atmosphere of the album, which is a key feature that we put under the microscope when it comes to live recordings, I can only say the best. So all the intensity of that night has been imprinted. Both the band and the world. The setlist is exemplary while Ungol itself are in great shape. And just the fact that you are listening to Tim Baker’s live performances again and again, and only in the first chorus of “King Of The Dead” do you hear the word “Dead” turn into something terribly spooky, something that looks like screaming or yelling but it’s neither of them, and you just hear the best riff ever written in Heavy Metal history – yes I’m talking about “Chaos Rising” riff – even a click faster, all of that is more than enough. And they make this release, simply necessary.
I won’t even write a word for Cirith Ungol’s music. There is no reason … If you adore them like I do you need to read absolutely nothing. If you’re learning about them now, you are already in the process of discovering their treasure. If you don’t even know them I’ll tell you this: No Heavy Metal band played and won’t play like Cirith Ungol. They carry a rare blessing and curse on their backs, so they make music. The kind of music that influenced many bands and people individually. Like the one writing to you now. Next to the music, they added their values. I’ve been talking to you about those above, even if it was a rough retelling. Look for them yourself again. You’ll understand, and I hope you stay.
Note that the well-known Cirith Ungol cover artist, Michael Whelan created the front cover of this release. The figure of the beloved Elric of Melnibone, Michael Moorcock’s anti-hero, seals yet another Ungol cover. So it must be, after all, that this band’s music is tied to Elric’s fate and the eerie mystery of his world …
I have nothing else to add. I would like to close this piece by saying: If there is at least a band that really deserves to be recognized, this band is Cirith Ungol. If there is one band worth literally getting everything they can -regardless of motives- from this Metal Past business, this band is Cirith Ungol. I want to see their arenas full of people, I want to see them play everywhere … Yes. Because they once spilled blood. Because they gave us music that would accompany us beyond death and that’s why they deserve so much …
Your fate hangs before you, on a wheel of fire
As you stand revealed to Satan’s eye
In Cirith Ungol, Tower of Fire…
Cirith Ungol – I am Alive
+ Live at Up the Hammers Festival – 2017 (14 Tracks)
+ Live at Up the Hammers Festival – 2017 (3 Tracks)
+ Live at Hammer of Doom – 2017 (5 Tracks)
DVD 1 (TRT: 03:11:16)
+ Live at Up the Hammers Festival – 2017 (17 Tracks)
+ Live at Hammer of Doom Festival – 2017 (19 Tracks)
DVD 2 (TRT: 03:14:49)
+ Documentaries (4 Parts)
+ Live at Rock Hard Festival – 2018 (12 Tracks)
+ Interview – Rock Hard Festival
BONUS DVD (TRT: 02:04:53)
+ Live at Keep It True Festival – 2017 (14 Tracks)
+ Documentary – The Lost Years
02. I’m Alive
03. Join the Legion
04. Atom Smasher
05. Edge of a Knife
06. Blood & Iron
07. Black Machine
08. Frost and Fire
09. Finger of Scorn
10. Chaos Descends
11. Doomed Planet
12. Chaos Rising
13. Fallen Idols
14. Paradise Lost
15. Master of the Pit
16. King of the Dead
17. Cirith Ungol
BONUS 12″ – Live at Hammer of Doom – 2018
02. War Eternal
05. Death of the Sun
Box Set Includes:
+ Box (~xx” x xx” x xx”)
+ 2CD/2DVD Digipak
+ Bonus DVD
+ Purple Marbled Vinyl
+ Bonus 12″ Purple Marbled Vinyl (Etched Side B)
+ Drum Stick
+ Mini Microphone
+ Guitar Picks (3)
+ Metal Keychain
+ Laminate w/ Lanyard
+ Autographed Photocard
+ Concert Setlist w/ Graphics (Hand Drawn by Rob)
+ A1 Concert Poster
+ Limited Edition (1000 Copies)