Cirith…. What? Really? THE Cirith Ungol? The legendary 80s US band? That eccentric, original, ground-breaking metal band? After nearly 30 years? That Cirith Ungol?
Fuck me. It is. Oh, lords of chaos, bless me…
Yeah. Yeah it is.
And with an awesome Michael Whelan ‘Elric’ cover again?! That logo?!
The dream team.
Sorry, but yeah with some band’s memories go deep. Music, times, places. Foolish things done dancing drunk through a city, emotional things in the dark. So not only was I ecstatic when this was assigned to me, but also terrified. Especially after the ‘Paradise Lost’ album following three stone cold classics in Frost And Fire, King Of The Dead and One Foot In Hell.
But here we are and something about that cover screamed “We are back! ” And with really only the ‘unavailable’ bassist Flint replaced by Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby this is the band. Tim Baker, Greg Lindstrom, Robert Garven, Jim Bazzara.
‘The Call’. Deep, resonating horn, a vision of fog and still waters…Doom. Then ‘Legions Arise’ with the kind of scampering riff from Messer’s Lindstrom and Bazara that I haven’t heard since ‘Blood And Iron’. And the Mr Baker’s unique voice barks out. His style is unique, unmistakable; dramatic, nuanced, rough edged cries almost halfway between spoken and sung at times. Oh man this is so good. Those vocals rasping through as the fantastic riff snakes around. There’s a hint of doom, a whisper of a middle eastern thread to the melody and their air of chaos in the wings ever present as the breakdown comes. It’s like a weight has been lifted.
This. Is. Cirith Ungol!
Even better is ‘The Frost Monstreme’. The choppy, rhythmic slow doom riff is classic Cirth Ungol. It stomps and hammers down in a way that in the 80s was outlandish, unheard of but now is…well, let’s just say if you’ve heard a modern band play like this, bet ya they’re fans. It dances into a prog meets boogie breakdown and a blistering lead break, hauling back into the snarling, biting vocals to close.
The production here is just about perfect for Cirith Ungol; clear bass lines showing through which is just essential for a band who were once described as ‘that band with the bassist who thinks he’s the lead guitarist..’, perfect mix of vocals with the riffs and a lovely heavy drum sound.
‘The Fire Divine’ rumbles into mid-paced flames with a hookline that could land Moby Dick and a great guitar run across it. The drumming here is thunderous; deep, low gear driving force with the base perfectly shadowing the guitar. Oh, this is glorious stuff. Metal for Keep It True crowd. I can just see Visigoth bouncing off the walls to this.
Then ‘Stormbringer’. One of their favourite lyrical themes. A melodic semi-acoustic intro, clean vocals, a deceptively gentle rise…then into classic Cirith Ungol of a slow, almost straining rhythm as the vocals are wrung from Tim Baker’s throat. Its hairs standing up time for me. ‘Fractus Promissum’ has a jagged little feel, a gorgeous eighties feel but an up to date spine. Snaking guitars, nods to Priest, snarls to their enemies. Perfect. ‘Nightmare’ is a dark, malevolent piece of churning howls, a strut through shadows and a godlike wave of their evil hand. ‘Before Tomorrow’ has an ominous feel to it, a building cloud that creeps up on you. Finally, the title track leads us out to perfection: Doomy, epic metal with a glorious triumphant feel. And well might they feel that. Facing doom, fate, in the face and staring that bastard down until it blinks first.
This is just glorious. This is a perfect continuation from One Foot On Hell, with more than a glance to earlier works. The vitality, the heart and soul on display here though is just huge. The songs, every one, are just blistering. Heavy, unique, memorable and just full of blood and iron.
If you’ve never heard Cirith Ungol, this is a damned fine place to start. If you know them and love them then they have more than rewarded your belief. This is brilliant. Totally on top of their art. I’m going to be mean and dock a half point simply because I haven’t lived with it long enough but if anything beats this to my me end of year top spit I’ll be amazed.