Review Summary: Frost and fire gives you the impression of a band still finding their feet in the metal world, but few would argue that the album is still a generally powerful piece of music.
Cirith Ungol is often a name more synonymous with the Lord of the Rings trilogy than it is with an 80s American heavy metal band. That said, many self-respecting metal fans these days seem to cite the band as a very underrated group, particularly because the power and traditional doom-laden progression of their latter releases proved to be unique and for some, timeless. However, the band's debut album serves as quite a shaky start for a band which, even at the time of Frost and fire
's release, had formed ten years previously.
Frost and fire
itself isn't particularly bad, but when compared to the likes of King of the dead
, is considerably weaker. The instrumental performance is perhaps the highlight of the album, consisting of a generally solid and heavy rhythm section intertwined with a sometimes ambitious, other times simplistic approach to metallic music. Guitars churn throughout the album, offering well executed solos and at times almost brutal riffs which come across as heavier versions of Cirith Ungol's (then) peers. The drum and bass patterns work well together to create a rumbling, consistent pace which takes control of the musical direction in songs such as the excellent title track and slow burner “I'm alive”. Even the bass itself comes across as a very audible instrument sometimes, shining through the recording of “A little fire” and victorious instrumental closer “Maybe that's why”. Together with the maniacal vocals, the instrumentation on Cirith Ungol's debut album creates a great overall sound.
However, Frost and fire
is not complete without its flaws, and there are quite a few of them. For one thing, three of the songs are written in such a way that it leaves the listener wondering what happened to the same band which produced instant classics such as the title track and “I'm alive”. The synth-heavy “What does it take” unfortunately relies so much on, well, synthesisers that it's hard to even make out any other instrument bar the obvious drum patterns in the background. Guitar work is virtually non-existent at times, vocals are much less refined and in fact sound lazy as a result, and it almost comes across as the worst part of a poorly produced AOR rock album. Then there's the slightly confusing “Better off dead” and inconsistent “Edge of a knife”. The former doesn't even sound like a song for the first minute or so, with unnecessarily slow bass rhythms, and even when the guitar and drum work joins in, they never really prove as effective or indeed mind-blowing as they could have been given the musical gusto of the band's future releases. The latter is simplistic, hard-hitting, but that's about it. Compared to the excellence of the title track and a couple of other songs, it turns out to be a rather weak collection of instrumental performances, and nothing can save it from stagnating even more.
So Frost and fire
is far from perfect, but as a debut album, it's not bad at all. The epic instrumental closer just goes to show how Cirith Ungol would deliver the goods and then some on future releases, and despite the few flawed songs here, the overall product is still a great slice of powerful heavy metal.