Review Summary: The masters of the pit are back from the dead
I’ve noticed that most reviews or discussions regarding Cirith Ungol point out how underrated this band is and that it should have been way more popular. As unpopular this opinion might be among fans of the Ventura outfit, I’m not entirely sure that it should or could have been more popular. After all, we are talking about one of the most unique and quirky acts of its time that brought together proto-doom, classic heavy metal, early-Rush prog, and ‘70s hard rock. Add to these, Tim Baker’s idiosyncratic vocal approach with his signature banshee wails and howls, and you can realize why these guys never had legions of fans following them. Of course, if you’re a fan of epic metal, chances are that you consider King of the Dead
a classic, and you don’t give a *** about whether these guys make it big time, simply because Cirith Ungol with or without legions of fans is one of the best epic metal band that has graced the face of the earth.
But the question still remains: will this be the album that makes more people take notice of Cirith Ungol?
To answer the above question, one must take into consideration a few variables. First of all, one of Cirith Ungol’s greatest virtues is their ability to transport the listener to a fictional setting, an epic multiverse, where swords and sorcery reign supreme. From the cover art with Elric of Melniboné to songs like the quasi-prog “The Frost Monstreme” and “Stormbringer” which features some clean vocals, Forever Black
checks that box. Of course, it’s not only a matter of stylistics but also songwriting. The aforementioned tracks are among the highlights on here along with “Forever Black” because of their adventurous nature. The latter, for example, is mostly restrained, but picks up towards the end and has a genuine feeling of chaos and emergency. These songs also feature some catchy solos and tasty leads with a strong ‘70s hard rock flavor, which is something dearly missed in modern traditional metal, as unnatural as this term sounds. The ‘70s influence is also apparent on “Fractus Promissum” as we can listen to some wah-wah guitar, which is not something usual in epic metal. There are also some upbeat tracks, like “Legions Arise” that brings to mind the fast part of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil” and “The Fire Divine” which sports one of the most memorable choruses of the entire album.
Now, despite all the positives, I can’t help but feel that these veterans lost a huge opportunity here. It might not bode well with longtime fans, but one of the things that made I’m Alive
such an enjoyable release, besides the dreamy setlist and the blistering performance, was the modern production value. I’m not referring to a super clean, crystal clear, loudness war-type production but something that would give some more punch and oomph to the already solid songs on here. That, combined with a couple more experimental tracks like those on King of the Dead
would send this LP right to the top of the list with the best traditional metal releases of the year.
So to answer the rhetorical question at the beginning of this review, this might as well be the album that makes more people notice the underground act. However, that’s not because it’s the best LP in the band’s discography, nor is it different than what we’ve come to expect by these guys. Forever Black
, even though it consists entirely of new material and comes 29 years after Paradise Lost
, is 100% Cirith Ungol. Nevertheless, what seems to have changed this time around is that there is a whole new generation of fans, especially in Europe, into traditional metal ready to embrace the masters of the pit.