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Cirith Ungol - Frost And Fire

Published May 06 2009

=Staff's pick

Frost And Fire
I'm Alive*
A Little Fire
What Does It Take*
Edge Of A Knife*
Better Off Dead*
Maybe That's Why
Cirith Ungol (live)*

Genre Traditional/Epic Metal
Tim Baker
Tracks 7
Jerry Fogle
Runningtime 40 Min.
Greg Lindstrom
Label Enigma Records
Michael Flint
Release 1980
Robert Garven
Country USA
Similar artists Manilla Road, Omen, Falcon

Behind the glamour, glitz, and garishness that was the sunset strip hair metal scene, there labored bands which were heavier, more unique, more honest, more understated, and, of course, darker and more dangerous than any of their lipstick-layered contemporaries. Among these was a band called - Cirith Ungol - who always made sure to upstage the hair bands, for which they opened!

I was first introduced to this band in 2003, whilst upon one of my many late-night hunts for more metal. The band was heavily influenced by The Lord Of The Rings. Cirith Ungol is the back door to Mordor, a high pass where Shelob the spider lurked. The cover art is from the DAW books edition of Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga. Being the fan of fantasy fiction that I am, naturally I got a hold of Frost And Fire as quickly as I could. It is a quirky release, but one which is worthy of many more accolades as the classic that it is.

This band has been widely credited as an influence by others; particularly the current crop of Mediterranean retro-epic metal bands. One just has to think how many Domine albums display Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone character, and the influence of this seminal quintet can be seen quite handily.

Indeed, we find ourselves in an age awash with epic metal bands, but to this day this album reeks of dark magick, mystery, and epic moodiness. Hard Rock is the predominant style here, unlike the more metallic offerings from later in their career. There are nods to punk, and of course, to the fantasy fiction which guitarist Greg Lindstrom and drummer Robert Garven found as common ground betwixt them. As an aside, the proper way to pronounce the name is kee-rith oon-goal, but the band pronounced the name with a soft c.

The most recognizable feature of this album is the unique vocal style of Tim Baker. His raspy scream is one that is either loved or hated; I am of the former class. I tend to think of him more as a narrator, screeching and raging his stories of life as a rebellious rocker. In fact, the vocals are more subdued on this album than they are on later releases, but lack none of the street-tough attitude, and almost poetic delivery which he so amply related on this album.

The guitar tone is of that wonderful amps-on-eleven style which typified early metal, in the hallowed days before the widespread pervasion of the outboard distortion pedal. The chords resonate and clang, and the quirky, Michael Schenker-esque soloing which pervades the album, particularly on Better Off Dead, weaves right along with the vocals, the pounding bass of Michael Flint, and the simplistic skinsmanship of Robert Garven. All the instruments bash away without too much ornamentation, and convey a very raw, barbaric attitude that has often been imitated, but never truly mastered.

Even by today's digital standards, the production is incredibly clear, an amazing feat from the days of analog equipment; given the budget upon which this album was surely recorded!

The songs are direct, unique amongst themselves, and quite interesting, indeed! There is a lot of proto-doom plodding going on here (See the verses of I'm Alive and the middle of Cirith Ungol), and bleak mid-paced rock 'n roll, instilling the whole affair with the dark-as-a-dungeon atmosphere that is the heart of the album's appeal.

The Hawkwind-ish keyboards in What Does It Take lend a certain weirdness to the song; this instrument is not featured at any other point in this album. The songs flow so well from part to part without losing their directness, much like those of contemporaries Omen in their glory days. I do not skip any of these songs, because, quite frankly, they all stand strong on their own merits. The live version of Cirith Ungol is particularly grin-inducing, as it is capped off with an almost Wagnerian extended ending which rivals those of Manowar!

Sadly, the band dissolved in 1992, and a reunion is not expected. However, they left us with an enduring and influential legacy, one which Greg Lindstrom is carrying on in the band Falcon, which recorded lost Cirith Ungol songs for their debut album.

Frost And Fire is an album to which I will always return eagerly. It may sound a bit dated to some, but I am confident that it, and those which followed it, will continue to inspire legions of metalheads to glory - at least, those who are willing to look to the early days for their inspiration.








8,5 chalices of 10 - Nate

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