Robert Garven - Cirith Ungol
It is astonishing that over 40 years
ago a band like the adamant smashers Cirith Ungol formed when High School
buddies in an AP English Class allowed their teenaged frustrations, and
fiery passion for music to coincide with their appreciation and fondness
for fantasy based literature like Tolkien or Michael Moorcock.
Even, though they garnered very little financial success, when bands opened for them often went on to superstardom. Thankfully, they would go on to sow the seeds along with acts like Omen and Manilla Road, which would influence many Greek and Italian acts, and be rightfully viewed as the distinguished progenitors for what is now considered Epic Metal.
I had the distinct honour to speak with the gregarious and assertive Robert Garven about the band's history, and the celebrated re-release of 'Servants Of Chaos'. Come join us before the lash, and see who gets the last laugh.
MettleAngel: Hey Brother, I was so grateful when I heard that Cirith Ungol were available for interviews. How does it feel to be in league with the elite who set the standard for what is now the genre of Epic Metal?
MettleAngel: Along with Manilla Road and fellow label mates at the time - Omen, I consider you as being the Holy Trinity of Influence when it comes to the creators of Epic Metal.
MettleAngel: I have not heard the Tribute album called 'One Foot In Fire' which honours Cirith Ungol.
MettleAngel: I love Powerwolf! Their newest album was awesome! I have always been a fan of Falconer, and Mithotyn before them. I know there is also a Tribute to Manilla Road. Many of these bands from your era like Omen and their ilk are still attempting to remain active, even if only one main member now is present. I know both Cirith and Omen have lost members, who are now sadly deceased.
MettleAngel: Even Chicago's Slauter Xstroyes and Brocas Helm are playing The Ragnarocker Festival in May in Chicago. Has Cirith Ungol had any opportunities to tour lately?
MettleAngel: I am sure that just breaks your mettle hearts! You just re-released the special edition of 'Servants Of Chaos' through Metal Blade. That came out over ten years ago, but only as an import, right?
MettleAngel: I had actually seen bootlegs of this at Record Shows.
MettleAngel: I hear that! You mentioned the Metal Blade Re-masters, and I have all of those, but I have the original pressing of 'Paradise Lost' on CD, and cassette. That is still my favourite album, next to 'One Foot In Hell'.
MettleAngel: Do tell!
MettleAngel: As did so many naive bands at the time, when Record labels were so corrupt.
MettleAngel: That is sad, and cool, at the same time!
MettleAngel: No way!
MettleAngel: That is hilarious! I am glad you gave that nebbish poseur some hell! We cannot always maintain our sang-froid demeanour.
MettleAngel: Oh really?
MettleAngel: I always wondered why that German version was available in the US. Those live tracks on the DVD from the three disc re-issue of 'Servants' taken from the Los Angeles "Country Club" show really showcase how the band must have sounded live, back then. Your drum solo on the song "Cirith Ungol" is intense.
MettleAngel: Oh no, I only have the digital promo of this.
MettleAngel: I will have to check YouTube. I first discovered the band on a Metal Blade Compilation with the song "Blood & Iron", which is weird, because I was also listening to Overkill's song with the same name. Your band just really affected me, especially those eerie vocals.
MettleAngel: Yes they are! Another thing that I will always remember is when I saw "Richard Pryor - Live On The Sunset Strip" on HBO. As he is getting out of his limousine, right there on the moniker at the Whisky is displayed Cirith Ungol playing live. I pointed that out to my wife when we recently watched it on DVD!
MettleAngel: If you are not looking for it, and you are caught up in the Richard Pryor introduction, you may miss it. I noticed it right away; and just laughed. I guess back then you were really tearing up the Sunset Strip.
MettleAngel: I was not aware of that...
MettleAngel: That is a good way to look at it.
MettleAngel: This is sad, but true. Metallica were on tour with Ozzy which really boosted their careers. The same thing happened for Mötley Crüe.
MettleAngel: I must say the new Van Halen did surprise me. It is way better than I had hoped. I am amazed that Cirith Ungol was not as successful as those other acts.
MettleAngel: The style you played was hardly what MTV or the radio recognized as being quality music. I personally respect the band for creating the sound that you did, even if like Sabbath, you were unaware of what you were giving rise to, and the level of expertise that would influence generations; especially when you consider the subject matter and lyrical themes.
MettleAngel: Lars mentions this Record Store in the new Metallica Biography.
MettleAngel: Ahh, the burgeoning early days of Metal Blade!
MettleAngel: That also included bands like Malice. In San Diego, when it came to finding good underground music, we had places like Off The Record, Wherehouse Records, Tower Records, and Blue Meannie Records. I too loved getting into obscure bands. Hearing "Metal Shop" every week on the radio really helped me to learn about the Euro acts, as well.
MettleAngel: I listened to everything on Metal Blade Records in the '80s. I never considered Cirith Ungol to be thrash, any more than I saw Lizzy Borden as being "Hair Metal". I felt that Omen had a very strong NWOBHM influence, but with Cirith Ungol I did not know what to make of it, or even how to pronounce it.
MettleAngel: I knew that Tolkien had the "Hard C" sound (Kirith). I saw the animated "Lord Of The Rings" when it hit theatres, and I was aware of the proper pronunciations. I first used the "Hard C" to address the band, until I heard someone say it with the "soft C".
MettleAngel: I guess it is like Celtic Frost. I have heard it spoken both ways. I too was way into D&D and Tolkien, so I loved it when I saw bands named after his works. When I first heard "Blood & Iron", I was totally aware of the Tolkien reference. Back in the late '70s reading Fantasy Novels was fun, and what I did when I was not doing school work, or playing with my Star Wars toys.
MettleAngel: I can see that...
MettleAngel: No doubt! I wish I could have heard that when it first came out.
MettleAngel: Like with so many other great bands that set a standard like Diamond Head, many of the bands influenced by you have been quite successful, even if over all you were not as fortunate.
MettleAngel: I agree! I have done this for well over two decades.
MettleAngel: I know I purchased all my Cirith Ungol re-masters on Metal Blade, and I just played them the other day. I wanted to ask you if the One Way Records 2 on 1 CD of 'King Of The Dead' And 'Frost & Fire' is official. This was the first way I was able to get these originally on CD, before the Metal Blade re-issues were unleashed.
MettleAngel: Oh Yeah the Reborn Classics Boots are shit. That guy took everything off vinyl, and sold those boots for a fortune! I fell for a few of those back in the day too. I assumed the One Way Records was legitimate because I got my CD at Barnes & Noble, and they would not sell bootlegs.
MettleAngel: The longevity of the band's sound will always endure. Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, and share with me so much about the band's past.
MettleAngel: I will, and I wish all surviving members of the band, even if you are inactive, all the best, and know that we Metal fans are ever grateful for all that you have accomplished.