Cirith Ungol – “Forever Black” (Metal Blade Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Now entering their 5th year of resurrection following high profile festival shows across North America, Europe and South America culminating in a double live album DVD released last year, Cirith Ungol, who were honored by their home city of Ventura declaring October 16th to be ‘Cirith Ungol Day’, are on an unstoppable roll, returning now with their first album of all new material in 29 years – “Forever Black”! Formed in 1971 and still with core members Greg Lindstrom (guitar, keyboards), Robert Garven (drums) and Tim Baker (vocals), the band are now joined by guitarist Jim Barraza (ex Prophecy) and most notably bassist Jarvis Leatherby (Night Demon, Jaguar, Black Opal etc), who was one of the driving forces to re-animate them in 2015 when original bassist Flint was unable to rejoin. Right from the cover art by Michael Whelan, whose magnificent visuals remain inextricably associated with Cirith Ungol, “Forever Black” has it all from their original early 80s heavy metal sound tinged with 70s hard rock in a fiery cauldron of 9 tracks that is sure to resonate with the band’s die hard fan base across the world. The twin guitars really make the difference here compared to the 80s quartet line up, really bringing out the epic grandeur of the band while allowing plenty of room for Lindstrom and Barraza to individually showcase their stylish licks and exciting breaks, and all to a thick true metal sound that has proven its appeal equally to new generations of metal fans. Distinct and unmistakable in Cirith Ungol’s sound are Tim Baker’s high shrilling vocals, cited in the 80s as being one of the band’s impediments, yet today are not just accepted, but acknowledged as key to the band’s signature style. Crunching down hard on ‘The Fire Divine’, the twin melodic solos are sharply contrasted by Baker’s harsh screams but come together perfectly for the catchy chorus of ‘.. and the blind will lead the blind..straight through the fire divine..’ before the final headbang driven by heavy bass and nicely topped off by medieval melodic solos from the different guitar sounds of Lindstrom and Barraza. Allowing the reverb to soak in aplenty on ‘Nightmare’ while the twin guitar melodies dance atop stylishly, the tone soon turns malevolent as the riffs down tune amid Baker’s crescendo screams backed ominously by roars of ‘..ev-il!!..’, along with Leatherby’s heavy plucked bass sounding like a hulking monster and finally topped off by wailing tremolo guitars – a classic. Opening beautifully with epic melodies on ‘Before Tomorrow’, Baker’s harsh vocals offer dramatic contrast yet when his epic tones are enhanced by the twin rusty sword guitar sound, the passion is hugely stirring and undeniable especially when the moving solo drops straight into your heart, and all to the sterling marching drum beat of Garven. After more than four decades, “Forever Black” is a fitting tribute to the steadfast and growing legions of Cirith Ungol fans, old and new, who never faltered in their belief in the band, embracing them out of retirement, and who can now proudly hold a defiant fist in the face of any naysayers.