Review: Cirith Ungol ‘Forever Black’

Who in their wildest dreams would have predicted such a distinguished return from the Ventura metal giants? This is their first release since 1991s Paradise Lost. Almost thirty years have passed and, somehow, they’ve managed to smash it out of the park. Other reviews have focussed on how much it doesn’t suck, which to me seems a little disrespectful. Why should it suck? This is Cirith Ungol!

Cirith Ungol ‘Forever Black’

What we have is a disciplined offering from a band who have been creeping back to form since their return to the festival circuit in 2016. What’s more, their comeback seems perfectly timed. NWOTHM (or whatever it’s called) has gained fierce momentum, with Cirith Ungol set to headline next year’s Keep It True festival in Germany. Add in the doom and stoner resurgence and the climate is perfect for the Californians to come leaping from the dark like the iconic Skeletor creature on the cover of their 1984 masterpiece.

Has Tim Baker’s voice aged? Sure, he’s at least part human. But the frontman still boasts a roaring high register. Is there a touch of corniness? Absolutely. But this is a band that hearkens from a golden time before smug hipster irony. Perhaps most importantly it’s a guitar-led album. Chugging riffs, speculative licks with a renewed sense of swagger. It’s like they’ve condensed the best of the 70s and 80s into one unholy package.

After a brief intro, we’re thrust into a stormy, eastern-sounding riff with Legions Arise, a bass-galloping call to metal heads everywhere. It’s not quite up there with Manowar’swimp-crushing ode to metaldom but it does the job. Track two, The Frost Monstreme,chugs and thunders before unleashing a bold, anthemic chorus. The title references 70s author Fritz Lieber with the band staying true to its thematic legacy of swords, sorcery and more swords and a bit more sorcery. Pound for pound this is probably the strongest track and feels tailored for a festival crowd. The Fire Devine thumps and soars with power metal harmonies, strutting riffs and searing leads. Another anthemic high point.

Chugging riffs, speculative licks with a renewed sense of swagger. It’s like they’ve condensed the best of the 70s and 80s into one unholy package…

Stormbringer offers a gloomy moment of reflection before climaxing in an epic power finale and Fractus Promissum, or ‘broken promise’, swaggers and grooves. Despite some stunning leads, Nightmare threatens to cross the cringe line with the chorus (‘I’m evil…’) smacking more of Ugly Kid Joe’s Goddam Devil than Diamond Head’s anthem to the nefarious. Before Tomorrow is another high point, with dragon-slaying leads and a grinding riff that sounds like the 80s in slow motion. Sinister and anthemic, it offers pounding doom and pure epic fantasy atmosphere. The title track brings things to a close with a militaristic stomp and a dark and doomy chorus: ‘look into my eyes!’

Forever Black doesn’t quite hold a torch to King Of The Dead’s clangy dungeon-doominess, but it’s a completely different offering for a completely different time. This is a showy, celebratory album from an accomplished band with not a single fuck to give. Cirith Ungol have undoubtedly secured themselves a worthy extension to a cultish, if somewhat humble, tenure. If there’s a better album from a 70s-origin band this decade I’ll be surprised.

Label: Metal Blade Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Fossil