Cirith Ungol - Interview
Ever since heavy metal was conceived in the 70's, it practically shaped the course of history and then changed what many bands at the time were trying to achieve with their music. As the genre's influence got bigger, bands became increasingly obsessed with this sound and began experimenting more, which would bring the world to the point where you knew there was no turning back. In this particular era of classic heavy metal, there were tons of famous bands that appeared and crafted their own style, thus expanding the genre on a much larger scale. Some of those classic bands are still around today, while others are no longer with us. However, some familiar names would arise like the phoenix from the ashes and strike hard with vengeance and furious anger. This band is blessed with chaos magick and still holds up in every aspect, be it that they're constantly delivering fresh new ideas to the table or the fact that the wicked banshee vocals by their vocalist Tim Baker are just as good as they were before. That's right, I am talking about none other than the US heavy/doom metal legends, Cirith Ungol. Cirith Ungol are veterans of US heavy metal, whose albums are considered timeless classics and were a huge influence on epic heavy metal bands. Aside from their trademark sound, the band is well known for their album covers, which are licensed Michael Whelan's artwork that was primarily used for Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone book saga, showcasing the aforementioned albino warrior holding the fierce soul devouring runeblade Stormbringer. Cirith Ungol broke up in 1992, shortly after the release of their fourth album "Paradise Lost", but the band luckily reunited in 2015 and continued where they left off. The band's fifth album "Forever Black" marked their successful return after 29 years since the break up, despite it being released at an unfortunate time in April of 2020, just when the pandemic hit and lockdowns commenced. As of recently, their sixth full-length album "Dark Parade" was announced on social media and is set to be released on October 20th via Metal Blade Records.The immense hype and high expectations surrounding their new album are holding fans on the edge of their seats, but we all know very well that it's going to be a banger, because the word "disappointment" and Cirith Ungol never go hand in hand. For this occasion, I've had the pleasure to exchange some words with the vocalist Tim Baker and drummer Robert Garven, where we touched on the subject of their upcoming album "Dark Parade", the band's creative drive and plenty of other things along the way. Before we get into the conversation, I'd like to give a huge shoutout to my good friend Kimi. He's a huge fan of Cirith Ungol and the person through whom I discovered this band years ago, so big thanks to him for helping me out with some questions for the interview. Hail the Legions!
Greetings Cirith Ungol! First of all, I'd like to wish you a warm welcome on behalf of the MetalBite crew. How are you doing brothers?
Rob: Thank you for taking the time to talk about our new album Dark Parade. I'm doing well, especially after reading the first review I've read on our new album, on your website, by Vladimir!
Your upcoming sixth album "Dark Parade" is not far away from being released and it's only a matter of time when the excited fans will have the pleasure to hear what you have prepared for us. Tell me how exactly does this new album differ from your previous album "Forever Black"? What were some of the challenges that you had to go through in order to make this a successful follow-up album?
Tim: The name Dark Parade conjures up the latest searing entry in Cirith Ungol's ongoing chronicle of man's never-ending fade into doom. Nightmare tales of pain, suffering and corruption - a Dark Parade into the abyss…
Rob: I think of it as more of a continuation of the previous album Forever Black. A journey down the dark and twisted road of mankind's self-destruction. Our last album came out ironically and simultaneously with the worldwide pandemic. This was a horrible time for many around the globe, but it was also a dark time for the band. Almost all of our concerts got canceled and we were not able to go out and promote the new album, even though it received good reviews around the world and several websites and magazines picked it the number one album of 2020. The biggest challenge was not to follow this up with another studio album during the ongoing crisis, so we put out our Half Past Human EP as a bookmark in our catalog, until the new album could be released.
Your previous album "Forever Black" marked an epic and successful return of Cirith Ungol, and it's still fresh 3 years after its release, but your new album "Dark Parade" proves exactly that the band will keep pushing forward for years to come. How did you feel back in 2020 when you were about to release your new album in 29 years? Were you a bit anxious from the possible feedback from fans and do you feel the same way for the upcoming "Dark Parade" album?
Rob: Not really, we had confidence in our ability to write the heaviest metal known to man! The first new music we released since our reunion was our single 'Witch's Game', for the movie that is still in progress "The Planet of Doom". We were somewhat amused when people said "Wow they can still write material! I think Forever Black made it clear that the band was still relevant and that we had something tangible still to offer.
There aren't many classic bands like yourselves who manage to stay on track and still remain passionate, focused and inspired when composing new material or performing live. Even when I think about it, there hasn't been a bad Cirith Ungol album so far and it's definitely an impressive feat from you guys. What is it that you focus on the most during the process of making a new Cirith Ungol album?
Rob: Well, there were a few weak spots on our fourth album Paradise Lost but that's when we put some songs on the album that were not written by the band, but by the temporary members that helped record that album. In retrospect they didn't really fit with the rest of the songs on that album, but that is all water under the bridge now. I promised everyone that if we put out more albums they would be as heavy as the one before it and I think with his new album we have succeeded in that goal. Nothing is ever perfect and we constantly strive for continuous improvement, and we are very proud of the Dark Parade!
Outside of heavy metal, do you have any favorite artist and/or musician which inspires you? Also, are there any other great sources of inspiration for you besides fantasy and science fiction literature?
Rob: I can only speak for myself. I am still very much inspired by drummers such as Bill Ward, Ian Paice and Ray Phillips. My favorite artist is Michael Whelan and I am a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan!
One particular song from "Dark Parade", which I adore a lot for the musicality and the lyrics, is the third song 'Sailor On The Seas of Fate', which is revolving around the chronological third chapter in Elric of Melnibone's saga (officially the second published book in the franchise). Tell me about your overall work on this song. How did you set yourselves to create this song and what was the direction you were going with?
Rob: Even though this song has an Elric themed name, the inspiration of the song came from another source. From the moment we started writing this I envisioned the scene from the 1959 movie Ben Hur, where Charlton Heston is chained to the oars on a Roman slave galley. Sitting at the front is the roman soldier calling out the beats, with two heavy wooden hammers banging them on a leather capped wooden stump. He had several distinct speeds such as battle, attack and ramming speed. I even did a rare overdub drum part during this song to mimic the same feel. We had talked about this movie clip for decades and to me it was always a holy grail quest to use the idea in a song. This song has some truly epic riffs by Jimmy, and an incredible Hammond B3 organ sound by Greg using an effects pedal with his guitar, and a truly emotional ending solo by him also. It is one of my favorites on the album also. What is funny is if you asked each member of the band, they would tell you a different story where their inspiration came from, but I'm sure that they would agree that I kept hammering in the Roman rowing theme! Ha https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax7wcShvrus
Something that I believe really defines Cirith Ungol's music is the fact that you guys always strived to make each next album heavier than the previous one, while exploring the more progressive side of music in a way that you stay true to your roots. Does the band still follow that particular mindset since the early years?
Rob: You have nailed it! "A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!"
The band's sound and style throughout the years has remained simple and well thought out, consisting of various songwriting ideas that are either catchy, heavy, doomy or epic. Even your upcoming album "Dark Parade" provides a plethora of amazing riffs and guitar solos, some very dark and powerful moments as well, and I'd say that the musical consistency keeps that engine flowing. Apart from the fact that you're experienced veterans of your craft, what do you think separates Cirith Ungol from other heavy metal bands?
Rob: What separates Cirith Ungol from other heavy metal bands is those plastic dividers at the record store with our name on it! Ha!! On a more serious note it's hard to say why our music is so different, but I think our focused goal of trying to create music influenced by the original hard rock and heavy metal bands that we grew up listening to has been a driving theme intertwined between all of our albums.
There are quite a lot of modern heavy metal bands with lyrical themes of epic fantasy, science fiction and mythology that you've influenced, even the so called "New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal" gave us some extraordinary bands like Eternal Champion, Visigoth, Oathbringer, Smoulder, Gatekeeper and many more. Do you manage to follow up with what's going on with the traditional heavy metal scene at the moment and are there any bands of the newer generation that you really like a lot?
Rob: Of course, and we are friends with and played with many of the bands you just mentioned, and we take inspiration from them as well. Cirith Ungol straddles the epic metal/doom metal fence so to speak, but we are pleased that so many bands have chosen to take the path of true metal as we see it!
We all know that you've been using Michael Whelan's artwork for Elric of Melnibone's saga since the first album "Frost And Fire", but I am curious to know what he thinks of you guys? Does he frequently follow the band's activities and has he ever personally expressed to you what his favorite Cirith Ungol album is?
Rob: Ever since we forged a relationship with Michael Whelan with our first album, Frost & Fire, our dream was to use his series of Elrić of Melnibone covers from the 1980's DAW Book editions, for all our future covers. Of course, back then we were a young band and had no idea what the future held for us, or how many albums we would ever release. Once again, we are honored and privileged to have this renowned artist's work again gracing our latest album, and hope to continue to work with him on any future projects! He has been one of the band's best and most constant friends through the years, even coming out to see the band play in Brooklyn, New York! I talk to him regularly about the band's activities and he shares with me his current projects. He shared with me that he listens to our albums and what he needs to get a certain kind of inspiration. I consider him one of my best friends, and one of the finest artists that have ever lived.
This Whelan masterpiece we used for Dark Parade is spectacular, "Elric and the Sinking City". Elric looks like he's gazing out, looking for something, it also seems like he's contemplating possibly some of his previous triumphs or defeats. I sense a look on his face of weariness, but also one of purpose at what lies ahead, not unlike where our band is at this moment in time.
For years there's been talk of making an Elric of Melnibone movie or perhaps series, and I've always said that they better not make it happen unless they're going to include Cirith Ungol in the soundtrack. What do you personally think about that? Would you be all for it to be included in the soundtrack for an Elric of Melnibone movie or series?
Rob: I think it would be amazing and we'd be of course very honored to have our music included. I am a bit dumbfounded that they have never made a movie about Elric yet as it seems the story was made for a big screen saga, but it would take someone like Peter Jackson to do it justice.
So far, can the fans expect a worldwide Cirith Ungol tour in the US and Europe when "Dark Parade" is released?
Rob: The band has never traditionally toured, before back in the day when we were younger because we never had any proper management or tour support and now that we're older after our reunion some of the band members still have full-time careers, so we play as many shows as we can each year and each one is a very special event. We have become some of the elder statesmen of heavy-metal so if you ever wanted to come out and see the band now is the time to do it before we sink beneath the seas again like the elder god Cthulhu!
Thank you so much for doing this interview! I wish you all the best and I truly hope that "Dark Parade" will take the world by a heavy metal storm. Are there any final words you'd like to leave for your fans?
Rob: I would like to thank you and your readers for your interest in Cirith Ungol and we hope that you will try to come out to catch one of our upcoming shows!
You never lost hope, you never have strayed
Arise now my children, arise from the grave
We lead not the weak, they won't answer the call
As chaos descends, false metal will fall
Rob Garven, Ventura, California
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