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Album Review: CIRITH UNGOL Forever Black

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The last time Cirith Ungol recorded an album was before the Internet was invented. Strange as it seems, there really was a time before digital, when music was big and the attitudes behind it were even bigger, a time of spandex, Aqua Net and MTV. This was heavy metal’s Golden Age, when groups like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest topped the charts. It was from the metal paradise that Cirith Ungol first emerged and, in many ways, continues to remain to this day.

Grunge put an end to Cirith Ungol the first time around. The mopey aesthetic and lo-fi production just didn’t square with the band’s sense of epic. But that was almost 30 years ago, and times have changed. Cirith Ungol haven’t. This is still recognisable the band featured on 1982’s Metal Massacre, the one that introduced us to Ratt, Steeler and some long-haired lads named Metallica. Listening to Forever Black, you’ll feel as if no time has passed at all.

To be fair to them, Cirith Ungol haven’t been slacking in the few years. They reunited properly in 2016 for Frost and Fire Festival in California, followed by a festival tour of Europe and North American that took them into 2017. With interest in the band reignited, it was time to release a single. “Witch’s Game” confirmed to all that this was no quick cash-in tour. Cirith Ungol were back. Now all we needed was the album…

Forever Black starts out with warhorns and a guitar marshalling that calls us back to 1985 in heroic style. When “Legions Arise” kicks in, it’s clear that the band’s NWOBHM influence hasn’t dulled at all. It’s all galloping basslines, belted vocals and speed. Think Iron Maiden being fronted by Angel Witch’s Kevin Haybourne.

Later on, things modernize a little. Nostalgia is still the name of the game on Forever Black, but “The Frost Monstreme” and “Nightmare” could be Amon Amarth tracks, if not for the clean singing. Original drummer Robert Garven still knows how to compose an epic warrior's march. Tim Baker’s voice sounds reasonably strained after so many years, but he compensates by never going outside far beyond his comfort zone.

“Not far beyond the comfort zone” might as well be this album’s unofficial title. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with that. “The Fire Divine” sounds like an unreleased track from Spinal Tap with it’s gloriously dumb chorus of “the blind will lead the blind.” Great for charging into battle or cruising through Santa Monica in a van with a wizard painted on the side. Take your pick.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an early power/NWOBHM album without the big ballad. “Stormbringer”, with its hilariously camp lyrics like “we slay the beast and drink its soul,” will leave younger listeners in fits of laughter. It’s truly side-splitting, courtesy of Yngwie Malmsteen's influence, channeled through the spirits of Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan.

It would be easy to dismiss Forever Black as a relic of a bygone century. But that wouldn’t take into account the heart of gold at Cirith Ungol's center. This is an album with no reason for existing other then to put smiles on faces. Cirith Ungol don’t have any bones to pick anymore, any deep message to impart, any scruples or need for fancy new techniques. If they wanna rock out, so be it.

Considering how badly this could have turned out, Forever Black might be Cirith Ungol’s masterpiece, certainly their best since 1984’s King of the Dead. It will sound great in a festival setting. Rock on, guys!

Rating: 7/10

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