Black Sabbath are often claimed to be ground zero for all things metal and rock. The poor chaps appear to be guilty of every style and direction the metal multiverse meandered through. How on earth this might be possible, I frankly can’t fathom.
But hey, it’s always easy to state that particularly well-known band with the flamboyant Ozzy as their figurehead. They truly are – or were – dinosaurs, products of that primeval sound chaos from which today’s rock and metal emerged.
Yet, whilst they surely had an influence on metal, they are not the lone rider some would like them to depict. There are others, of course, some of them pretty much unknown to the general fan crowd.
So, often, bands like Cirith Ungol hardly appear (or remain) on anyone’s metal radar screen. Not because they’re no good, but because they chose to shut down operations for the last 30 years or so. Yet, their no-nonsense approach to early Heavy Metal probably inspired many of those bands that somehow got entangled in the NWoBHM movement. And they surely impressed this reviewer way back in time.
It is also true, of course, that their career started in the ’70s, a time when other bands tried to wean off their blues and hard rock roots and take that turn into metal. Interestingly, Cirith Ungol unchained their first record in 1981 only and kept on releasing stuff at a relatively brisk pace. Until 1991, when everything stopped. No more metallic goodness from beautiful Ventura County.
So, we’re looking at an incredibly long wait for the undead to reappear. Until the band regrouped in 2016, the RMR crew here thought them truly dead and part of the mighty metal tree of dead souls. It took them another four years to produce Forever Black, their latest. And after such a long time, one is never quite sure what will finally end up on your turntable, right? It could be pop for all I know.
Well, once the war horns of The Call finally cease and Legions Arise departs, relief flooded through the RMR mighty office suite. You’ll find no pop on Forever Black, for sure. Nor any copycat of old garbage we already enjoyed a gazillion of times.
But – instead – Cirith Ungol‘s style sounds like Judas Priest from another universe, a tune I would have liked to see from Rob Halford’s gang already decades ago. Beginnings of maidenesque flavors that deliciously waft about the tracks, if you get my drift. Some sort of a protoplasm of metal that can shape in any which way, like those stem cells that apparently act like the well of life.
Their tune takes off in the vein of the 1984 King of the Dead. Only with a much more powerful sound, because today with the loudness war and all, they can. So, Forever Black is true Cirith Ungol, kinda undamaged by time, wear and tear. Even if a new generation has seen the light of day in the meantime and a new one is on the way.
Tim Baker still pretty much howls about the stage like his former self, despite the advanced age of these vocal cords he’s shredding all over the record. It is still all of them kinda weird and raspy Heavy Metal screams without much regard to a real melody, always a tad off course. But, yet again, this trait also pulled down the quality of the overall record
some a lot. This sounds a bit like early Metallica. Straight from those wild years of Kill ’em All and Master of Puppets.
Forever Black really proved to be a holdall of those archetypes Heavy Metal music
must should contain. Meaty riffs galore, a ton of absolutely top-level solos that populate every nook and cranny of the album. Down to the sometimes totally silly lyrics that are delivered with a somewhat Dio-esque gusto until your ears bleed.
So, all’s great, totally cool, and groovy on Forever Black?
Nope. Tracks like The Fire Divine sit athwart the flow, like one of them bones that got stuck in your throat after too much meat. And after a while, we caught that sensory overload thing. Often the tracks try to morph into much of a muchness with a lack of variation. And there’s only so much screaming that you can stomach.
Yet again, Forever Black sprouts these lighthouses like the aforementioned Legions Arise, this killer track. Or the absolutely stunning and somewhat doomy Stormbringer that stands tall in the middle of all those already pretty sturdy tracks.
So, despite its relatively light shortcomings, Forever Black is one record that made my cold metal heart glow again. This is real metal, free from constraints that modern bands often put themselves under. And all that delivered by veterans of the trade.
No-nonsense metal that’s angry, corny, scratchy, meaty, powerful, and true. No pretense, just pvre, undiluted Cirith Ungol, and – as I said before – undamaged by time.
Well done, gang.
Ed’s note: The sage knowledge of the veteran voices is one thing. But you also can get modern versions of good old Heavy Metal. And for that, we can only recommend Traveler. Head over there to find out!