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Bringing back the old while still keeping the new - 92%

Lord Shadow, February 7th, 2021

Cirith Ungol Forever Black has just blown me away. In this album, there are no bad songs. Using a combination of good vocals, great guitar and drum play, a combination of old and new styles, and great lyric writing to make an overall amazing album.

First, there are the vocals (sang by Tim Baker). When listing to the vocals I did not expect them to be as good as they are. I loved how at some parts he starting screeching in some parts of the album while not doing it all the time (because screaming like a rabbit in an entire album is annoying as fuck). Next, is the drums (played by Robert Garven). The drumming was just as great as the vocals were during this album. Now, the bass (played by Jarvis Leatherby). The bass was very in tune with the rest of the album and it was perfectly played by Lestherby. The guitars (played by Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza) were very great along with vocals and other instruments.

I loved how some of the lyrics had some stories to tell. One good example is Stormbringer which gives you tells you about a blade (most likely a sword but we will never really know) and what it can do but still with some unanswered questions (who is wielding the blade and how are they being one?) Another good example of this tactic they are using is Legions Arise. It is about how an undead army is being summoned with giving you good details but still leaving some questions unanswered like who is the person (or group) summoning them.

Forever Black is a very good reminder of how metal was in the 80s. It was a time when bands like Metallica and Slayer were at their golden age. It was a time before nu-metal took the spotlight (then being brought down by Metalcore bands like As I Lay Dying). Even though, Forever Black is different from Cirith Ungol's earlier album it still brings back traditional metal from the 80s. Although this album does bring back traditional metal it still has some modern feel to it.

In conclusion, Forever Black is a reminder of what metal was like while it still having a modern feel to it. There are some flaws with it but it is nevertheless a great album.

A good comeback - 80%

Foob, August 4th, 2020

If you're a neophile, always looking for something that's a bit out of the ordinary, 2020's 'Forever Black' isn't as entertaining as Cirith Ungol's two early eighties albums 'Frost & Fire' and 'King of the Dead'. It's still incorrect to call 2020's Cirith Ungol mainstream, but the earliest albums were certainly unique with their specific mix of classic Hard Rock (in the style of the solos that often have more in common with Michael Schenker than Dave Mustaine), NWOBHM (coming from the darker side of the spectrum inhabited by bands like Angel Witch and Witchfinder General), Progressive Rock (in the sometimes unusual guitar riffs and compositional choices made), and of course 70's Black Sabbath. And all that with Tim Baker's insane vocals as the cherry on top for those who could stomach it.

'Forever Black' has less of their old musical playfulness and eccentricity and has a more mature sound and more conventional feel. So maybe you'll like them better now if they were too offbeat for you in their early years. What they also used to have back then though, and what I really miss this time around, is the abundance of inspired vocal melodies that injected a nearly insane sense of drama into the music. But to be honest, they already abandoned these oddly catchy vocal melodies on their 1986 and 1991 releases. In fact, 'Forever Black' is more a continuation of those two albums than a throwback to their earliest output. What's positive though is that 'Forever Black' benefits from improvements made in modern production. The band sounds more powerful than ever before.

Another observation one can certainly make is that Tim Baker hasn't ceased being a screeching banshee. But there's a slight difference nevertheless. Either his voice became better with age, or the vocal production is better. Whatever it may be, he sounds not as thin as before. He also seems to make choices that lean less towards the excessive, adopting a more menacing tone in the process.

'Forever Black' is competently done. Compared to the 1986 and 1991 albums the song writing is also more consistent overall, which makes it the third best album in their discography. But it certainly has some weak moments the biggest of which is the semi-ballad 'Stormbringer', a snorefest of a song that tries to sound epic and menacing but only manages to reach some level of morbidly obese.

There are positive standouts too. 'Legions Arise' dives into (almost) Power Metal territory. It uses galopping guitar rhythm like a Manowar / Iron Maiden hybrid with a mad version of Brian Johnson handling the vocal duties. 'Fractus Promissum' is a very heavy slow to mid tempo track with a powerful main riff perfectly suited for some unvoluntary body swaying and slow head banging. It would have benefited from a bit of editing in the instrumental part at the end, as it breaks the intensity for too long, but overall I really enjoyed this. And while there are more enjoyable Doom Metal tracks on offer, I prefer 'Before Tomorrow', a steam-powered machine meant to pound you into submission. Slowly.

Long Have We Slumbered but Now We Awake - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, April 24th, 2020

Time has been fairly kind to Cirith Ungol. The band’s doomy niche metal may not have translated to commercial success back in their 80s heyday, but they have garnered an exalted status in the decades since their initial disbandment. I suppose you’re less likely to sound dated when you were out of step in your own era, to begin with, right? But considering the adversities that plagued Cirith Ungol’s classic run and how unlikely a reunion seemed to be, it’s great to see them unleash their first album since 1991’s Paradise Lost with such gusto.

Following the rather western tint of “The Call,” the songs on Forever Black encompass the differing facets of Cirith Ungol’s signature sound while maintaining their warped, otherworldly character. Lead single “Legions Arise” channels the One Foot in Hell era with its fast-paced gallop while “The Frost Monstreme” and “Fractus Promissum” hearken back to Frost and Fire with their 70s rock flavor. “Stormbringer” and “Nightmare” also come at their slow, ponderous doom from different angles, with the former going for an epic tone and the latter panning out as the darkest track.

Of course, there are some inevitable tweaks to the formula. The production has more in common with Paradise Lost than the early albums’ basement rawness, not quite at the same level of polish but offering similar levels of reverb. There are some moments where it can feel a little claustrophobic, but it’s a solid adjustment for the modern age without sounding too processed. The guitars also get some extra weight in their relentless fight for dominance against the bass though the latter is always felt.

And for what it’s worth, Tim Baker’s shrill shriek has held up incredibly well. A combination of time and production has slightly tempered his more abrasive tendencies, but his range and phrasings are as eccentric and borderline tuneless as ever barring a Liebling-esque warble at the beginning of “Stormbringer.” This performance won’t convert anybody that didn’t care for his voice back in the day, but cult metal weirdos wouldn’t have it any other way.

Overall, Cirith Ungol successfully does justice to their unique style on Forever Black. It feels like a composite of their first four albums through a modern lens, which could be seen as playing it too safe, but the lively performances and tight songwriting makes for an authentic, cohesive listen. It’s not a gamechanger by any means, but it is one of the better classic metal comebacks that us whippersnappers may also learn a thing or two from. Consider them somewhere between Satan and Angel Witch.

Highlights:
“Legions Arise”
“The Fire Divine”
“Stormbringer”
“Nightmare”

Originally published at Indy Metal Vault

They once again make them like they used to. - 86%

hells_unicorn, April 24th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Metal Blade Records

In this present age of miraculous comeback stories, a consequential band from a bygone era getting back into the swing of things as though they’d never left is still a rare occurrence, particularly when the consensus dictates that said band’s heyday was more than 30 years ago. Such is the story of California’s black sheep of the heavy metal family Cirith Ungol, a band that paid their dues and developed their sound in the 70s during metal’s more hard rocking days, only to not truly hit their footing until well into the 80s where their sound would clash noticeably with the glam crowd of the Sunset Strip and the thrashers of the Bay Area. It would be an understatement to say that the majority of metal’s fan base of the day that saw epic, doom-laden opuses in King Of The Dead and One Foot In Hell unleashed didn’t fully appreciate or even really comprehend what they were hearing, to speak nothing for the label and production personnel that unwittingly caused the band’s initial demise, but 2020 is a new year with an audience that is all the wiser.

To the uninitiated, the brand of old school flair that this band deals in has an unapologetically retro character to it, and did so even at the time when they were at their creative peak. Though presenting largely as an early 80s epic heavy metal act with an eye for literary fantasy that dovetails quite closely with the seminal works of Manilla Road, Brocas Helm and even Manowar at times, they’ve always stood apart by having far more of an overt 70s rock character that points noticeably to the exploits of Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Dio-era Rainbow. The release of their newly forged LP Forever Black sees this tendency not only continued, but accentuated to the point of sounding even more 70s-influenced than their 1981 debut Frost And Fire. While much of this owes to vocalist and over-the-top impresario Tim Baker unleashing a truly wicked performance still indicative of that exaggerated Brian Johnson rendition he brought forth in the old days, the re-acquisition of original mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Greg Lindstrom is the most auspicious element in play, and his impact on the songwriting is impossible to miss.

Everything about this album speaks to a quintet of musicians who are still living in the same era that birthed them; a fitting eventuality given that the past several years has seen the ongoing rise of a number of prominent retro bands sporting a similar sound. From the very onset of “The Call”, the visual of a lone, sword-wielding warrior trudging the endless wastelands becomes apparent as a lone horn call and distant wind gusts give way to a march of military snare rolls and haunting guitars, and the promise of a mighty sonic battle isn’t far behind. Firing on all cylinders emerges a galloping fit of old school rage in “Legions Arise” that listens like a more amped up descendant of “Blood & Iron” with a slightly less shrieking vocal display. This riff-happy and fairly compact anthem points to the more streamlined version of this band that emerged on One Foot In Hell, and is not alone as driving yet slightly less chaotic anthems such as “The Fire Divine” and “Before Tomorrow” see a fairly straightforward rocking formula with some catchy hooks carrying the day.

Then again, Cirith Ungol is not a band that lives only by moderate length bangers alone, and makes a few auspicious occasions to mix things up and bring their epic side to the fore. True to their affinity for classic doom tropes, the slower paced “The Frost Monstreme” proceeds from a dank march of heavy guitar work into an up tempo homage to “Electric Funeral”, complete with a correspondingly retro bluesy lead guitar display. A similar, more mid-paced nod to Black Sabbath is found in the title track “Forever Black”, resting somewhere between a slower “Children Of The Grave” and a quicker “Snowblind”. Truth be told, the vast majority of the guitar solos found throughout this album have a far more blatant Toni Iommi vibe to them than this band’s seminal 80s offerings. Even lofty semi-ballad offerings like the Manowar-tinged “Stormbringer” see this traditional blues rocking sentiment permeate its dense, atmospheric fringes. When this tendency is deviated from, it is often in favor of fleeting harmonized leads reminiscent of a UFO and Thin Lizzy as occur on the otherwise stomping doom machine “Nightmare”.

It’s a given that the small yet very committed flock of core fans that were hoping for the Cirith Ungol of the mid-80s to make another appearance before all was said and done will be quite satisfied with this, as it all but could have been released a year or two after One Foot In Hell hit the shelves in 1986. The formula is one of unapologetic nostalgia, and is sure to be a welcome listen to the growing number of traditional metal enthusiasts in the current generation who proudly showcase their Slough Feg and Eternal Champion t-shits and patches. Likewise, much of what is heard on here could pass for the album that Black Sabbath should have released back in 1998 when they originally reunited with Ozzy and opted to keep everyone in suspense for 15 years before finally offering up a tired, bland rehash of their glory days. The decade may change, but the golden glow of a classic array of Michael Moorcock-inspired heroic tales set to heavy metal music with the art of Michael Whelan along for the ride will never lose its luster.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)