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Where mystique obscures the mundane. - 75%

hells_unicorn, April 6th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Metal Blade Records (Reissue, Remastered, US)

Hindsight can be a tricky thing, and a careful assessment regarding the context of an album's release can make all the difference in fully understanding why it comes off a certain way. Thus stands the dilemma of approaching an album like Cirith Ungol's somewhat controversial debut offering, given both said band's more recently attained cult-status and the massive deviation in demeanor that it represents relative to the material that would follow it. On its face, Frost And Fire seems a typical early 80s offering that builds off the stylistic leaps of the NWOBHM and features a fantastical album art that, much like this band's subsequent albums, was taken from the cover of a Michael Moorcock novel and underscores an obsession with the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre of storytelling. However, the musical contents are far less of a trailblazing affair, representing a band that is not only still working from a 70s rock template (which is fitting given the band had been in existence since '72), but sticking fairly close to the most conventional end of the spectrum for said time period.

The expectation of a long-winded series of extended jams after the mold of this album's successor King Of The Dead would undoubtedly be on the mind of most approaching this for the first time, and the reality is of a far less ambitious demeanor. The doom-infused dreariness, wandering guitar solos, free-flowing rhythm section and epic lyrical storytelling are supplanted by a largely up tempo, compact and safe collection of rock anthems with an eye towards catchy hooks rather than compositional adventurism. To be clear, this qualifies as metal in the sense that the riffing is heavy enough to set it apart from a standard Led Zeppelin or Blue Cheer album, but just about every other aspect of these songs pull it towards that barely metallic, hard rocking sound that adorned the lighter end of the British scene of the day. Even the wild banshee wails of Tim Baker, who's signature sound channels a youthful Brian Johnson meets Ian Gillian minus his low and mid-range, is boxed into a conventional verse/chorus format that is highly predictable, occasionally giving way to some equally conventional lead guitar and keyboard breaks.

To be fair, this is by no means a bad album, nor should it even be guarded as lackluster, but is more of an exercise in what an epic heavy metal band would sound like when omitting all the epic moments from an album. The generally fast rocking and dueling guitar-happy opener and title song "Frost And Fire" has a sort of rustic, Thin Lizzy-like charm to it, and probably would have been considered a formidable rock anthem had it been released in 1975 instead of 1981. Nipping on its heels is another rock anthem that takes time to slow things down a bit in "I'm Alive", but the more subdued slower segments give off more of a UFO vibe, while the faster moments reek of a late 70s Judas Priest influence. As the rest of the album unfolds, it becomes fairly clear that the band is running with a fairly limited spectrum of ideas, with some exceptions to the overriding rule of fast-paced hard rocking being the somewhat psychedelic elements of "What Does It Take" and the elaborate display of guitar noodling with a slight prog rock vibe of a closer "Maybe That's Why", the closest example of a more freewheeling approach to songwriting that would become more prominent on the next LP.

Per the testimony of drummer Robert Garven, who's performance on this album is fittingly the most restrained of any in the fold, Frost And Fire was constructed primarily of banger songs with an eye for radio play, which sadly didn't materialize and was likely a key factor in the exodus of co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Greg Lindstrom departing. Ironically enough, it is Lindstrom's input on bass, keyboards and guitar that give this album a sense of depth that prevents it from becoming too mundane, introducing some jazzy elements and acid rock quirks into what is otherwise something almost too straightforward for its own good. It's a counter-intuitive disposition for a band that named itself for one of the darkest and gloomiest locations in the Tolkien universe. Nevertheless, it is a fun listen that will work for anyone who enjoys the primordial metal/rock sounds comparable to Manilla Road's debut album, but without the extended interludes and instrumental noodling that most who love this band's subsequent albums would come to expect from them.

Tales that speak of... punk and new wave - 80%

Nikko, July 10th, 2019

Let me say from the start that if you're expecting (like some of the reviewers before me) a classic Cirith Ungol album, you're in the wrong line. And the disappointment will follow. And then the bashing of the album. Is it wright, is it wrong? I don't know. But there are certain facts that were bypassed in all the reviews of this album.

I was familiarized with Cirith Ungol's music, like any other metalhead, at a pretty superficial level. But a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pay some more attention to the works of this band. So I started with Frost and Fire. After a couple of listenings, I checked the album on Metal-Archives and the album's reviews. I was pretty surprised that absolutely none of the reviewers used the words "punk" or "new wave". Instead, almost everyone was pissed off with the fact that Frost and Fire is a mock of a metal album that doesn't sound like any of the Cirith Ungol's albums. The album cover that depicts a classic Elric picture does not help either, inducing a pretty wrong idea about what one can hear on this particular album.

Now, let's put the album in his place: it's 1980 and the NWOBHM is at the beginnings and still pretty far away from influencing the american metal (as it will do a couple of years later with the likes of Metallica and all their generation). Punk (dead or not) is still present in the world. New wave bands like Blondie or The Cars are already at their peaks. Therefore, whatever the intentions of the band were, the music on Frost and Fire has certain influences.

The album contains 7 tracks, from which only the first 3 have, let's say, the classic and later on established Cirith Ungol vibe: Frost and Fire, I'm Alive and A Little Fire. The music and the lyrics are what one would expect from an album with Elric of Elnibone on the cover. But, that's about it. Because starting with track no.4, things change drastically. Here comes 3 songs in the late 70s american punk/new wave style (from music to the lyrics) garnished with sometimes pretty elaborated guitar solos: What Does It Take, Edge of a Knife and Better Off Dead. If the songs titles don't convince you, just try the beginning of What Does It Take or the chorus of Edge of a Knife. Or read some of the lyrics: "Look through me like I'm not there / You always act like you just don't care" (What Does It Take), "I don't care if you laugh at me / It's better than being ignored" (Edge of a Knife) or "I've got a lot on my head / And my condition's red / I think I'm better off dead / Sometimes" (Better Off Dead). So, no black machines, no masters of the pit, no swords, no nothing of the sort, only modern day-to-day frustrations. The last track, the instrumental one, is, musically, in the same style with the three predecessors.

What is the cause of all these? I don't know. But, again, there is a certain fact that is passed over in silence in almost all of the reviews: all of the music on Frost and Fire is composed by the multi-instrumentalist Greg Lindstrom. Who is he? Well, in the first place, is the only one of the four (five, with the future bass player, Mike Vujejia) guys that does not appear on the next two albums that established Cirith Ungol name and style, King of the Dead (1984) and One Foot in Hell (1986), as he left the band in 1982. So, for sure, some things must have changed after he was no longer in charge.

So... The album itself is a pretty good one for a debut, in 1980, of a band that will always be a little bit primitive (far from the refined acts like Iron Maiden, for example). The guys did their best on Frost and Fire (with a special mention for Lindstrom). The vocalist issue is - in my opinion, of course - pretty simple: Tim Baker's voice is one the voices that you either love (or get used to) or hate. Either way, it is true that Tim's voice could totally ruin your experience when listening to Cirith Ungol albums if you just can't get past it.

Kind of embarrassing - 50%

Valfars Ghost, November 11th, 2015

Most people who don’t listen to metal, when they get an earful of Cirith Ungol, think the band is a parody of metal. Unfortunately they’re not wrong. The problem is that Cirith Ungol is an unintentional parody. Their debut album, Frost and Fire, is funny in the worst way possible and most of its runtime is actually painful to listen to.

In picking Frost and Fire apart, the most obvious starting point is Tim Baker’s singing. Most of this album’s elements are subpar at best but nothing else on display here even comes close to how aggressively unpleasant his awkward banshee shriek is. Unlike Rob Halford, this guy doesn’t bring out the shriek sparingly to punctuate certain passages and give them that powerful, vicious edge. No, Baker delivers almost every line with his thin, whiny, over-the-top shriek. Halford’s relative restraint is what makes the technique really shine when he does use it. What Baker does is the metal equivalent of pouring ketchup all over your salad.

Obviously, writing off a band simply because of a bad singer is a stupid thing to do, especially in metal, where vocal prowess isn’t typically the most important element. Unfortunately, the music doesn’t make up for Baker’s weakness as a vocalist. The instruments are much lower in the mix than the vocals so it’s often hard to tell what’s going on behind the singing. Every instrument’s tone is as thin and wimpy as Baker’s voice, which means they all lack the power necessary to pull off the album.

Some of the songs deliver decent passages, thanks in no small part to the surprisingly good (and actually audible) bass sections. The title track, for example, has a nice gallop and a memorable recurring riff. The solos throughout the album are good and fairly tight. Unfortunately, for most of these songs, such moments of genuine songwriting competence just get lost in the stale, derivative riffs and drum patterns that outnumber them.

To be fair, this album has its highlights. ‘A Little Fire’ is decent, thanks partly to Tim Baker’s inexplicable decision to not screech on this song and instead try actual singing and partly to the more cohesive and inspired songwriting. The instrumental album closer ‘Maybe That’s Why’ is great. All the nuance and songwriting skill that’s absent in most of the other tracks settled here, making it an unexpected treat. The fact that it’s devoid of Baker’s horrendous attempts at singing makes it even sweeter. Unfortunately, these are the only two songs on the album that are safe for human consumption.

With a better singer, Cirith Ungol might have been decent but would certainly have still been several steps down from groups like Brocas Helm and Manila Road. These guys approached their epic brand of metal with an admirable ambition and enthusiasm. The album’s numerous flaws come from the fact that as musicians, they simply didn’t have the skill to make it work.

Good album but not amazing. - 80%

draconiondevil, April 21st, 2012

Well here it is, the debut album by one of the most overlooked and tragic bands in (doom) metal history. This album was released approximately 8 years after the band had initially formed back in 1972 so one can imagine that they had had a lot of time to write songs. Obviously, for a debut album they would pick their very best songs, the ones that they had spent the last 8 years writing and perfecting. As it turns out that’s not what happened at all. Instead they released an album with some great songs, some average songs and one awful song.

The songs on this album are, for the most part, a lot faster and more upbeat than the ones that fans would come to expect from the band’s later releases. This is showcased by the opening and title track of the album. The song also shows off Tim Baker’s vocals pretty well. Like his band, he is a much overlooked singer in heavy metal and, love him or hate him, I believe that he deserves more recognition. His voice soars over the music and though some may not think his voice suiting to a band like this I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jerry Fogle (R.I.P.) rips out some great solos and leads on this album. His intro solo to the song “I’m Alive” is pretty good, though short. The song has soft verses and faster and heavier choruses. This is one of the standout tracks on the album and I’m sure you’ll agree when you hear the stunning solo in this song.

The bass on this album is audible, which is a great thing about classic metal albums. Something about the production from that era made sure that all of the instruments were audible (when produced correctly, of course). You can barely hear the bass in many modern bands just because of today’s production values. The bass is best exemplified in “A Little Fire” which also happens to be the heaviest overall song on the album. The first three tracks fall under the “great” category of songs that I mentioned before.

And now for the “average” songs. These would be songs like “What Does It Take” and “Better Off Dead”. These songs are just not up to par with the rest of the album. The former has some strange keyboard going on the background and a rather poppy riff during the solo, it is a good solo though and it almost saves the song. This cannot be said for the next song.

“Edge of a Knife” is just about the worst song on here. The chorus has Tim Baker singing in a voice that sounds like he’s trying to imitate Joey Ramone. If it weren’t for that part of the song then the song would actually be decent. The lyrics are also not very inventive. The lyrics on the whole album are, however, basically what was to be expected from a heavy metal album at the time. Go on to bigger and better things as their career progressed.

All of that being said, this album is certainly not bad and is worth getting. I will justify giving this album an 80% rating simply because I do like it and the first three songs and the last song are fantastic. You can’t give an album a bad rating for three kind of average songs can you?

Unrepresaentative but entertaining - 70%

Warthur, November 9th, 2011

The band themselves have often explained why this album sounds so different from the doomier and more complex material on their subsequent discs; hoping to attain some level of commercial success and widespread popularity, they deliberately picked out the songs from their repertoire that they believed had the most commercial appeal for this first release. When it didn't get any radio airplay, they swore off this approach for the subsequent albums, and the rest is history.

As a result, this release is rather compromised from the beginning, and certainly doesn't give a sense of the classic Cirith Ungol sound, though the closing track Maybe That's Why does hint at it. What we get this time around is a brief slice of doomy hard rock, with garage rock production values, sludgy bass from Greg Lindstrom, classic rock-styled soloing from lead guitarist Jerry Fogle, and songs mainly focusing on the time-honoured subjects of making love and rocking out.

What makes the record distinctive - and the closest link to the more characteristic sound of the subsequent discs - is lead singer Tim Baker's firey performance. His tortured wails, reminiscent of Geddy Lee with his hand in a vice or Rob Halford after a sharp kick in the nuts, add a wild-eyed and manic edge to the material which a more sober and serious delivery wouldn't have, catchy tracks such as Edge of a Knife proving to be a particularly good showcase for his vocal gymnastics.

On balance, I'd say this is one for hardened Cirith Ungol fans only - it's hard to see the crucial role they'd play in the evolution of doom metal on this album which is so compromised by their mercenary approach to choosing songs. Still, as hard rock-influenced metal showing the influence of Judas Priest and early Sabbath goes, it's not that bad at all.

I just want a little fire! - 55%

caspian, June 18th, 2011

I think the main reason why I'm rather disappointed with Frost and Fire is that based on the album name and the brilliant cover art I was expecting another bizarre, magical tour de force like the classic, misshapen but beautiful lump that's King of the Dead. Instead, we're left with something that's a good deal more ordinary, more accessible, and with none of the brilliant King of the Dead-isms that I always thought were part of the band. The bass sits further in the back and has a fairly normal tone, Baker's otherworldly banshee howl is much more toned down and closer to some Bobby Blitz*/Bon Scott thing (sort of), lyrics are pretty boring, the solos are concise and far more normal. They sound like a normal band, kind of. Not really. Er, they sound more average, I guess that's the best way to put it.

The magic just hadn't really got to them yet; or maybe I'm just comparing this to its' far superior successor way too much. There's some cool riffs, some cool moments (A Little Fire's a great rocky tune) but no otherworldly 7 minute journeys are on offer here, no Finger of Scorn esque doom workouts, and nothing that's really all that fierce. It's solidly written and performed hard rock that mostly works well (excepting Edge of a Knife, which has the weakest chorus ever) but doesn't get your dick all that hard. The riffs are good but never that great (What Does it Take having a marvellously crunchy exception), the rhythm section's good, but never great; no Death of the Sun style bass workouts, and while Baker does sound good, he hadn't really found his signature cosmic yowl yet... So I wouldn't put him under great either. The thing doesn't possess much slothful weirdness but there's not much in the way of energy, either, it's all fairly harmless mid tempo workouts. You could say they're boring, you could say they're competent, both are pretty much accurate at this point.

Hard to feel much about this album; I was definitely expecting more seeing as how much I love King of the Dead. The cover art's definitely the highlight here. It's weird in that while this album is still resolutely a Cirith Ungol release (that bizarre signature style is somewhere here) this is still, well, quite boring, quite unremarkable. Only worth getting if you're a completist, I think.

Tales that Speak of Frost & Fire - 95%

robertgarven, June 2nd, 2011

As co-founder and drummer of Cirith Ungol for 22 years I feel I need to respond to some of the reviews here.

A previous reviewer mentioned that "Frost & Fire" sounded thrown together. The real truth is that we had been in the band for 9 years already and "Frost & Fire" was our attempt to get "commercial" airplay and find success with what we considered some of our more accessable music and yes radio friendly music! When the local LA station KLOS played it once and considered it too heavy, we decided to go for broke with our second album and pulled out all the stops. I disagree with some of the reviewers and think Tim's singing is not only excellent here and that "Frost & Fire" has some of his best vocals. This album features his highest pitched and clearest singing. Anyone who does not call it sining has to compare it with some of todays death metal. "'Im Alive" was one of our all time best songs, which we started almost every set with. The LA Times said that Pearl Jams "Alive" was a blatant rip off of our song, which is debatable.

I also think the title track "Frost & Fire" is excellent with a great middle break and solo and that "Better off Dead" has a great bass line and some of Tim's greatest singing range. This is all said looking back with a historical view that only I of all the reviewers can comment on being there the whole time. Jerry's solos are amazing and his passing was very tragic and sad.

This album has to be listened to many times to appreciate the lyrics, songwriting and performance as a whole not separate parts and to understand as opposed to it being thrown together is was a calculated attempt to obtain a major label contract during a time that only bands with catchy songs that would get any radio airplay were signed. Although i think "King of the Dead" was more representative of the band I am most proud of this album because not only was it our first but it was graced by the unbelievable cover illustration of Michael Whelan's epic portrait of Elric of Melnibone holding Stormbringer high above his head. This was a dream of ours and after so many years of struggle it was our reality. And yes our music can never be worthy of this great artists work!

Considering we produced, self recorded and paid for the entire project and that we were one of if not THE FIRST independent band to put out their own album before the wave of indie productions during that time, I think "Frost & Fire" "King of the Dead" & "Servants of Chaos" are a mandatory listen.

That said "King of the Dead" is my favorite and the last album which we had total control over. I am proud that we are mentioned in the same breath as bands that were epic and hope you all appreciate what we were trying to acomplish at a time when only big label bands had any chance of distribution or airplay.

Unfortunately for you the listener you never got to hear the other 20 or so odd songs that never made it to print such as: "Half Past Human - A Quarter to Ape" & "Brutish Manchild" but then that is another story for another day............

Robert Garven
Ventura, CA

Stunningly realized, ahead of its time - 95%

automg, August 10th, 2006

If you think this album isn't heavy enough, take another look at when it was released- 1980. This is the very same year that Iron Maiden put out their first LP, and British Steel was making a hit in the US. Even with this consideration, Cirith Ungol's sound has a certain quality to it that seems antiquated, like an obscure 70s rock band that had been dusted off for one last go. I think that's what makes this album unique, not the "let's go play D&D in mom's basement" fantasy themes, but the raw, mean rock'n'roll attitude executed in true form. The slower, more epic (borderline doomy) passages are only a reprise to the unapologetic rockin'. You can imagine a snarl on the bassist's face, his mid-heavy Rick tone soaring above the guitars, and spittle flying from the singer's face, teeth bared, gristly voice shrieking every note. Does it sound like heavy metal's ideal? Not really. But throughout Frost and Fire, the raging beast of rock'n'roll is screaming "I'm alive!"

I'm Alive - 80%

Lord_Elden, November 4th, 2004

This is the obscure and more than adequate debut of LA based cult Heavy Metal band Cirith Ungol. Admittedly I wasn't very fond of this on the first spin, probably most due to the vocalist, Tim Baker, who sounds pretty damn awful before you get used to his voice. Yet there was something very compelling about the brooding music that forced me to revisit it again and again and again. And it really did grow on me from 'what-is-this-crap' to 'pretty-damn-good'.

They would on the next album sound more like Black Sabbath, bringing a doomier edge to to the music but on Frost and Fire they're very much based on 70's Hard Rock ala US band Bang. Many of the songs have fitting keyboard presence creating a dark atmosphere but luckily it's not overdone to masturbation (when Greg Lindstrom was in his, as he puts it, "'I think this could need some more synthesizer' phase") as it was on the demo versions of the songs (which can be heard on the compilation Servants of Chaos). Compared to King of the Dead this album is less doomy, has more keyboards, and it's also less "epic" (which can be noted on the lenghts of the songs too). That's not saying this is bad, far from it, it's better than most of the crap that is released nowadays, it just pales somewhat in comparison to the next album.

The cover art is by Michael Whelan, originally for one of Michael Moorcock's Elric novels. Very fitting to the dark music. Interesting enough, the sheet has lyrics for the song Maybe That's Why but on the album the song is instrumental.

For those who've never heard Cirith Ungol I'd recommend the next album, King of the Dead instead which represents their morbid music better. Regardless, this is also more than recommended. Overall, it's a very strong debut screaming I'm Alive.