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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.