Up today on the metal review is the new offering from Cirith Ungol. It’s called Forever Black. Upon receiving this album from Super Metal World, in the press kit, I was treated to a bio from the band, the cover art. All the goodies. After exploring their material and reading their history, one thing was clear. This is a band with a past and a story. And regardless of anyone’s preferences or tastes or what have you, I always respect a band with a history. A ‘stick-to-it-iveness.’
So, before ever hearing a note, I did some homework. All things told, all things weighed, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. This was all before I had listened to the material. And to be honest and forthright, I was bit perplexed. I’ll admit that for the first time in a long time, I was at an impasse, something I hadn’t dealt with in many a year. I wasn’t sure what to say. Not in any sort of negative connotation, just . . . There’s . . . a LOT to be digested. From influences to ‘sounds like’ to presentation. So, I decided to the let the music speak to me. I put it on and took it for the customary three listens I give every album I review. Let’s get into this.
From the first few notes of the album’s first track “The Call,” one thing became clear. I am out of my element here. It’s sort of traditional heavy metal meets traditional black metal with some traditional ‘rock-n-roll.’ So, there’s at least that for me to hold onto: traditional. Old school. And one thing about anyone in the old school, they know what they like and they do as they please. You can take the stoic hard man out of the old school, but you can’t take the old school out of the stoic hard man. So . . . after finishing the intro track and following up into the run of “Legions Arise,” “The Frost Monstreme,” and “The Fire Divine” (this is a great track, by the way), one more thing was clear. All definers that I am familiar with are out the window. I can’t treat this like many other albums because it’s such an amalgamation of so many things. So, best to stick with how I started. Just let the music speak to me.
There’s reaches for epicness here, which I always love. It’s inherent in heavy metal. Reach for the cosmos or hop off stage, regardless of your genre or approach. Do what you do so well that no one can do it better than you. That’s how you stick around for 30+ years and how fans beg you to come out of retirement. And after half this album, I could see why Cirith Ungol has those monikers and accomplishments.
A personal favorite of mine reaching into those far places of mammoth composition is “Stormbringer.” That song trudges at its own speed and it lets you go only when it is completed. It demands your attention. And a large part of that is the guitar work, which is in no particular hurry for this band. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just saying that they pick their notes carefully. That much is obvious. They pick the notes with careful precision and they let them ring. Rather than cram hundreds of notes where they barely fit, Cirith Ungol chooses but a few and gives them the whole measure. That’s a joy for me particularly as a musician and a person who loves the beauty of simple tonality. The sheer musicality of music itself. Notes are beautiful and I want to hear them. Let them ring, just make sure it’s the right note. And on “Stormbringer,” they’re all the right notes. The solo halfway through that song melds perfectly with the rhythm guitar strings very beautifully and was a particular moment of musical bliss for me.
This vocalist howls from his bowels throughout. Reminiscent of Danzig’s finest bellows when he really revs up. I’m personally a fan of guttural howls and I find beauty in the power of everyone’s individual scream. I think shrieks and screams are beautiful and just as much ‘singing’ as cleans. They have pitch and shift and song just the same as your glassy and acoustic singers. So, in short, I love shouts and I think they’re just as unique as the vocalist that delivers them; and I love to hear a singer really treat his dirty screams with passion. Picking your spots and notes with care the same as any ballady crooner. So, it was a treat to hear him never miss a shout. I do think a bit more versatility in places could have gone a long way, though. A bit more up and down in the delivery is all I mean. Tim Baker picks his howl from the album’s onset and that’s pretty much the note you get straight through. It’s a great shout, as if to the heaven’s themselves, but after thirty or forty minutes of the same upper-mid, lower-high timbre, it gets just a bit atonal. And within the context of how these songs want to stretch and reach in their wide sprawl, I think a few different shouts could have really opened these tracks up a bit more. Just my opinion.
But, all that said, the drums are big arena thuds. The guitars are chuggy, doomy old school howlers. The sound is really big, there’s a lot of air in this sound, and I really dig it. Reaching out for the cosmos as best as old-school metal can. Though, one of the issues with old-school metal is a lot of the compositions can run together a bit. They pick their section of the cosmos, and they work varying shades rather than different areas altogether. And that is a bit present on this release. It’s all solid, but the mid-album will run together if you’re not largely invested.
I will admit that I’m a bit out of my element in reviewing this one, so please take this review with a grain of salt. I’m a little uncomfortable going too in depth as to genre specifics or what you should expect musically. I feel it’s particularly unfair to the music itself for me to try to grade it on a modern scale. It’s very clear that this album is outside the modern metalscope, and it intends to be. An ultimate show of defiance and unrelenting conviction to the very many things that make this band particularly memorable. And perhaps, at the end of it, maybe that’s the perfect statement for the definition of this band and this record.
Difficult to define, nearly impossible to grade, but certainly memorable.
And maybe it’s just something that doesn’t turn with me, some reason I have difficulty in placing this one. But even despite the short comings I may have in receiving it, I will have that much said for it. It’s difficult for me to put down, and I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. Even if only to more properly define it. And at the heart of it, isn’t that the beauty of music and metal? A piece of dark art that shows you something about yourself as well as the artist that spawned it? In that regard, it finishes in spades. Anyway . . .
This album is difficult for me to completely make sense of, but I did enjoy it. Guitar work is really solid, the solos are a real high spot for me. I get some hints of Iron Maiden here and there, galloping riffs and sprinkled spidery runs and harmonic leads; ringing single notes that fill whole meters. And an overall dedication to basic musicality and the beauty of single vibrating tones.
Difficult for me, but still enjoyable. This is VERY much it’s own thing. Very individual. I’m not sure it *quite* reaches the epicness it sets out for, but it gives a hell of a fucking effort. And after the 30+ years this band has persevered, that strength of spine and will is fucking triumphant. That much comes through in every note of the album, even if it is difficult to place or reckon with.
Favorite Songs: “The Fire Divine” and “Stormbringer”
P.S.—This cover art fucking rocks, too. Doing the most with a simple idea. I’m so glad we’re living in an age where bands are taking all aspects of their releases so seriously, including the covers. That’s a gross generalization I realize, but it at least seems to be the case, anyway.
Label: Metal Blade Records
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