Cirith Ungol – Forever Black Review

Cirith Ungol. The name looms large in the history of heavy metal. Though the mercurial act released only 4 albums, their impact on the genre was great and long-lasting. Their unusual style influenced everything from doom to traditional and trve metal, and countless bands owe their core sound to albums like King of the Dead and One Foot in Hell. They were one of the most unique, quirky bands in metal history and they’ve always held a special place in my heart ov Steel. Loathe though I am to admit it, I never cared for their final album, 1991s Paradise Lost. It felt like a weak, half-hearted ending to a great career and always left me with the taste of ashes whenever I thought about it. Fast forward nearly 30 years, past a number of rumored reunions, and we finally get another Cirith Ungol album featuring 3 original members. Naturally, I was apprehensive that the band could produce something worthwhile after a near lifetime in limbo, and I dreaded the idea of another sub-par release to further tar their legacy. I was but a fool to harbor such doubts, as Forever Black is exactly the album we should have gotten back in 1991. It sounds like a natural follow up to 1986s One Foot in Hell, and most importantly, it sounds like vintage Cirith Ungol, Iron Gods be praised!

As soon as “Legions Arise” burst forth from the speakers, you hear the might and majesty of the REAL Cirith Ungol born again in fire and fury. It’s as if the long years fade away and we’re in the 80s again. Tim Baker’s vocals sound even more forceful than ever somehow and the band sounds full of righteous anger and furious wrath. The song feels like the spiritual successor to their classic “Blood and Iron” but more aggressive and powerful. From there “The Frost Monstreme”1 slows things down into classic Cirith plod and thud territory, and again the band sounds in vintage form. All the elements that made them such a ungainly, awkward pleasure are still there, untouched by the ages or trends.

Along with the titanic opener, the massive “Stormbringer” shows a band still capable of penning enormous pieces of classic proto-metal, on par with and as vital as their early works. It’s exactly what I want from the band, sounding like something off of King of the Dead, merging doom and trve metal into a ponderous chunk of steel so weighty, I can barely move it to my workout playlist. Baker even utilizes clean vocals briefly before launching into his full-throated roars and bellows as the song steamrolls through the Hyborian age, toppling false idols and medieval power structures in the process. The album winds out with back-to-back atom smashers, “Before Tomorrow” and “Forever Black,” the former bristling with primordial old school riffing and trve heaviness. Its plod is juggernaut-like and Tim Baker sounds like an angry, hungry monster. Closer “Forever Black” feels like a call back to “Paradise Lost,” the only great song from the Paradise Lost album. It’s slow, massive sounding, and as metal as metal can be without becoming diamond. It’s also quite dark, which suits Cirith Ungol down to their ancient Tolkienisms.

Is Forever Black a perfect comeback? No. “The Fire Divine” is a bit too awkward, though it benefits from riffing strongly reminiscent of early Pentrgram, and “Nightmare” is a decent song that drags on too long and peters out before the end. Additionally, the standout cuts like “Legions Arise” and “Stormbringer” are so good they make the surrounding tracks feel weak by comparison, though they mostly aren’t. After such a long hiatus do I have a right to expect an album full of songs capable of competing with the very best of their legendary albums? Probably not, but I’m glad we got a few such monumental monoliths. The biggest shock is how amazing Tim Baker sounds nearly 30 years after his heyday. Always one of metal’s most unusual voices, he’s still every bit as wild and off-kilter as ever, and sometimes sounds even better than he once did. Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza combine to ensure the band’s trademark offbeat guitar style is adhered to, while adding slightly more upbeat riffing like on “Fractus Promissum.” That all the elements of their inimitable style survived the long absence does my heart good.

I didn’t know what to expect from Cirith Ungol after such a massive layoff, but Forever Black certainly exceeds all expectations I dared harbor. I don’t know if this is a one-off or if the band plans to make a another go of it, but if this is the final stone on the Cirith Ungol cenotaph, it’s a just and proper one. The Lords of the Weird have been appeased and the ways of the trve are ascendant once more. Praise be the black forever.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: cirithungol.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/cirithungolofficial
Releases Worldwide: April 24th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which, along with track “The Fire Divine,” reference a line from their classic song “Frost and Fire” from the album of the same name.
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