CIRITH UNGOL (EN)

-First of all thanks for taking the time and I hope you are all safe and doing good in these lockdown days. How are you holding up?
Rob: We are doing well. We are pretty bummed out our show in Madrid has been cancelled for now, hopefully it will be rescheduled soon.

-How has this whole situation affected you on a professional level? As your new album is coming out soon.
Rob: Most of or all our upcoming concerts for 2020 have been cancelled or postponed by this ongoing nightmare. However, we are very excited for the release of our 5th studio album “Forever Black”, which was released on April 24, 2020.

-As I said, hope you are OK, but now let’s move on to this new album, entitled «Forever Black». Why this name? And what meaning does its cover hold?
Rob: As the album was coming together it was obvious that the music was headed in a very stygian direction. As soon as we finished the song “Forever Black”, it seemed the perfect title track for an album of such dark material. The song fits a recurring theme of the band, one that conjures up the darker side of man’s eternal struggle, «A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!»

-I have had the chance of listening to it and it is 100% CIRITH UNGOL, it seems like time hasn’t passed for you and you are picking it up where you left off. How was that recording process? Were you sure that you should do what you know the best and to sound as you have always sounded like?
Rob: That is exactly as how we envisioned it; we are making up for lost time. There was never any doubt that we should continue from where we left off. This band has never questioned our identity or our music, and our hope is that a few discerning metal aficionados, appreciate the metal we have laid out before them. Some will dismiss it out of hand, while others will heed the call and «Join the Legion»!

Photo: Cliff Montgomery

-After so many years without playing, did you have any old song or some tune to finish up or are all tracks new? Was the whole band involved in the songwriting process?
Rob: The songs were written in the same manner as before we broke up. We forge a song the same way a master blacksmith creates a fine battle sword, adding the correct alloys, to make it strong and true, then hammering these elements of molten metal, to add strength and character, finally quenching it in the blood of the unavenged! When it is completed, we all have blood on our hands!

-How is everything going with Metal Blade? Are you pleased with them? They are supporting you with a cool release of the album, as they did last year with the live album «I’m Alive».
Rob: Metal Blade Records and their entire team have been the perfect ally in our march to recapture the lost souls who have strayed, while we slumbered! The album execution, much like «I’m Alive» released last year, is simply astounding, and we could not be more content.

-Speaking about the live album; how were those shows and that recording like? I think it is an awesome live album, as those from back in the days; really genuine and epic. How come you haven’t lost the magic after so much time without playing? During the times you were inactive, did you keep meeting or playing? Because it really feels as you were never away.
Rob: After the band broke up in 1991, we all went our separate ways, enjoying careers, families, and other interests. But once the smoldering fire of metal which still burned deeply in all our souls was reignited, we were determined to unfurl the banner of Ungol, and continue our quest to uphold true metal as a beacon, that others can follow. The shows were awe inspiring, traveling to distant lands, and sharing our vision with those initiates who would listen!

Photo: Cliff Montgomery

-As I have the chance of interviewing you, and having been a supporter of the band since the beginnings, I would like to review your history. You were born around 1972. How was the band born and what was the first thing you recorded before doing an album? How were those early days like, of those early demos?
Rob: We actually formed in 1971 after Greg Lindstrom, Jerry Fogle and I left the band Titanic, to form «Cirith Ungol». Our goal was to play the heaviest metal known to man. We holed up in an upstairs lair at my ancestral home and for years we wrote and recorded music, honing our songwriting skills and style into what would become, what is easily recognized today. Many of those early demos can be heard on the double album released in 2001 «Servants of Chaos». It was a magical era, and we never gave up hope in pursuing our vison of what we considered true metal!

-Your first full-length was «Frost and Fire», a solid mass of 70’s heaviness with a unique epicness, and specially Tim’s very singular vocals. Tell us about that first recordings, those moments before the first gigs and about Tim’s voice. How was the first time you heard him and felt it fitted what you wanted to do?
Rob: After years of trying to get the attention of the record industry in Los Angeles, we decided to pull out all the stops and create the mother of all demos. It had to be an offering as polished as any released by major labels. In order to get radio airplay which was essential at the time, we put on that album what we considered were our most commercially accessible songs. It was recorded at Goldmine Studios in Ventura, California, and soon after we moved lock stock and barrel into a band room lair close by, where we would reside until 1991. When we first heard Tim, it was obvious that our fortunes were tied together with his demonic wailings!

Photo: Cliff Montgomery

-I remember during that period I was a teenager always researching about Metal, and I ran into something called US Epic Metal where I could find bands like yourself, OMEN, MANILLA ROAD or VIRGIN STEELE. What’s true behind this tag? Were you part of an epic cast that was raising in the US?
Rob: We played with Omen back in the days, however amazingly we never had contact with, or heard of Manilla Road or Virgin Steele. I cannot explain why, except we were so preoccupied by trying to forge ahead with «Cirith Ungol» that we were not aware of what was happening around us, in the U.S.

-In 1984 you released «King of the Dead». This time with darker nuances, even some Prog elements. The change went a little bit unnoticed though. Tell us about this period; what did it mean to have a second album out?
Rob: After «Frost & Fire» was played on the local Los Angeles heavy metal radio station, and we were told it was way too heavy to play on their air, so we decided to pull out all the stops, and release an album of our heaviest material, resulting in «King of the Dead». Greg had recently left the band, to pursue his path in the city of Lost Angels. Once again, we had complete control over every facet of this creation, and we were determined to forge this fresh batch of molten metal into the heaviest metal known to man! It was released on Enigma Records in the U.S., and Roadrunner Records abroad. It meant a great deal to have released a second album, and we received some critical journalistic recognition, but once again the widespread exposure we sought, alluded us.

-«One Foot in Hell» came out in 1986, and it went along the lines of the previous one, with more depth and darkness. Do you think this album was a turning point in your catalogue? Tell us how were those years like, and those shows with a solid basis of songs.
Rob: Those years were one of struggle, and heartbreak trying to promote the band, with little outside help. The band spent tireless nights rehearsing, writing new material, and answering the ever increasing hordes of fan mail. We decided to leave Enigma and join our longtime friend Brian Slagel, who formed Metal Blade Records. The band had appeared on his first album the compilation «Metal Massacre I». Even though the album was strong and a success musically for the band, any kind of financial or commercial success was still beyond our reach. The band was tired of long nights of working at our secret lair with few concert dates played. This took a toll on the band, and Jerry left the band, followed by Flint. Jim Barraza was a local guitarist with much talent and he joined the band while we hammered out the music which would be the «Paradise Lost» album.

-Some years went by until 1991, when you closed the chapter with «Paradise Lost». An album with your classic essence, but in my opinion more Heavy Metal sounding, sometimes even close to Thash. After 5 records what was the path to follow? Why did the first era of the band end here?
Rob: I am not sure why we did not continue on Metal Blade Records, and looking back that was a serious mistake on the bands part. We ended up signing to the company Restless Records, who had sprung from the ashes on Enigma, after they had been sold to Capitol Records. This whole era was a time of turmoil for the band. We found two local musicians who joined the band, just long enough to record the album, but left before it was even released. Another local musician Vernon Green joined to play bass after «Paradise Lost» was released. The recording process was difficult, and soon after the album was released, we were dropped by Restless Records, causing even more distress. Soon Vern left the band along with Jimmy, leaving Tim and I the last standing members of «Cirith Ungol».

Photo: Cliff Montgomery

-And during all those years until the moment when you reunited, how were your lives like? Did you remain in contact during the 90’s before reuniting?
Rob: After the band broke up everyone went their separate ways. Greg and I kept in touch, but we all pretty much moved on with our lives.

-As I mentioned earlier, I was a teenager that enjoyed doing research, and back in the 80’s it was hard. The first time I heard the term «underground» was because of you and MANILLA ROAD, two bands that I adore and that opened me new doors to the unknown. Nowadays it’s easier to have access to unknown bands. In both European and Spanish festivals, I see a lot of young guys that are big fans of CIRITH UNGOL. Do you think you and other cult bands have been able to restart their careers thanks to the Internet?
Rob: Of course, the internet is a big reason many have heard of the band. Metal Blade Records also kept many of our albums in print and available even during the years we were inactive. From time to time, a large magazine would do a feature on the band helping to keep the music and name alive.

-On a view to new recordings or releases; do you have something in mind? Some ideas?
Rob: We never stopped working on new material and although we have no future projects officially announced, we still have plenty of fire in our belly!

-That’s all from our side. As I said earlier, it is a real pleasure to interview in 2020 a band that back in 1984 only a few of us knew in Europe. If you want to add some final words, feel free to do it. Thank you so much.
Rob: Thank you and your readers, for you interest in «Cirith Ungol»! We would like to send our best wishes to all of you, and hope you are safe and healthy. Please pick up our new album “Forever Black”, and we look forward to seeing you, at one of our upcoming exclusive, live public appearances! We still have a few surprises up our sleeves, so stay tuned, and spread the news, so the Legions will Arise!!

Paco Gómez
paco@queensofsteel.com

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