Cirith Ungol – Forever Black – Album Review

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Artist: Cirith Ungol

Album Title: Forever Black

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date of Release: 24 April 2020

I have always wondered what Cirith Ungol sounded like but had never found the time or a strong enough compulsion to investigate and actually find out. And that’s in spite of the fact that their name is taken from ‘Lord Of The Rings’, and the band have an almost obsessive fascination with the fantasy worlds of writer Michael Moorcock. But that has now changed. Why? Well I’m not going to lie – here we are in 2020, some 29 years on from their last studio release and we’re faced with a reality that should be the stuff of a fantasy novel. Dealing with a dystopian lockdown, it means that excuses of not having the time have simply evaporated into thin air. So here I am, finally digesting my first taste of a band that has been at the periphery of my musical radar for many years. Serendipitously, it also coincides with the first new studio album from the Californian metal band since 1991.

Although I may not have any knowledge of the music that Cirith Ungol unleashed on the world during the 1980s, I am pretty sure that ‘Forever Black’ is a close approximation to it, because this isn’t what you’d call up-to-date and modern heavy metal; ‘Forever Black’ is a record that could easily have stood toe-to-toe with many others back in the day, when NWOBHM was at it’s peak and technology hadn’t really started to take the fun out of music. That said, the material on this record is not pure NWOBHM; it is more doom-laden than that. There are plenty of galloping rhythms within the songs, as well as a clean voice at the higher end of the register, but there’s definitely a doomier feel to the music.

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Without meaning to sound critical or condescending, there’s a definite naivety to the material here. The lyrics are dated, occasionally toe-curling, and I have to be honest about the production which is not the polished affair of the present day. That’s not to say that modern, crystal clear productions are all good (loudness wars anyone?), but the music feels a little thin and muddy here, definitely with a foot in the past. It’s entirely possible that this was a deliberate decision, but I’m not convinced it was the right one.

At this point, it might sound like I am dismissing ‘Forever Black’. I do have several misgivings and it is far from a perfect album. But importantly, the more I listen, the more the metal spirit and nostalgia come to the fore, making it a much more enjoyable listen than it perhaps ever had any right to be. What it lacks in other areas, it makes up for with heart, energy and an unshakeable honesty. It may be nearly three decades later, but we are Cirith Ungol and this is what we do.

In terms of the specific songs on ‘Forever Black’, ‘Legions Arise’ is a definite highlight. It rips from the speakers like it’s 1984 again, with some fast-paced riffs, a powerful vocal performance from Tim Baker, lead guitar solos aplenty and an energy that’s quite infectious. ‘The Frost Monstreme’ takes the pace down several notches in contrast, getting the head nodding in appreciation alongside the more overt doom influences.

Being a band that originated in the 70s and 80s, there’s naturally a ballad and that arrives in the guise of ‘Stormbringer’. I’m an unashamed fan of a good ballad and whilst this isn’t the best I’ve ever heard, especially lyrically, it has a definite charm about it. Speaking of charm, the lead guitar solos and melodies within ‘Fractus Promissum’ are difficult to argue with, as is the epic, almost anthemic nature of ‘Nightmare’. I’m also enjoying the hell out of the closing title track which leaves nothing at the door and which delights with its old-school vibes throughout.

It may not be the perfect album; ok, it may not even be close to being perfect, but ‘Forever Black’ has something about it that means I genuinely enjoy it more than I was expecting after a first listen. I am so glad that I took this opportunity to break my Cirith Ungol cherry, because the experience has been entertaining and I’m pleased for long-term fans that they have another opportunity to experience this veteran band doing what they do best. It won’t be on my end-of-year best-of list, but I don’t regret finally checking out Cirith Ungol one little bit.

The Score of Much Metal: 72%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

One thought

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review! Now it’s time to check out our earlier work. Start with “King of the Dead”.

    Rob Garven /
    Cirith Ungol

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