After the release of their debut album, Cirith Ungol sort of fell by the wayside. The band took two years slowly crafting their second album mainly because of it being self produced by the band and unfortunately their first didn’t make so much of a bang. However, by 1984 the landscape was changing with American Metal becoming more popular, but not in the way everyone had initially thought. Glam metal was on the rise and Thrash was becoming the hottest underground sensation. However, the band still forged on and released “King Of The Dead”. The album is definitely a lot different compared to “Frost”, but is it better?
Well, spoilers, it is a hell of a lot more of an exciting album.
1.Atom Smasher- Opening with a very bouncy and heavy mid paced riff, this song definitely shows that the band has evolved. From Bakers hard shrieking that really drew me in the first time I had heard the song to the band production-wise sounding much better and focused than the first album. The drumming especially is very hard and heavy hitting with a very doom metal vibe to them. The chorus really catches you and has a very mid paced power metal feel as well. We also see Jerry Fogle taking over full guitar duties on this album as well and his soloing is very distinct with a crisp distortion that is a staple of his guitar tone. Overall, this is a fantastic opener simple as that.
2.Black Machine-This song has become a fan favorite as it really is a live kind of song. It is quite a simple song but the main riff which plays through the whole song is very infectious. It has a doom vibe as it trudges along but with the epic vocal style, it retains a very unique heavy dingy power metal feeling that is reverberated throughout the whole album and something I was able to pick up on on my first listen as it really is pronounced in the songwriting. Another great mid paced simple yet effective song.
3.Master of the Pit-This song retains some of that 70’s progressive edge mainly throughout the soloing aspects of the first album. Their is definitely a lot going on in this track which rides mainly on the rhythm and groove of the bass and drumming. It really picks up towards the end making this perhaps one of the most intense song Cirith Ungol had recorded up to this point.
4.King of the Dead- Much like “Master of the Pit”, there is a slow build to this song before it gets to the more brooding verses and short but epic chorus lines. The beginning reminds me a bit of Black Sabbaths “War Pigs” (perhaps where the doom-esque influence comes from) but with a bit more going on within it. The title track has perhaps become one of the bands most recognizable songs for the simple but almost mid tempo power metal feel blended with brooding doom metal riffing. I also have to note that this is one of Bakers best vocal performances on any of their albums just from how he can sustain notes with so much grit and grain in his voice not being lost. Simply put, if you ever have to listen to one Cirith Ungol song, this is very high on the list.
5.Death of the Sun-This song takes a more simple hard rocking route with some frantic riffing that is a bit reminiscent of the first album as well, however it feels like a much more focused song. I do like how around the mid mark, the main riff takes on a weird time signature with solo’s plastered all over. It really shows the musicianship the band really holds on the album. Straight forward underground heavy metal at some its best and creative.
6.Finger of Scorn-The acoustic guitars are a nice change of pace but when the main guitars kick in I feel they are set way too far back into the mix but they do get up front again for the main bulk of the song which im sure was the intention but it just feels a bit awkward in execution. The song still carries the notion of “epic metal” very high with a more melodic hard beating chorus that is one of my favorites on the album.
7.Toccata in Dm-A cover of the classical piece by Sebastian Bach done through guitar and bass which is not a bad cover. It still conveys a sense of dreading emotion to it and is played with precision. Not much to say about it but an interesting inclusion.
8.Cirith Ungol- This song is definitely one of the most “out there” ones on the album with a lot of very unique riffs thrown into the mix and very odd time signatures tossed around. The verses are even a bit strange but work. While it isn’t my favorite on the album, it is a good ending showcasing the band really putting a lot of creativity in their music.
Overall, the album solidifies itself with an 8.5 out of 10. Looking between the first two albums, it is easy to see why “King of the Dead” production and musicianship-wise is such an improvement. The songwriting has become much more focused into creating a steady sound that the band has since been identified with. From becoming a strange proto metal/prog hard rock band to a more straightforward progressive epic doom act, Cirith Ungol really shaped their sound with this album. While the production isn’t quite perfect and is still kind of spotty in some areas, it doesn’t quite hinder the experience the album gives. The band would stick to this harder sound with their next album entitled “One Foot In Hell” two years later.