Frost and Fire III: Day Two Review

 

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Day two of Frost And Fire kicked off very nicely and at a very reasonable time in the day too. I like that the bands didn’t start until almost 4 every day mainly so I could have some time to do a bit of relaxing beforehand. So after eating for the day and checking out the …child abuse and neglect thrift store(basically a goodwill but with a strange name), It was time to indulge on another batch of bands new and old for the day.

First up on the main stage was California’s Hellfire. Hot off the release of their new album “Free Again” they were one of the highest bands on my list to see this year and they did not disappoint. For being the openers for the day, they definitely could have played higher on the bill playing mostly from their new album with a few of my favorite cuts from “Metal Masses” as well. Their style of classic speed metal definitely won a lot of early goers over for the day as well. Next up on the front bar stage was OVVL who were probably the most unique band on the bill for the weekend overall. At face value they had a very progressive 70’s hard rock sound but coupled with their lead guitarists cowboy mixed with Charles Manson look, they were anything but straightforward. They were not a bad live band, actually quite entertaining as they were very into the groove of their songs. As the shift was back onto more traditional metal, Skelator were up next and were damn amazing live. The vocals were what impressed me the most and just how commanding of a live act they were. Some highlights from their set included “Samurai” and their cover of Judas Priests “Jawbreaker” was definitely very fun to hear as well.

After grabbing some water as the bar was filling up with people and getting way up in temperature, it was time to see Venomous Maximus for the second time. The band has a more straightforward doom/stoner metal grooving sound which I am into a lot however I always appreciated them more as a studio act. Live they don’t cut it as much for me at least not this time. Perhaps it was the technical difficulties peppered throughout but they just weren’t as commanding as when I saw them back home a year or so before. In the middle of their set, I felt it was time to get some air and socialize a bit before possibly the most gimmick and slapstick performance I have ever seen was to occur.

Iron Thor who are a cover band of the cult metal act Thor were up next and were as cheesy and epic as the real thing. From bending steel to a literal wrestling brawl breaking out on stage, they had it all and were one of the most fun bands of the weekend. their set was all classic Thor songs done very faithfully as well so bravo to them. Twisted Tower Dire, a band that needs to introduction. With albums such as “The Isle of Hydra” and even their most recent from 2011 “Make It Dark”, the band has established themselves as one of the most consistent power metal acts today and this performance was no exception. The band played a fair mix of both older and newer songs with one of their covers as well because cmon they do really pull out some amazing covers. The song was Mercyful Fates “A Dangerous Meeting ” and was done very well and was really the cherry on the top of a very solid performance.

Finally it was time for the band I was looking most forward to all weekend (besides Cirith Ungol) Mythra. Another of my favorite NWOBHM bands and one that are hot on a comeback with their album “Still Burning” being released earlier this year. Finally after nearly forty years, they have braced the United States for their first ever show here and based on their performance, it would be easy to think that they were a regular touring band. The reason being they were so incredibly tight and were very energized with interacting with the audience. The setlist was mainly oldschool fair with the band opening with “The Best Is Yet To Come” and classics like “U.F.O” and one of my favorites, the energied “Killer”. Vince Highs vocals I have to praise for barely aging and still having that classic rock n roll grit as well. The band also peppered in some newer songs such as :Silence In Sirens”, “Battlecry” and a few others that I felt worked perfectly in with the old songs. Overall, I felt they had the best set of the weekend personally and if it is the only time they play the US, then by god they made a great impression. New classic metal act Amulet were next on the front room stage and were in a tight spot between two higher profile bands. Also, coming from the UK, the band sounds both live and in studio like they are straight from 1981. I really admire their vintage guitar sound and are a band to really watch out for in the future. Even though they were stacked between Mythra and the double bill of Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road, I felt they maintained a decent sized crowd with a lot of energy on stage.

Cirith Ungol were up next as the final band on the main stage for the night. Now after literally picking apart every album in the past month. Hearing them live was kind of the final piece of the puzzle for me. I missed them last year unfortunately so it was a real treat that they hopped on when Fist unfortunately had to cancel. The band opened with “War Eternal” off of their “One Foot In Hell” album and were in amazing form. I was quite surprised how well they sounded live especially today. Tim Baker is another vocalist I would say has a voice that has stood the test of time for sure with him still being able to belt those long heavy growls that are a staple of the band. The biggest shock was when the band played their cover of Arthur Brown’s “Fire”, a song I thought I’d never hear them do again. The crowd especially within the first five rows were absolutely nuts for them and rightfully so. Other highlights included the band doing nearly the whole “King Of The Dead” album toward the end of the set but keeping the set overall fairly evened out between every album. They definitely had the biggest reaction I had seen all weekend and being it was their hometown show I had expected that. After melting away nearly completely in the hotbox where the mainstage was, I decided to catch some air right before Manilla Road began.

Manilla Road have been one of those bands that no matter how many times they hit my town, I always miss them somehow. Well this night I was finally able to see them and what good timing to see them for a first time. The band pulled out a lot of stops with a very special setlist composed mainly of older songs from albums “Mystification”, “Open The Gates” and of course “Crystal Logic” as well as a few new songs that I can’t name off the top of my head at the moment. The weirdest thing was that the band was on the small front room stage which gave for a more personal experience for at least a lot of fans up front. Unfortunately, the band didn’t have a lot of elbow room to work with and weren’t able to move around much. They really just stuck to playing their songs with vocalist Bryan Patrick talking a bit in between songs. Songs like “Divine Victim” and “Masque Of The Red Death” were perhaps my biggest highlights. I would have liked some songs from “Out of the Abyss” which is my favorite Manilla Road album but hey they definitely didn’t skimp out on fan favorites ending the night with a heavy dose of the “Crystal Logic” album.

I was pretty cashed toward the end of the bands set and had to head back to my room to recover for the night. Overall, day two was just as good as the first however with Mythra and Cirith Ungol, this was definitely the peak of the weekend personally. This also ended the bulk of the weekend with Sunday having the last two heavy hitters Ashbury and Bitch.

Cirith Ungol retrospective part 4: Paradise Lost

Ahhh, here we finally are. The final album released by Cirith Ungol and perhaps their most mysterious. The album was released in 1991 when Cirith Ungol unfortunately were not in the greatest shape. Jerry Fogle had left the band and had been replaced with newcomer Jim Barraza bringing more of a straight forward Heavy Metal flair to the band. In the end, this album would be perhaps the groups most straight forward album they would ever release and one that production wise and more widespread appealing in terms of style should have put them in the big spotlight. Unfortunately with major spurs with their record company, the band decided to split up until their recent reunion in the last year. Now throughout this whole retrospective, this is the album I was most excited to talk about because it is my favorite and as you read on I’ll explain why this album should have been a classic but instead fell into the dark for years.

Track Rundown

1.Join The Legion- Honestly the first time you hear this song, until the vocals kick in you would not think this was Cirith Ungol. From the big even production to the more traditional guitar playing, this song is a chugging mid paced Heavy Metal anthem. Honestly I think this has been one of their staples among fans for the simple chorus that works very well. The soloing is noticeably more different as well being more straight forward than having more of a progressive edge it it. However, in these particular songs on this album, it works well. A great opener to a somewhat reborn version of the band.

2.The Troll- The mid pace sticks to this song with that progressive edge showing through a bit more. I especially like the vocals on this sign and the melodic guitar play it adds just that extra flair. The chorus is the only thing I felt that could have been a bit stronger for this song though.

3.Fire-I have to say I fucking love this cover. The song being such a weird psychedelic song as it is, is perfect for a band as unique as Cirith Ungol to cover. Even though the band play it more straight with no surprises or anything, it still is such a good and very heavy cover that flows with the album.

4.Heaven Help Us- This is easily the most accessible song the band has ever written.  The heavier melodic nature is definitely more reminiscent of the mid 80s than the time this album was released. Perhaps the biggest difference is the cleaner vocal style which essentially hasn’t existed in the band up til this point. Overall, I think this is a decent catchy heavy metal song but is very foreign to the bands sound which im sure alienated some fans.

5.Before The Lash- This song hearkens back more the sound of the first album album with that doomy late 70’s grooving riff in your face. A simple song not much to say.

6.Go It Alone- This sounds like a glam metal song straight from the beginning. Coupled with Bakers screeching vocals, it weirdly works. I can see how people get turned off by this song as it sounds like an attempt at a hit song but not quite. It is definitely a fun rocking song and like I said it just weirdly works.

7.Chaos Rising- Opening with some king diamond esque rhythm sections, the song goes into a slow ballad-like build and pays off becoming possibly my favorite Cirith Ungol song of all time. It definitely is the highlight on the album and retains a heavy straight forward Power Metal edge with a simple but very effective chorus. Barraza’s very sharp soloing is also a major highlight here as well.

8.Fallen Idols- This is another simple song with a doom mixed with power metal sound that works for another epic tune on the album. With the bigger production as well this song really shines especially in the guitars. The simple chorus is again one of the best on the album and is the centerpiece to this song as a whole.

9.Paradise Lost- Much like “Chaos Rising” this song is one of the most epic the band has ever written and has a more frantic feel to it much like the bands earlier albums. Honestly for the last song we would heat the band record, I feel it is an amazing testament to the band as a whole. They really give it their all here with also the best ending song on any of their albums. Bakers intense screaming during the chorus is just a cherry on top as the song ends the bands strongest album that unfortunately went unnoticed.

Overall, as the band were dealing with immense problems, they managed to create one last album that honestly stands on top as their most powerful and best produced. While there are some tracks that have a very different feel than most fans would be used to, the overall sound of this album show Cirith Ungol becoming a more supercharged version of themselves. If this album was released in 1987, Perhaps their fate would have been very different. Either way, the album finally saw a proper re release last year and the band has come back for a reunion even bringing back Greg Lindstrom and Barraza returning as well with new wave heavyweight Jarvis from Night Demon handling bass duties. Cirith Ungol have indeed returned and this album will always stand the test of time as their strongest to me.

Cirith Ungol retrospective part 3: One Foot In Hell

 

After the release of “King of the Dead”, Cirith Ungol managed to make enough of a rumble to get signed to Metal Blade records  and in two years they released their third album entitled “One Foot In Hell” in 1986. Now this album whenever I am discussing this band is one that is least talked about usually. I have always been curious considering the band were still thriving rather alright at this point. However, the band definitely had again a bit of a change in their sound. As 1986 was essentially the year of thrash, the band definitely took note and added a bit more well Speed to this release.

Track Rundown

1.Blood & Iron- Right away you can see the band have gone with a faster pace right from the get go with this song having that Maiden like gallop and it works damn well as an opener. The growling vocals are still a mainstay and highlight with Baker really belting it out with the verses being very up beat and making this a memorable tune on its own. The soloing sounds sonically better than the last two records being more smooth and less fuzzy. Overall, this is a great opener even as straightforward as it is from the band, it still is very powerful and catchy.

2.Chaos Descends- This is one of the more well known songs on the album and goes back to that more mid paced heaviness of the bands earlier material. This song would have fit well on King Of The Dead but has a bit higher production(or has more reverb im not sure what it is). The chorus is simple with Bakers voice multiplied left and right. Again it is simple but it works. Another good  simple but grooving song that really goes into speed metal territory toward the end.

3.The Fire- I love the bass line in the opening of this song but it almost feels too buried in the mix at times and it can be. The doom influence is still clear on this song as well but with a bit more edge to it especially in the soloing aspects. The song sticks to a mid tempo mainly and doesn’t pull many surprises but is solid overall.

4.Nadsokor- This song highlights the bands more creative and progressive side as well creating more interesting vocal choices and time changes with the drums being the most dominant instrument throughout pounding through relentlessly. It is probably the most interesting song on the album with a lot going on throughout but never has you fully lost.

5.100 MPH- This song is just straight up heavy metal with very cliche lyrics that are just dumb fun honestly. However as much as I enjoy this song, the production bothers the hell out of me. It just feels so inconsistent with the rest of the album and is kind of tinny and doesn’t reach the full epic nature that the rest of the album has through it’s production. Besides that, it is a fun as hell song that is at this point one of the fastest songs the band had released.

6.War Eternal- This song is my favorite on the album with a very big yet raw performance from the band that actually kind of hints at the sounds the band would have on their next album. The bouncy main riff is very catchy and the chorus again being just a simple chant of the title, works great and should be a live staple. This song also contains some of the most lively soloing from Fogle ever. It honestly was a shame that this was his last album before me was out of the band.

7.Doomed Planet- That fucking main riff! It is so dirty and groovy I love it. This is another of my favorites on the album and definitely a tune meant for a live setting. The chorus is another one of my favorites the band ever has written as well it is just a heavy heavy fucking chorus.

8.One Foot In Hell- As a closer, I think this is song does justice but the main riff feels a bit off. Im not sure why but I feel that a note or two shouldn’t be there but the chorus is really damn good with the lower evil vocals coming into play. Its cheesy but it works and fits the song. Overall, a straightforward and decent enough closer that leaves you satisfied.

 

Overall, this album is just all over the place. While the band definitely show their sound on the last album throughout, they also show some elements of straightforward traditional heavy metal and even speed metal at times. The songs are good but not great like the previous album. The album definitely isn’t a bad album, it is still worth a listen and definitely has some major highlights and for that I give the album a good 7.5 out of 10. However, the band would take the more Traditional influences a few years later with one of their most ambitious albums and unfortunately last entitled “Paradise Lost”.

Cirith Ungol retrospective part 2: King Of The Dead

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.

 

Track Rundown

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.

Cirith Ungol retrospective part 1: Frost And Fire

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Heavy Metal music was becoming one of the biggest exports of rock music mainly thanks to the explosion of of British heavy metal groups making their mark on the world. However, the U.S scene was still brewing hard and fast with band after band sprouting up almost daily across the states. However, one band in Ventura, California would stand out in terms of sound and style from them all. That band was the now cult favorite Cirith Ungol. Forming in 1972, the band spent nine years crafting their style before finally releasing their debut entitled “Frost And Fire” in 1981. Featuring the screeching demon voiced Tim Baker, Robert Garven on drums, guitarists Greg Lindstrom(who also played bass) and Jerry Fogle, the band took a combination of prog and elements that existed as heavy metal and created a sound that would be a staple for them for years.

Track Rundown

1.Frost and Fire-Opening with a very proggy riff with a very hard rock edge to it, the song overall has a very hard late 70’s groove to it especially in the verses with a very galloping pace to it with Tim Baker’s shrieking and actually quite catchy vocals on top. I have always said his vocals are akin to Brian Johnsons of ACDC if you literally strangled his vocal chords. It makes for a very unique sound for the band. The guitar soling I must say is done very nicely and smooth against some hard rocking and grooving riffing that lets the bass shine through a bit. However, the only problem I have always had with this record in particular is that the production feels a bit iffy. Some parts of the song feel more quiet than they should and doesn’t allow some of the instrumentation to pop out quite as nicely. Overall, a fairly good grooving opener.

2.I’m Alive-The proggier side of the band definitely come out more with tracks like this song with the slow slightly brooding opening leading into some very 70’s inspired bluesy soloing. The song quickly turns into a quiet melodic number with Tim Baker preaching over some very and I mean very up front bass, which unfortunately overshadows the guitars at some points as well. However, the band keep together very well with a bouncy catchy chorus included as well. This kind of song would eventually have more of a doom vibe to it with future albums.

3.A Little Fire- This song goes straight for a hard rock groove and is one of the more straight forward tunes in their catalog. However, the production irks me a but here too with some parts sounding louder than they should. However, the song has one of the most grooving solo’s on the album and is definitely a highlight as well.

4.What Does It Take-This song is one I tend to kind of skip over sometimes mainly because of the keyboards within the main riff that feel a bit redundant and feels like their inclusion partially breaks some of the pacing of the album as it gives off a way different vibe. The song although giving more of that “out there” vibe manages to come off feeling a bit stale and more of a sleeper track on the album. I definitely thing the vocals are the overall highlight with a more raspy bluesy groove to them.

5.Edge of a Knife-The main riff to this song has a very bouncy start and stop groove that I dig with some tasty soloing filling the background as well. This is one of my favorites on the album mainly for the guitar work and the simple yet very effective Ramones-esque chorus with Tim Baker doing more of that Doo Wop-ish vocal style that I think weirdly works here. Overall, a more simple yet effective song on the album that is an easy one to get stuck in your head.

6.Better Off Dead-This song has a more Thin Lizzy-ish groove but with some weird time signatures throughout. This song just doesn’t really hit me as it comes off a bit unfocused and not very memorable. Perhaps its the production which is honestly way too bass heavy but either way it just feels a bit bored. When the song picks up it does have a nice solo but again it feels sort of lost in the mix.

7.Maybe That’s Why-I can appreciate this instrumental for being handled as well as the band could do. It does come off repetitive at some points but I really do admire the solo’s throughout. Overall, it is a very laid back instrumental which is decent at best and repetitive at worst.

Overall, I give the bands first outing a shocking 5.5 out of 10. There are some classic songs presented on this album such as the title track and “I’m Alive” as well as some good ideas sprinkled throughout. However, the two biggest problems I have with the first album are the production which you can say is a nitpick considering the time and I assume the money was tight but also the songwriting just feels very unfocused in a lot of spots. You get so many different sounds which can be a good thing but here it just doesn’t flow as well as some of the more solid songwriting on their second album and beyond. Later this week(hopefully if I can stick to a schedule for once) we will be looking at the bands next outing entitled “King Of The Dead”

 

 

 

Cirith Ungol’s “King of the Dead” to be reissued

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Cirith Ungol are one of the most underrated heavy metal groups out of the 1980’s so it is no surprise to see one of their best albums to be reissued by Metal Blade Records! “King Of The Dead” released in 1984 was an amazing album as it combined traditional metal and subtle doom metal tempo’s combined with Tim Bakers unique shrill vocals that were like Ozzy times ten. The album will be released on April 28th and will be on cd, black vinyl, red vinyl( US exclusive) blue vinyl(European exclusive) and in special bundle packs as well. There will also be a special dvd featuring a rare live show from 1983! Coming hot off last years reissue of “Paradise Lost”, Cirith Ungol have been making a huge comeback finally playing the Keep It True festival this year as well and Im so excited to see this album get released properly today for a new generation to enjoy.

 

Order your preferred version right here!

http://metalblade.com/cirithungol/#order

 

 

Listen to Atom Smasher here!