King of the Dead by Cirith UngolRelease date: April 28, 2017
Label: Metal Blade Records
Cirith Ungol is one of those band from way back in time, when music was still just heavy and Dungeons & Dragons was a cultist thing. Inspired by fantasy literature, the American band has made quite a name for themselves and in a way are still very relevant these days. A re-release of King of the Dead may be long overdue because of that.
Originally this album came out back in 1984, with a peculiar Michael Moorcock-inspired cover that also directly triggers my D&D interest. Since Cirith Ungol played in Europe for the very, very first time ever this year, this release has a specific celebratory flavor to it. Cirith Ungol actually didn’t play from 1991 all the way until the Frost and Fire event in 2016, but they seem to be on a roll now. This record is a re-release then by Metal Blade and the record has been fully re-mastered by Patrick W. Engel at Temple Of Disharmony. It’s a complete package, including a bonus DVD. Like many of the doom bands from ‘ye olden days’ (like Saint Vitus), Cirith Ungol is hot again.
I love the way vocalist Tim Baker immediately lashes out at you with that voice that sounds like a whip. The music is pure, classic heavy metal and therefore lacks the heavy, solid bass sound that you might wish to hear. Most of the material on this album, like opener ‘Atom Smasher’ had been written long before the release of the album. Fair to say that the sound is pretty dated considering its original release date, but the gnarly riff work has not lost any of its charm. Really imagine the time when this actually came out, amidst a metal revolution at the time. No matter how much you like this, it explains the lack of praise the album got in its original incarnation. Still, tracks like ‘King of the Dead’ sound solid and fresh, but at the time doom just wasn’t happening.
The bass sounds more like growling, gritty and distorted. The heavy sound is called into existence thanks to the screaming solo work on guitar by Jerry Fogle, which heavy contrasts with the solid, but dry bass play of Michael Vujea and the drums of Robert Garven. On ‘Black Machine’ and ‘Master of the Pit’ the speed slows down a lot and we move more towards that doomy sound, but with a rather clean and neat sound. With the same ease, the band fits in a tune that sounds closer to a medieval ballad. ‘Finger of Scorn’ starts as that, but unfolds as a peculiar doom classic. Following is even more remarkable, a little ‘Toccata in DM’ Bach cover! It really shows the time this band was working in and the inspirations available.
But a re-release wouldn’t be a proper thing without some cool extra tracks. ‘Last Laugh’ was included on the original release and ‘Death of the Sun’ was released on Metal Massacre I, but the following three tracks are live recordings from 2016, recorded at the Frost and Fire Fest. What you hear on those tracks is a band that may be a little rusty, but hardly touched by the years of inactivity (and the years themselves). The shrieking voice is even wilder and the music remains a solid piece of art.