Time has been fairly kind to Cirith Ungol. The band’s doomy niche metal may not have translated to commercial success back in their 80s heyday, but they have garnered an exalted status in the decades since their initial disbandment. I suppose you’re less likely to sound dated when you were out of step in your own era, to begin with, right? But considering the adversities that plagued Cirith Ungol’s classic run and how unlikely a reunion seemed to be, it’s great to see them unleash their first album since 1991’s Paradise Lost with such gusto.
Following the rather western tint of “The Call,” the songs on Forever Black encompass the differing facets of Cirith Ungol’s signature sound while maintaining their warped, otherworldly character. Lead single “Legions Arise” channels the One Foot in Hell era with its fast-paced gallop while “The Frost Monstreme” and “Fractus Promissum” hearken back to Frost and Fire with their 70s rock flavor. “Stormbringer” and “Nightmare” also come at their slow, ponderous doom from different angles, with the former going for an epic tone and the latter panning out as the darkest track.
Of course, there are some inevitable tweaks to the formula. The production has more in common with Paradise Lost than the early albums’ basement rawness, not quite at the same level of polish but offering similar levels of reverb. There are some moments where it can feel a little claustrophobic, but it’s a solid adjustment for the modern age without sounding too processed. The guitars also get some extra weight in their relentless fight for dominance against the bass though the latter is always felt.
And for what it’s worth, Tim Baker’s shrill shriek has held up incredibly well. A combination of time and production has slightly tempered his more abrasive tendencies, but his range and phrasings are as eccentric and borderline tuneless as ever barring a Liebling-esque warble at the beginning of “Stormbringer.” This performance won’t convert anybody that didn’t care for his voice back in the day, but cult metal weirdos wouldn’t have it any other way.
Overall, Cirith Ungol successfully does justice to their unique style on Forever Black. It feels like a composite of their first four albums through a modern lens, which could be seen as playing it too safe, but the lively performances and tight songwriting makes for an authentic, cohesive listen. It’s not a gamechanger by any means, but it is one of the better classic metal comebacks that us whippersnappers may also learn a thing or two from. Consider them somewhere between Satan and Angel Witch.
“The Fire Divine”