CIRITH UNGOL Chaos Rising!

Cirith Ungol is one of these bands that have a cult status. They were very active during the 80s and at the very beginning of 90s. During this period Cirith Ungol has released 4 full-lengths. Some of their records are considering as the classics.  As a matter of fact Metal Blade Records has re-issued all their albums on vinyl and Paradise Lost on CD as well. The band is once again active, they’re already doing some live shows and, moreover, they are just recording a brand new material!

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photo by Greg Hazard

Hello Robert and welcome to the pages of Metal Sound! How are you doing these days

I am doing fine!  Thank you so much for your interest in “Cirith Ungol”!

I would like to concentrate on events around your fourth album Paradise Lost if that is okay with you… first of all mighty Metal Blade is finally reissuing the album for all the fans to enjoy it in proper way. How do you feel about this?

Metal Blade Records did an excellent job on the re-release. The vinyl was re-mastered by Patrick Engel, and the CD by Bart Gabriel, who is a longtime good friend. I just saw the finished product a few days before our concert and it is fantastic. The quality of the sound production is only equaled by the excellent packaging and design. The LP has a large poster and a multi page color book inserted into a heavy weight beautifully designed cover. It comes in black and several colors of marble vinyl! The CD is also very nicely done as a digipac with a large full color booklet and many unseen photos of the band taken by Greg Hazard our long time photographer! Needless to say we are all very happy with it. The alternative versions are some of the same songs but with different mixes. Several people have told me they like them better. I think the fact that they are different makes them seem fresher, there is no doubt the new re-mastering of the album really makes a huge difference!

Let us go back in time a bit: as I know, the work on Paradise Lost started right after One Foot In Hell but some personal problems brought it down. Can you tell us something about the band members’ situation?

This was a difficult time for the band. Jerry had left, and Flint shortly after, luckily we picked up Jimmy who was a very good local guitarist. The original idea was to have Jimmy and Jerry both playing lead guitar, but Jerry ended up leaving the band too soon, an to all of our dismay. We had all the “Cirith Ungol” material for “Paradise Lost” written shortly after “One Foot in Hell” was released. We looked around for some guys to fill in the band and found Bob and Joe, two great local musicians, but they ended up leaving before the album was even released. Our record company at the time, Enigma was going through some major changes and they were morphing into Restless Records. This is the main reason the album was delayed in its production and release. The producer Ron Goudie, was also a good guy, but we had some artistic differences in the production of the album, which caused some major strain on me at least. Having a producer is great, but I think the band showed on “King of the Dead”, that we could produce an entire album without any problems. What is amazing is that we are practicing in the room that we recorded a all our album in.

It is well known fact that Restless Records really damaged the band severely while you were recording Paradise Lost. Can you explain a bit that situation?

I cannot blame everything on our record company. So many things were happening during that time.  As I said above after some of the original members left,  we were struggling with new personalities trying to get “Paradise Lost” recorded and produced. I have made friends again with the producer of that album, Ron Goudie,  who is really a decent guy.  I just think back then when we were recording the album we all have different goals. Mine was to keep the music as pure as possible so that it would align with our three previous albums.  Ron’s job was to produce the album as he sees fit.  Whenever you have several artists working together especially ones that have alternative viewpoints you will end up with some sort of disagreement.  My major complaint which is well-documented was I had to play my drums to a click track which I hated. I know many drummers do this today but to me it seems like it takes away the spontaneity of the artist.  Ron also did not allow any of the other members in the studio when they were not recording their part.  All of that is water under the bridge now,  and even though if we could do it all over again we might do differently it is all part of the bands history and that album!

The band broke up soon after the release of the album, but can you tell us something about the promotion of Paradise Lost; have you played any gigs/tours back then? It must have been a strange time for your brand of metal, that’s for sure.

Right after “Paradise Lost” was released we played a few local shows culminating at the one at the Ventura Theatre, which was our last show before we broke up!  At that time all the metal hair bands had taken over LA music scene, and the speed metal bands we’re active in Europe.  It seems our band did not fit into any of these categories which is one of the main reasons that we did not continue.

Cirith Ungol broke up in 1992, can you please tell us what was the main cause for this decision and how did you feel about that afterwards?

After that last show,  everyone quit the band except for Tim and I.  We were sitting in the band room pondering what we were going to do.  We went over every scenario we could to try to convince ourselves to keep playing. With the recent departure of all the members,  the music scene at the time,  and our personal struggle that had started over 20 years earlier had taken a toll on the two of us. There is no doubt that we both wanted to continue the band but there is no way we could do that with the cards we were dealt. I can speak for the other members but I was very depressed for years.  Playing drums was one of my passions and I walked away from it entirely.  I swore that I would never touch another drumstick as long as I lived,  and I kept that oath until recently! I did not like going to see hard rock are heavy metal bands play because it depressed me so much because I wanted to be on stage playing.  I never stop listening to music or dreaming of playing again. I would have dreams on a regular basis where the band was getting back together, or I was buying a new drum set, or we were in the studio recording a new album. Sometimes they seem like nightmares. Just last night my wife told me that she knew deep in my heart that I never wanted to quit playing and that I would always start again! It seems obvious to me now but for years I kept it buried below the surface of my mind. I bought an old Ferrari which was a dream of mine also, and spent much of my spare time we’re not working playing with the car. Whenever I was working on the car, I would listen to music that Metal Blade Records would send me, although I never listen to our music, until we announced our reunion!

We all know that Cirith Ungol is huge cult among true metalheads but I got the impression that you guys were not that aware of that fact. When did you realize what Cirith Ungol meant to people?

Over the years, Metal Blade Records re-released all of our previous albums in CD and vinyl format. A couple of times a year, I would be asked to do interviews many for large European magazines regarding these re-releases.  I was amazed when I would be sent copies of the magazines with large full color articles of the band. Somewhere even 10 pages or more and had  all sorts of intricate graphics with our bands logo and photographs! It was amazing to me, but no secret many people enjoyed our music. It was not until Tim and I flew to Germany to the “Keep it True” festival this year that we realized the scale and magnitude of our audience.  Everyone in the band is very humbled, and to be honest  a little surprised by all the interest in the band! What satisfies us the most though, is that all these new listeners like the band based on our music alone.  Nowadays, and even back then there was so much hype with a new band came out, sometimes they were literally made famous by all this hoopla even if the music didn’t live up to the hype. The fact that all these “Cirith Ungol” fans like us because of our music really validates all of the hard work we put in for so many years, and erases many of the bad memories we had about not being commercially successful back then!

Metal Blade is finally re-releasing Paradise Lost after all these years, so how did you obtain the rights for it?

This is a very good question! That album deal was the worst contract we ever signed and even though we had a big time attorney, we ended up signing most of the rights away forever. For some reason it ended up being owned by Warner’s Brother’s, which is ironic, because that was the label back in the day every band wanted to be on! Metal Blade Records for years have been trying to license “Paradise Lost” with no success. Finally the guys at Metal Blade Records in Germany secured the rights but for Europe only. It is my understanding that the US office is also trying to license “Paradise Lost” over here. It seems as if there has been some concerted effort to keep the record under wraps, which makes no sense, to any of us. I just saw the LP and CD release and I cannot believe the amount of time and effort went into making one of the nicest releases I have ever seen!  WOW I am blown away by the quality of the materials and execution of the entire packaging and the sound is fantastic!!!

The album has new mastering, never before seen photos and liner notes. I guess that you were included in that work, so how are you satisfied with the final work and was that trip down the memory lane pleasant?

Yes, the band through our management,  was involved in every facet process.  Everyone at Metal Blade Records did a fantastic job.  I found a bunch of old photos, and Greg Hazard, our old photographer,  dug up all the original photos he took from that era.  He also had a copy of the original lyric sheets that Tim had hand written, for his epic trilogy which most of us had forgotten, and which were included in the graphics. To be honest,  with the band back together,  and some very exciting   things on the horizon working on this project was very exciting for everyone involved and once again  brought back many good memories of those times and the band!

As we all know Cirith Ungol has reunited for live appearances, how did you decide to do that? Are you perhaps planning some tours?

This is a very exciting time for all of us especially me. As I mentioned above I swore I would never play again, but a good friend and local bass player in one of  the best metal bands performing today, “Night Demon”, Jarvis Leatherby lives in our home town of Ventura, California. For years he has been touring the US and Europe and coming back with fantastic stories of all the Cirith Ungol fans around the world and how much everyone loved the band.  For the longest time I kept telling him that I was not interested in ever playing again because of the bad feelings I had towards the music business.  Last year he put on a fantastic local event here in Ventura. He had many great metal acts play and called it, “Frost & Fire Festival I”, in honor of our first album, “Frost & Fire”. It was sold out and we were asked to do a meet and greet in between performances! We signed albums, posters and various articles for over an hour and met fans from all over the globe. Oliver Weinsheimer, one of the promoters of the famous “Keep it True” festival in Germany came over, took us aside, and asked us to come over for the 2016 show, just to meet the fans, which we accepted. Jarvis wanted to put on another “Frost & Fire II” in 2016 and said if he did he wanted us to headline this 3 day festival!  It was all pretty crazy and the band did not really know what to think.  After much soul searching I decided that if so many people liked the band and our music it seemed selfish not to play for them, the other band members agreed!  So we were booked on October 8th, 2016 and played our first show in many years. Our first few practices were courtesy of the guys at “Night Demon”, who let us uses their practice room and equipment, and especially to Dusty Squires for letting me pound on his drums. Almost immediately we could tell that the magic was still there!  The rest is history. We found a band room, DW drums the best drum company in the world, built me a custom oak set. I am endorsing Paiste  cymbals, and we have been playing and working on some new material ever since!  I am very excited, and I hope our fans will be too! Our goal was to play a show as if we could take them back through time to when we were playing in our heyday! The show at “Frost & Fire” was received well, and it was announced the night of the show we would be headlining the 2017 “Keep it True” XX Anniversary!!!!!!!

The most important question for the fans is will the band record some new music? Do you feel creative spark burning now?

Of course!  I told Jarvis and Oliver that they had woken a sleeping giant.  We almost finished a complete song, Tim has over 10 sets lyrics, and the plan is of course for a new album.  Greg has several songs he has written,  I have many ideas,  and the band has many songs in our archives that we would like to record for the first time or maybe record some very old songs got never seen the light of day! The  hope is that we can have a new album out in 2017!

After all that is said and done, what was your proudest achievement with the band? How do you see all of your four albums from this perspective?

Well I am no longer a young man. The band has a long list of achievements, including some of our albums such as, “King of the Dead”, however getting back up on stage the other night for the first time in so many years was amazing! The band is worked  for almost a whole year getting ready for this and I think we are all proud of what we accomplished. I read many great reviews online after the show many people seem very happy with our performance. My promise is, that with each show we play it will be more kick ass mix in more c “Cirith Ungol” songs to the set list!

That would be all for this occasion, thank you for your time and I would like to wish you all the best! Your last message to Serbian..

Rob: I would like to thank you once again for your interest in “Cirith Ungol”,  to all our fans in Serbia,  thank you for standing by the band for so many years. It is our hope that we can play more shows in Europe! We look forward to meeting all of you soon!

  • Answers by Robert Garven
  • Interview by Slobodan Trifunovic
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