Retro Riffs: CIRITH UNGOL ‘King Of The Dead’ Album Review

Cirith Ungol

Article By: David ‘Sunshine’ LaMay ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway

In early July of 1984, the history book of heavy metal received an important addition, by way of Southern California‘s now-cult metal legends Cirith Ungol, though few knew it (and obviously still don’t).

I went out and purchased ‘King Of The Dead‘ within a week or two of its hitting the shelves. At the time, I didn’t understand just what I had in my possession that sweet summer before my Junior year of high school.

My ongoing, unswaying admiration of Cirith Ungol did not start out as perfectly as I had hoped. I blindly purchased ‘King Of The Dead‘, as it just seemed right all around – the record label, cover art, song titles, and band look were all dead on in my 15-year-old mind. When I eventually sat and listened, I was initially bummed and confused.

Oh, it was metal for damned sure, but my preconceived notions just didn’t match up to what I was hit with. I had never heard a band sound like this, and we all know how teens are when the unfamiliar rears its head. Still, something intrigued me and refused to pass. Within four or five more listening sessions, I “got it” in a major way. So much so in fact, I wrote the band via the postcard included with the LP to share my love of their music.

The reply still sticks with me today; drummer Robert Garven wrote me a personal letter of thanks on Cirith Ungol stationery and included a ton of goodies. I was beyond stoked. Wow! Writing back a pizza-faced kid like me? They’ve had my undying loyalty ever since. Personal history in place, let’s get down to what makes the band’s sophomore effort the underground uber-classic it is.

Cirith Ungol

‘King Of The Dead’ Tracklist:

01. Atom Smasher
02. Black Machine
03. Master of the Pit
04. King of the Dead
05. Death of the Sun
06. Finger of Scorn
07. Toccata in Dm
08. Cirith Ungol
09. Last Laugh

To describe the sounds transpiring on ‘King Of The Dead’ is a most daunting task. As mentioned above, no metal record before or since makes for an easy comparison. Epic doom, NWOBHM, power metal, ’70s prog darkness, and a plethora of originality is about as close as I can come on the overall.

At the time of its release, individually, the four bandmates bring it to fruition – Tim Baker‘s inimitable howls from the crypt, Michael “Flint” Vujejia‘s fat, punchy basslines, Robert Garven‘s crisp, primal drumming, and finally, Jerry Fogle‘s (R.I.P.) uncanny ability to take fuzzed-out guitar and make it cut like a virtuoso razor.

The sound is one of elegant, almost intellectual barbarism. Highlights among the brilliant set include showstopper “Master Of The Pit”, building from a solitary low-end and developing into a fully realized guitar extravaganza that never overshadows the intent of the material. Secondly comes the mesmerizing take on Bach’s “Toccata In Dm”, showcasing Fogle‘s majestic six-string wall of distorted precision.

None of this could have possibly made an impact with an ill-conceived sound quality, but – once again – the band delivers. Self-produced, the platter is sharp, precise, and spacious; every member stands out and given room to move. Somehow, simultaneously, this method allows for cohesion most artists are unable to realize.

It’s pretty obvious by this point just how much I LOVE this record. ‘King Of The Dead‘ is an indisputable masterpiece for long-time metal fans, and its sterling reputation is well deserved. With the band currently back together after many, many years and out on the tour circuit now is the perfect time to either rediscover or just plain ‘ol discover them. Period.

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