Cirith Ungol

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Tim Baker: Vocals
Jimmy Barraza: Guitar
Greg Lindstrom: Guitar
Rob Garven: Drums
Jarvis Leatherby: Bass

…The black air was alive with the cloudy, semi-visible bulk of shapeless elemental things with eyes…A naked phosphorescent thing which swam into sight, scrambled ashore, and climbed up to squat leeringly on a carved golden pedestal.” – “The Horror at Red Hook” H.P. Lovecraft

The passage above was written in 1925, yet almost 100 years later, it epitomizes the timeless terror and apocalyptic gloom of Ventura, California band Cirith Ungol, and the colossal power of their new album Dark Parade. “Like the best horror writers, our main goal has always been to make something totally dark and doomy all the way through — an unrelenting journey into the particular chaos which is Cirith Ungol,” says vocalist and lyricist Tim Baker.

Near the end of ‘The Horror of Red Hook,’ there is a subterranean grotto connected to the sea, and along a dark, dank dock there’s a parade of unspeakable monstrosities that reminds me so much of the vibe of The Dark Parade,” says drummer and band founder Rob Garven. Dark Parade is a charred vista rooted in the crunch-and-crash templates of classic doom metal and NWOBHM, but delivered with contemporary production and perspective. The Dark Parade, their sixth release to date, taps into metaphors of the past to create a sobering vision of the future.

The first single from Dark Parade is the opening track “Velocity,” a compact, mid-paced blast of crunching riffs and deft hooks that act as a microcosm for much of the doom-laden album. “While talking with Tim and Rob about what kind of song was needed, a decision was made to stop doing the galloping chugs, as done many times on previous albums, and start doing down-picking chugs while keeping some sort of tie to the Cirith Ungol sound,” says guitarist Jimmy Barraza. “Straying toward a Sabbath or Priest vibe is not far off and happened subconsciously.”

It’s about what happens when we sell that which we hold dear,” Baker says. “Our soul — if such a thing exists — our dignity, pride, and whatever else we have that will help seal the deal in an endless pursuit of money, power, glory and dominion over others.” From the majestic eight-minute-long “Sailor on the Seas of Fate,” which starts with a reflective arpeggio and builds into a pounding, near-tribal volley before segueing into a bleak, slow burn of retribution and agony, to the final three movements of the “Dark Parade,” saga (comprised of “Dark Parade,” “Distant Shadows,” and “Down Below“), Cirith Ungol‘s latest album offers a metallic soundtrack of societal decay and environmental collapse that foreshadows nothing less than total extinction.

Baker’s inimitable, scorched nails-on-chalkboard voice has earmarked all of the band’s albums across the canyons of time, from their audacious 1981 debut Frost and Fire to their triumphant 2020 comeback Forever Black, which was released in 2020 and followed a 29-year-long recording hiatus. “The title harkens back and draws from all of our previous efforts — all the various paths of our catalog,” the singer explains. “Shadowed in the lineage of songs like “Nightmare” [from 2020's Forever Black], and “Before the Lash” [on 1991's Paradise Lost] all the way back to “Death of the Sun” [from the band's 1981 debut Frost and Fire], the similar threads have been woven to tell the tale of the ever-malignant curse of mankind’s dominion.”

One of the album highlights, “Relentless,” mixes early Mercyful Fate-style interplay with Middle Eastern guitar touches, courtesy of Barraza. “The Egyptian and Hindu guitar scales have always intrigued me for their exotic sound,” he says. “I wanted to come up with a sort of snake charmer melody. It fit well and stuck, so we built the song from there.”

Baker countered the song’s otherworldly sound with fatalistic lyrics. “We all have many treacherous demons thwarting our every effort to stay sane in an insane nightmare,” he says. “Prayers? Fealty? To whom and why? I see a twisted path to our inevitable downfall, despite frail attempts at avoidance. The future leads nowhere? As of now it seems likely. Eternal and black.”

Up-tempo but still moody, “Looking Glass” begins with a shattering mirror and gains steam with trenchant riffs that slither between a multitude of muted chugs. During the understated midsection, the tone turns dusky, and as the tune reaches its pinnacle, with lengthy, blues-based leads. Garven’s drums match the shifting mood beat for beat. “It has the quintessential Ungol slowed down middle section, like ‘Join the Legion’ [from 1991's Paradise Lost] and ‘War Eternal’ [from 1986's One Foot in Hell],” says Garven. “I spent quite a lot of time to get the drum fill at the beginning of the solo just perfect.”

Looking Glass” marks the beginning of a conceptual four-song sequence that introduces listeners to “The Dark Parade,” a visceral and poignant multi-song presentation that leaves little room for happy endings. “Is it a nightmare tale of self-reflection or just another journey through the cracks in our reality and the curse of broken dreams?” asks Baker, shedding a little light on the “darkness” within. “It’s not quite what Lewis Carroll had in mind, but an even more bleak and deadly vision. Alice found that her visions were the complete opposite of her dreams, but here they are one and the same. Will waking dispel the nightmares, or are our waking hours just the extension of them? Once we smash the mirror, there is no turning back.

Dark Parade is a head-over-heels, Lovecraftian tumble into an abyss of horror and despair, and it’s arguably the most vitriolic expedition Cirith Ungol has undertaken to date. Despite the fantasy-inspired art on the band’s albums and their Tolkien-derived name — Cirith Ungol stopped exploring sword and sorcery-related themes in the mid-’80s. Most of the subjects they’ve addressed since then have been far more real and frightening than any ravenous make-believe creatures fighting sword-wielding warriors.

Truth be told, I haven’t cracked open a sword and sorcery novel since the late ’80′s,” says Baker. “The songs I do write that have a fantasy theme are metaphorical tales couched in the general tropes of that genre. But I really detest the fact that everything and every band has to have a certain label put upon them. Usually, the label is just a lazy excuse to either condone or condemn the band or the type of music they play. We have always just thought of ourselves as a heavy metal band.”

Wasting no time to ride their molten wave they started with their 2020 studio comeback Forever Black, Cirith Ungol started writing songs for Dark Parade as soon as Forever Black was released. Then, like everyone else, Cirith Ungol were hamstrung by the global pandemic, struggling through illness, seclusion, grief, and depression in their quest to create dark, vibrant art. And like the greatest warriors, they persevered, working on one song at a time – distractions be damned. The first track composed was the crushing “Relentless,” which reinforced their confidence and clarity of vision. The rest of the album came naturally, fueled by personal misery and the tragedy of worldwide collapse.

Band members lost close relatives and we struggled as best we could through the pandemic which ravaged the earth’s population and economies,” Garven says. “As horrifying as it was, it was the perfect backdrop for our doom-laden message of a world on the edge of destruction.”

With all eight demos finished (which are included on the expanded edition of the album), Cirith Ungol started recording Dark Parade in October 2022, beginning with the basic tracks, and then adding the guitars and vocals. “I was totally immersed in the writing and execution of this album,” Garven says. “I realized that as our career is reaching its zenith, this had to be perfection of the Cirith Ungol tome. I think it’s pretty clear we have truly been on a lifelong crusade to raise the banner of true metal, as a beacon for all to follow, and as chaos descends.”

On Dark Parade, Cirith Ungol have created an unrelenting triumph of pessimism and pain. The album is propulsive and insistent, reflecting the band’s love for metal, instinct to destroy, and disgust for mankind. “The band has always had the dual personality torn between fantasy and doom related themes,” furthers Garven. “As the world spirals out of control, the doom side of this personality has ascended — an unrelenting cacophony of Tim’s prophetic view of mankind’s twisted future.” Annihilation has rarely sounded so good.

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