Rockbrat Remembers: Cirith Ungol and King Of The Dead

Tim Baker - The most annoying voice in heavy metal ?

Well, the jury is still out when it comes to Cirith Ungol. With a thematic imagery in both look and sound that spelt medieval sorcery, dungeons and dragons, I’m pretty sure these guys never saw Spinal Tap, or if they did, they clearly missed the gags. I bought the ‘King Of The Dead’ album back in 1985, more out of curiosity than anything else. With album art that could have adorned any Manowar LP, that’s where the comparisons stop. Whereas Manowar definitely had the musical chops to back up the clichéd metal album art, the same can’t be said for the boys in Cirith Ungol. On first inspection, with a name like that and playing doom laden metal, I assumed they were from the black forests of Germany, yet to my surprise they were a Californian band! And they’d been around since ’72! One can only wonder why their back catalogue was not licensed for the Harry Potter films, or any of the Conan films back in the early 80s! The band had one Pat Galligan in their earliest incarnation, who would later go on to play with the LA punk stalwarts the Angry Samoans. Talk about chalk and cheese. The boys in Cirith Ungol released three albums in the 80s – Frost And Fire from 1981, King Of The Dead in 84, and One Foot In Hell in 86. Cliches’ anyone ? I’ve read that the band think that the ‘King Of The Dead’ is their best album cos they had total artistic control over it – and it shows. Record companies have to make money, so snatching the reigns back off of the artist just has to happen sometimes.  Three of the songs on the album, the aforementioned “Atom Smasher”, “Cirith Ungol”, and “Death of the Sun” were all songs the band had written in the mid 70s. What about ‘Master Of The Pit’? In the mid 70’s whilst most folks in Ventura were sunning it up, these boys were in the attic poring over the works of Tolkien.  The band took their name from the place ‘Cirith Ungo’l in J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. The name Cirith Ungol is Elvish and means “Pass of the Spider”. While the place in Tolkien’s book is pronounced “kirith ungol”, the band pronounced it “sirith ungol”. The band said in a later interview they had some problems with the name. Go on. You don’t say. Again, if you are trying to sell records, keep it simple. Thank goodness the band came up with the easy to pronounce and remember name of Cirith Ungol. They were considering other band names such:  Minas Tirith, Khazad Dum, and Uruk Hai, all names from “The Lord Of The Rings”. And you thought Tamam Shud was hard to remember.  Yet perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. For a while there, I dug the King of The Dead Album, and the tune ‘Atom Smasher’ in particular, but looking back – objectively, let’s just say the sound is somewhat limited, and I WAS an adolescent male, a demographic that no doubt made up most of their fan base. King Of The Dead is prog rock influenced doom metal, and sounds sluggish in parts. Vocalist Tim Baker has one irritating shriek. He screeches more than sings, if you know what I mean. The solo in ‘Atom Smasher’ is pretty cool, and it’s got some nice time changes. In fact it would have sounded better without the vocal. Baker has one of the most annoying voices in metal. Musically, the metal is pretty good, but it’s often marred by the vocal. Anyways, a couple of years later, bands like Celtic Frost were out and playing the shame kinda shtick, although a hell of a lot better. One left best for the memory I think. Next!

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