The Porcelain Throne: Cirith Ungol

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Good news everyone! I have now made the Porcelain Throne column even easier to submit to, so everyone out there with a decent knowledge of a discography no longer has an excuse not to get writing. Since I have received many questions as to how this column works, I created a template that gives you all the details you need to get your writing published on the Toilet ov Hell.

All you need  is to have a decently expansive knowledge about a band (preferably one we do not talk about often), and to send an E-mail requesting the template to tohthrone@gmail.com. This time around, we again have the Nordling Rites ov Karhu with an article about the Californian band, Cirith Ungol. Karhu’s previous submission about Reverend Bizarre, is also a killer, so check that out if you missed it the first time around.  

The tale of Cirith Ungol is a series of unfortunate events. Before their first album, they manifested as an active live band and released multiple demos, garnering little to no attention. Why their fire never spread is beyond me. They had a charismatic frontman in Tim Baker, who had some of the most idiosyncratic and divisive vocals ever known to man. A rhythm group so tight, wind couldn’t get past it, and guitarists able to weave hours and hours of the Almighty Riff into the fabric of our time. They never did anything that would have perceivably led to their demise, but were never given the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder amidst the greats.

Frost and Fire (1980)

When they finally found the opportunity to record and release their debut in 1980, Frost and Fire, their wills must have been broken. It would not come as a surprise to anyone that desperation was making its way in. Frost and Fire consisted of their most radio-friendly material yet. The songs were shorter, more upbeat, and less challenging to listen than the band’s older masterpieces.  Having self-financed the album, they were more in need of the sweet, sweet greenback than ever before. And what  prize was Cirith Ungol awarded? The DJ down at the local station played the record once and dubbed it too heavy.


King of the Dead (1984)

Cirith Ungol’s career is an easy one to follow, even if you know nothing about them, by just comparing the albums. King of the Dead marks a new beginning. The band saw there was no use in chasing the dream of success, especially when it meant going down the road of compromise. They dug up some old songs and wrote a few new ones, each longer and darker and, of course, heavier than anything on their preceding effort. If Frost and Fire still owed to hard rock, King of the Dead was grasping the hands of doom and progressive rock.

Even though Greg Lindstrom had quit the band between releases, leaving them with a mere one guitar, his songs were still the foundation on which the band built. The album is dominated by a guitar tone more reminiscent of psychedelic rock than anything considered metal, giving the band an easily recognizable sound. With progressive elements rearing their heads every now and then, the album has a quality to it not quite found elsewhere. Releasing King of the Dead in 1984 places the band before Candlemass as the forefathers of epic doom metal. Given the bands distinguishable sound, I imagine there should be a multitude of power metal bands that owe more than a little to Cirith Ungol.


One Foot in Hell (1986)

King of the Dead is most often cited as their finest effort and righteously so, but this has led to a serious overlooking of the later releases. It garnered notable attention in Europe and so their record company was pushing harder on them to produce more marketable material. Cirith Ungol still had not achieved great popularity and now they grew frustrated as they were no longer in complete control. Their songs became shorter again, and gone were Flint’s imaginative bass lines that rivaled the guitar. Even Baker’s voice is more loathsome on the aptly titled One Foot In Hell. Ballsier and faster still, one can hear the band venting their frustration to the industry and their current situation. My greatest wish is that Baker would’ve been a greater wizard with words, so that he might have expressed all this in his lyrics, which were never very imaginative or eloquent.


Paradise Lost (1991)

Cirith Ungol soon fell apart. They hired Vernon Green on bass and Jim Barraza on guitar (actually Barraza was already hired to be second guitarist, leading Jerry Fogle to feel that he was being replaced), and using session musicians, they recorded Paradise Lost  which was released in 1991.

Just looking at song titles (Heaven Help Us, Paradise Lost, Chaos Rising) makes evident the bands situation. They were falling, quickly. It is the most varied album including a mash up of everything they had done before. Cirith Ungol had no artistic control over the album, and its rights remain with a company that refuses to re-release it. The mix lacks all energy and the band sounds like they are too tired to be angry or disappointed anymore. This broke the camel’s back and the band broke up.

Garven, so bitterly disappointed at the outcome of this, vowed never to touch drumsticks again. An oath kept to this very day. So take your hats off in respect for the deceased, they are never coming back.

Via Wikipedia: The cover art of all the studio albums is taken from the covers of the DAW Books editions of Michael Moorcock‘s Elric of Melnibone saga; the art is by Michael Whelan

Thanks again to Nordling Rites ov Karhu for this submission, but let’s give the dude a break! I know there are lurkers out there who are sitting around thinking “why the hell doesn’t anyone at the toilet write about my favorite bands?” Now is your time to do something about it! tohthrone@gmail.com.

Also, you nerds may recognize the name of the band as a J.R.R. Tolkien reference, which Dubaya wrote about back in September.

(Photo Via)

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