CIRITH UNGOL – The sound of the Apocalypse
Have we ever told you on HMW that we love Cirith Ungol? How do you say?!!! Ah, we’ve told you and written it almost to the point of exhaustion…oh yeah, you’re right!
What can you do, we are old enthusiasts who get as excited as children when there is a chance to talk to you about one of the bands we literally adore: starting from the fanzine dedicated to them, passing through reviews and an interview following the release of “Forever Black”, in the last few years Cirith Ungol has passed quite frequently on our pages and today, following the excellent studio album “Dark Parade”, we didn’t miss the opportunity to make a new interview with Robert Garven, drummer of the band!
The interview’s questions were prepared by Fabio Perf, Luca Avalon and Pol.
Hi Robert, welcome back to Heavy Metal Webzine! How are you?
Rob: I am doing well. Our latest album “Dark Parade” is out and we are looking forward to our final tour next year and playing some big shows and festivals!
First of all, before starting to talk about the new album, can you give us an overview of the years that followed the release of “Forever Black” until now? Are you satisfied with the response obtained?
Rob: It was quite ironic that such a dark, foreboding, end of the world heralding album like “Forever Black” was released on almost exact same date the worldwide pandemic hit. The only good news from the world wide shutdown was that many people stayed at home and had a chance to listen to more music. More than a handful of websites and magazines picked it as a number one heavy-metal album of 2020, including one in Italy! We thought that album was one of our best efforts, and we feel that Dark Parade is even better “A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!”!
What about “Dark Parade”? What kind of feedback are you collecting? It seems to us that the reviews and comments are extremely positive (and ours too)!
Rob: It has only been out for about a month, but all the reviews are very positive, and the deluxe limited edition of the album is almost sold out. Our music spanning over the decades is something extraordinary, and the release of any new “Cirith Ungol” album is a rare event that should be celebrated. We always created our unique brand of heavy metal to please ourselves, not the masses, and we will continue to do so disregarding any current fads or trends in the music scene. Many people will never understand what we’re trying to do, and that’s OK because for the select few discerning metallurgists “Cirith Ungol” will offer what we consider to be music to challenge your expectations!
After “Forever Black” was out in 2020, you started to write new songs for “Dark Parade”. How much did the anger and fear generated by the pandemic influence the writing of the new songs?
Rob: I really think it did not affect us any more than the other tragic current events swirling around the world, war, climate change, overpopulation the rise in authoritarian rule, etc. For the last several albums, our music is taken a discernible turn toward a prophetic vision of the dark side of mankind, and this album is a direct reflection of that reality.
Rob: We recorded it at Armand John Anthony’s, The Captains Quarters, the same studio where we recorded all of the projects we released since the band reunited in 2016. We recorded it the same as we did with pretty much all of our albums going back to the beginning using the same secret “Cirith Ungol” recipe! With each release we have worked to improve the sound of each album and with Armand’s help this has been possible.
“Dark Parade” conveys the constant feeling of an oppressive and disturbing darkness when compared to “Forever Black”. Do you find this statement proper? Since we know you are always honest, we would like to ask you if these new songs represent the peak of Cirith Ungol’s songwriting…
Rob: We have strived for constant improvement with each album trying to make each heavier than the one before, and with this release were are certainly nearer to that goal. I think there’s still more work to be done though! You must know I’m an enormous fan of everything Italian, especially the automotive masterpieces that Italy produces. Once Enzo Ferrari was asked what is best car was, and he answered “The best one will be the next one I build”. I feel the same way about our albums.
We love Cirith Ungol, so much that we dedicate three reviews to the new album: one of us wrote that “H.P. Lovecraft was the writer who best depicted terror and the feeling of impending danger through words; Cirith Ungol were able to make them vivid and palpable through their songs”. What do you think about it?
Rob: I am possibly the biggest H.P. Lovecraft fan in the band and I agree there is definite feeling of darkness weaved throughout this album, that is all encompassing and pervasive. I feel that is a huge compliment.
“Sailor on the Seas Of Fate” is one of our favorite song from the new album. How do you conceive a song so evocative and full of fascination?
Rob: From the moment we started writing “Sailor on the Seas of Fate”, I envisioned the scene from the 1959 movie Ben Hur, where Charlton Heston is chained to the oars on a Roman slave galley. Sitting at the front is the roman soldier calling out the beats, with two heavy wooden hammers banging them on a leather capped wooden stump. He had several distinct speeds such as battle, attack and ramming speed. I even did a rare overdub drum part during this song to mimic the same feel. This song has some truly epic riffs and an amazing organ sound by Greg using an effects pedal with his guitar and a truly emotional ending solo by him also. It is one of my favorites on the album, ensures that we can talk about other topics other than doom and destruction!
Just before the new album came out, you announced you’re going to retire from live activity. How did you come to such a significant decision, starting from the fact you were collecting enthusiastic responses after your live performances? Can you confirm us that, apart from live activity, you will continue to record new albums for your fans?
Rob: When we first got back together, we weren’t sure how long it was going last and we only expected to play a few shows, but like a snowball rolling downhill we started to pick up speed, releasing new material, and playing some amazing shows. By the end of next year 2024, we will have been back together nine years, almost half the time the band was together originally before we disbanded in 1991! The band loves playing live, and we did not make this decision lightly. We have not toured like many bands for a few reasons, one being our age, another being some of the band members have full-time careers outside the band. International travel can be grueling even for even younger bands, let alone the elder statesman of Metal! We have dedicated quite a bit of time to the band, and at some point, everyone needs time to relax and enjoy life. We thought it would be best to go out with a bang, and that bang starts at “Up the Hammers” in Greece!! In this world nothing is certain, but my goal is to continue to keep putting out the heaviest metal known man!
Before “Dark Parade” was officially out, you announced you have parted ways with Jim Barraza. We don’t want to get into matter, but we would like to know if you will announce another live guitarist for gigs to come (or you will go on with Night Demon’s Armand John Anthony)
Rob: It is always difficult losing a band member, and luckily for us probably the only person that could have stepped in was already right bedside us, Armand John Anthony. He knew our music intimately, having recorded all our latest projects, had been around since we got back together, and had traveled with us at every show. We are grateful that he will play out our remaining shows. He has a busy career, including his studio (where we recorded all of our projects since we reformed) and being 1/3 of “Night Demon”, and yet he has joined the legion! His first baptism of fire was at our album release party at the Roxy and his performance was awe inspiring.
Cirith Ungol announced a gig in the north of Italy at the beginning of 2022, then postponed a few months and finally canceled. Do you think you will play here in the end, or do we have to move to other European shows to see you for the last time?
Rob: It has not been announced yet, but we are coming to Italy (fingers crossed)! It has been my life’s dream to visit Italy, something that has never happened. Being able to play there is a dream come true, and I’m sure I will kiss the ground when I first arrive! I was born on the same day that Dino Ferrari died in 1956. My earliest memories were all about Ferrari. I wrote Enzo Ferrari when I was 13 and he wrote me back sending me several cards and autographed pictures over the years. I met Piero when he was visiting California for Ferrari’s 60th anniversary. My lifelong dream was to visit Italy, go to the factory, and the Monza Grand Prix!
Since Cirith Ungol’s come back to the scene, music business has changed a lot, with the advent of free (or almost free) streaming. Fortunately, you have continued to offer your music in different physical formats. What is your relationship with streaming? Do you think it will really be the last frontier of music, even for metal?
Rob: I hope not, everyone wants to hold something in their hand, and I feel music is no different. That is why it is so important to create amazing packaging such as Metal Blade Records has, on all our releases, to clothe our music in! The limited edition of this new album is really amazing, there’s a slip case that is foil stamped, the first for the band, and it comes with two posters, a frameable album cover picture, and a tote bag! Also included in all the albums is a note with a code on it so that the purchaser can download the album for free. It also provides a larger canvas for Michael Whelan’s incredible art “Elric and the Sinking City”, which graces this album.
I don’t have a relationship with streaming, and most of my music is purchased physically to support the bands. However, I do have a funny story for your readers, after our third album “One Foot in Hell” was released in 1986, I remember the record company saying “We’re going to stop making albums and only make CD’s”, and recently I heard someone say that they’re going to stop making CD’s, and only make albums! The world is constantly changing, but sometimes things come full circle!
As music veterans, in recent years you should have noticed a proliferation of young bands devoted to a more traditional sound, which also takes inspiration from bands like Cirith Ungol. Do you follow the current metal scene? Can you recommend us any new bands (apart from Night Demon, ah ah ah!)? In your opinion, what’s the state of heavy metal’s health today?
Rob: You are correct, and there are many bands taking up the mantle of what we consider true metal, many we have been lucky enough to play with many of them. I think heavy metal is still strong, but the world is changing, and who knows what the future holds. There will always be and enlightened group of music enthusiasts that yearn for, and support true metal!
Over the years you have played in many countries. What are the biggest differences you have noticed in the way your music is experienced from fans, not only between America and Europe, but also between countries like Germany, Greece, etc.?
Rob: “Cirith Ungol” fans are the best no matter where they are, and at many shows a portion have traveled from another country! Of course, the Greek fans go crazy, but we have not played in Italy yet! Our largest audiences have been in Europe and I think the metal scene there is more suited to our style of metal. We have many fans in the US but they are spread out over a large area, so it is harder to get them together.
Well, let’s close this interview with a huge “thank you” for your availability, feel free to add anything you want to tell to our readers. We just want to point out to you that HeavyMetalWebzine.it loves Cirith Ungol, so much that we dedicated a fanzine to the band (written in Italian) that you can find on our website, which tells your story up to “Forever Black”. We hope in the near future to hand you a copy in person!
Rob: Guys, thank you for taking your time to talk to me about “Cirith Ungol” and “Dark Parade”, we also love everyone at the Heavy Metal Webzine, and I cannot wait to meet you and receive the fanzine! I would also like to thank all of your readers, and hope to see all of you personally, at one of our final concerts next year.
Arise now my children, arise from the grave
We lead not the weak, they won’t answer the call
As chaos descends, false metal will fall
Rob Garven, Ventura, California
November 25, 2023