Their doom metal meets progressive rock meets unapologetic heavy metal sound clashed with the emerging thrash, death, and power metal genres that blanketed the early-to-mid ‘80s. 1984 was not the right year for King Of The Dead. Somewhere like 1974 would have been a better fit for this undervalued classic.
The four years between their first and second album were not wasted from a creative standpoint. Frost and Fire felt like a sampling of how ambitious and forward-thinking their music would get on King Of The Dead. A few songs expanded to double the length of those from their debut, and the guitars used this added space to throw up some crafty solos. Guitarist Jerry Fogle was going at it alone, as second guitarist Greg Lindstrom had left the band two years prior to the album’s release.
That wasn’t an issue for Folge though, who completely goes haywire on his instrument on each song. His riffs are strong, if not anything worth writing a whole paragraph about, but his solos were phenomenal. It’s usually the longer cuts that get special attention, like the massive opus “Finger of Scorn.” Fogle even gets his own instrumental (with help from bassist Michael “Flint” Vujejia), a cover of Bach’s timeless “Toccata in Dm.” Originally composed as an organ piece, he puts an electric take on it. Essential? Not really, but a rousing performance nonetheless.
Anybody who has been privy to Cirith Ungol will tell you that a determining factor to maximum enjoyment of their music is how well one can handle Tim Baker’s vocals. Baker has a, let’s say, unique style to conveying the lyrics. His vocals can get pretty high-pitched, and he makes almost every other word soar into the sky. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of approach, though many of the songs have limited vocal presence, so that it’s not too distracting.
Considering the band as doom metal in the style of Pentagram or early Saint Vitus is not out-of-reach, but they expand out further than that with their music. As mentioned earlier, this album would have fit better if it was released in the early ‘70s. Songs like “Master of the Pit” and “Cirith Ungol” have a jammy structure that allowed each member a chance to be the center of attention. Since some of these songs were written years before, that seems to make sense.
Though the album tends to stick to a mid-tempo drudging, they do like any good metal band does and picks up the pace at selected intervals. “Atom Smasher” is a wallop to the face that gets the listener in the mood for getting down, and “Black Machine” continues with some strong bass work from Vujejia. “Death of the Sun” is the fastest tune on King Of The Dead, and injects some attitude into the album being placed between the well-mannered title track and “Finger of Scorn.”
The lineup for King Of The Dead would stick together for one more album, One Foot in Hell, before Fogle and Vujejia left the band. Losing half of your band can be a difficult obstacle to deal with, but they stuck with it, hired two new musicians, and released Paradise Lost in 1991. Cirith Ungol would not last long after that. They left the 2001 compilation Servants of Chaos as their final departing gift to fans.
Cirith Ungol will continue to be one of those bands you hear about through the grapevine, never garnering more than a cult following. Throughout their two decades together, they didn’t see the success other doom metal bands achieved.
It could have been their vocalist or their progressive leanings, but Cirith Ungol had plenty to offer for metal heads that didn’t mind a little fantasy in their lyrics or lengthy instrumental pieces. For being an underrated gem that hasn’t gotten its just dues, King Of The Dead gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.