Cirith Ungol - King of the Dead
Metal Blade
Heavy Metal
8 songs (46 Mins)
Release year: 1984
Metal Blade
Reviewed by Dee
Archive review

Before we start; you're right, this isn't considered to be a doom release, but at the least it can be considered proto-doom and a great taste of things yet to come. Saint Vitus and Trouble both released their debut albums in the same year, and having compared them to King of the Dead, I find this to be the most worthy early-Sabbath-inspired release of the three.

(A side note - this doomy uprising wasn't limited to the USA, as Witchfinder General had already released a pair of dark and doomy NWOBHM LPs at this point. Witchfinder General were from Stourbridge in England, a town also home to fellow NWOBHM group Diamond Head.)

"Atom Smasher", the first cut of the album opens pleasingly with a simple intro that leads into a rocking mid-paced riff, and Tim Baker delivers the unforgettable line, "Welcome, to the brave new world!", leading me to first thing I want to talk about; his voice. Rather than picking out a melody, he hovers in the high registers and simply sings higher to place emphasis on certain words. Geddy Lee on early Rush records might be a good comparison, but it's something you have to hear for yourself, as I imagine not everyone has the taste for such exuberant vox.

Another lyrical gem is the couplet, "He is the hero of the atom age / Born in a test tube, raised in a cage", and it's just this sort of simple rhyming which makes Tim Baker's singing such a joy to follow.

The next track, "Black Machine" is my personal least favourite song in evidence, as it doesn't really have a sufficiently pronounced riff to hide the predictable chord sequence which serves as the blueprint for the whole track. That's not to say it's particularly bad - the simple progression does allow for a pleasing, extended solo, and the lyrics remain strong - merely that the quality of the other songs diminishes the effect of "Black Machine".

"Master of the Pit" shows the warning signs of doom; a lax-paced riff passes through minor chords, accentuated by tasteful, composed rhythm work. This is a great showcase for the band and around half of the song's seven minute body is built of layered solo work. The eponymous track starts with a rhythmic plod and builds up with bouncing tom-work, draped with another opulent solo section, only choosing to introduce the evil main riff at the 2:30 mark. "Death of the Sun" is much faster paced than the previous two and features a grizzled, hard rock riff. The bass jumps around quite a lot here and Iron Maiden came to mind. "Finger of Scorn" is the longest cut and chooses to unfold slowly, beginning with a picked acoustic passage that leads into the sort of chord progression that only really convinces when played slowly and heavily. You know that you're just waiting for the solo, though.

The guitarist, Jerry Fogle (now sadly deceased) gets minutes of solo time in each track and never disappoints; nothing particularly technical is attempted, nor does it need to be, as each lead break is guided by two things alone - intuition, and the love of rock which he celebrates well, never digging too deep into blues cliches, just simply aligning perfect melodies.

An interpretation of Bach's "Toccata in D Minor" is next up, a tune we all know and that most love. Fogle is again the star, accompanied only by rudimentary bass guitar. The buzzing electric guitar tone fits this most unexpectedly well, and the performance is quite fluid, allowing a little personality to seep through the composer's rigid score.

The final track promises to be epic; the band had such confidence in it that they named it after themselves! Shelob's famed lair receives a unique metallic anthem that shifts between a foreboding riff, a transition reminiscent of Motorhead and an adventurous verse which dances with the energy of classic rock. I prefer Deep Purple but any comparison here is valid. This six minute piece is dynamic both in feel and tempo, and is an excellent album closer, albeit one that invites you to press play just once more; the song itself is reluctant to conclude involving a coda of several false endings, each of which gets an extravagant bluesy "almost done" where each band member rocks out and then returns seamlessly. Things are finally wrapped up with a "Yeah!" at which the reviewer always grins. Always.

If you like any of the bands I have named above, then this is essential.

Killing Songs :
Atom Smasher, Toccata in D Minor, Cirith Ungol
Dee quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Cirith Ungol that we have reviewed:
Cirith Ungol - Paradise Lost reviewed by Thomas and quoted 82 / 100
Cirith Ungol - One Foot In Hell reviewed by Thomas and quoted 90 / 100
Cirith Ungol - Frost and Fire reviewed by Thomas and quoted 91 / 100
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