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Interviews Cirith Ungol

Interview with Cirith Ungol

Interview conducted by Omni

Date online: April 16, 2017

A while back, I wrote a review of Paradise Lost in honor of its recent reissue on Metal Blade Records. I had the opportunity to send it to Cirith Ungol drummer Robert Garven when he was seeking reviews that had been written about the band's music, and we became fast friends. It only seemed appropriate that my first interview for The Metal Crypt should be with the mighty Cirith Ungol. The band is preparing to perform their first European show at Keep It True later this month and Metal Blade Records will be reissuing King of the Dead to coincide with their performance.

Omni: You have a very busy schedule ahead of you. What are the biggest differences playing live today compared to the old days?

Tim: Actually being able to play for all our friends in Europe! We were never able to do that before and it was always something that we had regrets about. A large portion of our fans are in Europe so it is so special to finally be going over and playing some festivals.

Greg: Headlining big shows is a new experience for me. It's nice to be treated with a little bit of respect!

Jimmy: Convenience is the biggest difference. These days we're very fortunate to be doing all festivals, which require us to fly in. So, having a backline of amps provided by Festival organizers is one huge difference for me. In the old days, I remember having to load in/load out my own amps, many times in the rain, up many flights of stairs, and very late nights getting all our stuff back into the band room. Then having to set it all back up for rehearsal was something I never really enjoyed.

Rob: I agree with Greg, in the old days no matter how great we played, we were always treated badly. No dressing rooms, no sound checks, etc. Now that we have achieved a certain level of notoriety, things have certainly changed for the better!

Omni: I'm very glad that you're finally receiving the respect that you deserve! Cirith Ungol is probably more well known than ever. Are you surprised by the number of younger bands and metal fans that now love the music of Cirith Ungol? I just turned 30 this year, so I suppose that I'm part of that demographic as well.

Tim: It is a bit surprising, but I will only say thank the great old ones for the Internet! As far as younger fans, it is really cool to see them appreciating all the classic metal bands that are still out there playing. I think part of the reason is that good music never goes out of style, and that is probably what is driving the current resurgence of what is now called "classic metal". There are so many good metal bands out there, it is staggering!!

Greg: When I started selling CU shirts on eBay almost 15 years ago, I was amazed at how much love there was still out there for CU. It's very gratifying and humbling to me that Cirith Ungol's music has meant so much to so many people. I don't know if we are more popular now than back in the day, but our global connectivity allows fans to get together over their shared interests. Back in the pre-Internet days, it was hard to know who was listening.

Jimmy: Yes, I am somewhat surprised. But, even as a member, I'm a loyal fan too. So, I can relate to younger fans feeling of energetic interest and connection to the band. The name, the album artwork, the music, lyrics, vocals, the musicians, geographical location and, of course, the Internet all played a part.

Rob: We are all amazed, and very excited that so many people appreciate our music, especially a new audience of younger fans from all over the world. I have to give a lot of credit to Metal Blade Records, because for the last 20 years they have kept our albums in print. I have also done a large number of interviews over the years after the band broke up. I think the combination of the magazine articles and the availability of our music has made this all possible!

Omni: I too am glad for the dedication that has helped keep your music alive. As a fan of all four of your albums, seeing Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza together in the lineup is awesome for me. Do you think this makes you more versatile as a band? You've usually only had one guitarist at any given time.

Tim: Yes, definitely! We always wanted two guitar players, even back in the day. Having both Greg and Jimmy really fleshes out the sound and we can make the live performances more closely match the records. Especially on a lot of the signature double lead things Jerry did on the recordings.

Greg: Jimmy is a master and I think he can play just about anything, and I'm not and I can't. I prefer to think of myself as a skinnier version of Leslie West! But I think our two styles are compatible and definitely make us a more versatile band.

Jimmy: Absolutely more Versatile! I'm very happy to be playing with Greg. For the first time ever, fans will be hearing what the dual lead solos sound like live. We are paying homage to Jerry Fogle, with as much accuracy and dedication to recreating his solos Live. The overall sound for Cirith Ungol is much better with two guitars versus one. With Greg being the brainchild of Frost and Fire (1st Album) and myself on Paradise Lost (4th Album) there is a decade or so of variety in musical tastes, song writing and styles of playing that as we move forward in writing new material should prove advantageous.

Rob: Not many know this fact, but before Greg left the band, after the release of Frost and Fire, we played for a while with two lead guitars. Flint on bass, Greg & Jerry playing dueling lead guitars! Our original plan was to have Jimmy and Jerry do the same thing, however after Jerry left the band Jimmy was left as a sole guitarist.

Omni: Can you tell me about Jarvis Leatherby and Night Demon? Was he a major catalyst in your reunion and how has it been working with him?

Tim: He was the main catalyst for sure! He is great to work with and Ungol and Night Demon are like a family! Haha He is the hardest working guy in Metal for sure, and a great musician and friend. Besides Ungol and Demon, he puts on the Frost and Fire Festivals, manages other bands too and is working on more projects than anybody I know. I have no idea how he does it, but very glad he does!

Greg: There would not have been a CU reunion without Jarvis, so blame him! He has made a lot of things happen for us!

Jimmy: The first time I met Jarvis was at Frost and Fire Festival 2015 and had the opportunity to hang out with Tim, Rob, Greg and Flint at the signing session. It was great to see everyone again. Also, it was my first time seeing Night Demon. It was a great night all around. Soon after that, I was contacted by Jarvis and asked if I could still play guitar and if I'd like to come to Night Demon's rehearsal room to play a few Ungol songs. I gladly accepted and immediately began to look for an inexpensive electric guitar at local guitar shops. He would provide a Marshall amp and we are going to try out a couple songs just for fun. To my surprise when I showed up, he said Rob is coming over to play drums. Jarvis played Bass. I believe we played "Join the Legion" and "I'm Alive". That same session, Tim stopped by to have a listen. At the end, we all talked and decided that 25 years had been long enough. The desire to play on stage again was mutual, and we had places to play already in the near future. Although filling the slot of bassist was first offered to Flint, he had other commitments and declined. It was only fitting that Jarvis being a fan of the band, a seasoned musician and the drive to make Cirith Ungol alive again. It is my pleasure to play alongside Jarvis. His energy and commitment has proven invaluable and vital to our success.

Rob: Jarvis contacted me several years ago through a mutual friend, Carl Valdez, who was the drummer in the punk band Ill Repute. He shared that when they traveled to Europe on tour they would see many fans with Cirith Ungol shirts on, and many knew of the band and our music. I had sworn a blood oath that I would never play drums again, so I had always told him very politely that I was not interested. Everything changed at the Frost and Fire Festival in 2015. Oliver Weinsheimer from the very famous and exclusive Keep It True Festival had come over for the show. Oliver had been contacting me for probably 10 years for more, with an interest to have the band play at his festival. I had always told him no also, but kept in touch with him, as he was a very cool dude! Jarvis said if we got back together he would be our manager, and Oliver invited Tim and I over to the Keep It True Festival IX, where we were treated like royalty. We were so impressed that there was no doubt in our mind that we wanted to be part of this! If it were not for these two gentlemen, the band would have never reformed. The band and our fans owe them both a debt of gratitude. When the ancient stars aligned, Cirith Ungol crawled out of its ancient slumber, to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world!!

Omni: It's great to see that you've experienced so much positive energy from Jarvis and everyone else. Are there any new bands that have inspired you as musicians that you would like to mention?

Tim: Well Night Demon for one! haha. And I must say that in the last year and a half, going to a few festivals and things, some of the new and some of the classic bands I've seen have been very good!! Some are bands that I remember from the old days, but many are new up-and-coming bands that just totally kick ass, so great to see that the metal scene is so alive and well and in good hands!!

Greg: You mean bands from this century? It's great that there has been a resurgence of raw heavy rock in the last 15 years or so, and there are tons of bands that I like: Witchcraft, Earthless, Gentlemen's Pistols, Imperial State Electric, etc. But I think that most of these bands' inspiration comes from the same early 70s heavy sound that is still my inspiration. And I still enjoy hunting for 70s obscurities. I used to think that I had everything, but there are always new (old) bands being unearthed!

Rob: Well, of course, playing alongside Night Demon, has been inspiring, those guys really kick some serious ass! Like Greg said, the band still gets most of their inspiration from the obscure and popular heavy metal that we still listen to from the past. However, there are many new bands that are pretty fantastic which I am inspired by today. I really like Brainstorm, Powerwolf, Falconer, Nightwish, Dexter Ward, etc. There is a misconception that many of the great bands are all in the past. However there are many great bands today that are creating some pretty unbelievable music!

Omni: I was disappointed to learn that I missed an opportunity to see Night Demon in concert here in Florida. They are a great band. They sound like they stepped right out of the early 1980s. Cirith Ungol has been around since 1972. That's a long time. What is your proudest moment together as a band to date?

Tim: Probably the records we made. I think they stand the test of time as good metal albums. But, of course, I must say that being reunited is a great feeling too, and finally getting a chance to get out and play around the world is like a longtime dream finally coming true!

Greg: Two moments stand out for me, 35 years apart – feeling like a proud papa the first time I held a brand-new copy of Frost and Fire fresh from the pressing plant, and feeling vindicated (and relieved!) at the end of our reunion show at Frost and Fire II.

Jimmy: I'd have to say receiving a proclamation from the Mayor of San Buenaventura, CA. on October 10, 2016. Congratulating and recognizing Cirith Ungol for our "Electrifying talent, Celebration of our reunion and best wishes in future endeavors".

Rob: For me it was mounting the stage at Frost and Fire II in my hometown of Ventura as the headlining act at the Majestic Ventura Theater. This was the same venue we played our last show at before the band broke up, so many years ago. The place was packed. All the guys from Metal Blade Records in Germany, Oliver from the Keep It True Festival, and friends from all over the world came to see our first reunion show in over 25 years! It was amazing. DW drums build me a large custom oak drum set painted Ferrari red, and sounding like thunder! I was sporting my gong and the most fantastic array of Paiste cymbals one could imagine, with myself at the helm! That night I called upon the elder gods to give us the power to reign supreme! And it was so...

Omni: What a fantastic honor to play a festival dedicated to your band and be recognized by the mayor. You deserve it! I hate to ask, but is there any chance of hearing "Go It Alone" at one of your live shows? I have a soft spot for that song for some reason.

Tim: Well, sorry... probably not LOL. But if I've learned anything in the last couple of years it is to never again say never hahaha.

Greg: CU as an AOR band – not my favorite. I keep hoping that someone like Journey will cover it.

Jimmy: I am glad you like that song, but highly unlikely to hear us play it live.

Rob: Actually, Dexter Ward played that live at the Gagarin Theater in Athens, where we are playing Up the Hammers this year. They played it better than we ever could! Actually, last night I dreamed we played it slower and real heavy!!!

Omni: I expected no other kind of answers! Don't worry. "Finger of Scorn" is actually my favorite song by Cirith Ungol. What are the favorite Cirith Ungol songs of each person in the band?

Tim: For me it would have to be the Paradise Lost Trilogy, along with obvious ones like "King of the Dead", "Master of the Pit", "Doomed Planet" ---all the good ones!!

Greg: Blowing my own horn, "Edge of a Knife" and "I'm Alive", which I think is still the best song I've ever written. For non, GL compositions, "Fallen Idols", "Black Machine", and "King of the Dead".

Jimmy: My favorite ones from each album are "Chaos Rising", "War Eternal", "Finger of Scorn", and "Frost and Fire". Favorite Album is King of the Dead.

Rob: I like the real heavy stuff especially "Chaos Descends", "Finger of Scorn" and "King of the Dead"! But the best is yet to come, all will be revealed when the curtain is drawn it will reveal, "A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!"

Omni: Robert, you're getting my hopes up that Cirith Ungol will be around for a while and maybe even record a new album! What can we expect from Cirith Ungol in the future? Will you be considering a professionally recorded live release now that you're playing some big festivals?

Tim: We have actually been discussing that and not sure if it will happen-it's a good idea I think! We are also writing new songs and hopefully we can put out another record sometime in the future!

Greg: That's a possibility, but we really want to get to work in earnest on a new studio album.

Jimmy: New songwriting is in motion. I look forward to a new release of some sort one day soon. I would imagine that we would hear some live recordings worthy of release in the near future. Personally, one venue that I would hope produces a decent live recording for us is the Hard Rock Hotel Casino in Las Vegas this coming August at Psycho Las Vegas Festival.

Rob: Tim has written some fantastic lyrics and we already have some new songs in progress! The master plan is to do another studio album, in the vein of King of the Dead, or as we used to say, "The Heaviest Metal Known to Man!"

Omni: That is amazing news. I can hardly wait to hear whatever you guys do next. I'm sure that it won't disappoint your fans. Thanks for your time. Any final words for the fans?

Tim: We would really like to say thank you from the depths of our souls for all the years of support! Without all the people listening to Ungol all these years and the encouragement from so many I can truly say that this reunion would have never happened-thank you all so very much!!

Greg: Thanks for your support all these years!

Jimmy: Thanks for making us feel like Metal Gods. Your Enthusiasm is much appreciated.

Rob: We are honored that so many have shown an interest in our old band and really hope to see you at one of our rare upcoming concerts. Who knows how long this second coming will last, but if you get the chance, come hear our message of Doom! For the time is at hand, to call forth the "Legions of Chaos! "Together we will drive before us the Cringing Herd of False Metal and purge the world of their Mutant Plague!"

Omni: Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. I'll surely be picking up the reissue of King of the Dead and I certainly hope to hear more about that new album in the future. Have a fantastic time at Keep It True! I know the fans will love to see you up on stage.

Other information about Cirith Ungol on this site
Review: King Of The Dead
Review: Paradise Lost
Review: King of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)
Review: I'm Alive
Review: Forever Black
Review: One Foot in Hell
Review: Half Past Human
Review: Dark Parade
Review: Dark Parade
Interview with vocalist Tim Baker, drummer Robert Graven and bassist Jarvis Leatherby on December 1, 2019 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)

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