Aside to all its problems, 2020 has also brought something positive. Something that for many fans as we are means a lot, because music helps us, pushes us, supports us. Listening to a sensational and totally unexpected album like Forever Black provokes an incredible satisfaction, just as it fills the heart to see those old glories of Cirith Ungol on the track, absolutely in shape, as if time had never passed for them. We had the pleasure of having a chat with Robert Garven, historic drummer of the American band, and several interesting things came out. If you are part of the legions, if you have heard the call, stand up and join us!
(Leatherby, Baker, Garven, Barraza, Lindstrom)
Hi guys, here Francesco "Frank" Gozzi and Patricia Bartoccetti from the Italian webzine www.metal.it. We've opened up the 2020 Readers' Poll to tell us the favourite album of the year and the winner is CIRITH UNGOL's album "Forever Black". So we would like to interview your band to have some news about the incredible comeback of CIRITH UNGOL. Congratulations for this comeback so much appreciated from fans and critics.
Rob: Francesco and Patricia, thank you so much, that is amazing! Frank, I saw you picked “Forever Black” as #1 for 2020, and so proud that “Forever Black” was selected Numero Uno by you readers!!! I would like to reach out and thank them personally for heeding our call!
So the first, obvious, question, is certainly what brought you together after so many years?
Rob: Jarvis Leatherby our current bass player and manager ushered in the events that led to the band’s reunion. I had a friend Carl Valdez, who was the original drummer in a famous local punk band “Ill Repute”. Carl was friends with Jarvis, and told me that he wanted to meet, to discuss our old band. When we finally met, and he had unbelievable stories of his touring with "Night Demon" and meeting many fans still interested in "Cirith Ungol", and he suggested resurrecting the band. Jarvis was putting on the Heavy Metal "Frost & Fire Festival I" in our hometown of Ventura, California, and had booked bands from all over the world to come and play. He asked if we would do a signing session, and all the original members (except Jerry Fogle who has tragically passed away in 1998) agreed. The festival was a huge success, and at the signing session many showed up with albums and other memorabilia to be signed and meet the band. It seemed as if a new generation had discovered our music, that we had worked so hard on, for so many years.
Jarvis had invited Oliver Weinsheimer promoter of the German "Keep it True Festival" and after the signing session, he wanted to talk to the band. All of us along with Jarvis, retreated across the street to a local sushi bar. Oliver had been in contact me since 2004, about getting the band back together, and I had told him that I appreciated his offer, but it was never going to happen. So now we found ourselves; Jarvis, Oliver, Greg, Tim, Flint, Jimmy and myself all sitting around at a table wondering what was to come next. Jarvis having just hosted an amazing festival said he planned on putting on another one "Frost & Fire II", next year and asked us if we would reform and were interested, we could headline his show. Oliver also talked about how successful his festival was in Germany and asked us if we reformed, we could headline his 20th anniversary show in 2017!
This was quite a bit to take in, as we had all spent the last many years pursuing other lives an getting the band back together seemed like a long shot. We were hesitant at first, but deep in our souls the fire of true metal burned, and we all decided to unleash the being called Ungol back onto the unsuspecting world!
Have you always been in touch over the years? How long have you thought about doing something together again?
Rob: After 1991 most of us drifted apart carrying on with our separate lives, families and careers. A few of us kept in contact with each other, and I would talk to Greg, Tim, Jimmy and Flint from time to time. It wasn’t until Jarvis brought us together, that any of us ever any thought of a reunion.
This never was going to happen, but when the stars aligned and the spheres coincided the lumbering beast known as Ungol awakened from its ancient slumber, to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting world!
Having done such a beautiful album, full of energy, that someone has defined magic, it is evident that get back together was a well-motivated choice... what did you really feel being together, in the studio, writing music? We are very curious to know what did you feel being together again in studio, after so many years.
Rob: It was incredible. I never thought we would ever play again, let alone record another album, as I swore an oath to never touch another drumstick, after working so hard for twenty years without success.
However, as soon as we had found a band room, we started working on new material, never dreaming a new album was possible, but writing music was in the band’s DNA. We had always made comprehensive demos, so we got a small 24 track digital recorder and went to work. The first glimpse of these new songs was "Witch's Game", a song we wrote for the upcoming feature length animated movie "The Planet of Doom". After "Witch's Game" was released as a single on Metal Blade Records, many reviewers hoped a new album would follow, and as soon as we heard that we started seriously to bang the molten metal into shape.
We were lucky to record at "Night Demon" guitarist Armand John Anthony’s studio, The Captain’s Quarters. We have gotten quite close with all the guys in "Night Demon" and it was electrifying to work all together on this resurrection of "Cirith Ungol"!
"Forever Black" has been well received almost everywhere, between legions of your old fans and, at the same time, acquiring many new ones. So many guys are now discovering your old material. What were your feelings before the release? Did you expect such a huge success?
Rob: Our music is very unique and many will never get it, and we understand and accept that. I think the fact that we are writing the music for ourselves, and only those who can mentally tune into the same wavelength as us, can hear our call! A new horde of metal aficionados had discovered the band, and we were pretty excited on how "Witch's Game" had been received, however we were not sure what impact “Forever Black” was going to make. We knew it was a solid album, but it had been 29 years since our last album "Paradise Lost".
I’m not sure "Cirith Ungol" will ever be a huge success, but having our album picked as #1 by your readers for metal albums in 2020 over other legendary bands new releases will make me have second thoughts!
Is the music of "Forever Black" all brand new and composed just for this album or were some riffs left in the drawer?
Rob: It was all new material, that we had been working on since we reunited. I just recently listened to it again and even though I am the bands and my own harshest critic, I am very proud of what we accomplished. All heavy songs and some very good guitar work!
In reviewing the album, I called "Forever Black" a truly sincere album, not only the best of the year but one of the best in recent years. The sound of the album is so real and authentic, you can hear the drum heads, you can feel the hands crawling on the guitar neck, it's all damn real. Did you used a particular way during the recording? Tell us something about the recordings of the album...
Rob: My DW oak drums (painted Italian racing red) were recorded as is, as well as my Paiste 2002 cymbals and gong. No triggers or any of that fancy modern stuff. We recorded it much like our other studio albums, having made those well thought out demos first recorded in our underground secret lair! Armand had been with the band for over a year now us playing shows together, so he knew what we wanted. Of course, getting a bunch of creative rockers in a room together will always create sparks, but these sparks ignite the fuel that fires the furnace, where true metal is forged!
Rob's drums used for the recording sessions of Forever Black
Listening to "Forever Black" it seems to have a time machine, you can hear the 70's influences, the southern ones, the doomy ones but everything sounds really fresh and powerful. During all this downtime, aside from Jarvis and his Night Demons, did the other members keep playing?
Rob: We were surprised and a bit amused that people thought that we still sounded like "Cirith Ungol" and also that we could still write relevant music. I am just happy that we could prove that we still had what it takes to create and forge new alloys of molten metal!
Greg was the only one who kept playing professionally in his band “Falcon”. I never touched the drums after we broke up in 1991, realizing my lifelong dream as a caretaker of a classic Ferrari. I spent many of those years after the band slept, working on that fire breathing dragon! Otto carburatori!!!
Rob's fantastic garage with his mighty Ferrari. He sent me a lot of photos, he's a real fan! You can see them in this gallery
Your lyrics have often been linked to Melniboné's Elric saga, mythology and fantasy. What inspired you for this new album? Who wrote the lyrics?
Rob: “Forever Black” was that inspiration and sets the mood for the album, and describes the descending darkness that envelopes us, and is headed our way. It is said our music conjures up the darker side of man’s eternal struggle, "A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!"
The first song is “The Call”. A recurring them in this interview! In the novel “Stormbringer”, Elric blows “The Horn of Fate”, also known as “Oliphant“. It is an Object of Power, capable of ushering in the end or beginning of worlds. This is our call to the faithful to rise up! We lead not the weak, they won’t answer our call, as Chaos Descends false metal will fall!
I wrote the lyrics to “Legions Arise” wanting it to be the sequel to "Join the Legion" and a call to arms, proclaiming that we have returned and amassing our legions around us in the final battle! The Frost Monstreme” & “The Fire Devine” being Greg’s lyrics and hark back to our early "Sword and Sorcery" inspirations, with the rest being Tim’s dystopian nightmare of darkness and despair. Which is playing out around us as I write this….
This fantastic painting, we chose for the cover, “Elric in Exile”, perfectly reflects the dark and brooding mood of this album. It was painted by Michael Whelan, whose art graces our 4 other studio albums, our single, "Witch's Game", and our live album, "I'm Alive". He is a world-renowned artist, whose masterpieces have been featured on albums by bands such as Sepultura and Smoulder, and authors; Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Arthur C Clarke.
Ever since we forged a relationship with Michael Whelan with our first album, "Frost & Fire", our dream was to use his series of Elrić of Melnibone covers from the 1980’s DAW Book editions, for all our future covers. Of course, back then we were a young band and had no idea what the future held for us, or how many albums we would ever produce. Once again, we are honored and privileged, to have this acclaimed artist’s work again gracing our latest album, and hope to continue to work with him on any future projects! He has been one of the bands best and most constant friends through the years, even coming out to see the band play in Brooklyn, New York!
About your comeback I would like to know what does it mean for you, if it's just for simple fun, or a desire to show new bands how to play this genre, or is it just a proof to yourself that you are still able to write great music?
Rob: All we wanted to do was write and play the heaviest metal we could, nothing more nothing less! Being able to perform to a large audience outside is what turns me on. We played the "Chaos Descends Festival" out in the forest near Crispendorf Germany. The festival is named after one of our songs, and set in a scenic rural location that was surreal. A beautiful yet haunting valley, set between two small mountains with a lonely river snaking between them, and small train circling the area. I remember looking out from behind the drums, while pounding out our song "Chaos Descends", seeing the trees and stars, and hearing the huddled masses humming out the refrain, louder than our amps. I could feel a direct connection to the earth elementals, and all those fevered souls in attendance, rhythmic swaying in frenzied unison, with the pulsing of the molten metal we were laying out before them! The feeling I experienced was beyond description, and will remain as long as I draw breath!
“Forever Black” album came out during the global lockdown, had you scheduled any live dates? Do you think you have been penalized by these hard times we are living?
Rob: Yes, the biggest shows we would have ever played were cancelled, but with so much pain and suffering and so many lost it feels selfish to complain about missed shows. When you are young this is a year or two out of your life, at our age those years may be your last, so it is a major bummer. I just hope we make it through this in one piece so we can continue where we left off!
I think that in the past your albums didn't received as much recognition as they deserved. Today so many bands that belong to the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal speak about the influence of Cirith Ungol in their music. What do you think about? Do you know some of these bands?
Rob: I think you may be exaggerating our influence! We are just happy that the next generation of heavy metal musicians can experience our music, and that we have been lucky enough to have had a second chance to lay down some heavy riffs! We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We have been fortunate to share the stage with many of this new generation and even some of the bands we grew up listening to such as “Lucifer’s Friend” & Captain Beyond!
Considering the quality of the album "Forever Black", but also the hard work behind it, can we expect another upcoming album?
Rob: Many of the fellow musicians we looked up to and grew up with have recently passed beyond the veil. We are working on new material as we speak, and at our age, we intend to use the remaining time left wisely! If we survive this Pandemic there will surely be more to come!
Ok, that's all. Thank you very much for your time and again thank you for your great music. We wish you the best and a happy new year full of music!
Rob: Buon anno a tutti e due! Thank you both for your interest in "Cirith Ungol", and your kind words. Having been a Ferrari fan since birth I have a love of all things Italian. I recently read that they may have concerts at the Coliseum, that would be the ultimate "Cirith Ungol" show!
My dream is to visit Italy someday, so thank you for helping to spread the word about "Cirith Ungol", maybe my dream will come true! And thank you to all your staff of metal writers and readers at Metal.it!