That rush of excitement and burst of adrenaline you experience when talking with people who have influenced the lives of hundreds, thousands of people with their music is beyond any comparison… And not only because they are who they are, but because they prove they’re people like you and me, with whatever extension that thought may have. Robert Garven of Cirith Ungol has all of the above. Enjoy the long and candid interview he gave me on behalf of Metal Invader.
Good evening, Rob; this is Elpida and I welcome you to Metal Invader! It’s an honor to be hosting Cirith Ungol, so thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. First of all, is everybody alright? Are you getting prepared for your new appearance in Greece?
Rob: We are great and getting ready to fly to Greece for these two fantastic shows! We have been preparing in our secret lair for our return to Greece, “The Cradle of Civilization”!!!!!!
Greeks and Greek crowd in general have proven over the years that they’re a bit crazier than all the others. I think you’ve experienced that in Up The Hammers last year. Similar to your show there, people from all over Greece, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, even a dear friend of mine will come from Finland just to see you perform! What have you prepared for us? What are your expectations for the show?
Rob: We were greeted spectacularly and expect the same this time around:-)! We have tried to make a set list of our best songs, and added four ones we did not play last time we visited! Our expectations are nothing less than a cosmic shift!
By performing live this year and a half, you come across long-lasting loyal fans, which is utterly impressive, and of course younger fans, who love Cirith Ungol despite the fact that they were born some years before or some after C.U. disbanded. Is it as spectacular and breathtaking as I imagine? How does this make you feel?
Rob: For so many years we had faith in our music but were unaware that so many around the world did also. It was a revelation that our music could capture an inter-generational audience. We are amazed and deeply honored and a bit surprised. So much blood, sweat and tears went into the original band and our songs, it feels like a vindication that the music has finally achieved the attention we felt it so long deserved!
How did the idea of a reunion become a reality? Whose idea was in the first place and what steps did you follow to wake the C.U. beast up once again?
Rob: I swore I would never play drums again, but a good friend and local bass player in one of the best metal bands performing today, “Night Demon”, Jarvis Leatherby lives in our home town of Ventura, California. For years he has been touring the US and Europe and coming back with fantastic stories of all the CirithUngol fans around the world and how much everyone loved the band. For the longest time I kept telling him that I was not interested in ever playing again because of the bad feeling I had towards the music industry. In 2015 he put on a fantastic local event here in Ventura. He had many great metal acts play and called it, “Frost & Fire Festival I”, in honor of our first album, “Frost & Fire”. It was sold out and we were asked to do a meet and greet in between performances! We signed albums, posters and various articles for over an hour and met fans from all over the globe. Oliver Weinsheimer, one of the promoters of the famous “Keep it True” festival in Germany came over, took us aside, and asked us to come over for the 2015 show, just to meet the fans, which we accepted. Jarvis wanted to put on another “Frost & Fire II” in 2016 and said if he did he wanted us to headline this 3 day festival! It was all pretty crazy and the band did not really know what to think. After much soul searching I decided that if so many people liked the band and our music it seemed selfish not to play for them, the other band members agreed! Our first few practices were courtesy of the guys at “Night Demon”, who let us uses their practice room and equipment, and especially to Dusty Squires for letting me pound on his drums. Almost immediately we could tell that the magic was still there! The rest is history. We found a band room, DW drums built me a custom oak set. I got a set of the finest Paiste 2002 cymbals and we have been playing some amazing shows and working on some new material ever since!
You played your first show since 1991 at the Frost and Fire II Festival in Ventura, California. How did it feel like to go up on stage once more after 25 years?
Rob: It was amazing being at the same venue we last played at before we broke up and I also drive by there about every day so it was like a belated home coming! The crowd looked like they enjoyed it as much as we did! A few of the songs were recorded by a friend in the audience and sounded so cool we put them on the Metal Blade Records deluxe edition re-release of “King of the Dead”!
Tim, Jim and you were on the “Paradise Lost” (last) line-up, how you came up with Jarvis and GregLindstrom?
Rob:When Flint could not rejoin the band for logistical reasons it seemed obvious that Jarvis, a seasoned musician and main culprit in the reanimation of “Cirith Ungol” step in, which he did graciously. Greg was one of the original founders with Jerry Fogle and I. He had been the only original musician in the band to have never stopped playing and is in a band Falcon. He has allot of talent and we all wanted him on board also. He was the driving force of some of the bands original music and wrote all the songs on “Frost & Fire”!
Jarvis Leatherby not only played a great role in reuniting Cirith Ungol, he became a permanent member of the band and as things are showing, it was probably the best choice you could ever make. How are things working out with Jarvis? Care to give us an insight?
Rob:It has worked out great so far but “Night Demon” in my opinion is going to be big and hopefully he can find time to play at our limited shows! Jarvis is “the hardest working man in metal” and he adds some great excitement to the band on and off stage! Plus we have got to hang out with the guys in “Night Demon” and play with them, which is an honor. They are finishing up a European tour with Accept right now and will meet us in Greece for the shows!!!
Cirith Ungol’s last release (“Paradise Lost”) was released in 1991. As far as I know, some of the changes in the band lead you into disbanding. What problems did you face that you couldn’t overcome?
Rob: It was the long haul that really caused the break up. 20+ years without any commercial success was hard on the band. This caused us to shed the original core of the band and except for Jimmy we never had any members that wanted to be all in. We knew we had some great music and albums but seemed to either be ahead of, or behind the times. We did not fit in with the hair bands, and we certainly were not speed metal so we were one of the bands all along carrying the torch of true metal. Like the Olympic torch the burning fire of True Metal is never extinguished, just hidden and guarded in a safe place until it can be brought forth again to light the way of the faithful!So like the elder god Cthulhu we crawled back into our hidden cave in R’lyea and sunk beneath the sea only to arise again when the stars were right!
Well, it’s 2018 and Cirith Ungol is alive and kicking! Any chance for some new material, an EP or even a full-length release soon?
Rob: We are working on new material right now and even though there is no schedule, it is no secret we want to do a 5th studio album. I am blown away by some of the stuff and I think our fans will be too. It blends all the elements of Cirith Ungol’s mythical style along with an evolution you would expect from the pent up energy waiting to be released! Our goal is to make it an extension of our past releases in heaviness and style. We are lucky enough to have a few songs in the upcoming very cool animated movie, “Planet of Doom”. We are all very excited about this. Some of the very best fantasy artists are involved with this and it should be killer!
I personally am a fan of official DVD releases, especially when they’re about full concerts. I’ve got a plethora of those by various bands. When watching, it feels like I’m part of the experience (again), as well as it feels like a visual relic for the generations to come. Have you ever considered of recording your reunited-era shows? I believe the intensity and passion by both you and the fans should be captured this way.
Rob:We are currently working on a live album based on material from some of our shows in Europe in 2017! It should be released on Metal Blade Records soon. I don’t want to give too much away about it, but it has pretty awesome cover, which should be familiar in style to the hoards of Chaos!
Cirith Ungol have served as an influence for so many bands around the world, however, bearing in mind that you were formed 1972, who served as your influences and where did you draw influence from back then?
Rob: It is no secret that we were influenced by some of the pioneers of early hard rock and metal. Bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, Grand Funk, Alice Cooper, Mountain, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin were on that short list. As time went on bands like;Lucifer’s Friend, Dust, Night Sun, Trapeze, Priest, Montrose, Left End, Moxy, BOC Captain Beyond. We were avid vinyl collectors and it is safe to say anything that had a kick to it we were into! We have been unbelievably honored to have played on the same stage with a few of these bands recently, which to me was the highlight of my career!
Before splitting up in 1992, Cirith Ungol had already been around for two decades. What has changed since then on a general and on an individual level? I mean, what’s the most striking difference between then and now in terms of music and you as people?
Rob: Well we are a few years older and wiser. The technology is a much greater influence on music in general and the music industry. What has not changed is the basis for the music we all love. Hard rock/heavy metal will never die. I am continuously amazed at new music I hear, and lost gems that may have evaded my notice from the past! It all has roots that run deep into the soul of the planet, and we are all standing on the shoulders of those pioneers that came before us, and we will provide strong shoulders for those who come after us to stand on…….
Alright, that’s all from me for the time being. Glad I got the chance to talk to you! More to come in Thessaloniki, haha! Finish the interview anyway you see fit! A message to all the Metal Invaders out there, perhaps?
Rob:Thank you for your thoughtful questions, we look forward to seeing you in Greece. On behalf of all in “Cirith Ungol” I would like to thank all of those who have supported the band over the years, all those who have come out to see one of our rare live shows, and those who have carried the banner of Ungol high! And for those of you on the fence, if you ever wanted to see the band, get out there. Although I see a bright future ahead for the band, every day brings the tragedy of loss to the metal world. Get it while its there because it may be gone tomorrow! For after all “Cirith Ungol” is only “A Churning Maelstrom of Metal Chaos Descending!” and who knows when the stars may un align again and we creep back into the slimy ooze that is R’lyea and sink beneath the sea again…