CIRITH UNGOL – Kings Of The Dead
Cirith Ungol 1984 (l-r): Tim Baker, Robert Garven, Michael “Flint” Vujea and Jerry Fogle
Roughly translating as ‘pass of the spider’ from the fictional language Sindarin, the name of Californian heavy metal group Cirith Ungol was lifted from the Lord Of The Rings series, a trilogy of fantasy novels written by English professor J.R.R. Tolkien and published between 1954-55. Located in the western mountains of Mordor, Cirith Ungol is guarded by the spider Shelob who attacked Frodo Baggins according to the fable. 1972 was the year of the metal outfit’s formation.
“Greg (Lindstrom, guitars until 1982) and I were in a band in English class in around seventh grade,” Robert Garven remembers, drummer and co-founder of Cirith Ungol. “It was kind of an outdoor building and we’d always meet before class, talking about music and stuff like that. We talked about starting a band because he was starting to play guitar and I had always wanted to play drums, so we said ‘Hey, let’s get together and start a band.’ We knew this guy Jerry Fogle (guitars until 1987) who was a friend of ours and he was already playing guitar, so we said ‘Well okay, let’s get together as a band with him.’ In English class at the time the required book was Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and so that’s what kind of gave us our first taste of fantasy literature. That’s where we got our name from, but actually we first started off as a band called Titanic.
“We had another guy in the band, Pat Galligan who went on to be in a band named Angry Samoans who were kind of a punk band. I can skip over this briefly though because back then we were playing a lot of Beatles covers and stuff like that, but Greg, me, and Jerry really wanted to go in a heavier direction. Greg would always turn me onto albums; I remember I would go over to his house, and he gave me Climbing! (1970) by Mountain when it first came out. He goes ‘Man, you’ve gotta listen to this record.’ I took it home and I played it, and I was like ‘Wow, this is really great.’ The whole time we were in this band Titanic, we were playing covers and doing some school dances and stuff like that. Me, Jerry, and Greg wanted to split away, and so at one point we said to Pat ‘Hey, this isn’t working out. I think we’re gonna split away and start our own band.’ That’s how Cirith Ungol was formed.”
“We started in seventh grade, so we had five more years of school,” Rob continues. “We were playing places, and this is where I’m gonna put in a shout out to my parents because my mom’s really sick and not doing so well right now, and my dad passed away around ten years ago. We bounced around from parents’ to parents’ houses because no-one would let us play at theirs, and finally we ended up at my parents’ house. They let us practice in my older sister’s bedroom for like maybe I would say seven years at least, from pretty much the time when the band started until we came out with our first album (Frost And Fire, April 1980). If it wasn’t for my parents I’m not sure whether we would’ve had a band because we started off playing at Jerry’s house, and his mom yelled at us that this was too loud. We then started playing at Greg’s house, and Greg’s mom came in one day screaming at us going ‘Turn that off – you guys have to leave.’
“Every year we’d get bigger amplifiers and we’d start playing louder and louder, and so finally we ended up at my parents’ house. Because the neighbours next door were related to us they couldn’t say anything, so we put a big board in the window and we actually had a really cool band room there. That’s where a lot of the early songs on Servants Of Chaos (September 2001) that just got re-released – ‘Last Laugh’, ‘Hype Performance’ – some of Tim’s unbelievable singing on there too… That was all recorded in that bedroom at my parents’ house, and so we’re going to school.
“We’re writing new songs, we’re trying to do stuff. The reason it took so long to get a record out was because we were sending in demo tapes to record companies, and no-one would ever respond. We were trying to set up jobs in LA, and it was really hard to set up jobs unless you were on a record label. It was really hard to play some of the big clubs so we would always play all these Battle Of The Bands – any concerts that we could set up, we tried to set up and play. What really started us off was – and this is where we hit the radar with our first album – we played a Battle Of The Bands, and I think we came in maybe third place. They gave us a $500 gift certificate for a local recording studio. We had never actually been in a real studio before, so we were like ‘Wow, this is really cool.’
“We had a friend named Randy Jackson who had been injured in an oil field accident and almost broke his back. He got a little bit of money, and so he said he would actually pay for the production of our first album. We paid him back of course, but he loaned us some money to actually finish the recording and actually produce our first album, which we produced completely on our own and paid for. All that time went by and it seems like we weren’t doing anything, but back then unless you were on a record label nothing happened. When we put out our first record there wasn’t really anyone in Los Angeles at least that was doing that. Now right after we put out our record, Mötley Crüe, Brian (Slagel) at Metal Blade, and all these guys started putting out their compilations and stuff, but to my knowledge – and I’m not saying no-one before did it – when this new wave of independent heavy rock was coming out we were the first band in Los Angeles to actually record, produce, and release our first album.”
Frost And Fire (1980)
Original vocalist Neal Beattie wasn’t to feature on any of Cirith Ungol’s four studio full-lengths, though recordings including Neal’s vocals do exist. “There are a few songs,” the sticksman confirms, laughing. “He was a great guy, and a great showman. As a matter of fact we played a couple of places, and this was when Iggy And The Stooges was coming out. He threatened to take his clothes off and stuff, and we were actually on the front page in the newspaper: ‘Singer Threatens To Disrobe In Front Of Audience.’ He was in the band for a while, and it’s really kind of sad. I don’t want to say he was a bad singer, because he wasn’t. If you think Iggy (Pop) was a good singer then Neal was a good singer, but we were looking for something… We took ourselves very, very seriously, and a lot of people ask me this. The Mötley Crües, the Ratts and all those hair bands, they were coming out after we put out our first record. To us, they were a joke. We thought of ourselves as a Deep Purple, a Black Sabbath, and all those bands. Cactus, Budgie, Captain Beyond. These are the bands that we were listening to, all the serious rock bands were trying to stand on their music where the music was really important.
“I have a box of some old cassettes though, and that’s another story where the DVD came to fruition. We had a couple of videos of us, and you’ve gotta remember this wasn’t for MTV or any of that crap. With the video of us in Servants Of Chaos, here’s what happened. We’re playing this club, and a guy had a video camera on a tripod up on a balcony. He goes ‘If you pay me $20, I’ll record your show,’ so we bought him a VHS tape, gave it to him as well as $20. The camera had a little microphone on it, and like I mentioned, we were a pretty loud band. We always played really loud and so the video actually looked halfway decent, but the sound of it was just destroyed.
“I was looking through one of these boxes, and I think Tim (Baker, vocals) was over here that day. I was looking through a box, and I go ‘My god, look – I think this is the actual mixing console tape off of that really bad video that we have.’ We played it, and it turned out that it was. Brian said ‘We wanna re-release Servants Of Chaos, and we wanna put some other material on there.’ I said ‘We’ve got this video, and now we have this tape.’ Brian actually has a couple of other tapes, and they may come out – he talked about maybe re-releasing Frost And Fire and King Of The Dead (sophomore full-length, July 1984). We basically have two other videos. Neither one of them I’m not sure are as good as the one on Servants Of Chaos, but both of them are distinctly unusual because on the first one Greg and Jerry are playing together, and on the other one we’re playing at the Roxy and it’s actually a really cool show. We’re hoping that if they re-release Frost And Fire and King Of The Dead, they might put a bonus DVD in there with that.”
The departure of Neal Beattie paved the way for the addition of vocalist Tim Baker, who fronted Cirith Ungol until their May 1992 demise. “I met them in high school,” Tim recalls. “I met Greg first and at the time he had patches and crap on his jacket and stuff like that, Blue Öyster Cult and stuff – bands that I knew. I struck up a conversation with him, and he said ‘I’m in a metal band. you should come up and check us out.’ I said ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ The first time I go up to Rob’s house he hangs his head out of the window and screams ‘Hey, it’s up here,’ so I go up there. Like Rob said, they practised in a bedroom. Full drum set, giant stacks. Greg, Jerry, and Rob playing in a bedroom full blast. I just got blown away the first time I went up there.
“It was just mind-blowingly loud and great, so after that I started hanging out all the time and then me and Rob became really good friends. Greg ended up getting some recording equipment there to do demos and stuff, and Rob and I started playing around with it. After practice we’d go in there and do vocals and just mess around and everything like that, and then we got serious doing it. It just evolved into that, and the whole time they were looking for a singer. Then they didn’t have one so they tried a couple of people and this and that, and then things were going okay. I guess they decided to go with me. That was lucky for me, and that’s how I got in there. At first I was doing sound for the band. Like Rob said, they’d go out and play Battle Of The Bands and stuff like that, and they’d be a three-piece. A lot of the time it would just be instrumental stuff, and I would learn the lines, do the mixing, and all that kind of stuff. It just evolved over time, and I’m glad that it did.”
“Not to plug this re-release, but a lot of people ask us why this came out,” Rob chimes in. “In around 2000 or so Metal Blade Records was contacting me, going ‘Do you guys have any other stuff? Are you guys gonna reform or anything?’ We weren’t really thinking about getting back together, but they said ‘Do you have any other old tapes? Old stuff or anything?’ Me and Greg looked at all of our stuff, and we had a bunch of original recordings. My theory was if we didn’t put this out then this stuff was gonna get lost to history because a lot of the tapes were starting to deteriorate, especially the really good studio tapes. The really expensive tapes were actually starting to fall apart, and they actually had to be sent out to a lady who baked them in an oven like a cake which puts a kind of magnetic powder on the tapes. They ran them through the machine and put them onto a digital audio cassette, and if they hadn’t done that those tapes would’ve been lost forever. All that original stuff that Tim was talking about where we were experimenting around and singing… Like I said, the songs ‘Hype Performance’, ‘Last Laugh’ – those songs on Servants Of Chaos – are ones that we did where our studio was actually a closet in the bedroom.”
“Yeah, it was a four-track machine,” Tim confirms. “Robert and me would go for hours, and just do crazy vocal stuff. It was pretty awesome really.”
“Actually, I thought I sang some really good songs, but they never made it,” Rob laments.
Robert Garven (1984)
Cirith Ungol didn’t cut an album for Metal Blade Records until the August 1986 issue of third outing One Foot In Hell, though a demo version of ‘Death Of The Sun’ (a finished recording appeared on second outing King Of The Dead) was included on June 1982 compilation Metal Massacre. “We knew that Brian Slagel worked at a place called Oz Records down near Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley,” the drummer discloses. “He goes ‘I want to put out my own records and start my own record company.’ We say ‘Yeah, that’s really cool,’ and he goes ‘Would you guys wanna be on it?’ We said ‘Yeah.’ We had a song called ‘Death Of The Sun’, one of our demo songs. At the same time, we were finishing up production of our first album Frost And Fire. He goes ‘I know these guys who are importers and exporters, and maybe they would be interested in selling your record overseas.’ We met up with these guys, and the company was called Greenworld.
“What we originally did was we’d sell them 500 to a 1000 records, and then they’d sell ’em. They were actually importing records into Europe, so they weren’t a big record company but a distribution company. After a week they called back and said ‘Can we have another 1000?,’ so we sold quite a few records through ’em. They then finally came over one night – it was probably a bunch of bullshit and lies – and said ‘We really wanna support the band, and take you guys onto the next level’ and this and that, so we sold the rights off originally to this company Greenworld. At the same time Brian was coming out with his first Metal Blade record ever – Metal Massacre – which we were on, and we always reflect back there, thinking ‘What if we hadn’t gone with these Greenworld guys, and maybe stuck with Brian?’ Maybe we’d actually be big and famous like Brian is now (laughs).”
Greenworld would eventually morph into Enigma Records. “After a while Greenworld got to the point where they were distributing a number of bands, so they said ‘Let’s turn ourselves into a kind of pseudo-record company,’” Tim explains. “That’s when they changed over to Enigma. They were more kind of a semi-record company, but they were still kind of the same thing. They just had a different name so they could promote themselves as a record company. They didn’t have the resources to promote us though. Like I said, they were more or less a distribution company and had a pipeline to just distribute stuff. They really had no idea what they were doing, to tell you the truth. We would’ve been much better off if we had waited and signed with Metal Blade instead, but at the time that wasn’t really rolling yet or anything. We just did what we felt we had to do at the time to get our record out there. I’m sure that the company doesn’t exist anymore, so that just tells you what kind of a good business model they had. All they wanted to do was have us hand them a finished product, and just more or less distribute it. They weren’t really a record company, because they weren’t promoting or anything like that at all.”
“I remember this, and Tim will remember this too,” Rob offers. “This is what they said: ‘Instead of producing one or two records and hoping they’ll make it we’ll try to put out a 100 records, throw them against the wall, and see which ones stick.’”
“And that’s who they’d throw the money at,” Tim finishes. “It was kind of a bad deal, but it’s just the way things were back then.”
“When King Of The Dead came out I remember showing it to Brian, and Brian had actually started his label then,” Rob reminisces. “It had some bands and it was kind of primitive, but he was still getting his first start. He looked at me and goes ‘This should’ve been on my label,’ and I’m thinking ‘Probably, yeah.’ At the time though, we didn’t do that to cut him out or anything. We were just focused on trying to get up to the big time, and I gotta tell you this… If you read the Martin Popoff books on these bands (Ye Olde Metal), with a lot of these bands that we worshipped like Trapeze or Captain Beyond or any of these early, heavy bands – Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, or whoever – their stories are so much more depressing and sad than the story of our band it makes me feel good. Greg gave me this book for Christmas, and I said to Greg ‘Thank you for giving me this book, because I feel seriously suicidally depressed over our whole band. After reading these stories about these bands I worshipped…’ I saw Captain Beyond open for Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl, and these guys are like Gods. I’m reading in the book that they were so broke that they had to take turns eating meals like once a day or something.
“We were the first band Enigma signed, and the second band they signed was Mötley Crüe. I’ve gotta clear up some stuff about this too… They actually had some guy from Grass Valley – it’s a city up in northern California – and he spent around $300,000 or more promoting the band. When they got signed to Enigma, they were all like ‘Wow, not only do we have a band here but we got a guy who’s gonna spend a bunch of money on ’em.’ Within a really short period of time though, the big record companies saw ‘Well not only here’s a band, but here is someone who’s gonna promote ’em and pay that money’ so they moved off to Elektra. From what we understand they actually never paid the guy back, and ripped the guy off who gave them a start.
“You can put every one of those bands in a hat, and I have little respect for any of them. Those hair bands were a joke. We played with Ratt, with all these creepy bands, and they were just disgusting. Not only that, they screwed us on the sound. Like I said, I’m reading a book right now by Martin Popoff on all these old heavy metal bands that Greg gave me called Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972, and in there is Captain Beyond. As a matter of fact, I talked to him the other day. He told me that when he puts out the 1980 version of Ye Olde Metal he’s gonna put a Cirith Ungol section in there, but Captain Beyond said that they played the Hollywood Bowl with Alice Cooper. They screwed them on the sound and the lights, and that was our life story. Every time we opened up for a band, they’d go ‘You can use half the mixing board, and we’ll give you three lights.’ We’re playing at a big concert or let’s say a big club in Los Angeles, and you have half the sound and half the lights.”
Tim Baker (1983)
“Gamesmanship sucked back in those days,” Tim complains. “It’s probably the same now, but everybody just had to make sure that you looked like shit so they could make themselves look a little bit better. That was just part of the games, but it didn’t really bother us. We’d just crank it up, and just blow their heads off.”
“I’ll tell you.. Not a lot of good videos exist of us,” Rob admits. “The one on the DVD is actually okay, but when our band was playing at its peak and when we were on our game, with any band we played with or at at any show we played we’d just blow people away. I’m not bragging and I’m not just trying to be overly confident, but Tim’s voice was like a razorblade. We always had giant amps so we were just blasting, and I’d be beating my drums. I used to play drums so hard I’d actually cut my hands, and I’d have blood all over my drum set for a while.”
Much of the material included on Cirith Ungol’s aforementioned inaugural full-length – April 1980’s Frost And Fire – was composed by guitarist Greg Lindstrom. “We had this $500 from the Battle Of The Bands, and we actually came in third,” Rob divulges. “There’s a funny story to that. With the band that won, their amps blew up or something, so we loaned them an amp. It was primitive back in the 70s, and most of the other bands in town were pretty crappy. We actually had a couple of people that were good roadies, and even Tim was a roadie for a while. We played somewhere and I think we would’ve came in first place, but we loaned one of our amps to this other band. Basically with Battle Of The Bands’ back then, they wanted bands to play dances so that guys and girls could get together. This is like a beach town, so they wouldn’t have a concert but a dance so some guy could make some money off of all the young kids in town. It’s not like a prom but more like a dance, and everyone would show up drunk or get stoned or whatever and go dancing together.
“Obviously our music wasn’t dance music, and this is where I’ll throw in something that Tim can back up. We were playing one of these Battle Of The Bands or something, and some people were actually dancing to our music. I used to sing background vocals, and sometimes I would yell out something in my microphone. I remember yelling out at these guys in the crowd, going ‘All you dancing fools sit down’ or something like that. A lot of guys have been getting laughs at that over the years, but someone asked me recently in an interview ‘How did you want your audiences to react?’ I saw Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl and Emerson, Lake And Palmer at Long Beach Arena, and with a lot of these big concerts the actual audiences were pretty much awestruck. People weren’t dancing, and there was no headbanging. Back then a lot of people were smoking pot, so a lot of people were stoned. They were sitting in their seats almost like they were mesmerised by the music, almost as if you went to a symphony in concert. The fact that some people were almost dancing to our music was almost insulting to me. You wouldn’t dance at a Beethoven symphony.
“We had this $500, and we borrowed money from our friends. We’re thinking ‘Okay, if we’re gonna make it big we’re gonna have to get some airplay and get signed to a big label,’ because even on this independent label that we were on they were never gonna give us tour support and there was no money involved. They were just gonna release our records, or sell them to Europe. The plan was to make a record that was acceptable. Out here at the time, if you didn’t get airplay you were nothing and you couldn’t get signed – you couldn’t get anything. There were some heavy rock stations who’d play ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath (from the September 1970 album of the same name) or at least some of the top hits by some of the heavy bands, so we put out Frost And Fire using almost all of Greg’s songs.
“Even though we had a bunch of other songs which finally showed up on King Of The Dead, a lot of the songs Greg wrote seemed to be more commercially viable. Some of the songs like ‘Better Off Dead’ and ‘Maybe That’s Why’ had lyrics that we thought were commercially acceptable, so we put out this record. The one station in LA – KRLA that played a lot of rock stuff – played it a couple of times, and then they said ‘This is way too heavy stuff – we can’t play this.’ At that time Greg was leaving the band, because he decided that he wanted to go in a different direction. We wanted to go even heavier, so we’re going ‘Shit, if that was our commercial stuff and it was too heavy.’ We decided that it was bullshit, and said ‘With our next album, we’re gonna do it the way we want to do it.’”
“Like Rob was saying, Frost And Fire was never meant to be an album that was on sale to the public,” Tim reminds. “It was our attempt to get a record deal with a big company, so that’s why it’s more like a demo for us. At the time the only way to get a record deal was to put together cassettes, and send them to record companies. They’d throw them in the trash, and then we’d send another cassette to another record company or management company and they’d throw it in the trash. We thought that if we put out a real album – the whole professional looking thing – and shopped that around, it would show these guys that we were on the ball and this is what we could actually do. It was never meant to be a general release to the public, but was more of a demo to get a record deal. Like Rob said, it just kind of evolved into getting released to the public and just steamrolled from there into the next couple of records.”
“Tim was mentioning this, and I totally agree,” Rob concurs. “We thought this was gonna get our foot in the door, because you asked what we did for all these years before we put out our first record. We were driving down to LA, we were sitting in front of record companies. One of us would run in past security, and try to get our cassette on their desk. Ted Templeman who did Montrose’s first album (Montrose, October 1973) was a good producer, and I kept sending him copies of tapes. There was this one guy who worked for Apple Records, and he kept going down to all these concerts trying to get backstage to talk to the managers.
Greg Lindstrom (1981)
“We met Rush; Rush was playing at the Whisky A-Go-Go, and we were trying to get to play down the Whisky A-Go-Go. One of our friends goes ‘Hey, there’s this band from Canada called Rush who’s really good,’ so we go ‘Well, let’s go down and see them and we’ll talk to the booking agent.’ When we showed up that night we were the only ones there to see Rush, so if you can believe this, Rush was playing at the Whisky A-Go-Go and there was like four people in the crowd, and it was all the members of Cirith Ungol (laughs). We actually went backstage, met the guys in Rush, hung out, and kind of made a little bit of friends with them. We were asking them ‘How do we break into the big time?’ They go ‘Well, there’s this big music convention in LA. Maybe you should go down there, schmooze the guys, and hang out,’ so we’d go to all these weird functions. We always had all these cassette tapes of the band, and they were getting us nowhere.”
“That’s really why Frost And Fire came about,” Tim adds.
“And right about that time though, like I said, we were one of the first bands to do that,” Rob continues. “After we released our first album – maybe it was happening all together, or maybe people saw what we did – within a matter of six months of us releasing our first album Mötley Crüe had an album out (Too Fast For Love, November 1981), Brian had his first album out. They saw that these big record companies didn’t have a big stranglehold any more on at least the distribution of albums. Maybe they could still have stopped them from being played on the air, but if you make your own records you can get it out there. Right now a similar thing is happening with the internet. You don’t even need to make a record any more; all you have to do is have a website and have music, and people can download it.”
Bass parts on Frost And Fire were actually handled by Greg as well. “It was kind of a weird situation because we had already laid down the tracks if I remember right, and at the same time we recruited Flint (Michael Vujea, bass until 1987) from another band,” Tim clarifies. “We’d known him for a while. We’d played gigs together with the band that he used to be in, and we always liked his bass playing. We’d say ‘Hey, someday we’re gonna steal you away.’ Greg really wanted to play guitar – I guess nobody really wants to play bass (laughs). We thought ‘We need a bass player right now. We’ve got two guitar players, Greg and Jerry.’ At the time Flint didn’t really know the songs that well, and with Greg – like I said – they were basically all his songs, because he had written them and played them. That’s how that evolved. As for Flint though, he’d been playing the songs for a while before the record came out and he played just as well as Greg, if not better. There was no harm in putting his name on there, and nobody else had any issues with it either. It could’ve been either him or Greg that played, and it would’ve came out just as good. That’s how that came about.”
“Greg was always a good guy,” Rob compliments. “Even though he left the band… I feel badly about every guy that left the band and I have all sorts of regrets and ill feelings, but Greg was cool. He played on the album but Flint was our bass player, so he goes ‘We’ll credit him on the album.’”
“No harm, no foul,” Tim reckons.
“And Greg did some pretty radically bass things on ‘Better Off Dead’ and stuff,” Rob feels. “There’s some cool bass stuff on there but for anyone who doubts Flint’s playing ability, if you listen to the bass intro on ‘Master Of The Pit’ on King Of The Dead then you’ll hear a lot of his good bass playing.”
Fantasy cover artist Michael Whelan designed the artwork for Frost And Fire, a relationship which lasted through all four of Cirith Ungol’s studio affairs. Later on, Michael designed artwork for groups like Sepultura, Soulfly, Obituary, Evile, and Meat Loaf. “We wanted to put out a record, and had already finished recording,” Rob tells. “The cover that I wanted actually was… I liked fantasy literature; we were reading a lot of Conan The Barbarian (by Robert E. Howard), and Elric (Of Melniboné) by Michael Moorcock – a famous English author. We were reading all this sword and sorcery fantasy stuff, and once again, Greg was a guy who’d go ‘Read this book.’ He’d hand me Stormbringer(1965, Michael Moorcock) or something like that, and I’d read it and be like ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ I was reading all the Conan books, and one of the Conan books had a cover by Frank Frazetta called Berserker. It shows a guy on his horse, and he’s jumping over all these dead bodies. He’s got a sword over his head, and he’s like a half-goblin monster guy. We go ‘Wow, this is really cool,’ but almost at that very exact same time a band in the United States – some Southern rock band called Molly Hatchet – came out with this cover (for September 1980’s Beatin’ The Odds, Hatchet’s third album). We’re like ‘Oh damn, that’s what we wanted.’
“We never contacted the guy so we never really knew how to get hold of him, but we were saying ‘If we could use this, this is what we would use.’ In fact, one of our influences – the band Dust that was from New York – had one of Frank Frazetta’s pictures (Snow Giants) of three giant dwarf trolls or something fighting on top of a mountain in the snow. That was on their second album Hard Attack (1972) and that was from the same painter, and we were going ‘This is cool.’ After Molly Hatchet came out with that album, we were going ‘Hey, what are we gonna put on here?’ I was reading Stormbringer and I’m looking at this going ‘Man, this is better than anything we could ever use,’ so I wrote to a publishing company and they put us in touch with Michael Whelan.”
“Nobody had asked him to do a cover up until that time, which is kind of amazing because his stuff was so great,” Tim exalts.
“He was mainly doing book covers,” Rob informs. “Horror books like H.P. Lovecraft, and he did almost all of the original Moorcock books. They’re pretty amazing paintings, so we actually made friends with him. I kind of feel bad for Michael because, once again, our hope for us was to become really big and famous, and all these people that had supported us and stood by us… He had the actual painting for Stormbringer, and I said ‘I wanna buy that.’ He said ‘I’m gonna hang onto it because it’s my favourite painting.’ I go ‘Someday when I’m rich I’m gonna pay you whatever,’ and goes ‘Don’t worry. Okay.’ We never made it big though. Him allowing us to use his paintings on our records I think really helped the band, and I believe that actually they fit our music. It’s not like he was giving us any kind of charity or anything, but I don’t think we ever compensated him thoroughly for the paintings that he allowed us to use.”
King Of The Dead (1984)
Greg Lindstrom departed in 1982, Cirith Ungol becoming a quartet. “Greg was a really smart guy who wanted to be an engineer,” Tim reveals. “That’s what he is today – he’s an engineer. He was going off to college, and we were going in a different direction. We wanted to play a little bit more heavier stuff, so it was kind of a good time for it to happen. He went to college, and we just reformed, regrouped and got on with it, and got heavier and better as the years went on.”
“When he went away to college it wasn’t that far away,” Rob notes. “We still practised every weekend, but his influences were changing. At the time that new wave stuff was coming out. I’m not gonna insult Greg by saying he was listening to new wave music because he wasn’t, but there were a bunch of bands that were coming out.”
“Even if you listen to Frost And Fire, some of the stuff has a lot of weird synth keyboards and quirky stuff,” Tim judges. “It kind of reminds me of The Cars or something, and I didn’t wanna be The Cars (laughs).”
“We also wanted to move to Los Angeles,” Rob acknowledges. “I’ll tell you: one of the reasons we never made it big was because we didn’t live in Los Angeles. We’re like around an hour up the coast, and I like to try to tell people we’re the last civilised outpost before you get to Los Angeles. I don’t know if you’ve been to Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is like a giant city that maybe stands a 1,000 square miles – you can drive for days without seeing a tree. There’s a lot of rich people and a lot of nice areas, but it’s also so large and so congested and confusing, and back then really polluted and stuff. It was kind of creepy. We live right on the ocean, and we’re around an hour north of there. There’s trees, hills. There’s not that many people living here; there’s fresh air.”
“As far as playing and stuff, there’s a lot of people competing for the same slots at all the clubs down there,” Tim expounds. “Actually for a time, the clubs down there – the Whisky A-Go-Go, the Troubadour, the Starwood, and all these clubs – would encourage you to play. They would make you pay in advance for your slot to play, and they would make you sell tickets. If you didn’t make your money back, then that was just tough shit. That was kind of a turn off for a lot of bands, too. I think they changed their policy now because they figure they’re gonna make money anyway from drinks or whatever, but it was just outrageous at the time. All these bands were fighting for the same little slots, and these guys were holding this over your head that you had to come down and pay to play. You’d play on a Wednesday night at two in the morning and bring a bus load of your people down, and you wouldn’t get paid. It was just really outrageous. We made it down there a lot of the time to play gigs and stuff, but it was kind of tough to do.”
“That was coming in right near the end of our career, the pay to play thing,” Rob observes. “The way we got jobs was you’d go down there and hang out, and you’d try to get backstage and talk to the booking agent. You’d give him a cassette, and try to explain to him ‘Hey, we’re this big band. We’re playing all these shows and stuff. Will you let us play?’ We got to play some pretty good shows; we played the Roxy, we played the Starwood which was that famous place from the movie Wonderland (2003). But I’m not kidding, to get in there wasn’t easy. You’d spend six months courting these guys almost like you were gonna marry them just to get a gig, and then we’d have to print up posters and tell everyone, and a lot of people would come to our shows. A lot of people look at the last video on the web of us playing here in our hometown, but that was the last show we played and the band was breaking up. There were only a few people there, but most of the shows we played in Los Angeles were in small clubs and they were packed to the guilds.”
July 1984’s King Of The Dead – Cirith Ungol’s sophomore album – is generally viewed as their greatest. “That’s the general consensus of most people, and most of our fans,” Tim agrees. “It’s got a lot of good stuff on it. Yeah, I like all of our albums and they all have some great stuff on them. Really, any of them with Jerry Fogle on them are great, and Jimmy (Barraza, guitars from 1998 until 1992) too. Most people are in consensus that this is our best album, and there’s some really good stuff on there. You can’t deny how great ‘Master Of The Pit’, ‘King Of The Dead’, and ‘Finger Of Scorn’ are. There was a new energy in the band with Flint and everything, and we decided that we wanted to do what we wanted to do, which was get really heavy and epic. I think that came across on King Of The Dead, and that’s why people still love it to this day.”
“I go on Amazon and write reviews – small ones – but I try to make them really truthful, and here’s what I like about King Of The Dead,” Rob begins. “My parents actually loaned us some money for it which we paid back, and once again my poor mom is really sick. She may not make it much longer and my dad’s gone, but if they hadn’t paid for that album we couldn’t have done it. We paid for it, we produced it, and we mixed it. I don’t know if you’ve heard the stories about Paradise Lost (August 1991, Cirith Ungol’s fourth and final studio album), but on Paradise Lost each member wasn’t even allowed to be in the recording studio while the other guys were recording. On King Of The Dead every night all of us would go down there, we’d listen to the tapes, and do guitar overdubs. Tim would sing along and we’d go ‘Yeah man, that’s great,’ or Jerry would play a guitar riff and we’d go ‘Oh, that don’t sound good.’ He’d redo it, and we’d go ‘Oh, that’s really great.’
Cirith Ungol live in rehearsal circa 1983 (l-r): Michael “Flint” Vujea, Tim Baker
and Jerry Fogle
“It was the first and last album that we had a 100% control over because we paid for it, we recorded it, and we mixed it. There was no-one telling us what to do. Getting back to Jerry, Jerry has passed away now but I tell everyone this, and this is what I want people to do. If you listen to King Of The Dead then listen to the double lead guitar solo on ‘Cirith Ungol’, the song named after the band. That to me is Jerry’s finest hour, where he’s playing two leads intertwined and there’s so much emotion involved. Once again, that’s why I liked Mountain and bands like that. It wasn’t how fast Leslie West played the guitar, but how much feeling he put into every note and guys like Jerry. I know Leslie West was one of his heroes, but if you listen to those kinds of guitarists it’s almost like it’s singing like a person. Once again it’s not how fast he played or maybe even how perfect he played, but it’s how much emotion that travels from the musician into the music.”
“I think that’s what people get out of King Of The Dead too, that they can feel all that passion and everything that we put into it,” Tim guesses. “I think that’s why it’s a lot of people’s favourite. Frost And Fire was never supposed to be an album, so it was a conglomeration of things at the time that we thought would be more of a commercial effort to get a record deal. Like Rob just said right there, King Of The Dead was a group effort that we really felt passionate about. We wanted to show people ‘Screw all this commercial crap; let’s do the heaviest thing that we can do, and the best thing that’s ever been done.’ That’s King Of The Dead.”
Third outing One Foot In Hell arrived in August 1986, the only Cirith Ungol studio affair to be originally released by Metal Blade Records. “Great,” Tim proclaims of One Foot In Hell. “I like it. It’s a bit different than King Of The Dead. I think we had matured a little bit by then, and kind of had it down a little bit. It’s a little bit heavier and faster, I think. I don’t know why. It was just the way we felt like playing at that time. By that time Flint had been in the band for a while, and we were all really involved in doing the songwriting together.
“I think it’s got some really good stuff on it, some really crazy guitar stuff from Jerry, stuff like ‘War Eternal’ with a long freaking double guitar solo in it. As a matter of fact, during the recording process it must’ve taken weeks to do some of this stuff because Jerry would be in there just doing leads, leads, and leads and we’d just be going ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do more.’ It would just take forever to do some of that stuff. I think it’s a great record too, and I actually listen to it all the time. Some of my favourite stuff is on there; me and Rob wrote ‘Doomed Planet’ together and that’s one of my favourite songs, especially some of the vocal work on it – Rob doing the crazy background stuff with me. There’s some great songs on that album; we’d start off concerts with ‘Blood & Iron’, so it’s one of my favourites. The artwork on the album is obviously great, too. All those covers by Michael Whelan are just fantastic, and I’m sure a lot of our fans had no idea who he was. Maybe someone was sifting through the record bin and came across something like that, a giant fly-god sitting on a throne while a guy is hitting him with a glowing sword. It’s like ‘Geez, I’ve gotta hear what’s inside of this.’”
“We wrote ‘Doomed Planet’, so when the planet is over we want credit for that,” Rob chuckles. “We signed with Brian on that one. I’m not really sure what happened, but for some reason we did that on Metal Blade and I don’t know why we didn’t go back to Metal Blade after that – whether they didn’t want us, or whether we didn’t sell enough records. I agree though, I like it. The music is as good as King Of The Dead, but I don’t think it sounds as good. I think some of that could be attributed to… When we recorded King Of The Dead we had all the time that we needed, and we actually went down to Los Angeles to a bigger recording studio.
“Getting back to Martin Popoff’s book on these bands, I’m reading about some of these things about MC5 or whoever… They go ‘If you record the album and don’t like it, we’ll do it over,’ and so they record it and say they don’t like it, but they go ‘Well, it’s a wrap.’ We went down there and threw down some basic tracks, and once you do that you can’t really go back and change them. Once again, I hate to keep going back on this book because Tim hasn’t read it yet… With Captain Beyond on their first album, they had an engineer that had never been an engineer before. They recorded the whole album out of faith, and so they had to spend thousands of dollars trying to get it to sound good. We didn’t have any of those really, really bad problems, but once you record a basic track you can’t go back and change anything to it. I agree with Tim though, that some of the best guitar work’s on there.”
One Foot In Hell (1986)
Perhaps a remix of One Foot In Hell would alleviate grievances with the album’s sound. “Metal Blade has the original tapes for that,” Rob responds. “I have all the original tapes for the first two albums, and Brian has the original tapes for One Foot In Hell. That’d be something they’d have to do. I do know this… We did have some experimental background vocals that didn’t make it on there, and they were pretty wild and I didn’t want to see them disappear. Brian did the final mix on that though; I’m not really unhappy with it, and I think every album has its own tone to it. I like King Of The Dead the best. I’m not picking on our other records but it stands out as the one I feel the proudest of, and maybe that’s because I feel like all of us as a group had the most to do with it. Once again, once we signed with Brian on Metal Blade and you bring in a record company and other people, there are more cooks working on the recipe. It doesn’t mean that the end results aren’t good, but just means that it takes less of the actual personality of the band and colours it with different influences.”
Swansong effort Paradise Lost saw the light of day in August 1991, though recording sessions didn’t run smoothly. “That was horrible,” Rob deplores. “We had a producer (Ron Goudie), and you can look on the record for his name – I don’t wanna really say bad stuff about people – but it took so long to do that we actually lost some members and that was horrible and stuff. Once again, on Servants Of Chaos there’s a copy of ‘Fire’ and a copy of ‘Fallen Idols’ that we did in our regular studio as a demo. That was to, once again, try to get big record companies interested in Paradise Lost. If you listen to those, I think the whole album would’ve sounded more like that than it did the way it came out. I was taken into the studio with a click machine and I played all the drum tracks to no music, just me humming the songs in my head to a metronome.”
“That’s no way to make a metal album,” Tim insists.
“It’s like taking Van Gogh, giving him a ruler, and putting a scarf over his head so he can’t see,” Rob surmises. “His lines are all gonna be straight, but that’s not the point. The point with this producer was your drumbeats have to be perfect and perfectly aligned with the computer, and to me that takes away. So anyway, that ruined the whole album for me. The guitar parts none of us listened to, Tim singing none of us heard. I actually cried when I heard the album for the first time. It wasn’t bad. We kind of felt upbeat because at least we had another record out, but I look back on it and what destroyed that album was the way we recorded it. Once again, we had a producer tell us how to do it. I mentioned this in another interview… Every time I complained ‘You know what? This is bullshit. I’m not gonna do this.’ The guy said ‘Well, we can just cancel the whole deal right now.’ That was the alternative; either do it their way, or you aren’t gonna do it. The best part on that is probably Jimmy’s guitar playing. Jimmy did some unbelievable guitar stuff on there.”
“It’s really a tragedy that things didn’t work out with Jerry, because our original plan was to have Jimmy and Jerry in the band together,” Tim concedes. “It’s too bad that that never really worked out; that would’ve been frickin’ awesome.”
Bassist Michael ‘Flint’ Vujea nor guitarist Jerry Fogle performed on Paradise Lost, having parted ways with Cirith Ungol by that time. “Flint was kind of getting disillusioned with the whole thing,” Tim affirms. “Like Rob has said, it was always a struggle to get things done, to get records. It just took so long to do it and as far as jamming and stuff, he just got frustrated with the whole thing I think. He was more influenced by thrash in a way at that time, and wanted to play a little bit more of that kind of style. He went his own way for a while and I think he was in another band for a while, but he never really did any recordings or stuff. It was just a disillusionment thing with Flint I think, and he was just frustrated with the way things were not happening. As far as Jerry goes though, like I said, our plan was to have all of us together and have Jimmy on guitar too. At the time Jerry was battling with alcohol and stuff and that’s what killed him eventually, but I think he saw when we started bringing Jimmy around and didn’t really get what we wanted to do. Me and Rob were saying ‘This is gonna be awesome.’ Jerry wouldn’t have had to do the rhythms, but could have just done his thing. We could’ve let him shred and just do his thing.
“I don’t know if he thought of it as a threat to him or whatever, but it never really worked out. He just decided to not be involved in that situation, and it wasn’t that long after that I think that he really got bad with the alcohol, and then it finally killed him. It’s too bad that it worked out like that and it sucks that he’s dead, but at least he left a really great legacy of some really great stuff on those first three records. It’s too bad – like I said – that we never really got the band to go like that because it would’ve been me, Rob, Flint, Jimmy, and Jerry. There’s nothing that we couldn’t have done. It would’ve been awesome.”
“I keep going back to this Ye Olde Metal book that I’m reading,” Rob confesses. “A lot of these big bands that we worshipped lasted through one record and maybe like a year of touring or a couple of years, and then they were over. At least some of the bands had these really short life spans. By the time Flint had left we had been together in the band for ten to 15 years, and I can’t remember exactly the date. We had a band room and we were paying rent, and we were all working full-time jobs and had girlfriends. We would get together three to four nights a week and practise. We were getting hundreds of fan letters a day so we were writing them back and sending them stickers, and so we were paying for all the postage and stuff. Every month I’m hitting the guys up, needing $100 for postage. At one time a year went by and Jerry didn’t even pay his band rent, so I paid it for him. I’m asking money of these guys all the time, and we had a nice band room; we had red carpet, we had lights, it was custom built, and you could throw a rock to where the recording studio was. We’d have people come over, and we’d have parties there and stuff. We had a little dressing room and a bar in it, so we had this really great place.”
“But after a while, it’s frustrating when you’re there and you’re practising and doing all this kind of stuff, and you never see anything happening to go anywhere,” Tim recognises. “We would put out a record and have high hopes, going ‘Oh, this is gonna be great,’ and then we’d sell some. We’d never get any money or promotion from the record company, and then we’d struggle for another couple of years writing good material, practising, and trying to get gigs. It was a whole cycle of stuff and after so many years – like Rob said – Flint got disillusioned with it, and I think Jerry did in a way too. When everybody else faded away, the last two guys standing were me and Rob. We were standing in the band room, going ‘Well, I guess it’s over.’ That was the end of the band, but like I said, there was a lot of stuff that went on behind the scenes. Like Rob said, the band had been together for years and years; it was a lot of frustration along with the good times as well and stuff, but after beating your head against a wall for so long some people do tend to give up.”
“Here’s a question I ask and I don’t wanna get personal with you, but would you work at a job for 15 years without a pay cheque?,” Rob queries. “We actually not only worked at this – and it was our dream and our life goal to get this band going – but we never, ever got any money for it. As a matter of fact, every time we played a show… Let’s say we got paid $500 for the show, or maybe $300 back then. We had to rent a smoke machine, we had to get a truck, we had to put up posters, we had to call our friends up, and we had to pay for gasoline and bass guitar strings and drum sticks. After every concert that we played, I’d go ‘Can each of you pitch in $100 (laughs)?’
“We’d show up at seven in the morning at the place we’re supposed to play, and we were supposed to be going on at nine as the first opening act. We’d unload all of our shit and the time comes for us to have a soundcheck, and the bigger band decides that we’re not gonna get a soundcheck and we’re not gonna get a dressing room. We get home the next morning at three or four in the morning, and every one of us… I can’t speak for all of us, but I’m pretty sure… Here’s what I did; I got home at three to four in the morning, we’d put all the band equipment away, I’d go to bed for an hour or two, and then I’d get up and work another eight to ten hours at a regular job. None of us are rocket scientists, so we’d be working real jobs.”
Paradise Lost (1991)
Many aspiring musicians would’ve thrown in the towel much earlier; without doubt, a love of the music must’ve been the driving force behind Cirith Ungol. “That’s what kept us going for all that time,” Tim accedes. “We really thought that we had something to give to people when we were really into the music and stuff, and that’s why we suffered through all that crap. Like I said, at least we have a legacy of some really good stuff and people can enjoy it forever. That makes it worthwhile. When you look back on it, you can look back on it and take all this crap, the bad shit that happened and everything, the frustration and everything… But then again, you pop in King Of The Dead or something and you start listening to that opening riff of King Of The Dead with Jerry doing his guitar shit. You go ‘Well, it was all worth it.’”
Handling bass on Paradise Lost was Vernon Green. “What happened was after all the other guys left, we put out ads and guys would show up,” Rob exposes. “Vern was a great guy, and the other two guys in the band were great guys. The problem was they were just short-term guys who came in.”
“It was kind of a last grasp by me and Rob to keep something going,” Tim accepts.
“It’s like a relationship breaking up, and deciding you’re going to have kids to try to stay together,” Rob grants.
“It was just an endgame type thing, and it was never gonna really pan out I don’t think,” Tim scrutinises. “Like I said, we were just grasping at straws at that time because Flint had left, Jerry had left. Jimmy was a great guitar player and stuff, but…”
“Every one of these guys quit,” Rob evaluates. “Jerry quit, Flint quit, Jimmy quit, Joe and Bob. All of these guys quit, so when you walk away from something… Almost every one of those guys… Vern’s still in my hometown, and he goes ‘Yeah, let’s come over and jam.’ I tell this to Flint too: ‘If you would have never left the band, maybe we would’ve made it.’ It’s too late to go back and see what things would’ve been like, but what I would like to focus on is the original group and the first three albums because that’s what I see our legacy as. Even though Paradise Losthad really good material… I don’t dislike the record, because there’s some really good parts on there. I still feel like I was run over by a truck doing it, and so when you get run over by a truck…”
“You don’t have strong feelings for that truck,” Tim laughs.
Credited as session musicians on Paradise Lost are guitarist Joe Malatesta and bassist Robert L. Warrenburg, as Rob alluded to. “Basically what they did is split before the record was actually even released, so we got Vern and so on in the band,” Rob imparts. “That might’ve been another reason we got dropped from the record label, because our band was starting to disintegrate at the very end. I know both those guys were great musicians and they were competent…”
“We might’ve played just a couple of gigs with them, that’s how long those guys lasted,” Tim relates. “It was kind of a weird thing.”
“I have some funny stories about Joe though,” Rob enlightens. “Joe was a Ted Nugent looking guy, and he would always show up in ripped denim blue jeans or something and a ripped shirt. At one show we said ‘This ain’t working. We don’t want you dressing up, but you’ve at least got to wear something more than a ripped T-shirt.’ He showed up at the concert that night, and he had this whole outfit on that actually looked really… I can’t even remember what it was, but…”
“It looked like something Angel would wear,” Tim chortles.
Originally a UK number one and US number two for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in August and October 1968 respectively, a cover interpretation of ‘Fire’ was included on Paradise Lost. “Both me and Tim have roots going back to the early days of psychedelia, like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and all that stuff,” Rob conveys. “Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’ was a pretty big hit here.”
“It was played pretty regularly on the radio in the 60s,” Tim highlights. “We were looking for a cover song to do just for the hell of it. Every album we did had something to do with fire on, so we thought ‘Why don’t we just do ‘Fire’?’”
“Getting back to Servants Of Chaos, the version on there is actually the demo version which Flint plays on,” Rob emphasises. “Jimmy’s on there on guitar, and I think it’s really good.”
The label handling the issue of Paradise Lost was Restless Records. “Here’s what happened,” Rob commences. “Enigma got sold to Capitol Records – they had Ratt and all these bands on there – but then the guys reformed as Restless, and this is the tragedy of our band. It’s like an abused wife going back and getting beaten by her husband over and over again. When we had the material for Paradise Lost we were going down to LA, and once again, we’re trying to find someone to actually put the record out. We have nowhere to go to except our abusive old husband, right? We show up at Restless Records, and they decided to put out the record. The reason why Flint quit the band, it took so long to do that, and the reason why we had all these other members in the band was because Restless was going through this lawsuit with Capitol and there was all this crap going on.
Jerry Fogle (1983)
“It basically took us three years to get all that crap settled before they were actually ready to let us go into the studio, and the studio we recorded at – which was right across the alley from our band room – were putting in a new mixing console and doing some stuff. That took six months to a year. By that time, like I said, when we were ready to do Paradise Lost Jerry would’ve been in the band and Flint would’ve still been in the band. By that time Flint left and Jerry left though, and Jimmy was in the band. That’s how that thing came about, but once again we were still stuck on the same company who didn’t really wanna spend any money on us.”
Roadrunner Records was approached to oversee a European release of Paradise Lost. “When Paradise Lostcame out Restless was doing nothing for the band, and we actually signed a three-record deal with them supposedly,” Rob denounces. “They go ‘If you guys are gonna do anything, you’ve gotta get this out in Europe,’ and I said ‘Well look, you guys are the record company. You guys should be getting it released or licensed in Europe.’ They said ‘We can’t find anyone to do it,’ so I actually called up the guy at Roadrunner Records. I guess they listened to it, and they said something like ‘It’s the same old crap, and we’re not interested in it.’ As soon as Roadrunner wouldn’t release it in Europe, within a matter of weeks we got a letter from Restless saying that they were dropping us from the label. We had a contract that had an opt-out clause or something in, so they dropped us.
“That was kind of sad, but I think all of our influences were from Europe pretty much. There were some American bands, but we were pretty heavy on European bands like Uriah Heep, Savoy Brown, and bands like that. A lot of our influences are from there, so I think it’s actually no secret that we were playing for the European crowd because we didn’t see fans in America listening to our music. We thought the same people that listened to our music were in Europe, and that’s my biggest regret. My dream was to go to play in Europe, and we never really made it. I think if we would’ve gone over there…”
“People still ask us today to go over there,” Tim mentions. “Like Rob was saying, a lot of our favourite bands were all European bands. Scorpions, Lucifer’s Friend, and all this kind of stuff. That’s what we listened to, that’s what we really wanted to be like, and we really regret not ever being able to go over there.”
“We were the only guys over here listening to that,” Rob estimates. “Well, not the only guys, but we’d go down to Los Angeles and we had friends at these record stores. They’d go ‘Lucifer’s Friend; we have one copy, and it’s a European import.’ It’s not like all these metalheads that lived in LA were there. There were just a handful of people that were actually listening to that, and I’m not judging the music by that because all the music that we’re talking about is epic. The American public is still not the most faithful group of people though, and I’m not speaking for all of us. I’m just speaking for the majority of Americans.”
By May 1992, the straw had broken the camel’s back. “We had been together for so long, and when all the guys quit I was actually crying,” Rob confides. “Jimmy was the last guy to quit; he said ‘I’m quitting the band,’ so he took his stuff. We’re sitting in the band room, and I had this drum set that was given to me by Pearl Drums which was a birchwood painted red – it had like 20 cymbals. I had this unbelievable drum set, and I just thought ‘My god, I’m sitting here looking at it and we don’t even have a band.’ Tim and I were trying to decide ‘Are we gonna do this? Are we gonna get a bunch of more young kids in the band, and try to teach them to play our songs?’”
“And in the meantime, like Rob said, we had overheads,” Tim cautions. “We had a studio, and we had to pay rent on that and all kinds of stuff. It certainly didn’t end like we wanted it to.”
“You may not have noticed, but about every ten years the United States causes a worldwide recession for the rest of you guys,” Rob jokes. “We went through two to three of those in the band. I can’t remember exactly when the band broke up – it was in 1991, 1992 if I’m not mistaken – but we were going through another one of those periods where we were kinda broke. There wasn’t much money around, and we’re just looking at each other going ‘How much longer can we keep this shit on without any kind of support?’”
“Without any support from a record label, or anybody else,” Tim stresses. “It was always so frustrating.”
“If the original guys had stayed together,” Rob begins. “Even if Jimmy had stayed in the band… If the core group would’ve been together, we might’ve kept going. Let’s say if Flint and Jerry had never quit the band, and Jerry had never died, I could still see us being together today like Blue Cheer or something. It would’ve been like keeping the original marriage together, but when you’re on your third wife sometimes there’s not that much left.”
In the almost 20 intervening years between May 1992 and the conduction of this interview, normal, everyday jobs have taken up much of Tim and Rob’s time. “I’ve just been working a normal job,” Tim proclaims. “I got a family and a house, and kids and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been putting them through school and everything, so that’s been my focus. With the growth of social media and everything, now that everybody’s on Facebook I get stuff all the time – mostly from guys in Europe – to do festivals. ‘When are you guys gonna get together, and come over here and play? Get Cirith Ungol over here to our festival, and we’ll pay your way. We’ll pay for this, this, and this.’ It’s kind of hard to do when Rob doesn’t have a drum set, and the only singing I do is when I play Rock Band with my kids. I just kind of lead a normal life, bills, the house, and the kids. Like I said, I get offers all the time. Maybe some day I’ll make it over to Europe, and me and Rob will come out in wheelchairs and introduce another band playing our stuff. There’s actually tribute bands in Europe that I know of in Greece and places like that that are doing our stuff, and that’s kind of a good thing for a tribute to us I guess.”
“I don’t know if you saw, but there was a tribute album that came out a few years ago named One Foot In Fire(August 2006) – it’s pretty cool,” Rob beams. “I called Tim up, and I said ‘Every one of these bands are playing our songs better than we did all those years ago.’ Crystal Viper, that was one of the bands.”
Servants Of Chaos (2001)
“A guy sent me something the other day, and there’s actually a band called Finger Of Scorn in Greece,” Tim attests. “It’s a tribute band, and they’re touring around Greece. There’s a few videos online, and they’re actually pretty good (laughs). I was watching them the other day and there are three songs online, and it’s actually pretty good. You kinda go ‘Gee, I wish we were still together,’ and these guys are doing a pretty good job of our songs.”
“Maybe we’ll get a free pass if they play somewhere local,” Rob muses.
“Like I said, we just live a kind of normal life,” Tim asserts. “We worked together on the DVD, and then Greg and Rob did Servants Of Chaos a couple of years ago. It’s nice that people still have an interest in our band, and we’ve actually put out something new that nobody’s ever seen before. Like I said, especially in Europe and stuff and most of the United States and the rest of the world never saw us play. Putting out this DVD which actually looks pretty good… And like Rob said before, the sound is pretty good. It’s a decent representation of the band, like right after King Of The Dead came out with Jerry kicking ass, and Flint and Rob kicking ass. It’s actually a really good thing that we have this out, and we wanna thank Brian for doing it because like Rob said, it would’ve been lost to history. At least this way people get an idea of shit that they never got to see, and at least they can see us now in a way.”
“I gotta throw a caveat to that whole thing,” Rob states. “Originally we paid the guy $20 to record it. We always used to get a cassette from the guy that did our sound so we could listen to it later, almost like a football game to see what things we could improve and what have you. The other joke about this is – this is a little secret, but not so much a secret anymore – cassettes are 45-minutes long. Our set was 45-minutes long, so when we first found this cassette I sat there and listened to the whole thing. Right on the last ten to 15 seconds of the show the tape runs out; it’s a Maxell tape with a cleaner thing on either end, but then the video keeps on going for another ten to 15 seconds. The guy that actually put this together – a guy here in our hometown who’s like a video guru – actually found on one of our other live songs another similar ending, and he kind of glued it on there. It’s kind of funny; the last ten to 15 seconds Tim is yelling out stuff like ‘We’ll see you next time,’ and he doesn’t have a microphone in his hand or anything.”
“The DVD looks really good and it sounds good, and it’s a good representation of that time in the band,” Tim senses. I hope everybody likes it.”
One wonders: what are those normal, everyday jobs? “What we do is not very impressive,” Rob maintains. “I work in the graphics industry, and I’m still working in the same job. I was working at that job and it was helping to pay the band’s bills when the band first had a record out, and I’m still doing the same thing. I work in a basement, and I’m doing graphic artwork and stuff.”
“We’re not doing anything glamorous,” Tim professes. “I work in the manufacturing industry.”
“The last concert I saw was probably one that we played at,” Rob tenders.
“I have a son who’s 21-years-old and I’ve been taking him to concerts since he was 15 to 16, which is kind of cool,” Tim believes. “‘Hey, there’s a band called Megadeth. Let’s go and see them’ and crap like that. I’ve taken him to see all the good shows, every band that comes around. It’s really good to have somebody to turn onto stuff, and him and his friends are into metal stuff too. He turned all of his friends onto our stuff, so it’s kind of cool.”
Following the demise of Cirith Ungol, Rob and Tim abandoned their musical pursuits altogether. “We’ve talked about it several times today, but after Jimmy left we’re sitting in the band room,” Rob starts. “I sold my drum set for $1,500, and to replace it today would probably cost about $20,000. We had this really bitchin’ Conn Strobe guitar tuner. I ferried it across the street to the recording studio, and what’s really funny is they’re still using it to this day. It’s not one of those cheap ones you plug into your guitar, and a green light comes on – you can actually tune pianos through it and stuff. We just moved out of the band room, and I sold my drum set. I swore I’d never touch a drum stick as long as there were bags in the music industry. I’ve kind of pushed myself into a corner on that one, but I want you to know that if Tim was willing to sing and we could do it then I would play.
“Just the logistics you’ve got to think about though; we don’t have any equipment, we have no place to practise, and we’re all working full-time jobs. To actually get us together to go put on a show somewhere though, what if we didn’t play as well as we wanted to? I think Tim’s thinking along the same lines as me. What we did, we did at a time in our lives when we were younger. We did it really good and we’re proud of it, but trying to go back and recreate that? As much as we want to, I don’t think it would make anyone happy and I think we would be afraid of disappointing the people that we want to not disappoint the most. That answers the question everyone asks us over and over, which is why we are not gonna reform or play. We’ve had offers, but still to get together and practise and do all that stuff? Like I said, to me it would be insurmountable to get all those logistics together.”
Original guitarist Jerry Fogle sadly passed away on August 20th, 1998, succumbing to liver failure. This hasn’t been a stumbling block in Cirith Ungol’s reformation, however. “He stopped playing long before the band broke up,” Rob warns. “After he quit the band, he stopped playing and he passed away. We were still together. If the original group was willing to play and wanted to do it, then we would. Since Tim is the singer though, it’s his decision also.”
Cirith Ungol live on stage in 1983
The November 2011 reissue of Servants Of Chaos might pave the way for future Cirith Ungol reissues. “This reissue of Servants Of Chaoswith the DVD…,” Tim hopes. “I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but the packaging is incredibly awesome. The release is a triple-disc set, it’s a double album and it’s got the DVD in. They’ve actually put out the double album vinyl – a full, fold-out gatefold vinyl in Europe – and it looks freakin’ fantastic. I’m really hoping that we can sell enough of these, and I know Metal Blade are actually doing some promotion because they send us links all the time to the stuff they’re doing to get it out there, and guys like you are helping. What I’m really hoping is that since we did this, maybe we can convince Brian. Like Rob said, we do have a couple of other videos that are from different shows; we have ones with Greg and Jerry together playing guitar with Flint, Rob, and me. I’m hoping that we can go back and maybe release some of the other records as a box set with another DVD in them, but time will tell if that’s gonna happen or not. That’s what I really hope will happen, though. If we can do a little business with this and get people interested in something else, hopefully we can go back and re-release those, put out another DVD, and see what happens from there.”
As to what will be penned in metal’s historical tomes regarding Cirith Ungol is up to both music historians and fans alike. “It’s just amazing to me that people are still interested and still want to do interviews,” Tim underlines. “We’re still doing reissues of stuff that we did all those years ago, so I guess it holds up well for people. To me it’s awesome music, and that’s why it holds up. We had a passion to do it; we did what we did from the heart, and we weren’t trying to be posers or fake, and put some shit out there just thinking people would buy it because it was commercial or whatever. We did what we wanted to do, and obviously a lot of people must’ve liked it because over the years we’ve heard reports about all these bands that we’ve supposedly influenced. Bands credit us for this, this, and that. I think that’s really our legacy as a band, putting out great albums. When people say ‘You guys were a big influence on us,’ it’s really weird. We never really sold that many records and we weren’t really ever that famous, but I guess the core group of people that are into us took what we had to offer and took it to whatever heights that they could take it to. I think that’s what our legacy is.”
“It’s just like when me and Tim or Greg were down in LA picking up a copy of Lucifer’s Friend or Sir Lord Baltimore, that one copy,” Rob deems. “Somewhere in England, Germany, Italy, France, or Greece, maybe some 13-year-old kid is picking up a CD of Frost And Fire or something. There’s a lot of junk out there and there’s a lot of crappy music but there’s a lot of good stuff too, and I hope that people… In some heavy metal encyclopaedias, they’ve said we’re the worst heavy metal band ever.”
“I take pride in that, because we were like iconoclasts,” Tim raves. “We didn’t do it to please anybody else. We did what we thought was good, heavy, epic music, and we were trying to put out the best music that we possibly could. I hope it’s held up all these years.”
“Just like when I put on one of those old Trapeze albums or Captain Beyond or Cactus or any of those bands, it still sounds as fresh today,” Rob brags. “I’m hoping that a newer generation of heavy metal listeners will pick up King Of The Dead, listen to it, and go ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”
“Or Servants Of Chaos, and say ‘This stuff sounds really good. Maybe I should check out the rest of their catalogue,’” Tim assumes. “Then they’ll find One Foot In Hell, King Of The Dead, or something, and see what happens. Like I said, I hope we can do something else in the future with Brian as far as reissuing stuff goes, but time will tell.”
Servants Of Chaos was re-released on November 18th, 2011 through Metal Blade Records.
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