Article Interview with Cirith Ungol and drummer Robert Garven • Published on Thu 02 Jul 2020

Cirith Ungol is one of the most iconic bands in the epic metal genre. It had achieved cult status not only because of the four masterpieces it gave us during the decade they performed and created, but because it had disappeared for almost thirty years without apparent reasons!

The four albums frost and fire (1981), king of the dead (1984), one foot in hell (1986) and paradise lost (1991) introduced a new epic sound different but marvellous and strong. Of course, the vinyl’s disappeared and had reached extraordinary prices during the years and I had them only in cassettes and later mp3s.

Fortunately, for us something changed and in 2016 the band reformed with the original line up that held true after so many years!

It is a great honour to present you Cirith Ungol and Mr Robert Garven drummer and founding member of the band.

LoO: welcome Mr Garven and thank you for playing epic metal for us!

Rob: It is a pleasure to be talking with you! Thank you for your longtime support of the band and our music! You can call me Rob, and surely the honor is all mine!

Comment: A true gentleman!

LoO: the new album is as if it came just after paradise lost and not twenty-five years had passed did you had unreleased material or had you managed to stopped time!

Rob: “Forever Black” is entirely new material, and we wanted it to be a proper successor to our line of studio albums. I don’t think we stopped time, as much as we continued from the bookmark in time, where we left off. The band had unfinished business, some of which was glimpsed on our release of the single, “Witch’s Game”, the song we wrote for the upcoming epic full-length animated metal movie. Many excited reviewers wished a new studio album would follow, and as soon as we heard those distant rumblings, we started seriously to pound the molten metal into shape which would become “Forever Black”.

Comment:

  1. I must check on that movie!
  2. It is amazing that the band never lost the connection to its roots and fans so that nothing changed despite the long hiatus!

LoO: what kept you so long from returning?

Rob: After the band broke up, all the members resumed their lives, careers and interests. I was so bitter at the professional music business experience, that I swore an oath never to play drums again! An oath I was happy to break when I was offered the opportunity to play again. For many years I would wake up sweating, having nightmares about the band, sometimes recording a new album, or working on my drums. I found it hard to see live rock bands as it made me want to be on stage again playing drums. So, in a way the reunion was a redemption for me, to return to something I loved.

Comment: Truth be told I have heard back at that time that you not only swore an oath never to play again fed up by the music industry but you have also buried your musical instruments never to touch them again, thankfully you decided to give the yourselves another chance and us another great album!

LoO: what brought you back together?

Rob: It is more like “who” brought the band back together. Jarvis Leatherby our current bass player and manager played a pivotal role in the reformation of the band. I had a friend Carl Valdez, who was the original drummer in a famous local punk band “Ill Repute”. He was friends with Jarvis, and told me that Jarvis wanted to meet, to discuss “Cirith Ungol”. We met, and I was amazed at his stories of touring with “Night Demon”. They had met many who still were interested in “Cirith Ungol”, especially on the continent. He suggested resurrecting the band. Jarvis was putting on a festival in our hometown of Ventura, California, the “Frost & Fire Festival I”, and had booked bands from all over the world 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) attended. The festival was a great success, and at the signing session many showed up with albums to be signed and it seemed a new generation had discovered our music, we had worked so hard on, for so many years.

Jarvis had invited Oliver Weinsheimer from the “Keep it True Festival” and after the signing session he wanted to talk to the members alone, so we 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 soul the fire of true metal burned, and we all decided to unleash the being called Ungol back onto the unsuspecting world!

Comment: Once again the continent (good old Europe) mother of epic music played a key role! I am afraid usa is not very favorable for epic metal preferring more commercial music, but still we cannot complain!

LoO: Why forever black isn’t even a little other color in you!

Rob: I love the whole spectrum of colors, I especially like red as that is the Italian racing color (I am a big fan of Ferrari), but the band chose “Forever Black” prophesizing the dark and foreboding future we see coming for humankind, if they don’t change their ways, which unfortunately is unfolding before our eyes…

Comment: I am not sure we will open our eyes unless it is just after the end but I am not worried we have endured more and maybe this will cleanse our society from all bad things, so let blackness come we have metal by our side!

LoO: Epic metal, especially, had seen many great returns, like Warlord and Manilla Road, after many years of absence. Do you feel (as I do) that modern era metal is lacking in guts and feeling and you still have a place in bringing in new fans and keeping metal alive?

Rob: I think there are many new bands out there playing incredible music. The problem is there is so much access to it all, that it is hard to take it all in. Sometimes it is easier to fall back on what you are familiar with, I do this myself, sometimes listening to music from years ago, instead of searching for new sounds. It is not an isolated instance, think of all the symphonies playing long dead composers, it doesn’t mean there are new ones making groundbreaking music, it seems looking back for inspiration always has been man’s culture of revering the past, while ignoring the present!

Comment: I do it as well, but I have great faith in the bands that form the NWOTHM. True metal will never die!

LoO: There is a new wave of traditional heavy metal, young bands that had chosen to go against the norm and their sound, lyrics and attitude is old school, are you aware of that?

Rob: Yes, and it is very encouraging to know the fate of this true metal is in their hands. Many of these bands we have been lucky to share the stage with, and as always true metal is an unstoppable force of nature!

Comment: After many years of bad bands and bad metal I see now hope!

LoO: besides your twenty-five years of absence there is a ten year of non-recording in your beginnings from 1971 to 1981 can we expect a compilation of very old stuff and unreleased demos from that era?

Rob: The reason we released so little material was we were very young about 13 years old and had just started the band. We were discovering ourselves and our style during those years playing infrequent shows and recording our songs. The best of which was all released on an album on Metal Blade Records released in 2001, “Servants of Chaos”. Many want to see more that older material and we gave everyone a taste of that with our recent release of “Brutish Manchild” on the Decibel Magazine flexi-disc. Some more may come out, but to be honest, the band would rather focus on new material. We slumbered so long, and not as young as we once were and we want to make up for lost time, not dig up the past! And we have lots of new material being forged in our underground lair!

Comment: Oh, the lair of Cirith ungol, what it may hide I wonder, yes I wonder!

LoO: There is no need to ask if you love M Moorcock’s Elric since you have four (or should I say five) of the best artworks on your covers and if you love Tolkien since you named your band after a place in middle earth, but I want to ask, since we are a book blog as well, how important is reading and books in your life, inspiration and entertainment?

Rob: Reading is one of the keys to learning and that is how our band got started, and how we got our name. Greg and I were in an advanced literature class in 7th grade and we were assigned to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s, “The Lord of the Rings”. It was a huge influence on us at the time and opened up the “Sword and Sorcery” genre of books, including Elric, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, etc! The original members of the band were all steeped in this literature. Jerry was also a big fan of Frank Herbert’s, “Dune”, and I was also a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft and all his work. I think you are perfectly correct when you say that was and is inspiration and entertainment.

Comment: I am proud to say that all these authors mentioned above form the great old ones series a tribute of myself through “land of oyr” to these shapers of modern fantasy literature namely R E Howard, J R R Tolkien, H P Lovecraft, M Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner ( my latest book – a forgotten giant of dark fantasy and horror) and Robert Herbert (my upcoming novel)!

LoO: I have read that besides M Moorcock and J R R Tolkien you also read R E Howard and Karl Edward Wagner (well we have these authors in common, as my first five epic fantasy books are tribute to them!) but I haven’t found songs about these two, so they are just influences?

Rob: I think they all were just influences. Some of our songs reference, “Lord of the Rings” or Elric series but I think we are trying to use more of our own creativity as much as possible. You are quite an accomplished author, and I see by looking at your books that we have some of the same tastes in literature!

Comment: We have more than just a taste but I wouldn’t call myself an accomplished author, just an unknown indie writer and self-publisher!

LoO: what is the last book you have read lately?

Rob: Like some of my music listening, I tend to read old favorites again. The last book I read technically is “In Pecking Order”, Budgies Dynamic Middle Years 1974-1979, by Chris Pike. Budgie was always one of our early influences and I am enjoying the book but as always stories of my favorite bands are always a bit depressing. Many times it is always the same story, great talent suffering through rough times! After I read books on other bands such as Thin Lizzy, Captain Beyond, etc. I am always struck by how tragic many of these stories are, much worse than anything we went through, and I am somewhat embarrassed by my complaining in the past!

Comment: I have never heard of Budgie but they seemed amazing I will hear whatever I can find on the net!

LoO: what are your plans for promoting the new album and how are you going to tour during the current tempest?

This is a nightmare unequalled in our lifetime, and many have suffered many the ultimate fate. Our hope is that we survive, and come out the other side stronger, and more appreciative of what we all have. We were looking forward to Oliver’s “Keep it True Festival”, in Germany which was to kick off a handful of select dates across the world but all of them have been cancelled or postponed. When the coast is clear we will start playing again!

Comment: We will await and when the time comes we will be by your side!

LoO: I hope there is a place in your plans for Greece when and if you can tour again but would you consider playing in a small legendary place in Agrinio named “metal union” beside a bigger gig in Athens (I ask as a favour for my town of birth)?

Rob: That would be fabulous! We played in Athens twice, and once in Thessaloniki. The Greek people and culture are amazing and we can’t wait till we get back!

Comment: We will keep in touch…

LoO: what are your plans for the future as a band, how you see yourselves in ten years?

Rob: When the band awakened from our ancient slumber we expected to play only a few shows as a reunion, however fate works in strange ways, leading us down a path of discovery! Who knows what the future holds? We still have some life left so maybe we will surprise the world with what is left up our sleeves!

Comment: Oh I am sure you will!

LoO: what kept you together as a band for so many years?

Rob: Well originally it was our common bond for the music, then we were apart for so many years. Now that we are back together, it is still the music, listening to, creating, and playing our own unique brand of what we consider true Heavy Metal!

Comment: The love for true metal, what else is there to be?

LoO: did you form other bands during the hiatus how did you do kept yourselves playing metal?

Rob: Greg was in a band Falcon which recorded two albums but the rest of us never played professionally until the reunion in 2015.

Comment: I am really surprised how you managed it?

LoO: the new album’s gatefold cover and large poster is from reusable paper (I presume) that besides feeling very nice in the touch is also eco-friendly (!) was this your idea or it is something metal blade is doing (because is great and it should become the norm from now on)?

Rob: The fantastic cover art we chose for the album, “Elric in Exile”, perfectly reflects the dark and brooding mood of this album. It shows Elric in a pensive mood crossing a lifeless wasteland, his cursed blade “Stormbringer” hanging behind him, with a lone raven hovering overhead. Unlike our other studio albums which featured large paintings used also for the 1980’s DAW Book editions of Elrić of Melnibone covers, this small painting was a study by Michael Whelan of Elric. For such a diminutive canvas the amount of detail and the mastery of the brushstrokes which the artists applied is astounding. Because of the size you can see the canvas detail easily, and the soft textured finish works well with the art.

Comment: I loved it from the first look!

LoO: finally, the new album not only is great music but is selling good as well how does that make you feel?

Rob: We are very happy to have been able to release a new album after so many years. I have no idea how well it is selling, but many of the reviews have been very positive. Once again, we wrote the music we wanted to hear, so the fact that a new generation and also original fans of the band are pleased, is very rewarding.

Comment: you give we take we give back, it’s the circle of artistic creation million years old!

Once again thanks for talking to us, thanks for playing true epic metal and I hope I see you live!

Rob: Viel, Thank you so much for your interest in “Cirith Ungol”. I hope if we make it back to Greece, the cradle of western civilization, you and your readers will make it out to our show. If we don’t make it to Agrinio, I hope that we can still meet. Too bad we cannot play at the ancient theater of Stratos! I am interested in your books and will pick one up to check it out!

Comment: wow what a delightful interview, heavy and full of information! It would be great to see each other and sign each other’s creations; I would be honored to have Rob as my reader!! As for Cirith Ungol performing in the ancient theater of stratos that would be a dream come true!!!

INTERVIEW WITH CIRITH UNGOL AND DRUMMER ROBERT GARVEN

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