I'm gonna be honest here: the first time I heard CIRITH UNGOL I couldn't stand them. This must have been some time in the latter half of the 80's when my internal Metal Detector was set on Speed'n'Thrash rather than original and groundbreaking Epic Metal-instigators. There was something so awkward and strange about them. The peculiar vocals of Tim Baker, the quirky riffing and unconventional song structures, that weird unpronounceable name!? I remember how alot of people (including the Metal media at the time) did more than just turn them a deaf ear, but went so far as to declare them "The Worst Metal Band Ever"(!). On the other hand, these were usually the kind of people who found bands like VAN HALEN, ANTHRAX, RATT and MEGADETH really exciting and worthwhile music, so there you go.
I think it was on my third try that it finally clicked for me and after
10-15 years of denial I finally had to surrender to the genius originality
and songwriting skills of this seminal Heavy Metal act. In retrospect
I shake my head at how I ever could fail to see the excellence and pure
perfection in a record like, for instance, "King Of The Dead".
Remember to kick my sorry, stupid ass the next time you see me, OK? I
hereby humbly beg the Gods Of Metal forgiveness for my ignorance and hope
that in publishing this interview (made by Jose Luis Cano a few years
back) the Gods will show pity on me when my days of headbanging and writing
clever intros are at an end...
JLC: How do you feel today when you look back and realize how many things you did with CIRITH UNGOL that are really appreciated by your fans? Have you ever thought of the impact the UNGOL have had on the audience nowadays, after almost 30 years?
GREG: I'm sorry we didn't have a bigger impact, but I'm really honored when someone in another band mentions CU as an influence, or when a fan tells us how much they enjoy our music. That really makes me feel proud to be a part of CU.
What would be the element, which placed the name of CIRITH UNGOL in the upper levels of the Heavy Metal Legends and respected bands? What would be the most significant thing the fans appreciate and love the most in your opinion?
GREG: I wish we were in the upper level! I think our fans appreciate that CU has never sold out or dumbed down the music to try and sell more albums. If I could speak for the fans, I think the songs are good, Tim's voice is instantly recognizable and Jerry's guitar work is incredible. And Jimmy Barraza's guitar work on "Paradise Lost" is great, too.
Your style changed very little from your early days to the very end. Was this on purpose or was it just a natural thing you kept in mind while composing? Do you think that it's this way of staying loyal to your own music and style, that made your horde of followers consider the band as the most sacred thing on earth?
GREG: I'm not sure we could change our style even if we tried! I think it's because we were raised on bands like Cream and Mountain, where the guitarist and bassist played different riffs that overlapped and intertwined, and the drummer didn't play a constant 4/4 beat. A lot of modern metal bands play riffs in precision lockstep, with the singer barking out lyrics like a drill sergeant, which sounds real tight and powerful, but gets boring after awhile. Some people might think we suck, but at least no one can accuse us of copying other bands or jumping on the latest bandwagon.
I'd like to know what the most remarkable things in every album you recorded were, regarding the production, the recording, etc... I guess it was always very difficult and you passed through very hard moments, but also cool ones..?
ROB: My favorite parts were during the recordings of F&F and KOTD. Since we had complete control over these projects they really turned out the way they should have. Re-mastering "Servants" was also fun as we got to relive some of the past that had died long ago.
Being a band formed in the 70's and with influences from that époque, did you find it difficult to penetrate the taste of the fans of the 80's? I think that "Paradise Lost" was the most "updated" of your albums regarding sound. How much was this one different from the 3 others?
ROB: Restless Records did nothing for the band in the way of promotion or touring. They had me contact Roadrunner Records in Europe (who released our first 2 records) to try to convince them to release "Paradise Lost" in Europe. The owner I think was named Cess Wessels or something, refused to release it saying that it was outdated. It is funny as it is the CD that everyone wants and it is still unavailable! I have tried on several occasions to get PL re-released but with no luck. Several companies were very interested in re-releasing it, however Restless Records would never return their phone calls or e-mail.
Since "Paradise Lost" still is your most rare item, I was wondering why you've never re-released it. I believe that lots of people are looking for it. On the other hand, I know that it was never released in Europe. What was the reason behind that?
Here is the complete story of what happen before, during and after "Paradise
What would be the things you wanted to do the most with CIRITH UNGOL but sadly you couldn't? I know you weren't a band of big tours or million record sellers, but how do you feel about that? Did you ever miss the massive fame which always seemed to elude the band?
My only regret is that we never played live for our European fans, especially
in Germany, Italy, and Greece. I don't really want massive fame, but it
would have been nice to reach more people, say 100,000 instead of 20,000.
Do you remember much from playing in Mexico 20 years ago? What are your best memories of the concerts and the whole thing while staying here? I never knew of you touring outside the States. Did you ever play abroad besides Mexico. Perhaps in Europe?
ROB: Greg was not with us then but I remember Mexico City fondly. We played two shows. One at a fancy dinner club rented for the occasion and one at an outdoor skating rink with thousands of people. We also did a radio interview with an underground radio station on top of the Presidential Palace. We made many friends and got to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid of the Sun, and go to the museum which housed many of the great treasures of your prehistory!
It has been said that it's very unlikely we'll see the band reunited and playing again. Why would this be so difficult? Do you think a resurrection would be more negative than positive for the name of CIRITH UNGOL?
That's exactly why I didn't go to see the reformed Thin Lizzy last year.
I wanted to keep my Lizzy memories sacred. Besides, how could they call
themselves Lizzy without Phil Lynott? As for CU, we were always a good
live band, much more heavy than on record (especially the F & F songs).
With a bit of practice, I think we could hold our own and put on a good
What was your reaction when you realized that lots of band are covering your songs? Perhaps they share the same emotion as you when doing those covers like "Fire", which I must say that is totally killer.
GREG: The only CU cover I've heard of is "Nadsokor" by the Italian band Doomsword. In our early days we did loads of covers like "Gonna Creep Up On You", "Vagabonds Of The Western World", and "Return Of The Farmer's Son" by THIN LIZZY, "Sinner" by URSA MAJOR, "Whiskey River" by BUDGIE, "Back In '51" by MASTERS OF THE AIRWAVES, and "Jury" by TRAPEZE. I consider it a great tribute to have a CU song covered.
How much different would things have been for CIRITH UNGOL if you had started to play today, when Metal music is popular and spread wide? I once read that you had to beg for money to record your albums. Can we conclude that you never got even for all your efforts?
GREG: We used to walk around neighborhoods knocking on doors and offering to wash peoples' cars! The first 3000 copies of "Frost And Fire", as well as the recording costs were totally paid for by the band.
Also, I remember that people often labeled you as a "Gothic Metal" band. What's your opinion on that? What do you think of the so-called new Gothic Metal? Have you followed the Metal scene so far, or you just forgot everything about loud guitars and heavy drums?
GREG: Now, I think we are usually labeled as "epic metal". I never thought the "gothic" tag applied to us. I'm not quite sure what Gothic metal is, but I still buy a couple of CDs every week, mostly metal or hard rock. I really like some of the so-called "stoner rock" bands like Sea Of Green, Firebird, Mammoth Volume. And Spirit Caravan, too, anything Wino does is cool. I suppose that because I grew up in the 70's, I really prefer stuff that has that sound.
(Thanks all gods) you recently put out a double CD with ultra-rare material by the band. Was this as a reaction to the massive demand for that kind of stuff, or perhaps a way to know how good it would be to reform the band?
GREG: We just had so much unreleased music that we thought our fans would enjoy, and Metal Blade gave us the opportunity to put it out. We still have about 20 more songs recorded at home that have never been heard, but the recording quality is probably not good enough to release.
In my opinion you played Doom Metal, even Epic Metal long before such terms where even invented. Do you think that CIRITH UNGOL was an epic band? Lots of elements drove me to think so: the covers, the almost anthemic choruses, the heavy drumming etc...
GREG: We always wanted to do stuff with more lyrical content than "Hey baby, let's get naked and party". We all read lots of fantasy and sword and sorcery literature, so it's natural that a lot of our songs have epic fantasy lyrics. But I like to write more personal lyrics too, and once in a while throw in a song about Ferraris, just for Rob!
Your covers were done by the formidable M. Whelan. How did you manage to get his permission to use his works? Do you consider the elf warrior on all your covers some kind of trademark for the band, some kind of mascot? What would be the best album cover of the band in your opinion and why?
GREG: Michael is the finest fantasy artist around. I think maybe some people buy the album for the cover art and throw the record away! The series of Elric paintings gives the albums a nice sense of continuity. And Michael has a couple more Elric paintings that could be used for a new album. Personally, I think the F & F cover is one of the best album covers ever.
Now lots of people in and out of the Metal scene are very interested in Tolkien's books, while you had read them a long time ago and have had as a source of inspiration for your musical work. What's your opinion about the new version of "Lord of the Rings"? What would have been your response if the film's director would have asked you to compose a couple of songs for the movie?
GREG: "Lord of the Rings" is a great movie, better than I expected. The actors were all good, the special effects were great and the scenery was breathtaking. I can't wait to see the second part. We have an unreleased song called "Shelob's Lair" that would be quite appropriate for the second movie, "The Two Towers". We will be on the soundtrack to the horror movie "I Am Vengeance", on Game Two Records, coming in 2002.
What characteristics do you remember the most of the musicians which were part of CIRITH UNGOL, as persons and as musicians?
GREG: Jerry was one of the most quiet and shy persons I've ever known, but all of his emotions poured into his incredible guitar playing. Tim is a very intelligent guy who should have gone on to greater things. Rob and I are still great friends, and his personality may not come through in print, but you either love him or want to strangle him!
OK, this is all for now. Thanks a million for all your time wasted answering this interview. Anything you want to add? Especially to those who (like me) yearn to see you on the road again?
My heartfelt thanks to all our fans old and new. We hope you like "Servants
Of Chaos", and we hope to be able to play for you again someday.
The being called Ungol is dead
|Take me to the top!|