Album Review: Cirith Ungol – Dark Parade

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Album Review: Cirith Ungol - Dark Parade
Reviewed by Jon Wigg

When the first notes of album opener Velocity (S.E.P.) hit, it’s clear that one of the most powerful and idiosyncratic bands are back. Cirith Ungol have honed their particular brand of doom-ladened epic heavy metal for over 50 years now, and what strikes me on first listen of Dark Parade, is that they’ve managed to remain so distinctive while sounding so fresh.

The production is a part of this. The Dark Parade is a combination of old school fuzz while using the benefits of modern equipment without sounding clinical, a problem that for me plagues a lot of modern tunes. Every note is clear, every instrument vibrant and every shriek and lyric from Tim Baker are audible, while still retaining the Ungol sound.

The performances from the entire band is on point. Roberet Garven’s driving drums, Jarvis Leatherby’s complementary and perfect, and the guitar licks from Jim Barraza and Greg Lindstrom provide feel and atmosphere along with some of the best solos you will ever hear. Baker’s vocals may be divisive for some, but they fit the music perfectly, and there aren’t many singers who sound as good, if not better after over 40 years.

And then there’s the songwriting. There are a couple of longer tracks on the album but while some of Cirith Ungol’s contemporaries have perhaps leaned towards the indulgent with recent releases that could, and perhaps should have had the fat trimmed, there isn’t a wasted note here. Riffs, solos, pounding drums, instrumental sections, an understated but vital bass line and the unmistakable Ungol chug are all here, and it makes me very happy.

When I first heard Velocity (S.E.P.), opener and first single from the album, I thought maybe Dark Parade would harken back to their 1986 release One Foot in Hell, which is their fastest album with up tempo tracks such as Blood and Iron, 100mph and War Eternal. A wonderful up tempo example of the Ungol chug and the driving rhythm line that moves forward at all times. Some wonderful guitar solos, including over the starting riff, are scattered throughout and it’s a great way to kick off.

Album Review: Cirith Ungol - Dark Parade

But then, as the title would suggest, the album takes a dark turn. The main musical themes for the rest of the 7 tracks here are rooted firmly at the doom end of the metal spectrum, slowed down, heavy as a bag of nails, and as perfectly described in the name of the second track, Relentless.

A middle eastern vibe hits the start of this track before some amazing guitar work with solo after solo, this slow track really brings the heavy and sets the tone.

The longest track on the album follows, the wonderful ‘Sailor on the Seas of Fate’ which clocks in at just over 8 minutes. Cirith Ungol have used Michael Whelan’s stunning artwork of Elric from Michael Moorcock’s novels for their releases and this track perfectly reflects Elric’s desperation from Moorcock’s tale of the same name. The doom level ratchets up before a great change of pace, reminiscent of 1991’s Chaos Rising turns things up again. The song ends with more stunning guitar leads - and as I said earlier, there are no wasted notes.

More middle eastern guitar work kicks off ‘Sacrifice’ before the tempo reaches an almost funereal pace, while retaining the heaviness. ‘Looking Glass’ starts in the same vein before giving way to an awesome, blues inspired guitar solo section which lasts about 2 minutes.

The title track restores some of the darkness with a slow start before picking up the pace a little. Mix in a couple of false endings and some more great solos and it’s a song worthy of its status.

While I’ve loved everything that has come so far, with 6 tracks of Cirith Ungol power, doom and darkness, it's the last 2 songs that for me, provide the pinnacle of the album. ‘Distant Shadows’ kick us off slowly but with menace, before slowing down and running into the haunting beginning of ‘Down Below’ which utilises female vocals, before taking us on a journey into the depths of doom. The main solo work on the last track is some of the best the band have ever produced and are a fitting end to what is a wonderful album.

With news, since the album was announced, that Jim Barraza has had to step back from the band due to health reasons, and that 2024 will be last year the band will be performing live, if these tracks are the last that Cirith Ungol produce, they provide a fitting way to go out. I for one would like to hope they continue as a recording artist, and would encourage everyone reading this, to take up any opportunity between now and the end of 2024 to see the band live.

Dark Parade really is the complete package. A magnificent collection of dark, atmospheric, powerful and heavy tracks that encompass all aspects of what Cirith Ungol have been as a band over the years. For bands that have been releasing music for 40 years or so, there are not many that haven’t had any bad albums. For me, Cirith Ungol hasn't released a bad song, let alone a whole album, and this fits in perfectly to their discography.

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