Most people who don’t listen to metal, when they get an earful of Cirith Ungol, think the band is a parody of metal. Unfortunately they’re not wrong. The problem is that Cirith Ungol is an unintentional parody. Their debut album, Frost and Fire, is funny in the worst way possible and most of its runtime is actually painful to listen to.
In picking Frost and Fire apart, the most obvious starting point is Tim Baker’s singing. Most of this album’s elements are subpar at best but nothing else on display here even comes close to how aggressively unpleasant his awkward banshee shriek is. Unlike Rob Halford, this guy doesn’t bring out the shriek sparingly to punctuate certain passages and give them that powerful, vicious edge. No, Baker delivers almost every line with his thin, whiny, over-the-top shriek. Halford’s relative restraint is what makes the technique really shine when he does use it. What Baker does is the metal equivalent of pouring ketchup all over your salad.
Obviously, writing off a band simply because of a bad singer is a stupid thing to do, especially in metal, where vocal prowess isn’t typically the most important element. Unfortunately, the music doesn’t make up for Baker’s weakness as a vocalist. The instruments are much lower in the mix than the vocals so it’s often hard to tell what’s going on behind the singing. Every instrument’s tone is as thin and wimpy as Baker’s voice, which means they all lack the power necessary to pull off the album.
Some of the songs deliver decent passages, thanks in no small part to the surprisingly good (and actually audible) bass sections. The title track, for example, has a nice gallop and a memorable recurring riff. The solos throughout the album are good and fairly tight. Unfortunately, for most of these songs, such moments of genuine songwriting competence just get lost in the stale, derivative riffs and drum patterns that outnumber them.
To be fair, this album has its highlights. ‘A Little Fire’ is decent, thanks partly to Tim Baker’s inexplicable decision to not screech on this song and instead try actual singing and partly to the more cohesive and inspired songwriting. The instrumental album closer ‘Maybe That’s Why’ is great. All the nuance and songwriting skill that’s absent in most of the other tracks settled here, making it an unexpected treat. The fact that it’s devoid of Baker’s horrendous attempts at singing makes it even sweeter. Unfortunately, these are the only two songs on the album that are safe for human consumption.
With a better singer, Cirith Ungol might have been decent but would certainly have still been several steps down from groups like Brocas Helm and Manila Road. These guys approached their epic brand of metal with an admirable ambition and enthusiasm. The album’s numerous flaws come from the fact that as musicians, they simply didn’t have the skill to make it work.
-Michael "Flint" Vujejia is credited for bass on the official lineup, but did not actually perform.
-The booklet includes lyrics for track 7, but it is actually an instrumental.
-Liquid Flame Records was the band's own label.
-The cover art features Michael Whelan's artwork for Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer.
-Initial press of 500 copies with the cat # HM13666, then repressed with the cat # LF-001 in an edition of 1500 copies. Several licenses & bootlegs exist, including picture discs and fake test pressings.
-Re-released by One Way Records on January 31, 1995 as part of a 2CD set along with King of the Dead.
Recorded At – Goldmine Recording Studios
Mastered At – Allen Zentz Mastering
Matrix / Runout (Side A): MASTERED AT ALLEN ZENTZ L.A., CALIF. / + / KM + / FOR ENZO / HM 13666-1
Matrix / Runout (Side B): MASTERED AT ALLEN ZENTZ L.A., CALIF. / HM 13666-2 / + / S-9771 / KM +
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