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4.11.11

Cirith Ungol - 'Servants of Chaos' (metalblade) 4.5/5

If I had to select one act to represent the true spirit of underground metal it would be Californian rockers Cirith Ungol. They were formed in the early 70's and for a good few years were nothing but local heroes before getting themselves signed in 1980. Over the next eleven years they issued four fairly obscure but musically remarkable albums before frustration over management and record label issues lead to the bands split in 1992. They were never a critically acclaimed outfit, Kerrang! magazine once named their debut LP 'Frost and Fire' as the worst heavy metal album of all time, yet at the same time they built a cult following far larger than their apparent profile, had a huge world wide fan base and are now hailed as a greatly influential outfit on many of the bands that came after them. Since the split the name Cirith Ungol has been kept alive by a string of compilation releases and even a tribute album from acts who hail them as one of the greats.

Now Servants of Chaos isn't a new compilation.This collection of rare unreleased tracks, demo recordings, live renditions, alternative takes and rehearsal room sessions first surfaced 10 years ago, but to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the bands demise metalblade have decided to revamp and reissue it, along with a DVD of a 1984 live show to help keep the legend of Cirith Ungol alive and available for the next generation of metalheads.

There are 31 tracks on the audio part of this triple disc set (and 8 on the DVD which didn't come with this review copy so you'll have to check that bit out for yourselves), and it covers the bands entire history from demo versions of tracks that ended up on the Frost and Fire album, right through to a couple of numbers recorded just before the split. Listening through to this album I can't help but be struck by what a great band Cirith Ungol were. There are the ghosts of all the greats in here, riffs that hint at classic Rush, driving metal sections that reference Black Sabbath and Montrose, touches of Led Zeppelin... , all wrapped around some great lyrics that draw from classic fantasy literature as penned by the likes of Michael Moorcock and Fritz Libre. And there's more, just take the double header of Ill Met In Lankhmar and Return To Lankhmar, we have here a couple of tracks that can only be described as progressive metal, yet dating from a time when that genre didn't even exist and the only other band experimenting in the field were the equally cult and obscure NWOBHM outfit Demon.

Playing this one through and once more getting to know great tracks like Master Of The Pit, Chaos Rising, Join The Legion and 100 MPH, you begin to realise that maybe Cirith Ungols problem was the fact that they were too far ahead of their time, I'm sure had they come around ten years later when the whole progressive metal thing was beginning to break through thanks to the likes of Dream Theater, they would have realised their true potential and gained the critical and commercial success they undoubtedly deserved.

Still that is now just speculation, and with various ex-members of the band saying a reformation is most certainly not on the cards (but I for one still live in hope), all we can do is treasure this compilation, enjoy the majesty of what Cirith Ungol were; use it to pass on to younger generations of rockers the mythology of one of the metal undergrounds true greats and keep the name Cirith Ungol alive.

Highly Recommended

For fans of.. Rush, Crowned By Fire, Black Sabbath, Demon etc....