Article Metal Heart Interview with Cirith Ungol 12-00 with Sven Sostak • Published Dec 2000

Metal Heart Interview with Cirith Ungol 12-00

Hallo Robert,
This is Sven Sostak from the German Metal Heart magazine. Our mag is quite new but we made it up to position No.3 in Europe right now. We’re selling each months about 50.000 – 60.000 copies of our mag and I am the one to bring the real cult-bands up in our mag. Nothing less is Cirith Ungol!!! One of the best METAL Bands ever and I’m proud to say that you’re among my 10 favorite bands of all times!!!!!I just want to ask you if it would be possible to have an interview with you. I can email you as well a couple of questions which makes it more comfortable for you to reply to them and you got more time to think about your answers.

Well, as I almost killed my boss to make this story happen, I hope that you will agree with it. You will get a 2 (!) pages “Metal History- Best Bands Ever” special in one of our next issues. As I really want to do a big poster as well and I already have the agreement… Do you have any cool pictures??? Live-Shots, Bandshots, maybe a photo in the style of the inlay-cover of “Paradise Lost” with all four of you on one picture??? The poster will me approx. 30×44 cm or larger, so please look out for something in cool quality as we have to enlarge it.

Thank you very very much for your time!!!
Faithfully yours,
Sven Sostak.

Hallo Robert,
Thanks you very much for the quick answer to my request. Well, please find below some questions for which I’d be glad if you find the time to answer them. Thanx a lot in advance. Well, I had some problems in decompressing the pics you sent me. The logo and the 72.jpg were no problem and the resolution of it is cool for illustrating the story. The Tim2: 150 & Rob1: 150 pics were not possible to open for unknown reasons? Could you please send me if you find the time about 10 to 15 pics of the quality of the 72.jpg of you? I know that’s a lot of work, but we always try to give our stories a perfect layout. I found in another magazine a really small layout live-picture, which I really like and I think it, would be cool to have this one as a big poster! Could you do me a favor and try to find it! Of course I need a really high resolution of it…. I will scan the pic that I mean and send it to you in an extra mail where you can download it.

Questions for Robert Garven:

1. Don’t you think it would be the right time for a Cirith Ungol reunion? When I was recently to a small club-gig in Stuttgart I had an incredible experience! Usually there are always some guys that wear the same T-shirt, but naturally it’s the same motive of Iron Maiden, Manowar or any German band. There I saw 7 (!!!) people out of only 180 which had the same Cirith Ungol Shirt (Frost And Fire) and that as really really strange for me, but very cool as well. I think there´s a need over here for Cirith Ungol!!!!

I really wish it could happen, however since our break-up in 1991, Jerry our original guitarist died, and Flint moved to another state. The logistics of such a proposition would be enormous, and I’m not sure that we would be able to put on the show that our fans would deserve. All of us have created separate and new lives out of the ashes of our band. You have to remember that after so many years of hard work and yes, suffering, when it was all over most of the members were not only drained, but also shells of their former selves. I know Tim and I would be up to it and interested, but I cannot speak for the others. Although we have had many offers I just can’t see it happening under the present situation. Sometimes it is better to remember the past than try to disturb the graves of the dead. You have to remember 20 years ago we thought we were the best. We were at the top of our game. Just as Grand Prix drivers are over the hill at 29, our time has come and gone. It is depressing for me to see my own heroes of rock playing on stage as a parody of their former selves.

2. What are you working in real life right now? I ask this question as a lot of musicians have quite funny jobs… (Some very good known have worked as grave-diggers or ambulance-drivers only to finance their music)

I worked in the graphic/printing industry the whole time I was supporting the band and after the break-up I stayed in the same field to help pay the bills. I am sure that if I had never been in the band I would have done something more creative with my life.

3. Are you still in contact with Tim Baker? What does he think about a Cirith Ungol reunion? Do you know what he has done throughout the past years?

Yes, I actually saw Tim the other day. He is well, engaged to be married and has a son. He and his brother work as machinists at a very large company near here that makes CNC computer controlled milling machines. I think he is happy, but just like myself he had the dream of writing and playing music, a dream which came crashing down when the band broke up.

4. Well, I heard about a rumor of releasing a final album with lots of unreleased tracks. What’s true about that? I would die for that! Is there already a record-company that takes care of it and if it’s true when can we hope it to be released?

Actually this is a reality. We have signed a contract with Metal Blade Records in Europe (Metal Blade in the U.S. wasn’t interested!?!) to release a double album of live and unreleased material. There is so much diversity to this material I feel that anyone who has enjoyed our music over the years will appreciate it. For ten years before we released our first album “Frost and Fire” we had a studio in a small room at my parents house. We played 5 times a week and wrote and played for our local fans! We wrote about 50 songs and recorded them on four-track tape. Some of these songs I consider our best work such as “Hype Performance”, “Show you all”, “Half Past Human – A Quarter to Ape” etc. Although this is not 24 track studio quality recordings, the songs themselves and Tim’s unbelievable singing and Jerry’s guitar and Greg’s bass playing are remarkable. The collection will also contain more live material such as the bonus tracks on “Frost and Fire” and our second album “King of the Dead”. I want our fans to remember that all of this material was recorded under very difficult circumstances. The bonus tracks on the previous mentioned CD’s came out sounding great and I have every reason to believe the rest will be a major improvement over the bootleg tapes of some of this material which has been circulating around Europe for many years!

5. How about re-releasing “Paradise Lost” over here? I think before it gets bootlegged for some thousand copies there should be an official version with cool sound and layout. Isn’t Metal Blade interested in doing that job? This record is so damn rare over here that I am really lucky that I just bought a copy back when it was released!

This is a long story. When we signed our contract with Restless for our fourth album “Paradise Lost” we hired a lawyer at the insistence of Ron Goudie the producer. We had never used a lawyer before so he gave us a name of a “reputable attorney”. We paid this creep to look over the contract. He said it looked fine so we signed it. It turns out that we had signed away the rights to all the songs and album forever! I recently called this guy to ask what was up and he told me that every one was doing that back then. Well we had no idea about any of this at the time so Restless Records owns the CD and the songs. I have tried to get Restless and Metal Blade together on this, as many fans would like to see the CD re-released however to no avail so far. I have asked our fans to e-mail or call Metal Blade Records in Europe to try to convince them to release this CD. I myself personally think that the producer Ron Goudie ruined the album as we had very little if no control over the production. I was very depressed when I heard the finished project, to see such great music ruined. I am hoping that I still have on our personal studio tapes (owned by us) of the three greatest songs on that CD. Our version we made before the CD was ten times better than the final product! If I can find them they will be on the new CD!

6. It’s no secret anymore that you are big Ferrari-Fan. And I heard you even got one…Isn’t that a quite expensive hobby? Which type and model do you own? (I’m asking that cause I’m as well a big fan of those cars…)

Yes, I am and have been an enormous fan of Ferrari since the age of 11! Racing and cars were an inspiration and theme for several of our songs over the years. I originally started talking to Greg, as he and I were fellow auto enthusiasts at a young age. I was really hoping that if the band got big one of my dreams was buy many Ferrari’s as I feel that they are not only cars but also works of art. I now consider myself very lucky to have just one red 1975 Dino 308 gt4. I am not wealthy yet I managed to get married (no kids) and buy a small house and own a classic Ferrari. (Not bad for a failed rock musician!) I do all the work on it myself as a hobby and this summer I performed a major engine service. There are many things I do not like about our country, but for some reason the car is king here and there are many affordable Ferrari’s! Where I live in Southern California it hardly rains or gets cold so it is the perfect environment to own and drive a car as this. Although we do not have the Autobahn, unfortunately! I do not have much money but I do have my priorities!

7. What do you think about Restless Records after all those years? In my eyes they were the reason why Cirith Ungol fell down…

Yes, This is true. We were jerked around so much on our last album, that all the band members left except for Tim and I. We had no control over the project to the point we were not allowed in the studio while the other members were recording. I was forced to play with a drum machine, and instead of laying down a basic track consisting of guitar, bass and drums, I played by myself to a click track. After the CD was released Restless made no attempt get it released in Europe where most of our fans were and they dropped us from the label a month later. No promotion, no support, no nothing! What really pissed me off is that we could have recorded the album ourselves and it would have came out ten times better than the version released. My question to Ron the producer and Restless was. “Why weren’t we allowed to produce the CD the way we wanted if the whole thing was to be thrown in the trash anyway?” The real sad thing is many people think it was some of our best music, they just have no idea how good it could have been, if we had not been stabbed in the back by our own record company.

8. Have you ever supported a bigger band and tour in the states or have you only played some single gigs?

We never toured but we did open for many “so called bigger acts”. Most of them treated us badly, and I was not impressed with their music or professionalism. We usually received less lighting, less sound and no dressing rooms or sound check. I remember we played with “Ratt” once at the Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills. We were trying to tune 10 guitars in a closet, I walked down the hall and Ratt had two 50 foot long dressing rooms and they were in there putting on their lipstick and eye make-up. It was enough to make a “real man” sick to his stomach! Once we played with Lita Ford, we got no sound check, she got around a 3 hour sound check, got in a fight with her boyfriend or manager and never showed up to the sold out show. The next day they said she was in an auto accident or some bullshit but it was just a lie. We played with Loudness from Japan they were cool. We usually were treated so poorly when we got out on stage we really tried to make a statement by blowing the other bands off, which usually happened!

9. Why do you think were Cirith Ungol ignored for so many years? It’s always a difference between the hardcore-underground and the wide mass of people that make it possible for a band to survive. It took the people almost 20 years to recognize you as one of the best bands ever!!! Today Cirith Ungol is named at once with bands such as Manowar or Iron Maiden!

This would have to be record company support. Back in the days when we first started, bands like Rush” etc. were still getting major contracts and support. We were always on independent labels which neither had the money or foresight (or both) to help promote the band properly. We were the fist band signed to Enigma the next band they signed was “Motley Crue”, I remember one of the guys at Enigma who went on to manage “Guns & Roses” trying to talk us into wearing make-up as that was to be the new rage. Of course we said no! Hell no! We were not going to become make-up encrusted metal queens! Well, the rest is history they ended up promoting the hell out of bands like Motley Crue, Ratt, and Poison and Stryper, bands we felt had little talent, originality or class! At the time every review we got, especially live reviews were very positive. Once when we played with Ratt the writer said they were predictable but we had “The soundtrack from hell”.

10. In Germany we have some cool festivals and throughout the last years we always had some reunion-bands there that have never played here before, or at least haven’t played here anymore for a number of years. This year for example Angelwitch/Armored Saint/Lizzy Borden or Samson played for 30.000 people at the Wacken Open Air. Manilla Road and Watchtower played for 10.000 people at the Bang Your Head Open Air. Wouldn’t it be interesting for you to play at least one show on one of those festivals here? The most bands are so overwhelmed by the response that they stay together and do headliner-tours over here… Just check it out!!!! I want Cirith Ungol back and I’m not the only one for sure!!!!

This would be a dream come true for me if only it could happen! I don’t even have a drum set anymore! To get the guys together from different states, to practice to get ready, to get the money to do all this. It would seem impossible to me. The only way is for me to win the lottery. Then I would have enough money to get the band together and start playing again. I understand your desire and I feel it myself. It is just sad when we were together and kicking ass no one wanted us to play anywhere. That is the tragedy!

11. How did you get in contact with Michael Whelan by that way, the drawer of your very impressive album-covers? Just phoned him and he said: Yeah? Has he ever heard your music and what does he think of Cirith Ungol? Did you have to pay for the covers a lot?

At the time we wanted a “Sword and Sorcery” (S&S) theme cover called “Berserker” by Frank Frazetta (a famous S&S artist) but it was taken by the country rock band Molly Hatchet! I was reading “Stormbringer” by Michael Moorcock at the time and was thinking man this is the ultimate cover art! I never thought we could use it but I contacted the publisher who got me in touch with Michael Whelan, who is one of the few people in our entire music career who was honest, friendly and kind, and he let us use it. I think we were the first album covers he had done at the time and we really wanted to use all his “Elric” series on our covers which we did! I told him that I always wanted to buy the painting for the cover Stormbringer from him if we made it big but we never did. He was quite successful then, but now he is probably the world foremost fantasy artist/painter/illustrator and his paintings cost $$$. I think he liked our music especially “Frost and Fire”. We really didn’t pay him much money back then but now I’m sure he would be very expensive. Recently he painted Meatloaf’s “Bat out of Hell” and some covers for the band Sepultura. It is funny, Deep Purple had an album named after the book and we got the cover. Blue Oyster Cult also had a song “Bane of the Black Sword” which was based on Michael Moorcock’s writing. Moorcock himself wrote and played with an English band “Hawkwind”.

12. I heard that Jerry Fogle unfortunately passed away. How did that tragedy come?

Jerry quit the band after the release of OFIH (One Foot in Hell). He was very depressed at the fact we had been together for about 15 years and although we had sold quite a few albums and had lots of fans worldwide, we could never seem to get the support we felt we deserved. Our goal was to get signed to a major record label, so we could go tour Europe, where we had always dreamed of going to play. We would work at the band room 4 or 5 nights a week answering fan mail, writing new songs and playing for our local fans. We kept waiting for a big break that never came. After Jerry left the band he stopped playing and his life seem to spiral downhill. He was drinking pretty heavy, and he finally drank himself to death. I talked to him before his passing and he finally admitted that his leaving the band was a huge mistake, which he had regretted all along. The sad thing about his death is the loss and waste of so much talent. Listening to Jerry’s solo’s sometimes brings tears to my eyes. He played with so much feeling and emotion. One solo that really stands out is the double lead in “Cirith Ungol”, the intertwining guitars weave a tale of sadness and hopelessness, which I feel, is the high point in our long and sad tale.

13. What bands influenced you in the beginning to play Heavy Metal?

The band and I were heavily influenced mainly by the European bands of the 70’s and 80’s including many German bands such as Lucifer’s Friend, Mournin (Night Sun), Accept and Scorpions. Other bands that influenced us were Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mountain, early Rush, and Thin Lizzy. Etc.

14. When did you start to hear / To play Heavy Metal?

I started listening to metal when I met Greg at school. We were probably about 13 years old. He played me Mountain’s first album “Climbing” and I was hooked. Of course we wanted to start a band and I wanted to play drums. The drums always appealed to the very primitive side of my personality. I always considered my style to be more of a brutal caveman than technocrat. Early on I used to play so hard I would constantly break my cymbals and bleed on my drums till they were covered with blood.

15. Have you played in any other bands before Cirith Ungol?

Our original band “Titanic” started when Greg Lindstrom and I first met in 7th grade about 1969, we had several things in common, we both loved sports cars, especially Ferraris and hard rock music and we wanted to start a rock band. We had a friend Pat Galligan, whose parents had a folk singing group called “The Galligan Family”. Pat played rhythm guitar, Greg was playing bass guitar and Jerry Fogle was playing lead guitar, I had just bought a drum set so we started to jam. Pat was a big Beatles fan at the time so we stared playing all Beatles’s covers, first song we played was “Get Back”! To make a long story short, the rest of us were into much heavier music and so the three of us quit Titanic and started Cirith Ungol. Right away we started to write original music and play heavier covers, Mountain, Jimmy Hendrix, Cream & Black Sabbath who were all happening around that time. We had some heavy jam sessions, I wish I still had those tapes still they would have done been classic!

16. Has any past member ever released an album with another band?

No

17. Is there a favorite band you ever wanted to play with?

I was really hoping that as our band got bigger we would play with some quality acts such as Rush, Scorpions or Iron Maiden. We had run into these bands over the years and the guys were so nice to us we thought it would be great to play with bands such as these that didn’t have such big egos and small brains.

I think that’s quite a number of questions to answer, so I hope that all this work won’t take too much of your time! I can tell you that I’m really happy to be able to have this interview with a legend like you. Maybe you don’t feel like this over there in the USA, but here there are still some thousands of loyal UNGOL fans that trust in your glorious music!!!!

All I would ask anyone who hasn’t heard us and likes Metal to check out one of the albums preferably “King of the Dead” which I see as our best overall effort. And if you are a fan of ours please pick up the re-released CD’s as the sound quality is much improved over the albums. Please also check out the new double CD, as it will have some suprises!

Our Motto and Mission Statement!

The being called Ungol is dead, its resurrection is doubtful. But heed it’s teachings oh faithful, for on these memoratic disks contain, the wisdom of the ages, and by your iron fists, the horror, of false metal be extinguished.

As you now join the swelling ranks of the Legions of Chaos, together we will drive before us, the cringing herd of False Metal, crush their spineless lackeys, and purge the world of their mutant plague!!!

Visit our web site: Cirithungol.org All photos by Greg Hazard ©

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