The Corroseum webzine. Interview with Robert Garven and Greg Lindstrom, ca. 2001.
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?
ROB: Here is the complete story of what happen before, during and after “Paradise Lost”:
After OFIH was released we kind of knew that M.B. either didn’t have the money or interest in the band to follow through with what we needed, so the waiting game started again. We had written the most unbelievable set of new songs and we were ready to release them in 1987 when the band broke up, but the demo versions (I think I destroyed the tapes) of what was later to be Tim’s trilogy “Paradise Lost” were 10 times better than the album you know of by that name. I was personally so disappointed in the album that when I came home and listened to it the night it was completed, I actually cried, thinking of all these wasted fucking years trying to get this whole fucking thing off the ground, all the REAL blood, sweat and tears and here we are fucked again. It was almost more than I could take as an artist. What happened next is the downfall of the band as I envisioned it. Jerry, impatient with his 15 years in the band and my relentless pushing of all involved getting every one to keep up the grueling work even though there was never any pay back, left the band. Flint, Tim and I tried to talk him out of it to no avail. We had found a really good guitarist named Jimmy Baraza who we wanted to bring on board so that Jerry could concentrate on his leads and we could play all the double leads we were writing in all the new (and old) songs. Somehow Jerry must have felt that we were trying to replace him although nothing could have been farther from the truth. Next we signed with Restless which actually were the shattered remains of our original label Enigma who had been bought by Capitol because they were impressed by all their poser type bands. After Capitol bought them and the men dressing like women thing started to die out (who would have guessed:) Enigma filed for bankruptcy. I don’t know or care about all the sordid details but they ended up in an abbreviated company called Restless. We were so desperate at this time and really had nowhere else to go, so I talked this creep Ron Goudie into signing the band. It took at least 3 years for all the shit to settle at the record company after their breakup with Capitol so this whole time we waited. I showed up at the band room one night and Flint’s stuff was missing. He had decided to join a garage band thinking that our career was as doomed as the planet we live on. After six months he returned only to leave again right as soon as the album was to start to be recorded. I can’t fault their decision but if Jerry and Flint would have stuck it out, #4 would have been a lot better CD and we may have finally got the recognition that we deserved. Anyway, I put ads in the local music stores and got a call from two guys who were in a local band in Santa Barbara. They came down and we decided they would be better than nothing. The deal was they’d help us record our album and they would get to put some of their songs on it. The guitarist Joe Malatesta’s song was “The Troll” and the bass player Bob Warenburg’s song was “Heaven Help Us”. Although these songs really were not our style we really had no choice. I showed up at the band room one night and Ron Goudie brought in a little box which was to be my little friend for the next fucking six months! It was a fucking electric metronome. I was to play along with it every day until I could learn to keep a “beat”, this way the album was to be professional (in his opinion). Every time I complained about this kind of bullshit he would kindly remind us that we could stop the whole thing at any time if we couldn’t follow his orders, it was just as well with him. Anyway here is the true disgusting story how we were forced to record our fourth album. I was to go in with only the little fucking click machine to record the drum tracks, no bass… no guitar.. no nothing to play with but this little piece of shit!! Next the other members followed suit, except Ron did not want the other members of the band in the studio. (I guess he didn’t want us to contaminate his vision of what we thought was our album!!!!) So each band member went in did his part alone. I was really upset about the vocals cause I had coached and cheered Tim through the last 3 albums. Guess what, I wasn’t allowed in while the vocals were done. I hope you can get the picture of how warped and terrible this whole album was done. Not only this but the best 20 seconds of the album Ron cut out because while he was producing the album he fucked up and the part which I thought was the most killer part of “Paradise Lost” was spooled out on the studio room floor. I was very pissed about this!!! And still am!! To make a long story short Bob got some kind of religion, and Joe left to do something or another. Both left before the album was even released, which made us look bad in Restless’ eyes. Tim, Jimmy and I were so pissed at what we thought was a betrayal so we pulled their pictures from the album. Anyway I put another ad the local music stores and got a call from a guy called Vern Green who also unfortunately had some religious beliefs, so right after we got cut from Restless he quit the band, then Jimmy quit. The sad thing about Jimmy, he was one hell of a guitarist but once again he didn’t have what it takes to have followed it through. It is really a shame but Tim and I were looking at each other one night at our band room and we just decided after 22 years of being f**ked over we had had about enough. I sold all our equipment and my drums paid off our bills and Cirith Ungol was officially deceased.
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?
GREG: 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.
ROB: We did play in Mexico City though which was a great event for us!
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?
GREG: 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 show.
ROB: The real problem is probably with Tim. He is not interested in Cirith Ungol anymore and he is not willing to cooperate on any project. He was even against the release of “Servants of Chaos” (Damn Tim!-Jose)
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?
GREG: 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.
ROB: Yes thanks to all who listen, and hold the banner proud and remember:
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
may 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!!!