The heavy metal underground has always harboured a wealth of content for those willing to dig deep and unearth gems. Bands like Manilla Road, Heavy Load, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and Pagan Altar are prime examples – groups that released unbelievable records, played their asses off live at every opportunity, made as much of a go of it as possible, but ultimately fell apart for various reasons, only to be found by metal archaeologists and ultimately became cult legends through word of mouth and tape trading. California’s Cirith Ungol are just such a band.

They released four phenomenal albums in the 10-year stretch from 1981 to 1991, and then promptly broke up and disappeared into the ether. Those four albums, though, were such undeniably classic heavy/doom slabs – powerful songs with sci-fi/fantasy themes (all the album covers were also taken from Moorcock books, just to add to the nerdiness of it all), one of the most vibrant voices ever heard in metal, and the basis for the recent epic heavy metal revival that has produced quality bands like Eternal Champion, Visigoth, Sumerlands and many others. Needless to say, they left a BIG footprint.

The group first got back together in 2015, initially merely to play with each other and see how it felt, but also because the call from various festivals for Cirith Ungol sets was out of hand and the fans so badly wanted to see them. The two sets here are from Up The Hammers Festival and Hammer Of Doom, both in 2017, and the atmosphere at both is off the charts.

Here’s the band kicking ass with “I’m Alive” live at Up The Hammers festival:

Firstly, the track list is the best of the best from their catalogue, every song a stone-cold Ungol classic. Besides Mike “Flint” Vujejia who refused the reunion (replaced by Jarvis Leatherby from the mighty Night Demon), this is the classic line-up, and for a bunch of cats in their 60s, they wail like experienced musicians half their age. Better, even. I had to actually confirm their ages when listening to this, because they play so goddamn hard that it didn’t make sense – it also gives me hope that they might record new material in the near future.

They are just as tight as they were back in their heyday, head-banging fury with no holds barred, and watching some of the action on YouTube, I cannot imagine how exciting the shows were. The guitars are RIPPING, the bass rumbles like rolling thunder, and the drums are beautifully captured, all of it just coming together as if in a dream. For me though, the vocals of Tim Baker were always the main focus of the band, and I’m happy to report that he hasn’t lost a drop of his rocket sauce. The power that this man holds in his pipes is right up there with Dickinson and Halford, and he just kicks seven shades of ass throughout both sets. It’s incredible to behold.

Needless to say, this live album (or box set if you can snap it up) is a ridiculously fine addition to the discography and shows the band firing on all cylinders, and it is very much something for the fans (although I can imagine a few noobs being swayed to the cause because of it). I’m Alive (pre-save/order right here) is as important a live album for Cirith Ungol now as it would have been 30 years ago. I’m gonna go bang my head to it yet again – you should do the same.

And here’s “Join the Legion,’ also from Up The Hammers festival:

I’m Alive Track Listing:

01. Intro (Toccata In Dm)
02. I’m Alive
03. Join The Legion
04. Atom Smasher
05. Edge Of A Knife
06. Blood And Iron
07. Black Machine
08. Frost And Fire
09. Finger Of Scorn
10. Chaos Descends
11. Doomed Planet
12. Chaos Rising
13. Fallen Idols
14. Paradise Lost
15. Master Of The Pit
16. King Of The Dead
17. Cirith Ungol
18. Intro
19. War Eternal
20. Nadskor
21. Fire
22. Death Of The Sun

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Record Label: Metal Blade Records