Metal Masters Cirith Ungol Return to Stage After 25 Years
Ventura, Calif., October 8: Earth dogs, long hairs and headbangers of all stripes have descended upon the Majestic Ventura Theater to witness the unlikely reunion of Cirith Ungol, the hometown heroes who were introduced to most of the metal world in 1982 via Metal Blade’s infamous Metal Massacre compilation alongside fellow newcomers Ratt, the Obsessed and a pack of zit-faced teenagers from the L.A. ’burbs who called themselves Metallica. While those other outfits are still plying their respective trades with (wildly) varying degrees of success, Cirith Ungol last set foot onstage — this exact stage, actually — 25 years ago.
Today is day two of the second Frost and Fire festival, the sweaty hessian brainchild of Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby, who named the festival after Cirith Ungol’s brilliant self-released debut. The lineup is stacked to the tits with some of the underground’s finest miscreants: Midnight, Mindless Sinner, Night Demon, High Spirits, Visigoth, Axxion, Spellcaster and an exclusive White Wizzard performance featuring original vocalist James Luna of Holy Grail.
Between bands, denim-and-leather-clad metal warriors from around the globe mingle in the Majestic lobby, where the temperature is roughly 400 degrees and the few remaining air molecules smell like bologna. Still, it’s a bacchanalia of beards, battle vests and booze. A few of the bikers up from L.A. are frying on acid while High Spirits peddle High Spirits sweatpants at the merch booth. The bathroom’s last paper towel disappeared at four o’clock this afternoon. It’s that kind of party. And aside from the Majestic’s Hollywood beer prices and onerous no-ins-or-outs policy, it’s pretty fucking awesome.
Local gents Night Demon synch up their Flying Vs to premiere a new song, “Stranger in the Room,” featuring a soaring vocal performance from Leatherby, who will also play bass for Cirith Ungol later tonight. Well before Night Demon’s reaper-faced mascot Rocky joins them onstage for set closer “The Chalice,” the hometown crowd is singing along.
As soon as White Wizzard bassist Jon Leon finishes tucking his striped Steve Harris pirate pants into his cowboy boots, he’s leading his bandmates and original vocalist James “Golden Lungs” Luna through songs from the band’s first two EPs, including power anthem “High Speed GTO.” In a move that may or may not have been coordinated beforehand, Luna’s shirt matches Leon’s pants.
By the time satanic speed demons Midnight take the stage at 9:20 p.m., the band’s merch is sold out and the crowd is sufficiently lubed up for deep penetration. The black-masked trio tears through vicious cuts from recent albums No Mercy for Mayhem and Satanic Royalty while vocalist / bassist / mastermind Athenar scales the monitors and howls blasphemic epithets toward the rafters. As usual, Midnight inspire the biggest pit of the night, a drunken blur of tangled hair, pumping fists and flying beer.
A little over an hour later, it’s Cirith Ungol Time. Longtime members Tim Baker (vocals), Rob Garven (drums), Greg Lindstrom (guitar), Paradise Lost-era guitarist Jim Barraza and new bassist Leatherby hit the boards to riotous applause and proceed to steamroll through a 90-minute set of rip-roaring, leather-lunged classics like “I’m Alive,” “Master of the Pit” and “Join the Legion.” They’re so fucking good it sounds like their most recent show was last night, not last century. It’s pure vindication for a band that started in 1972 (!), broke up in 1991 after a far-less-crowded gig at this very venue and didn’t play another one until tonight. When it’s over, chalices are hoisted, castles are stormed and Satan, laughing, spreads his wings.