Along with MANILLA ROAD, MANOWAR and BROCAS HELM, Ventura, California’s CIRITH UNGOL is one of the first bands that comes up (or should) in any discussion of American power/epic/heavy metal. With the passing of Mark Shelton of MANILLA ROAD any album released by the above becomes more important as not a teary-eyed trip through the “glory days”, but as confirmation of metal’s warrior spirit.
After a triumphant return to record in 2020’s Forever Black, we join Dark Parade, the band’s sixth studio album. ‘Velocity (S.E.P.)’ bursts from shattered gates, a twin guitar attack and vocalist Tim Baker’s “Stretch your soul upon the rack!” proving instantly that not a shred of his original power has been surrendered to time and – if anything – has strengthened. This, friends is Power Metal the way it must be done in order to be worthy of the name. Slowing down to a smoldering, low-tuned gristmill of riff ‘n’ rhythm, ‘Relentless’ is hypnotic in its repetition, yet never becomes placid or lackluster.
Being a confirmed sucker for almost anything nautical-related, ‘Sailor On The Seas Of Fate’ adds our first touch of the epic elements CIRITH UNGOL can employ when they wish, eight minutes of sheer majesty, guitars wailing all over the tune, and that strident, solid rhythm section not giving up one iota of the mix in this immaculately produced album. Subject matter? Oh, well, the album is called Dark Parade, so ending ‘Sailor…’ with “All we have is chaos and our rune encrusted blade” seems fitting, right?
Now here’s my one gripe, and ‘tis a small one, but warrants mention. After such a gale force opener as we’ve experienced, tossing in another redline-racing number wouldn’t have been a bad idea for the quintet. They’ve always been masters of the slow burn, of headbang-inducing riff worship, and of not using speed for speed’s sake alone, but with a handful of mid-paced songs in a row, there’s a chance the album might lag a bit at the center for all but the most dedicated. Thankfully, I am one of those.
After a lurking intro, we get exactly that in the latter half of ‘Dark Parade’, a tasteful yet fiery guitar solo in its coda and leading us into ‘Distant Shadows’. Closing with tinge of the epic, ‘Down Below’ is an explosion in musical form, all of the best moments of what’s come before blended into the black cauldron where these songs must surely be born.
The band has recently announced that 2024 will be their final year of live shows, so pawn your friends, walk over your enemies, don’t pay your rent for a month. Whatever it takes. And if Dark Parade happens to be the band’s swan song, CIRITH UNGOL could not end its storied career more fittingly.
Review By: Lord Randall