Review by Omni: In light of of 2016 being a big year for Cirith Ungol, with this album finally being reissued by Metal Blade Records and Cirith Ungol reuniting for a string of festival appearances that continues into 2017, it seems appropriate to take another look at this controversial final album by the legendary band. The issues surrounding its recording and release on Restless Records have been well documented by the band members over the years, but most of their diehard fans seem to agree that Paradise Lost contains some of their most rewarding material.
The difference in sound to their previous efforts is immediately noticeable, in no small part due to the absence of guitarist Jerry Fogle and bassist Michael “Flint” Vujea. Fogle had departed the band against the wishes of the other members because he felt that he was being forced out by the inclusion of Jim Barraza, who had joined the band after previously playing with Prophecy. Vujea was unable to cope with the longstanding difficulties that had plagued the band since the 1980s and he was replaced by Vernon Green in 1988. The band was augmented in studio by Joe Malatesta and Robert L. Warrenburg. It’s interesting to imagine what the album would have been like with contributions by the departed members, as there is a definite void left behind due to the lack of Fogle’s mystical extended guitar workouts and Vujea’s bouncy bass melodies. Fortunately, Barraza holds his own as a guitarist, and he is a major factor in the unique character of this album among Cirith Ungol’s four studio albums. Some of Tim Baker’s vocals lack the consistency and conviction of his earlier performances and Robert Garven’s drumming is a lot more tame than it was on previous albums. The band attributed these issues, along with many others, to producer Ron Goudie and his insistence on controlling nearly every aspect of the album’s recording process.
Offering much to love for fans of the band’s earlier material, “Join the Legion” is the opening track and it rings out as a clarion call for fans of real heavy metal who are sick of hair bands and weak metal being purveyed by MTV and major record labels at the end of the 1980s. This is a powerful statement from a band that had struggled to achieve true success, even after releasing their two previous albums on Metal Blade Records, which had been the gateway to fame for other heavy metal bands in the 1980s. The fact that success had eluded them was a big part of what had led them to Restless Records in the first place. Sadly, the record label forced them to surrender most of their creative liberties, which was further complicated by the session musicians demanding to have some of their songs on the album as well. While “The Troll” is a fairly strong track with much of the characteristic weirdness of Cirith Ungol’s back catalogue, it was written by Malatesta. “Heaven Help Us” was written by Warrenburg, who also sings lead vocals on the song. This song is a typical late 1980s hard rock song. If it wasn’t on the album, most fans of Cirith Ungol would probably be unable to identify it as a song by the band. “Go It Alone” was brought to the band by Barraza as a carryover from his days in Prophecy. This song sounds like the most blatant attempt at a radio hit in their entire career. That said, it is still a loveable song in that context, especially in light of the band lamenting that they should have sold the song to Bon Jovi so they could have finally had some success in the music business. The inconsistency in musical style somewhat mitigated by the moody rocker “Before the Lash” and a cover of Arthur Brown’s hit song “Fire” that is a surprisingly appropriate for Cirith Ungol’s unique brand of heavy metal.
The three final tracks on the album make up a trilogy of epic songs where the magic of Cirith Ungol really comes into full effect. These songs deserve to stand with the best material from any of their previous albums, in spite of statements of dissatisfaction by band members about the way the recordings used on the album turned out. “Chaos Rising” offers Warrenburg a chance to redeem himself, and he gives a convincing vocal performance in the song’s introduction before he is joined by Baker when the band kicks into full swing. This track is the best display of Barraza’s guitar skills on the entire album, with many heavy riffs and a few scorching guitar solos. The mournful “Fallen Idols” offers a glimpse of Armageddon. Appropriately, this is the doomiest song on the album and one of the darkest songs in Cirith Ungol’s repertoire. As grand as the two preceding tracks are, the title track is perhaps the best on the album and it closes things out in epic fashion. This song features some of Baker’s most ferocious snarls, offering a unique contrast to the plaintive atmosphere of the song itself. It would be easy to interpret this song as a farewell message from the band, as this would be their final album.
Dissatisfied with the experience of working with Restless Records and frustrated by their lack of success up to this point, the band would dissolve some time after the album was released. The band would spend years fighting to get this album properly reissued before it was finally made available again through Metal Blade Records last year, with several alternate mixes of tracks from the album being included as bonus material. The liner notes of this new reissue indicate that the band’s opinion on the album has softened over the years. 2016 also marks the year that Cirith Ungol finally reunited, and it’s refreshing to have them back. Whether or not that will bring a new album remains to be seen. Until then, Paradise Lost is a fitting, albeit somewhat flawed, swan song for these legendary titans of underground heavy metal.
My rating: 85/100 (good in its own genre, recommended for those hooked on)