Cirith Ungol – Half Past Human Review

[Cover artwork by the peerless Michael Whelan]

Friendly greetings from the mouth of madness that is the collector’s music room, fellow accumulators of all things heavy duty, underground, and…well, collectible. Please wind your way through the valley of Mt. Mint+ by using the clearly marked footpath that safeguards the region’s protected demo, 7” and digipack flora, and then join me at the table for a pleasant conversation regarding our unhinged obligation to hoard everything released by our favorite bands.

Release date: May 28, 2021. Label: Metal Blade.
I realize this might be difficult to hear, but you don’t need it all. For example, there’s a reason the record label left “Throne of Lies” off the original CD pressing of Manilla Road’s Spiral Castle; it’s a terrible song, and you don’t really need to buy a new version of the album if you’re doing so simply because your copy does not feature said unfortunate song. Let Tankard demos remain dead, don’t feel obliged to scour discogs for the 12” single version of Meliah Rage’s “Enter the Darkness,” and you certainly have no true need for every LP color variant of [obscure NWOBHM band compilation], because your spouse will likely use that final straw as the spark to finally pitch all your shit out the 2nd floor window and onto the front lawn. NOOOOO, not my picture disc version of Candlemass’ Nightfall that I’ve always had plans to turn into a clock, even though metal fans always say they get picture discs for that very reason and never end up following throuuuuggghhh!

Let us all gather together in a therapeutic circle and speak of healing and breaking obsessive mannerisms. Let us evolve together and find the path to inner peace.

By way of example, take a look at this brand new, shiny and seductive looking EP from Cirith Ungol that’s about to drop. Affirmative, that captivating cover artwork is once again courtesy of the always remarkable Michael Whelan (In this case, The Weird of the White Wolf, a continuation of the sweeping Elric of Melniboné saga). And yes, the band represents one of those rare instances where a sudden resurgence after an epic stretch of dormancy ends up netting a huge victory. Thirty years of silence and then something as strong as 2020’s Forever Black? Doesn’t happen very often, for a fact. But consider the following bullet points concerning the forthcoming Half Past Human:

  • This EP falls under the opening contractual obligation Cirith Ungol made with Metal Blade Records—perhaps one of those “okay, let’s test the waters a bit just to see how serious we really are” instances.
  • The songs represented here were originally penned by the band back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (aka the 70s), and that sort of thing often equates to a band quickly looking back in order to find the swiftest way to move forward.

Being aware of this, one might surmise that Half Past Human could be skipped in favor of biding time before a brand new full-length drops in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future. You know, in an effort to show a modicum of self-control.

Incorrect, fucko!

[fucko (fuck•o) – noun – a term of endearment reserved for like-minded friends and peers, generally used to capture attention regarding matters of utmost importance. Synonym: friendo]

True, these songs may seem older than Ed Asner in dog years to the younger folks out there—and, yes, a combination of contractual obligation and pandemic lock-down restlessness led to Half Past Human’s timely arrival—but there is nothing at all rudimentary, half-assed or unduly moth-ridden about these 22-minutes (beyond Cirith Ungol continuing to show how 80’s metal should sound in 2021). The songs have been rethought, refined, and redeployed with the band’s newfound spirit and a modern production (courtesy, once again, of Night Demon’s Armand John Anthony), and even the song released for the Decibel Flexi Series last year, “Brutish Manchild,” gets a remix and some additional melody painted into the corners. In other words, expect the same attention to detail and commitment to traditional epic metal as was delivered with Forever Black, and be prepared to allow your reestablished Ungol fanaticism to find the next level of appreciation.

Two of the four cuts throw down a little more thump and energy. Opener “Route 666” sports the sort of puerile title one might expect from high school rippers circa 1975, but it’s a bruising belter that rumbles like a hotrod during an age when cars were still made of steel. Plus, it honors the venerable narrative of “be careful which path you choose at the crossroads” that bluesmen have been saluting for nearly a century, and that, of course, transfers beautifully to metal.

“Brutish Manchild” is equally as walloping and sure to set a fire in the belly, with a little extra emphatic salute due Jarvis Leatherby and his prodigious bass tone. And holy hell does the song ever vault itself to the next level around 1:20 when that gnarly riff breakout opens the door to one of the EP’s most melodic and lifting measures. It’s worth noting that every individual is at the top of their game here, but the crown ultimately belongs to the wealth of leads firing in from all corners throughout Half Past Human, most of which I believe are delivered courtesy of Jim Barraza.

As satisfying as above-mentioned belters are, though, the EP’s true pinnacles occur when the band’s penchant for twisting epics take hold and the more fantastical elements get pushed into the spotlight. Cirith Ungol has always excelled as chroniclers of the mythical and the horrific, and “Shelob’s Lair” wraps their love of adventurous songwriting into a doomy classic that recounts the giant demon spider whose lair threatens in the pass that bears the band’s namesake. This cut is delightfully plucky, and it’s also the closest relative to 70’s hard rock, thanks to all the psych-hued leads bending from one speaker to the other as the story gradually unfolds.

The title track is the consummate closer—sullen, emotional and crowned with the sort of climactic finish that conjures visions of King Diamond’s “Black Horseman.” The song opens with a beautifully dark and reflective acoustic lick that the bass quickly picks up on and dances around perfectly, and then the 40-second mark launches into one of the most wonderfully haunting guitar melodies since “Melissa” was first gifted to our ears. From there, “Half Past Human” just soars, folding in multiple leads, a superbly doomy strut, a touch of eccentricity by virtue of Garven’s pattering drums, and the perfect pinch of keyboard atmospherics that culminates in precisely the sort of way every closer should: by leaving the listener very much hoping for more.

So, yeah, that opening bit about showing some level of discretion when it comes to hoarding music? Maybe it’s best to save that for bands with a little less fire left in the kiln. Or, at the least, wait until after May 28th to begin. Clearly, the Cirith Ungol rejuvenation still has an abundance of vigor pumping at its crux, and not even tromping out a handful of 40+ year-old songs penned during a period before the band established their footing can stand in the way of these guys delivering a victory that’s every bit as worthy of your attention as the gems that landed before 2021.

Half Past Human: get ready to clear little more room on that crowded shelf, because this record will definitely belong in your collection.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Handsome & Interesting Man; Just get evil all the time.

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