Jarvis Leatherby of Cirith Ungol – Discusses Significance of Recreating Old Demos for New EP, Half Past Human!

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Interview by Robert Cavuoto

Cirith UngolCirith Ungol will release their new EP, Half Past Human, via Metal Blade Records on May 28th, 2021.

The pandemic ravaged the globe in the wake of the release of Cirith Ungol’s reunion album, Forever Black, back in April 2020. As time stood still, the band dug deep into their archival crypts, drawing back the veiled mists of history to expose long-forgotten jewels from their storied past. In doing so, the band exhumed four songs written in a bygone era but never properly included as part of their fabled discography.

The band swept the dust off these precious relics, summoning long-dead forces back to life. Each song, “Route 666,”  “Shelob’s Lair,” “Brutish Manchild,” and “Half Past Human” were re-imagined for today, injected with a fresh dose of power and vitality while preserving their trademark mysticism and remaining drenched in sinister, apocalyptic energy. In keeping with tradition. The band consists of Tim Baker [Vocals], Greg Lindstrom [Guitar], Robert Garven [Drums], Jim Barraza [Guitar], and Jarvis Leatherby [Bass]. The package is completed by stunning cover art courtesy of acclaimed fantasy artist Michael Whelan from the original Elric series. Pre-orders available at www.metalblade.com/cirithungol

I spoke with bassist Jarvis Leatherby about creating this EP, where the songs were found, and what the future holds for touring and their subsequent and possibly final album!

Cirith Ungol will release their new EP, Half Past Human, via Metal Blade Records on May 28th, 2021.What made these songs so special for you and the band that you wanted to go back and re-create them for Half Past Human?

Jarvis Leatherby: Being the new guy in the band, some of these songs were written before I was born [laughing]! I am the manager and became the bassist out of necessity when the original bassist was unable to join the reunion. The reunion CD came out right when the pandemic hit. All the festivals that we were headlining were postponed, so we figured we have more time so let’s do something with it. I had this idea to unearth these songs and take a little pressure off the band, in creating a new album, considering they just wrote and released their first album, Forever Black, in 30 years. We reissued the band’s initial demo in December of 2020, and to get some new music out there, we would go back into the studio to get these songs out there. The goal was to play them live because fans really don’t know them.

Did you find yourself pulling back on the content of the songs because something maybe didn’t sound good anymore? 

Jarvis Leatherby: Yeah, there were some parts that we had to pull back on or rework. It may have been cool in 1974, but now it sucked [laughing].

Tell me about the work that went into recreating these songs and how they were completed during the pandemic?

Jarvis Leatherby: Basically, we had a bunch of old demos on reel-to-reel. My main job is fronting the heavy band, Night Demon, and our guitarist had a studio right next to our rehearsal space. He has all these old tape machines, including the 2-inch tape machine that Cirith Ungol’s albums were recorded on. We went through everything, and I brought it up with the guys. We started jamming them out as we had the luxury to walk next door to record them. Two of the songs were recorded during the session for Forever Black, the most recent album. We decided not to put them on that album, and they help become the inspiration for this EP.

Cirith Ungol

When I went back to refresh my memory of the original version of “Route 666” that was released in December and compared it to the new version, the original has more of a period vibe of what was going on in metal possible due to the sonic values of the instruments and production. What did the band think about that demo? 

Jarvis Leatherby: I released that Orange album on my record label. The tape was not heavily circulated, only 50-100 copies in total. The band doesn’t like that demo at all. I was forcing my will on them to release it this past December [laughing]. As a fan myself, I thought other fans would like to hear it as well. People know about it; they just never heard it. Between the entire band, there was only one cassette. There was nothing online or on YouTube. I think it was when the band was finding their sound. There were four different singers on that tape. Each band member tried to sing, including Tim Baker, who was a friend of the band and hung out with them. I think they said they recorded in Rob’s sister’s bedroom [laughing]. Tim was there at the time, helping with the recording and singing on some backing vocals. Nobody at the time thought he would become the lead singer and the most recognizable thing about the band. Interestingly, the band will have its 50th anniversary next year, so it’s cool we have something like it to document their history. They had been a band six or eight years prior to that recording. Even the most hardcore fan would know “Route 666.”

Did the band have to relearn these songs?

Jarvis Leatherby: Not really. Sometimes the memory comes back. When you get older, your short-term memory goes to shit, but your long-term memory pulls it back. The muscle memory was definitely gone, but they jump back into it easily.

What does this EP mean to the band and their fans?

Jarvis Leatherby: I put together a special collector’s bundle for fans that they can order on the website like a limited edition color vinyl that is only available for this bundle which includes the CD version, the cassette version, Flexi-7 inch vinyl of “Brutish Manchild,” and a t-shirt. What makes it really special is it has three prints of the lyrics of the songs. Rob the drummer back in the 70s in high school when they wrote a song, he would doodle and draw on the lyrics. They would be these full-color illustrations of the lyrics of what the song was about. They look like they took hours of work. He saved them, and we now made prints of them available in this bundle.

What is on the horizon for the band? Are they considering touring or working on another studio album?

Jarvis Leatherby: I don’t think anyone knows, as it’s hard to judge what will happen next, particularly after this first year of the pandemic. It lasted three times longer than anyone thought. This EP will hold the fans over; however, these guys only put out four records from 1972 to 1992 then disappeared for 25 years. These guys are nearing their mid-60s, and when you take 2 ½ years off, that’s a big deal. There were festival dates we were headlining all over the world, and it took me a while to get these guys in playing shape when they reunited. Then you have this long break from playing as we get older; they have to double that time to re-acclimate themselves. I have to take into account the average age of each member, me not included. We don’t want to go out there and realize this ship has sailed. It’s hard for us to plan. There is material for another album, and that will probably be the final album of this band. We have all talked about it. You want to be able to do it correctly, and that’s the reality of it. I’m cool with being open about it.  We have plans for a pretty big gig in Vegas on Halloween weekend, which is not yet confirmed. Other than that, we will be headlining the Keep it True Festival in Germany next April. Our original 2020 plans will kick off a year from now if that puts things in perspective.

Night Demon
Night Demon (Jarvis Leatherby)

You are doing the smart thing and waiting instead of going out to play for a handful of people who are socially distanced.

Jarvis Leatherby: Yeah, I don’t see the six feet thing working at concerts and festivals. When they happen, they will happen, and they can’t be policed. I don’t think it has worked or will work. I’m in Ireland, and things are still on lockdown pretty hardcore. In the states, things are losing up. It will become a choice if you want to play a concert then go for it. If not, stay home. I respect anyone and everyone’s opinion on what they think is the best for them. It will be an individual’s choice. Night Demon is not touring until 2022 as we don’t want to risk getting sick or segregating the audience on who has been vaccinated and who wasn’t and can’t attend. Every venue may have different rules.

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