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Michael “Flint” Vujea (1983)

Bassist Michael ‘Flint’ Vujea nor guitarist Jerry Fogle performed on Paradise Lost, having parted ways with Cirith Ungol by that time. “Flint was kind of getting disillusioned with the whole thing,” Tim affirms. “Like Rob has said, it was always a struggle to get things done, to get records. It just took so long to do it and as far as jamming and stuff, he just got frustrated with the whole thing I think. He was more influenced by thrash in a way at that time, and wanted to play a little bit more of that kind of style. He went his own way for a while and I think he was in another band for a while, but he never really did any recordings or stuff. It was just a disillusionment thing with Flint I think, and he was just frustrated with the way things were not happening. As far as Jerry goes though, like I said, our plan was to have all of us together and have Jimmy on guitar too. At the time Jerry was battling with alcohol and stuff and that’s what killed him eventually, but I think he saw when we started bringing Jimmy around and didn’t really get what we wanted to do. Me and Rob were saying ‘This is gonna be awesome.’ Jerry wouldn’t have had to do the rhythms, but could have just done his thing. We could’ve let him shred and just do his thing.

“I don’t know if he thought of it as a threat to him or whatever, but it never really worked out. He just decided to not be involved in that situation, and it wasn’t that long after that I think that he really got bad with the alcohol, and then it finally killed him. It’s too bad that it worked out like that and it sucks that he’s dead, but at least he left a really great legacy of some really great stuff on those first three records. It’s too bad – like I said – that we never really got the band to go like that because it would’ve been me, Rob, Flint, Jimmy, and Jerry. There’s nothing that we couldn’t have done. It would’ve been awesome.”

“I keep going back to this Ye Olde Metal book that I’m reading,” Rob confesses. “A lot of these big bands that we worshipped lasted through one record and maybe like a year of touring or a couple of years, and then they were over. At least some of the bands had these really short life spans. By the time Flint had left we had been together in the band for ten to 15 years, and I can’t remember exactly the date. We had a band room and we were paying rent, and we were all working full-time jobs and had girlfriends. We would get together three to four nights a week and practise. We were getting hundreds of fan letters a day so we were writing them back and sending them stickers, and so we were paying for all the postage and stuff. Every month I’m hitting the guys up, needing $100 for postage. At one time a year went by and Jerry didn’t even pay his band rent, so I paid it for him. I’m asking money of these guys all the time, and we had a nice band room; we had red carpet, we had lights, it was custom built, and you could throw a rock to where the recording studio was. We’d have people come over, and we’d have parties there and stuff. We had a little dressing room and a bar in it, so we had this really great place.”

“But after a while, it’s frustrating when you’re there and you’re practising and doing all this kind of stuff, and you never see anything happening to go anywhere,” Tim recognises. “We would put out a record and have high hopes, going ‘Oh, this is gonna be great,’ and then we’d sell some. We’d never get any money or promotion from the record company, and then we’d struggle for another couple of years writing good material, practising, and trying to get gigs. It was a whole cycle of stuff and after so many years – like Rob said – Flint got disillusioned with it, and I think Jerry did in a way too. When everybody else faded away, the last two guys standing were me and Rob. We were standing in the band room, going ‘Well, I guess it’s over.’ That was the end of the band, but like I said, there was a lot of stuff that went on behind the scenes. Like Rob said, the band had been together for years and years; it was a lot of frustration along with the good times as well and stuff, but after beating your head against a wall for so long some people do tend to give up.”

“Here’s a question I ask and I don’t wanna get personal with you, but would you work at a job for 15 years without a pay cheque?,” Rob queries. “We actually not only worked at this – and it was our dream and our life goal to get this band going – but we never, ever got any money for it. As a matter of fact, every time we played a show… Let’s say we got paid $500 for the show, or maybe $300 back then. We had to rent a smoke machine, we had to get a truck, we had to put up posters, we had to call our friends up, and we had to pay for gasoline and bass guitar strings and drum sticks. After every concert that we played, I’d go ‘Can each of you pitch in $100 (laughs)?’

“We’d show up at seven in the morning at the place we’re supposed to play, and we were supposed to be going on at nine as the first opening act. We’d unload all of our shit and the time comes for us to have a soundcheck, and the bigger band decides that we’re not gonna get a soundcheck and we’re not gonna get a dressing room. We get home the next morning at three or four in the morning, and every one of us… I can’t speak for all of us, but I’m pretty sure… Here’s what I did; I got home at three to four in the morning, we’d put all the band equipment away, I’d go to bed for an hour or two, and then I’d get up and work another eight to ten hours at a regular job. None of us are rocket scientists, so we’d be working real jobs.”

Paradise Lost (1991)

Many aspiring musicians would’ve thrown in the towel much earlier; without doubt, a love of the music must’ve been the driving force behind Cirith Ungol. “That’s what kept us going for all that time,” Tim accedes. “We really thought that we had something to give to people when we were really into the music and stuff, and that’s why we suffered through all that crap. Like I said, at least we have a legacy of some really good stuff and people can enjoy it forever. That makes it worthwhile. When you look back on it, you can look back on it and take all this crap, the bad shit that happened and everything, the frustration and everything… But then again, you pop in King Of The Dead or something and you start listening to that opening riff of King Of The Dead with Jerry doing his guitar shit. You go ‘Well, it was all worth it.’”

Handling bass on Paradise Lost was Vernon Green. “What happened was after all the other guys left, we put out ads and guys would show up,” Rob exposes. “Vern was a great guy, and the other two guys in the band were great guys. The problem was they were just short-term guys who came in.”

“It was kind of a last grasp by me and Rob to keep something going,” Tim accepts.

“It’s like a relationship breaking up, and deciding you’re going to have kids to try to stay together,” Rob grants.

“It was just an endgame type thing, and it was never gonna really pan out I don’t think,” Tim scrutinises. “Like I said, we were just grasping at straws at that time because Flint had left, Jerry had left. Jimmy was a great guitar player and stuff, but…”

“Every one of these guys quit,” Rob evaluates. “Jerry quit, Flint quit, Jimmy quit, Joe and Bob. All of these guys quit, so when you walk away from something… Almost every one of those guys… Vern’s still in my hometown, and he goes ‘Yeah, let’s come over and jam.’ I tell this to Flint too: ‘If you would have never left the band, maybe we would’ve made it.’ It’s too late to go back and see what things would’ve been like, but what I would like to focus on is the original group and the first three albums because that’s what I see our legacy as. Even though Paradise Lost had really good material… I don’t dislike the record, because there’s some really good parts on there. I still feel like I was run over by a truck doing it, and so when you get run over by a truck…”

“You don’t have strong feelings for that truck,” Tim laughs.

Credited as session musicians on Paradise Lost are guitarist Joe Malatesta and bassist Robert L. Warrenburg, as Rob alluded to. “Basically what they did is split before the record was actually even released, so we got Vern and so on in the band,” Rob imparts. “That might’ve been another reason we got dropped from the record label, because our band was starting to disintegrate at the very end. I know both those guys were great musicians and they were competent…”

“We might’ve played just a couple of gigs with them, that’s how long those guys lasted,” Tim relates. “It was kind of a weird thing.”

“I have some funny stories about Joe though,” Rob enlightens. “Joe was a Ted Nugent looking guy, and he would always show up in ripped denim blue jeans or something and a ripped shirt. At one show we said ‘This ain’t working. We don’t want you dressing up, but you’ve at least got to wear something more than a ripped T-shirt.’ He showed up at the concert that night, and he had this whole outfit on that actually looked really… I can’t even remember what it was, but…”

“It looked like something Angel would wear,” Tim chortles.

Originally a UK number one and US number two for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in August and October 1968 respectively, a cover interpretation of ‘Fire’ was included on Paradise Lost. “Both me and Tim have roots going back to the early days of psychedelia, like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and all that stuff,” Rob conveys. “Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’ was a pretty big hit here.”

“It was played pretty regularly on the radio in the 60s,” Tim highlights. “We were looking for a cover song to do just for the hell of it. Every album we did had something to do with fire on, so we thought ‘Why don’t we just do ‘Fire’?’”

“Getting back to Servants Of Chaos, the version on there is actually the demo version which Flint plays on,” Rob emphasises. “Jimmy’s on there on guitar, and I think it’s really good.”

The label handling the issue of Paradise Lost was Restless Records. “Here’s what happened,” Rob commences. “Enigma got sold to Capitol Records – they had Ratt and all these bands on there – but then the guys reformed as Restless, and this is the tragedy of our band. It’s like an abused wife going back and getting beaten by her husband over and over again. When we had the material for Paradise Lost we were going down to LA, and once again, we’re trying to find someone to actually put the record out. We have nowhere to go to except our abusive old husband, right? We show up at Restless Records, and they decided to put out the record. The reason why Flint quit the band, it took so long to do that, and the reason why we had all these other members in the band was because Restless was going through this lawsuit with Capitol and there was all this crap going on.

Jerry Fogle (1983)

“It basically took us three years to get all that crap settled before they were actually ready to let us go into the studio, and the studio we recorded at – which was right across the alley from our band room – were putting in a new mixing console and doing some stuff. That took six months to a year. By that time, like I said, when we were ready to do Paradise Lost Jerry would’ve been in the band and Flint would’ve still been in the band. By that time Flint left and Jerry left though, and Jimmy was in the band. That’s how that thing came about, but once again we were still stuck on the same company who didn’t really wanna spend any money on us.”

Roadrunner Records was approached to oversee a European release of Paradise Lost. “When Paradise Lost came out Restless was doing nothing for the band, and we actually signed a three-record deal with them supposedly,” Rob denounces. “They go ‘If you guys are gonna do anything, you’ve gotta get this out in Europe,’ and I said ‘Well look, you guys are the record company. You guys should be getting it released or licensed in Europe.’ They said ‘We can’t find anyone to do it,’ so I actually called up the guy at Roadrunner Records. I guess they listened to it, and they said something like ‘It’s the same old crap, and we’re not interested in it.’ As soon as Roadrunner wouldn’t release it in Europe, within a matter of weeks we got a letter from Restless saying that they were dropping us from the label. We had a contract that had an opt-out clause or something in, so they dropped us.

“That was kind of sad, but I think all of our influences were from Europe pretty much. There were some American bands, but we were pretty heavy on European bands like Uriah Heep, Savoy Brown, and bands like that. A lot of our influences are from there, so I think it’s actually no secret that we were playing for the European crowd because we didn’t see fans in America listening to our music. We thought the same people that listened to our music were in Europe, and that’s my biggest regret. My dream was to go to play in Europe, and we never really made it. I think if we would’ve gone over there…”

“People still ask us today to go over there,” Tim mentions. “Like Rob was saying, a lot of our favourite bands were all European bands. Scorpions, Lucifer’s Friend, and all this kind of stuff. That’s what we listened to, that’s what we really wanted to be like, and we really regret not ever being able to go over there.”

“We were the only guys over here listening to that,” Rob estimates. “Well, not the only guys, but we’d go down to Los Angeles and we had friends at these record stores. They’d go ‘Lucifer’s Friend; we have one copy, and it’s a European import.’ It’s not like all these metalheads that lived in LA were there. There were just a handful of people that were actually listening to that, and I’m not judging the music by that because all the music that we’re talking about is epic. The American public is still not the most faithful group of people though, and I’m not speaking for all of us. I’m just speaking for the majority of Americans.”

By May 1992, the straw had broken the camel’s back. “We had been together for so long, and when all the guys quit I was actually crying,” Rob confides. “Jimmy was the last guy to quit; he said ‘I’m quitting the band,’ so he took his stuff. We’re sitting in the band room, and I had this drum set that was given to me by Pearl Drums which was a birchwood painted red – it had like 20 cymbals. I had this unbelievable drum set, and I just thought ‘My god, I’m sitting here looking at it and we don’t even have a band.’ Tim and I were trying to decide ‘Are we gonna do this? Are we gonna get a bunch of more young kids in the band, and try to teach them to play our songs?’”

“And in the meantime, like Rob said, we had overheads,” Tim cautions. “We had a studio, and we had to pay rent on that and all kinds of stuff. It certainly didn’t end like we wanted it to.”

“You may not have noticed, but about every ten years the United States causes a worldwide recession for the rest of you guys,” Rob jokes. “We went through two to three of those in the band. I can’t remember exactly when the band broke up – it was in 1991, 1992 if I’m not mistaken – but we were going through another one of those periods where we were kinda broke. There wasn’t much money around, and we’re just looking at each other going ‘How much longer can we keep this shit on without any kind of support?’”

“Without any support from a record label, or anybody else,” Tim stresses. “It was always so frustrating.”

“If the original guys had stayed together,” Rob begins. “Even if Jimmy had stayed in the band… If the core group would’ve been together, we might’ve kept going. Let’s say if Flint and Jerry had never quit the band, and Jerry had never died, I could still see us being together today like Blue Cheer or something. It would’ve been like keeping the original marriage together, but when you’re on your third wife sometimes there’s not that much left.”

In the almost 20 intervening years between May 1992 and the conduction of this interview, normal, everyday jobs have taken up much of Tim and Rob’s time. “I’ve just been working a normal job,” Tim proclaims. “I got a family and a house, and kids and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been putting them through school and everything, so that’s been my focus. With the growth of social media and everything, now that everybody’s on Facebook I get stuff all the time – mostly from guys in Europe – to do festivals. ‘When are you guys gonna get together, and come over here and play? Get Cirith Ungol over here to our festival, and we’ll pay your way. We’ll pay for this, this, and this.’ It’s kind of hard to do when Rob doesn’t have a drum set, and the only singing I do is when I play Rock Band with my kids. I just kind of lead a normal life, bills, the house, and the kids. Like I said, I get offers all the time. Maybe some day I’ll make it over to Europe, and me and Rob will come out in wheelchairs and introduce another band playing our stuff. There’s actually tribute bands in Europe that I know of in Greece and places like that that are doing our stuff, and that’s kind of a good thing for a tribute to us I guess.”

“I don’t know if you saw, but there was a tribute album that came out a few years ago named One Foot In Fire (August 2006) – it’s pretty cool,” Rob beams. “I called Tim up, and I said ‘Every one of these bands are playing our songs better than we did all those years ago.’ Crystal Viper, that was one of the bands.”

Servants Of Chaos (2001)

“A guy sent me something the other day, and there’s actually a band called Finger Of Scorn in Greece,” Tim attests. “It’s a tribute band, and they’re touring around Greece. There’s a few videos online, and they’re actually pretty good (laughs). I was watching them the other day and there are three songs online, and it’s actually pretty good. You kinda go ‘Gee, I wish we were still together,’ and these guys are doing a pretty good job of our songs.”

“Maybe we’ll get a free pass if they play somewhere local,” Rob muses.

“Like I said, we just live a kind of normal life,” Tim asserts. “We worked together on the DVD, and then Greg and Rob did Servants Of Chaos a couple of years ago. It’s nice that people still have an interest in our band, and we’ve actually put out something new that nobody’s ever seen before. Like I said, especially in Europe and stuff and most of the United States and the rest of the world never saw us play. Putting out this DVD which actually looks pretty good… And like Rob said before, the sound is pretty good. It’s a decent representation of the band, like right after King Of The Dead came out with Jerry kicking ass, and Flint and Rob kicking ass. It’s actually a really good thing that we have this out, and we wanna thank Brian for doing it because like Rob said, it would’ve been lost to history. At least this way people get an idea of shit that they never got to see, and at least they can see us now in a way.”

“I gotta throw a caveat to that whole thing,” Rob states. “Originally we paid the guy $20 to record it. We always used to get a cassette from the guy that did our sound so we could listen to it later, almost like a football game to see what things we could improve and what have you. The other joke about this is – this is a little secret, but not so much a secret anymore – cassettes are 45-minutes long. Our set was 45-minutes long, so when we first found this cassette I sat there and listened to the whole thing. Right on the last ten to 15 seconds of the show the tape runs out; it’s a Maxell tape with a cleaner thing on either end, but then the video keeps on going for another ten to 15 seconds. The guy that actually put this together – a guy here in our hometown who’s like a video guru – actually found on one of our other live songs another similar ending, and he kind of glued it on there. It’s kind of funny; the last ten to 15 seconds Tim is yelling out stuff like ‘We’ll see you next time,’ and he doesn’t have a microphone in his hand or anything.”

“The DVD looks really good and it sounds good, and it’s a good representation of that time in the band,” Tim senses. I hope everybody likes it.”

One wonders: what are those normal, everyday jobs? “What we do is not very impressive,” Rob maintains. “I work in the graphics industry, and I’m still working in the same job. I was working at that job and it was helping to pay the band’s bills when the band first had a record out, and I’m still doing the same thing. I work in a basement, and I’m doing graphic artwork and stuff.”

“We’re not doing anything glamorous,” Tim professes. “I work in the manufacturing industry.”

“The last concert I saw was probably one that we played at,” Rob tenders.

“I have a son who’s 21-years-old and I’ve been taking him to concerts since he was 15 to 16, which is kind of cool,” Tim believes. “‘Hey, there’s a band called Megadeth. Let’s go and see them’ and crap like that. I’ve taken him to see all the good shows, every band that comes around. It’s really good to have somebody to turn onto stuff, and him and his friends are into metal stuff too. He turned all of his friends onto our stuff, so it’s kind of cool.”

Following the demise of Cirith Ungol, Rob and Tim abandoned their musical pursuits altogether. “We’ve talked about it several times today, but after Jimmy left we’re sitting in the band room,” Rob starts. “I sold my drum set for $1,500, and to replace it today would probably cost about $20,000. We had this really bitchin’ Conn Strobe guitar tuner. I ferried it across the street to the recording studio, and what’s really funny is they’re still using it to this day. It’s not one of those cheap ones you plug into your guitar, and a green light comes on – you can actually tune pianos through it and stuff. We just moved out of the band room, and I sold my drum set. I swore I’d never touch a drum stick as long as there were bags in the music industry. I’ve kind of pushed myself into a corner on that one, but I want you to know that if Tim was willing to sing and we could do it then I would play.

“Just the logistics you’ve got to think about though; we don’t have any equipment, we have no place to practise, and we’re all working full-time jobs. To actually get us together to go put on a show somewhere though, what if we didn’t play as well as we wanted to? I think Tim’s thinking along the same lines as me. What we did, we did at a time in our lives when we were younger. We did it really good and we’re proud of it, but trying to go back and recreate that? As much as we want to, I don’t think it would make anyone happy and I think we would be afraid of disappointing the people that we want to not disappoint the most. That answers the question everyone asks us over and over, which is why we are not gonna reform or play. We’ve had offers, but still to get together and practise and do all that stuff? Like I said, to me it would be insurmountable to get all those logistics together.”

Original guitarist Jerry Fogle sadly passed away on August 20th, 1998, succumbing to liver failure. This hasn’t been a stumbling block in Cirith Ungol’s reformation, however. “He stopped playing long before the band broke up,” Rob warns. “After he quit the band, he stopped playing and he passed away. We were still together. If the original group was willing to play and wanted to do it, then we would. Since Tim is the singer though, it’s his decision also.”

Cirith Ungol live on stage in 1983

The November 2011 reissue of Servants Of Chaos might pave the way for future Cirith Ungol reissues. “This reissue of Servants Of Chaos with the DVD…,” Tim hopes. “I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but the packaging is incredibly awesome. The release is a triple-disc set, it’s a double album and it’s got the DVD in. They’ve actually put out the double album vinyl – a full, fold-out gatefold vinyl in Europe – and it looks freakin’ fantastic. I’m really hoping that we can sell enough of these, and I know Metal Blade are actually doing some promotion because they send us links all the time to the stuff they’re doing to get it out there, and guys like you are helping. What I’m really hoping is that since we did this, maybe we can convince Brian. Like Rob said, we do have a couple of other videos that are from different shows; we have ones with Greg and Jerry together playing guitar with Flint, Rob, and me. I’m hoping that we can go back and maybe release some of the other records as a box set with another DVD in them, but time will tell if that’s gonna happen or not. That’s what I really hope will happen, though. If we can do a little business with this and get people interested in something else, hopefully we can go back and re-release those, put out another DVD, and see what happens from there.”

As to what will be penned in metal’s historical tomes regarding Cirith Ungol is up to both music historians and fans alike. “It’s just amazing to me that people are still interested and still want to do interviews,” Tim underlines. “We’re still doing reissues of stuff that we did all those years ago, so I guess it holds up well for people. To me it’s awesome music, and that’s why it holds up. We had a passion to do it; we did what we did from the heart, and we weren’t trying to be posers or fake, and put some shit out there just thinking people would buy it because it was commercial or whatever. We did what we wanted to do, and obviously a lot of people must’ve liked it because over the years we’ve heard reports about all these bands that we’ve supposedly influenced. Bands credit us for this, this, and that. I think that’s really our legacy as a band, putting out great albums. When people say ‘You guys were a big influence on us,’ it’s really weird. We never really sold that many records and we weren’t really ever that famous, but I guess the core group of people that are into us took what we had to offer and took it to whatever heights that they could take it to. I think that’s what our legacy is.”

“It’s just like when me and Tim or Greg were down in LA picking up a copy of Lucifer’s Friend or Sir Lord Baltimore, that one copy,” Rob deems. “Somewhere in England, Germany, Italy, France, or Greece, maybe some 13-year-old kid is picking up a CD of Frost And Fire or something. There’s a lot of junk out there and there’s a lot of crappy music but there’s a lot of good stuff too, and I hope that people… In some heavy metal encyclopaedias, they’ve said we’re the worst heavy metal band ever.”

“I take pride in that, because we were like iconoclasts,” Tim raves. “We didn’t do it to please anybody else. We did what we thought was good, heavy, epic music, and we were trying to put out the best music that we possibly could. I hope it’s held up all these years.”

“Just like when I put on one of those old Trapeze albums or Captain Beyond or Cactus or any of those bands, it still sounds as fresh today,” Rob brags. “I’m hoping that a newer generation of heavy metal listeners will pick up King Of The Dead, listen to it, and go ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”

“Or Servants Of Chaos, and say ‘This stuff sounds really good. Maybe I should check out the rest of their catalogue,’” Tim assumes. “Then they’ll find One Foot In Hell, King Of The Dead, or something, and see what happens. Like I said, I hope we can do something else in the future with Brian as far as reissuing stuff goes, but time will tell.”

Servants Of Chaos was re-released on November 18th, 2011 through Metal Blade Records.

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