Saturday, November 17, 2012


“Neck Snappin’, Fist Pumpin’, Head Banging Heart of METAL!!” is the chorus to one of the greatest anthems to come out of the Metal underground. That song is the title of their 20th anniversary box set and separate compilation CD. Old school power metal masters Ultimatum have again contributed to the history of heavy metal as an art form and as artists with a distinctly Christian world view.

Ultimatum has reached a plateau that few bands have; they have been around for 20 years and still going strong. They’ve never been trapped in that album a year and tour grind that most bands fall into by default, however I’m sure that the guys themselves would love to have had that opportunity!

No, Ultimatum by and large has been a regional band which occasionally ventured outside the confines of the great state of New Mexico. Having played several larger festival shows over the course of their musical career including the Up From the Ashes festivals in Southern California, Extreme Mardi Gras also in Southern California, Cali-Stone and the big one, Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. I was fortunate enough to see them in 2010 at Up From the Ashes 3.

However, even without the benefit of full fledged touring this group of dedicated and persistent musicians have garnered a fan base that is truly world wide. One of the benefits of the musical underground, from tape traders to file swapping. It’s because of the advent of the internet that has allowed this band to develop such a fanatical fan base.

Roxx Records saw the opportunity to do something special and indeed they have. Heart of Metal: Twenty years of Ultimatum is a fabulous collection of all things Ultimatum. This collector's box set came with three CD’s, one DVD, autographed pictures, stickers, guitar pick and patch, whew! Oh if I forgot, it all came in a very cool embossed box to hold it all!

Starting off with the center piece CD, Heart of Metal 20 Years of Ultimatum, this 18 song compendium of high octane metal madness covers the gamut of Ultimatum’s recording career. For many fans the highlight of this disc is the four new tracks, Blood on a Thousand Hills, Scattered (Body Parts), Hook Line & Sinker and Rip ‘n’ Tear. These four tracks are what Ultimatum is all about in a nutshell, screaming old school thrashy/power metal i.e. Metal Church/Exodus/Meliah Rage. (Not the Euro metal that somehow gets labeled power metal).

Blood on a Thousand Hills opens up with a driving riff that locks in and pulls the rhythm section along.(A live version is included on the DVD) Fast and furious through the verses they put the brakes on during the chorus, a pile driver in overdrive. Scattered (body Parts) is more riffy with a slight groove to it, that is until the chorus kicks in with its pure headbanging joy. Founder and lead guitarist Robert Gutierrez shreds throughout this tune, with some nice tasty lead work. Rip N Tear is another barn burner that just plows along with some very crunchy riff work, that time change before the solo smokes. However my favorite of the new songs is the slowest (?), I know I know…. But Hook Line and Sinker is AWESOME!! Mid tempo at best with a stellar groove, this is the type of song you just imagine rows of headbanger's going nuts, remiscient of Accepts Balls to the Wall video. Strong riffage with a brilliant chorus that Scott Waters just belts out, fabulous stuff. The guitar solo section is very Maidenesqe, lots of melody with a nice tempo change.

The other fourteen tracks are taken from throughout the Ultimatum catalog. Many of those tracks were voted upon by the fans themselves through an online poll. Even then several of the tracks were remixed just for this release i.e. Heart of Metal, One for All (taken from 2007’s Into The Pit). A remixed version of Locked In Chains comes from their 2010 album Lex Metallis. The drums seem to have a fuller and more natural sound this time.

Other featured songs are Crash Course, Temple of the Spirit from 2000’s The Mechanics of Perilous Times. Never, Puppet of Destruction and Gutterbox appear from 1998’s Puppet of Destruction. Darkest Void appears from their debut album Symphonic Extremities along with that albums title track. The 2007 version of Blink appears here also in a remixed form along with the 2008 version of Mortal Stomp.

This album isn’t just a greatest hits type collection as it features those special versions of these classic Ultimatum tracks. This is the only disc to be featured outside this box set, so if you were unable to purchase the entire box set you can still get this 18 song gem.

The second disc is entitled Before the Pit: Demo’s and Alternate Versions. Featuring material from 2007’s Into The Pit, this CD is like watching a painting being constructed or looking at the assemblage of film in the cutting room of some Hollywood studio. There are lots of rough mixes, which for an artist is akin to being able to ‘try before you buy.’ However the original four song demo of Into The Pit is included here; One For All, Heart of Metal, Deathwish and Blind Faith. This was used to secure their record deal with Retroactive. These versions to this ear sound more aggressive and a bit heavier than what eventually appeared on …Pit. Well worth checking out.

Several alternate mixes of songs appear here as well; Blink, Into the Pit and Heart of Metal as well. These versions are different than what appeared on the final album. Several rough mixes, where a song is in the middle of the production process but not quite finished are included, Blood Covenant, Blind Faith, and Into the Pit. These tracks are raw and offer very cool insight into how songs are arranged and brought into focus (could you imagine how many versions of Metallica’s song Master of Puppets there must be!?!?). I’ve always been fascinated by this somewhat tedious process of putting an album together, however there is just a certain energy to the studio process which is very different from a live performance. This is disc is for true Ultimaniacs only. Of special note is the remixed radio version of Heart Of Metal. This is the version which appears on Dale Huffman’s radio show Metal Pulse Radio, a cool intro and more delay and reverb for a rich radio sound.

The third disc to be included is a copy of their remastered 1998 album Puppet of Destruction. A review of this album can be found here on the White Throne web site. Puppet of Destruction review

Of special note to me is that the final disc a DVD which clocks in a nearly four hours of material. Two complete concerts are included their appearance at Extreme Mardi Gras in 2002 and their 2010 triumph at the Up From The Ashes Festival in Temecula, Ca. There is also a plethora of interviews, live show clips, back stage material and their now classic video clip for their anthemic track, Heart of Metal.

As a fan I always dig the behind the scenes type material, it just helps me to feel that much more part of what is going on with my favorite artists. The 2007 interview, which is included, is really a great slice of Ultimatum in 20 minutes.

Ultimatum: Heart of Metal – 20 Years of Ultimatum, is a classic box set. If you were fortunate to snag one you’ll treasure it as a cornerstone of the Christian Metal Movement, however if you weren’t then by all means pick up a copy of the single disc Heart of Metal. This is heavy metal made by metal fans who like it hard, grinding and powerful. Crushing guitars with bombastic bass and thunderous drums topped off by a gravely throated vocalist, what more can a metal fan want???

10 axes….

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