|Musical Style: Metal/Thrash||Produced By: Ultimatum|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website: Ultimatum|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 72:56|
Albuquerque, New Mexico based Ultimatum can trace its history back to the late eighties when guitarists Robert Gutierrez and Steve “Capt. Crunch” Trujillo were both part of a group called Angelic Force. Angelic Force lasted until 1989 at which point the two put together a new band, Holy Sacrifice, later the same year. After Holy Sacrifice disbanded in 1991, Steve took an extended break from music while Robert went on to found Ultimatum in early 1992. Robert proceeded to recruit vocalist Scott Waters a year later in addition to re-joining forces with Steve prior to the bands first live show in October of 1993. Ultimatum soon recorded its first demo, Fatal Delay, also in 1993 before recruiting drummer Mike Lynch and following up with its second demo, the 1994 five song offering Symphonic Extremities. With bassist Tom Michaels rounding out its line up, the band returned to the studio and recorded five more songs to turn Symphonic Extremities into a full length release, which it officially made available in October of 1995. Symphonic Extremities was eventually picked up by Juke Box Media in 1996 and re-issued with the bonus track “Word Of Sin”. Out of print for years, the album was re-issued a second time by Retroactive Records in 2007 with three additional bonus tracks.
At this point I am sure most of you are wondering why Ultimatum, one of Christendom’s premier thrash bands, is being reviewed in Angelic Warlord, a site which tends to shy away from the thrash genre? Well, if one takes a close look at Symphonic Extremities they will find there is a bit more than meets the eye here- and that is the foundation of “classic” and “true” metal the band rests its sound upon. Without a doubt fans of Saint, Judas Priest, Sardonyx, Armageddon, Metal Church and Accept will find a lot to like in Ultimatum. The bands thrash tendencies, on the other hand, cannot be denied in that comparisons to Exodus, Overkill, Megadeth, Temple Of Blood and old school Deliverance are not far from the mark. Tracks such as “Symphonic Extremities”, “The Killing Fields” and “Darkest Void”, for instance, bring a bone crushing heaviness but still deliver notable chorus hooks in the process. The classic metal of “E.N.D.” showcases a riff that would sound right at home on Saint’s Time’s End and “Black Light” an almost melodic based sound. The aptly titled “Megaton” is, well, just plain heavy while the same can be said for “World Of Sin”. “The Grip”, conversely, dares to approach power ballad territory.
Unique would be the best way to describe vocalist Scott Waters. With a harsh, angry and at times abrasive (but in a good sense) vocal style, Scott invites comparison to Steve Souza (Exodus), Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Tom Denlinger (Sardonyx), Udo (Accept) and even Bon Scott (AC/DC). While it took some time to get used to his aggressive vocal delivery (he does have the occasional heavy handed moment), I find his pull no punches approach to fully complement the driving sounds here.
Robert Gutierrez and Steve Trujillo combine to provide the needed crunch on rhythm guitar. And crunch is the key word here in that the bands material comes across as heavy as one can get without being overbearing. To understand my point, just check out the muscle bound riffs adorning “Megaton”, “E.N.D.”, “Symphonic Extremities”, “Blink” and others. You will find several demonstrations of adept lead guitar throughout the project as well, best exhibited on “Black Light”, “The Killing Fields” and “The Grip”.
When assessing the production values to Symphonic Extremities, it is important to keep in mind this is an independently released project recorded using mid-nineties technology. That being said, a certain element of thinness does permeate the sonics here, reflected in the muddy feel to the low end and weak mix of backing vocals on several tracks.
The albums weighty – almost speed metal influenced – title tack proves an angst laden romp, amalgamating a biting deluge of rhythm guitar with a chorus on the dogged side of things. Waters adds to the driving environs with an occasional harsh growl. Heavy but catchy, “Symphonic Extremities” points its listeners in the direction of truth:
Together in the likeness of His death
Look for His appearing until my last breath
Knowing the old man is crucified
Hell and the grave are now denied
Reckon yourselves dead unto sin
Alive in Christ
Salvation through Him
Sin shall not have its domain
Grace is the one that shall remain
“The Killing Fields” maintains the rumbling momentum. This one also stands out with its notable chorus hook – quite the catchy (but, again, heavy) feel here – along with a sturdy bass line that asserts itself in pronounced fashion. Gutierrez and Trujillo step forward with a stretch of brash dual lead work. Abortion is the subject matter to “The Killing Fields”:
Killing field in a land of corruption
This land will be judged because of abortion
Help us to see the blood on our hands
Bring down conviction upon our land
Classic metal at its best, “E.N.D.” features one of those authoritative riffs you will be challenged to ride of your mind. The song opens to a drum solo before the rhythm guitar takes over in full fury, impelling things with an excess of resolve to a chorus of an astringent but hook filled variety. More blistering lead work (some of the albums best) brings out the best in a piece with an anti suicide theme:
Perdition’s child, I was led astray
I had no friends, they all turned away
Is there anyone there who can hear my cry?
I hear no one, so I’ll say goodbye
My life will end, I want no more
I cry out loud, Lord save my soul
Can’t you see the pain in my eyes
Sorrowful but I don’t want to die
“Black Light” maintains a tranquil setting over its first several seconds until the rhythm guitar smashes into the mix. The song proceeds to drive ahead at a fixed mid-tempo pace, not culminating until gaining a hold of a melodic based chorus shored up by vocal harmonies. “Black Light” deals with spiritual deceptions and the twisting of truth:
Rape your mind till you’re spiritually blind
Cults twist the truth into clever lies
Deceiving even God’s holy elite
The god they serve will bring their defeat
When black becomes white becomes black
You can read the Word but still deny that Christ came down in the form of flesh
God incarnate to taste a bitter death
“Darkest Void” starts to a blend of searing rhythm guitar and pounding drums before Waters steps forward with a growl. Upholding the overriding impetus, the song urges itself ahead until erupting for a shouted chorus giving rise to an overriding guttural feel. A blend of charging riffs and energetic soloing leads the way through an authoritative instrumental section. This one is aggressive as they come but still delivers a notable hook. Religious pride is the subject matter here:
Played the game, yes I played it well
Sang hallelujah, had a story to tell
Went to church, sometimes twice a week
Could quote the scripture and man could I preach
Fooled myself, thought I was smart
Religious void filled my heart
A prideful look was my claim to fame, but I lived in the hall of shame
The short instrumental “Ode To Noise” is carried its distance by an ominous joining of distorted rhythm guitar and harsh sounding vocal effects.
“The Grip” gets underway quietly before abruptly picking up in pace as the rhythm guitar kicks in. Slowing again to a calm setting at the start of its first verse, the song gains initiative as the rhythm guitar returns to drive things to a poignantly charged chorus talking about breaking the grip of sin on your life:
Break the grip of my will
Sinful flesh I must kill
Break the grip of binding sin
When to Christ you give in
I enjoy how “The Grip” spends its last minute and a half in instrumental territory. What we have here is a song reflecting the spirit of Romans 7:
My soul cries out to do God’s will
But my flesh it longs to sin
A battle that’s raging deep within
But to sin I won’t give in
Sin can’t have its grip on me cause Jesus death has set me free
A vessel of flesh I might be but Christ’s Spirit strengthens me
I find the eight minute “Fatal Delay” falls a bit short of the mark. The song actually puts forth a strong showing during its verse portions, giving rise to a ton of groove and attitude in creating quite the prevailing setting. Upon reaching its chorus, however, “Fatal Delay” hits a wall due to a mix of backing vocals on the thin side of things. If imbued with a bit more muscle and “metal” attitude (such as on Saint’s “In The Battle”) then I can see the backing vocals here achieving the desired effect. All in all, this is a very fine number only held back by a few production misgivings.
“Megaton”, conversely, is a monster of a tune. The bass guitar solo at the start of the song gives way to a torrent of rhythm guitar. Tapering back to a forward bass line, “Megaton” plods through its verse portions as the rhythm guitar slams in and out of the mix, not picking up in pace until attaining the forcefully delivered chorus that follows. No, “Megaton” might not be the albums catchiest piece but its weighty thrash laden aura puts it over the top.
“Blink” can best be described as a three minute speed metal assault. With its all out frenetic tempo and too the point chorus, this one kind of reminds me of the old Deliverance song “Attack” (off the California Metal compilation). A chugging wall of rhythm guitar helps to place the song among the albums more exciting tracks. “Blink” touches upon the second coming:
Coming in the clouds
Like a thief in the night
To take us away in the blink of an eye
Here He comes!
Gone in a second, vanishing in thin air
The Lord at His appearing, His people disappear
“World Of Sin”, similar to “Fatal Delay”, does not quite make the grade due to a shaky mix of backing vocals in its chorus. Musically, there is nothing wrong with “World Of Sin” in that it brings a plethora of mid-tempo impetus along with the bands trademark energy and instrumental prowess (you have to appreciate the lengthy instrumental section driven by a stretch of scratchy lead guitar). But the backing vocals, which bounce between the left and right channel, lack the needed bite and edge. Irregardless, “World Of Sin” features some of the albums better lyrics:
We are Christ’s body here on the earth
Strike only one the whole body feels the pain
We are not separate but together in unity
Christ our uniter, together let’s praise His name
Closing out the Retroactive re-issue are two older demo tracks, “Wickedness & Perdition” and “Fatal Delay”, along with a live version of “Blink”.
I might describe “Wickedness & Perdition” as one of the groups more melodic pieces with its smooth sounding vocal performance from Waters and laid back feel that almost puts it in straightforward metal/hard rock territory.
The demo version of “Fatal Delay” has been carried out past nine minutes. I like this rendition of the song better with its stronger mix of backing vocals and several instrumental sections covering nearly half its length.
The live recording of “Blink” was recorded at the 2006 Up From The Ashes Festival in California. Please note that the band added no overdubs and, as a result, you will hear it exactly as it was performed it live.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Symphonic Extremities” (4:30), “The Killing Fields” (4:31), “E.N.D.” (4:58), “Black Light” (4:08), “Darkest Void” (3:56), “Ode To Noise” (1:55), “The Grip” (6:14), “Fatal Delay” (7:51), “Megaton” (6:00), “Blink” (2:54), “World Of Sin” (4:59), “Wickedness & Perdition” (5:45), “Fatal Delay” (9:01) & “Blink” (6:14)
Scott Waters – Lead Vocals
Robert Gutierrez - Guitars
Steve “Capt. Crunch” Trujillo – Guitars
Tom Michaels – Bass
Sean Griego – Drums
Joey Anaya – Bass
Mike Lynch - Drums