ULTIMATUM - LEX METALIS (*NEW-CD, 2009, Retroactive Records)
Last copies of a GREAT album of thrash and metal covers!
1 Ton Of Bricks
2 Locked In Chains
3 Sin After Sin
4 Creeping Death
5 Denim & Leather
6 Gut Wrench
7 Moto Psycho
8 Metal Health
10 Iron Fist
11 Can't Get Out
Lex Metalis continues Ultimatums metal onslaught, and a tradition that started on previous albums. Cover songs. Don't get me wrong, Ultimatum is original and writes their material with decidedly Christian lyrics, but over the years they have been doing a cover song on their albums. Now they deliver a tribute album full of such songs.
Personally, I hate tribute albums. Most of `em suck. However, Ultimatum has pulled it off. This is one of my favorite metal tribute albums. It is almost as good as disk 2 of Metallica's Garage, Inc. This is way, way, WAY better than disk 1 of afore mentioned album.
Originally I was just going to glaze over the songs, but after trying that route I felt like I really needed to go track by track. This is a heavy metal tribute record after all.
I have to say, I am not familiar with Metal Church. I know, shame on me. I have heard the name, even seen the CDs in the music stores, but never picked one up. Ultimatum pull off a great opener with a "Ton of Bricks," setting the tone for the rest of the album. That is how this album hits you. This thrasher starts off the cascade of falling heavy metal from above with crushing guitars and drums pummeling you with the sonic energy that is heavy metal.
"Locked in Chains," continues with a slightly more punk feel to the energy that is the publicized, yet never realized, Moshketeers. I know I've read about `em. At least as far as other bands mentioning them as an influence, but I've never seen a CD anywhere. The liner notes reveal that they never had a proper record deal. It is cool when an artist covers good songs by an obscure band. This song is a bit more mid-paced than the opener, and has Scott changing his vocal style slightly ranging from his typical hiss that inspired Gollum to a bit more of a punk shout vocal, not dissimilar from what you might hear in a hardcore band.
The third track, "Sin After Sin" had me thinking Judas Priest. That is till I actually heard the song. `That doesn't sound anything like Priest.' Pulling the Sin After Sin album I realized that they didn't open with a song called "Sin After Sin," but was actually "Sinner." Again, the liner notes shed light. This was a song by Twisted Sister. Though, I have to admit, this doesn't sound like T.S. either. To the dismay of many, I only own three T.S. records, and you can probably guess which ones those are. I will need to purchase some of their earlier albums and find out if Ult beefed this one up a bit. The riff at the beginning does sound like T.S. but the over all feel seems faster, more like punk, than I would expect. Gotta love this version of the song.
To the relief of many, I actually own the album with this next song on it. What self-respecting metal head doesn't? Ultimatum shines on their rendition of "Creeping Death" from Metallica's Ride the Lightning. I love the scream towards the beginning of the song. Fast, heavy, crunchy...the boys do speed metal so well.
Saxon is another band that inspired so many others. The song "Denim & Leather" is a fine example of why. Ult seems almost inspired as they play the song. "Denim and Leather brought all together!" I find myself wanting to sing along on this one.
I did not expect to see Mortification's "Gut Wrench" on any ones list of cover songs. Had it been me, I would have picked something off of the self-titled album or maybe "Break the Curse." Primitive Rhythm Machine would have been last on my list of albums to draw from. Ulty rips it up with this one. Scott growls a bit through the chorus here. While playing the original back doesn't seem any slower, Ultimatums version `feels' faster. Personally, I think I like this better than the original. This is also one of the few "Christian" songs on the record.
Now they definitely sped up Megadeth's "Moto Psycho." They make it hard to believe that this song is not from Rust in Peace. This is insane. They took a moderately good song, and made me love it! Mosh it up, baby! Is that Scott doing a death metal growling of "moto psycho" in the chorus background?
"Metal Health" is a classic from Quiet Riot. It is the anthem of many a metal head and helped kick off the explosion that was the L.A. Metal Scene. Ultimatum slows down for this one. Don't get me wrong, it's still got their crunch, but they kept the tempo that Quiet Riot set rather than speeding it up. Hey it doesn't have to be faster to be better. My goodness, I am full of cheese today! I can't help it, this is too much fun. "We're all metal mad!"
No proper metal tribute album is complete without Judas Priest. Straight off of the hugely successful British Steel, Ultimatum delivers "Steeler." It is hard to say if this song exceeds its original, but it certainly feels as fresh and alive as it did twenty-eight years ago.
Is it just me, or does Scott Waters actually sound like Lemmy Kilmister during the chorus of "Iron Fist's" title cut. This amazing song by a classic band picks up the pace a bit. Almost as if warning us of things to come. Love `em or hate `em Motorhead remains one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history. Brilliantly executed.
"Can't Get Out" is presented in all its speed metal fury. Taken from the legendary Once Dead album, this song by Vengeance Rising fits Ultimatum like a glove. It hits you like an iron fist delivering skull-crushing metal...uhm...like a ton of bricks...
I want to complain, but I can't. We've heard this one before boys! Remember, this was on "Into the Pit." Oh, but it is done so well. "Wrathchild" is a classic song by Iron Maiden. "Killers" was actually one of the first Iron Maiden albums I purchased. I wish I could say I got it when it was new, but it was actually around 2000 when I started truly exploring the world of heavy metal. Maybe the label wanted to cut a corner, but I think I would have preferred to hear something like "Killers." "Invaders" would be an interesting cover song. God willing, this will come to fruition on "Lex Metalis II: The Search for More Money." C'mon, you recorded a different song from Vengeance Rising. Why the rehash! In any case, this is a great song, and this album would be incomplete without Maiden. Iron Maiden is one of my favorite bands, so I am absolutely stoked that one of their songs is here, even if it is rehash.
I have often thought that Ultimatum sounds a bit like Overkill. Something in Scott's voice seems inspired by Bobby Ellsworth. "Powersurge" gets delivered with a bit more crunch than the original and rounds out the album nicely. Again, I think I like Ulty's version better. Definitely more bite to the vocal.
The new album sounds fresh and new even though many of the songs have sat on the shelf for the decades. This is easily one of the best "metal tribute" albums out there. Even the decent Iron Maiden tributes don't compare. I think the variance of music styles is what often kills these records for me. You either have a bunch of different bands playing their own version of any given song, creating a monumentous discontinuity from song to song, or you have a band playing different styles. The songs covered here come from bands that play varying forms of metal: Thrash metal, glam metal, power metal, and so on. Ultimatum have woven the "different" styles into their own creating a vibrant new album that holds my attention. I hate the records that make me reach for the "skip track" button. This one threatens to hit you with an iron fist, like a ton of bricks if you dare to touch that button!