Hold Your Ground
As far as I know, Ultimatium has been a well-kept secret in the world of power metal for a good long while. 2008's Hwainoo was a very strong album that unfortunately didn't reach as far as it deserved. I didn't even realize that these fellows were still active until about a month ago, and now I'm holding their brand new demo in my hand. I'd heard that the sound had changed a bit, but I was pretty confident in band's capability to keep churning out solid material.
Thankfully, there are no big surprises here, but the material is definitely different. They've slowed things down a bit on Hold Your Ground, and the energy level isn't quite the same as on their previous album. The melodies that drift around this little four track demo are considerably more subtle and less pronounced. The guitars are a mixed bag as well: while the solos are very strong and every bit as admirable as they were before, the leads and rhythm lines are a bit more mundane. The evolution of the band has become focused, it seems, upon their technical proficiency and consistently superb keyboards. A great many groups have gone this direction of late, and it never seems to go quite the way we as listeners want or expect it to. Don't discard this demo though, there's a lot going on. In my opinion, Tomi Viitola's vocals have matured and he sounds a bit more sure of himself this time around. While “C'est La Via” and “Shine On” are slower-paced and admittedly lose my interest a bit quickly, the stronger tracks (especially “Curtain of Darkness”) bear the Ultimatium name proudly, if flying slightly different colors.
I see Hold Your Ground as a stepping stone for this undeniably talented band. They're experimenting with more advanced songwriting and new concepts for their music. Now, they need to build on this new experience to create an album that will strongly appeal to their existing fanbase as well. Integrating a some of the less complex, standard-format power metal may do the trick, and the band is definitely up to the job. Fleshing out and improving this new style and combining it with the band's sense of melody (firmly established on New Dawn and Hwainoo) could mean a very formidable new album. Power metal labels take note, this veteran band has a lot to offer.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 6.75 out of 10