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With any luck, these guys will be huge in Japan. - 94%

Empyreal, November 8th, 2008

Ultimatium are a Finnish Power Metal band.

...sit back down. These guys play high-octane, acrobatic and melodic metal in the vein of Stratovarius and...Stratovarius some more. That's not anything too stunning; we have lots of bands doing that these days. I mean, without a real Stratovarius at the moment, who are we to turn to for our daily dose of sugary melodies and soaring vocals and speed metal riffs? Twilightning? No, not Twilightning. Ultimatium, that's who!

This is a very well crafted and streamlined album, with no real filler or throwaway tracks; just a whole lot of classy Power Metal. Power Metal isn't a very strong genre these days, and it seems like the safest bet if you want to stay inside the genre's lines - if you're not Edguy or Helloween - is to throw together a spirited romp full of pomp and pride, chock full of catchy choruses and all the stereotypes of the genre done beautifully well. And what surprises me about Ultimatium and their stellar sophomore effort Hwainoo is just how brilliant this stuff is. Every single riff and chord sounds like it came straight from the band's collective frozen heart, every frigid, chilly chorus is meticulously constructed to be as catchy and infectious as possible, and the production accentuates all of this wonderfully. Ultimatium have a lot of heart, and that's commendable in this world of commercialization and bullshit slinging.

That isn't to say they can't kick ass, too, because they sure as fuck can. On opener "Fight the Time," the band pumps out some of the best melodic Metal I've heard in the 21st century thus far, rivaling even Stratovarius's best work with a fist-pumping riff and a chorus so happy and sweetened that you won't be able to resist singing along, and they don't let up, with such loyal and luscious impressions as "Dreamlife," the ripping "Set the Sails" and the AOR-soundalike (and this is not a bad thing) "Descent." "Storms" is a ballad, and while it IS a bit excessive in its emotion sometimes, I still like it. On the second half of the album we get killer shit like the blazing, furious "Over the Edge," which features a stunning keyboard backdrop, some harsh vocals and a piercing chorus, and then the more introspective "Play the Game." The token epic here is "Whispers of the World," and it's a good song, not too pompous or over the top, with just the right amount of grandiose elements added in for good measure. It will not disappoint.

If you like bands like Dragonland, Episode-era Stratovarius and Excalion, Ultimatium should be the brightest gift under your Christmas tree this Winter season. Full of proud, spirited music with heart and soul to rival the best of whatever is in your collection, Hwainoo will not disappoint.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Ultimatium - Hwainoo - 70%

Radagast, August 22nd, 2008

Still a relatively new sighting on the Finnish power metal landscape, Ultimatium have finally released their 2nd CD, 4 years after debuting with 'New dawn'. Featuring some experienced players from respected – if not exactly well-known – bands in their ranks, it won't come as any great surprise that they play melodic power metal that is laced with complex keyboard arrangements, lightning-quick solos and soaring vocals.

Though generally pretty unoriginal, 'Hwainoo' does feature some more progressive arrangements than one might expect, and a couple of narrow misses aside, the songs are uniformly strong enough that their derivative nature does not hamper their likeability.

"Fight the time" is the expected and obligatory opening barnstormer, mostly reminiscent of Finnish grandmasters Stratovarius, though with keyboards more reminiscent of Freedom Call during the rampant chorus. The belting Michael Kiske-esque vocals that former Dreamtale singer Tomi Viiltola employs in the chorus are a contributing factor to the quality of the song and the CD as a whole – though a touch more gravelly on the verses, his voice tends to burst into life when the songs crescendo and his input to the band is an invaluable one.

In contrast to his melodic approach, a couple of black metal vocalists help out with some screams (but curiously no actual singing) during "On the edge", a varied and much grander effort that shows a more ambitious side that Ultimatium are beginning to display, featuring several distinct and atmospheric keyboard sections from founding member Matti Pulkkinen.

"Storms" is the big ballad of the CD, and unfortunately doesn't quite work, feeling a little forced and tepid. Along with the simply uninspiring "Descent", it is a weak point in the tracklist (crucially, they follow one another right on the center point) and causes the CD to deflate a little as whole. This minor collapse in an otherwise rock-solid set of songs prevent 'Hwainoo' from breaking Ultimatium into the top tier, but it should still make for a worthwhile addition to a melodic power metal fan's collection.

With Stratovarius in a state of suspended animation (and Revolution Renaissance not exactly setting the heather alight in their stead) and Sonata Arctica tooling about in pseudo-progressive boredom, there is an opening for a big melodic power metal band in their style. Ultimatium may not yet be at the level of their predecessors, but they have the potential to give it a damn good shot. It matters not a jot that the style is nothing new – if the big guns aren't interested in carrying on their own good work someone else may as well have a go at holding the torch. Best of luck to them.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)

Winter Dreams and Melodic Majesty. - 96%

hells_unicorn, July 26th, 2008

With a stream of less than stellar albums and disappointing news coming out of Finland’s rather large power metal scene, one has to wonder if maybe the beast that was pioneered by the recently split-up powerhouse Stratovarius is beginning to lose steam. Lackluster albums such as “Dark Passion Play” and full fledged letdowns such as “Unia” and “Blooddrunk” are becoming something of a trend of late, not to mention that other established acts such as “Dreamtale” and “Sinergy” have been out of it for a while, though the former is showing signs of activity after a barrage of line-up shifts. If anything, the decline of Stratovarius and Timo Tolkki’s recent break from the project seems more a reflection of things rather than their cause.

But as in all times of difficulty, there will always be a younger soldier who will rise to the challenge and keep the cause from faltering. Enter the lesser known but equally competent melodic outfit “Ultimatium” in their second release and incarnation, led now by the soaring vocals of former Dreamtale front man Tomi Viiltola and realized by the atmospheric yet hard edged songwriting sensibilities of Matti Pulkkinen. 4 years ago they released a promising debut with a sound very much reminiscent of early 90s Stratovarius, but this time they have accomplished something a good deal more ambitious, not to mention faster and more riff happy than most in this style.

The overall sound of “Hwainoo” could compare to several great albums in one respect of another. Viiltola’s vocals are equally as powerful and wide ranged as on “Ocean’s Heart”, although there is slightly more aggression and attitude. Stylistically this album would probably fall more into a 1998-2002 era power metal album rather than the current scene, which is definitely a positive. It carries elements of Stratovarius’ renowned work “Episode”, Sonata Arctica’s “Silence”, Children of Bodom’s “Hatebreeder” and even elements of Nightwish’s “Oceanborn”. Basically, if it was a classic album from the past of Finland’s melodic metal scene, elements of it can be found on here.

The most distinct characteristic of what is on here is how the moods of both the words and the music progress from light-heartedness to intense seriousness. Although they sound very different, there is an underlying similarity of progression from simplicity to complexity to be found on the Wintersun debut. “Fight the Time” ranks as one of the most lyrically fun-loving songs I’ve heard out of any band in Finland, or most any metal band aside from the party till you puke 80s scene. If anything, Tomi and Matti could maybe give Tony Kakko some lessons on how to lighten up once in a while. Musically its classic Episode era Stratovarius, from the blazing double bass work to the signature synthesized horn backed chorus, with Tomi shooting up just as high as Koltipelto, but with even more power.

Afterwards things gradually get more serious, as the band leaves the nights of debauchery at the local bars and the eventual hangovers for slower and mostly introspective territory. “Dreamlife” and “Set the Sails” are still quite up tempo and guitar oriented, but musically they reach into greater complexity, while the words become more inspirational than celebratory. Then things take a much heavier turn subject wise with “Storm”, the only full ballad on here, which is the closest thing to Sonata Arctica’s brand of gloom and fatalism on here. This is also where Viiltola proves to be a more versatile vocalist than most in the power metal genre, being able to morph his voice into something soulful and subdued without sounding like either a medieval minstrel or a neurotic poet.

The second half of this album is where the band starts to completely break away from most of the clichés of the genre. “Descent” and “Play the game” have some slight commonalities to pre-Century Child Nightwish, particularly their half-ballad work, but differ greatly in vocal approach. Aside from obvious differences in their genders, Tarja’s voice has a sort of underlying largeness to it that makes even her most quiet notes listen like she’s singing a Puccini opera, while Tomi successfully pulls back to meld himself into the whole of the sound when called for. “On the edge” is the biggest surprise on here, as it is doubtful that most power metal fans would expect a band like this to record a 6 minute plus epic hybrid of Nightwish’s “Oceanborn” and early Children of Bodom.

The album’s closing song “Whispers (of the World)” is probably the most ambitious formally, though stylistically it is also the closest to their debut. The wider ranged vocals and the stronger production do give it a slight early Twilightning flavor, and the keyboard during the middle section is pretty close to early 90s Dream Theater, but structurally and thematically it keeps reminding of “Fly high, Rise to the Sky”. It’s technically the most ambitious song on here, although it should be noted that guitar wise this entire album is technically far more ambitious than the last one. It definitely closes things on a high note and leaves those who liked the first album with a small amount of nostalgia to complement the listen.

It may be a little early to start declaring a greatest power metal album of 2008, but this is definitely up there if you like power metal with a fair amount of keyboards added in. Credit should be given to Matti for avoiding the temptation to flood the entire arrangement with his own instrument the way many keyboardists/songwriters do in this genre. The overall sound is very distinct and individualistic, though the natural clichés of the genre are still largely present. If “Unia” didn’t do it for you, and if you’re still depressed over Timo Tolkki giving up on Stratovarius, give this little gem a try, it will definitely ease the pain.

Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on July 26, 2008.