Saturday, June 5, 2010
As the stage goes dark the intensity of the audience starts to reach a fever pitch, Cheering, screaming, yelling, chanting ‘ULTIMATUM!! ULTIMATUM!! ULTIMATUM!!....’ Finally as if on cue the sound of frenzied chord strumming and smashing drums begin to pound away. The lights go up to full blast as Scott Waters and company bound onto the stage. Their platform and pulpit as it were. Tonight another Ultimatum show goes into full tilt lift off; either join the fray or look out!
Very few bands have enjoyed the longevity that Ultimatum has. By continually putting out quality material over the last 15 years they have steadily and surely built up a sizeable international following. By remaining true to their brand of power/thrash metal has continued to bring in more fans, whose zeal is only outshined by the bands commitment to play loud and intense driving metal.
Ultimatum has released several classic power thrash albums, 2000’s The Mechanics of Perilous Times and 2007’s Into the Pit come immediately to mind. Without a compromise of either their sound or their lyrical content compositions such as ‘Heart of Metal’, ‘Temple of the Spirit’, ‘Violence and Bloodshed’ and ‘Blink’ remind us all that Ultimatum means business.
Through out their history a love of heavy metal has continually shined bright and clear. Not following trends but being true to themselves musically and spiritually Ultimatum have gained even a bit more traction with the latest resurgence of thrash metal in the underground. Recent shows with Exciter and Fueled by Fire add to their pedigree of gigs with bands such as Mortification, Once Dead and many others…
Over the course of the bands existence many members have come and gone; they have been guitar players, drummers, and bass players. Except for original members Scott Waters (vocals) and Robert Gutierrez (lead guitars) the only other member with this type of longevity is their highly versatile bass player Rob Whitlock.
Rob’s phenomenal bass playing is all over their last album Lex Metalis and the aforementioned Into the Pit. Rob’s playing compliments lead guitarist Rob Gutierrez playing tastefully and adds the needed punch and back bone to the Ultimatum machine. As Rob and I discussed his love of bass playing he said right up front, “I want my tone to be heavy yet to cut through. Robert and I each have a very distinctive tone. So that, when they’re combined it creates a solid wall of fury.”
The solid wall of fury has brought a hurricane of power to this quintets live assault as any concert goers will tell you. Rob explains “I wouldn't say my tone is ‘clean’ so much as it is ‘clear’”. That is most assuredly an apt definition that clearly is obvious on the ‘Into the Pit’ album.
“I don't use a lot of effects, just some compression and what I call the ‘natural distortion’ that happens between the combination of my Gibson basses with Rotosound round wound strings and my Ampeg Std pro III and 8x10 cab.” Whether you hear that tone in person or on one of the live tracks floating around there is little doubt about the tone Whitlock gets from his gear.
As we continued discussing Rob’s bass playing the topic of influences invariably comes up and he was quick to list his favorites, “The players who really influenced me the most have been Steve Harris, D.D. Verni, Geezer Butler, Pete Way, Cliff Burton, Gene Simmons, and Phil Kennemore. “ With that vast array of influences it’s really no wonder that Rob has been an essential component of Ultimatum’s sound. That vast array of heavy and melodic influences indeed molded one of the underrated musicians in the metal underground.
Scott Water’s lead vocalist for Ultimatum had been patiently waiting for a chance to interject and he found it here, “Rob is Ultimatum. He's a fantastic bass player and he's a big heavy metal fan. I couldn't imagine Ultimatum without him. Yes, the band existed before Rob, but he's become such an integral part of Ultimatum,” At this point Scott leans forward as it were for emphasis, “It just wouldn't be the same without him. He has become a major player in our song writing and in our overall sound.”
Adjusting his sitting position Rob divulges some more insight on his musical heroes, “I have always been inspired by the way they move & drive a song. This is how I see the role of my bass playing in Ultimatum.”
In discussing his place within the band we moved to toward talking about his contributions to their Into the Pit album. I found lots of headbanging fury within the barrage contained in this release. Rob went on to explain, “My writing credits are musical. I contributed riffs to those songs. I wrote one line of lyrics for ‘Blind Faith’ that's it. I think Robert wrote most of the lyrics for ‘Game Over’ Other than that Scott wrote all the lyrics.”
Cheerily he continued on to discuss his other contributions to that 2007 release. “My favorites are ‘Into the Pit’, I wrote that whole thing on the bass and Robert played lead over it. There is no rhythm guitar on that one. It's all 4 & 8 string bass, some keys, drums and lead. The spoken thing at the end is actually taken from The Exorcist movie, "It's an excellent day for an exorcism.”
‘Death wish’ I wrote the bulk of that one. ‘Heart of Metal’ is the first song I ever wrote with Ultimatum.” As an aside I’d say that song has become a full on anthem for Ultimatum and Rob show his musical chops on that one.
He continues, “I wrote ‘Exonerate’ which I think is a great thrasher!” With much enthusiasm he adds, "Game Over" I think this one is a peek at what is to come. "
Even as I write this story Ultimatum has been working diligently on new material that from what I understand is simply another leap in a positive direction. Most of us are anxiously waiting with baited breath. As glasses of our favorite thirst quenchers are brought to us (i.e. soda, water, iced tea…) Rob shares with me how he came to be in involved with Ultimatum.
After taking a big swig of water Rob continues, “I became a fan of Ultimatum in 2000, through Mortification. I went and saw them at the Stryper Expo in California in 2001. Not long after that I saw on their website that they were looking for a bassist so I contacted Robert and set up an audition. They offered me the job and I moved to New Mexico in 2002. Here we are 8 yrs. later and still going stronger than ever. I played in a couple of local bands in California in the early '80's and various little project things over the years.” As an addendum Rob adds, “No they did not have a Christian perspective.”
Over the course of the last eight years Whitlock has continued to serve his band mates well, his stability and musical chops continually allow the band to develop and grow as musicians and songwriters not to mention his chops live which provide the drive that moves the Ultimatum machine along.
As the course of our conversation moved to a little more philosophical ground, regarding the purpose and mission of Ultimatum, Rob had these thoughts, "The purpose of Ultimatum, to me, is to play heavy metal the way we want to play it. No compromises. Everyone should be able to express what they believe through their art. Just because its heavy metal doesn't mean it has to be all evil and bleak. It's about freedom to be who are, the way you are.”
The point of being able to express oneself is an important one. Usually what is disguised as expression is simply one’s way of self promotion or what a manager believes is in the artists’ best interest. That, itself, seems to defeat the purpose of expressing what is in the heart of artist. The refreshing content Ultimatum provides is in sharp contrast to the clichéd metal message of hate, death and destruction. With courage and passion these guys from New Mexico deliver music that should be respected and appreciated, with lyrical content that is from their heart.
As all three of us finished our various forms of liquid refreshment Rob add in closing, “Yes, we are writing new material and I am very excited about it. The new stuff is going to be the best yet.”
With that both Scott and Rob added, “We just want to thank everyone that has helped and supported Ultimatum. You can be sure that we will continue to deliver the metal the way we always have.”
With those closing words we brought this interview to a close. Here’s hoping you enjoyed this brief discussion as much as we did...