Executive producer: Matthew B. Hunt. Produced by Ysidro Garcia and Ultimatum. Recording engineer: Ysidro Garcia. Recorded at Sight 16 Studios. Cover artwork: Scott Waters. Live photos: Kristian Thompson. Lex Metalis was released on Retroactive Records on 21 July 2009.
As much as I love most genres of metal, I’ve never really connected with the whole ‘denim and leather’ stereotype immortalised by Saxon. In fact, to be honest, I’ve never really connected with Saxon, either. I was always on the Iron Maiden side of that particular divide.
So let us sit back and count the number of examples of metal clichés this album manages to pack in at first glance:
It wouldn’t be unfair to surmise that I didn’t have very high hopes for this covers album from the New Mexico band. It features songs that were at partially chosen by fan suggestions on the band’s discussion board, and some are pretty ambitious considering the legendary status that many of these bands have.
Broadly-speaking it would appear to me there are three kinds of cover tunes. The first is where the band respectfully plays the song as close to the original as is possible, with note-for-note solos (think Metallica’s cover of the Diamond Head classic ‘Am I evil?’). The second is where the band or artist takes inspiration from a song but makes it their own (think Rolf Harris’s version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, or Grey DeLisle’s (the voice of Daphne from Scooby Doo) cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian rhapsody’. The third is a middle ground between the two. Sometimes it works (Anthrax’s cover of ‘It’s late’ by Queen is a beautiful tribute to another amazing band), while at other times it clearly doesn’t (Mendeed’s cover of ‘The thing that should not be’ by Metallica is to my ears painful).
As the liner notes point out, however, regardless of anything else covers albums should at the end of the day be “plain fun”. This album falls clearly in the first category and ticks the box marked F.U.N. Ultimatum can clearly play and they have a healthy respect for these songs by many of their favourite bands.
The album opener ‘Ton of bricks’ (by Metal Church) sets the tone for the rest of the recording, and introduces the uninitiated to Scott Waters’ vocals. He has a particular gruff style of singing, somewhere the growl-side of John Bush, that takes a little getting used to. He’s not bad as such, it’s just he’s not David Wayne (Metal Church) or Lemmy (Motörhead) or James Hetfield (Metallica), and as I know these songs so well it took a little getting used to. But once I had I began to really enjoy listening to this album.
Highlights for me obviously included ‘Ton of bricks’, ‘Creeping death’ (Metallica), ‘Iron fist’ (Motörhead), and ‘Wrathchild’ (Iron Maiden). But those were the songs that I already knew and loved, part of the whole point of a covers album is surely also to introduce fans to songs and bands that they might not already be familiar with. I’m not sure it teased me enough to make me race to Amazon or iTunes to buy up the back catalogues of Twister Sister, Saxon or Mortification but it certainly made me a little more curious about hearing more.
A pleasantly deceptive album. There are so many things stacked against it being a success in my book, but against the odds this is a fun album that makes me curious about hearing Ultimatum’s own body of work now.
Review score: 70%