ULTERIUM RECORDS: Celebrating 15 Years – The First 5 Years

In September Ulterium Records (Sweden) celebrated their 15-year anniversary as a record label. Although humbly starting out with a few quality bands – employing a somewhat “underground” approach – the label grew steadily during their first 5 years to become one of the premier labels in Christian metal with quality acts such as Darkwater, Harmony, InnerWish, Sinbreed and Theocracy anchoring the label.

In addition to promoting and supporting original music, they have issued and reissued limited versions (vinyl and CD) of releases from established bands such as Impellitteri, Stryper, Kreyson, Rob Rock and Seventh Avenue. In celebration of this anniversary, and in recognition of the accomplishments of the label, Heaven’s Metal’s Jonathan “Doc” Swank has endeavored with label founder Emil Westerdahl to chronicle – in a 3-part series – the journey of Ulterium Records.

[Author’s Note: This feature represents Part I in a 3-part series with Parts II and III to follow over the course of the next several months as time and circumstances allow. The format will include some traditional interview type questions, but mostly observations and reviews (by me) of each release (in chronological order of their original release dates) along with commentary by Emil.]

Happy Anniversary!!

Emil, first of all, congratulations on 15 years! Let me say, you have excellent taste in music! I share a love for over 95% of your catalog!

Thank you so much, Jonathan! That’s great to hear and I really appreciate your kind words and support!

So … tell us how this all got started. What were your motivations/inspirations to start a record label?

The idea to start a label was forming in my mind in 2005. I had been playing in different bands and organizing shows for some years but that year I also started to help some labels with promotion which gave me some insight in the label business. Even though I was mostly involved in the extreme metal scene at that time, I really loved melodic metal (still do obviously) and thought that there was a gap to be filled on the label side of things. I felt that there were bands like Harmony for example, that were too small to get a good deal on a big label, and that would benefit from having a smaller label that really understood them, believed in them and worked hard for them.

At the end of 2005 I went on a trip with two great friends and mentors: Samuel from Endtime Productions and Pål from Nordic Mission. We spent days talking about different projects, discussing strategies and how to co-operate the best way possible to help the scene. In one of these talks I mentioned my idea about starting a label focusing solely on melodic metal, and they thought it was an exciting idea and told me that I could count on their support. That’s when I decided to go for it.

What were the challenges you faced to make this all come true?

To get official distribution in different countries wasn’t exactly easy. I knew the underground scene quite well and had some contacts, but yeah, this was a huge challenge in the beginning. After some years it all fell into place, and even though there’s been some bumps in the road over the years, I feel very happy about how everything turned out looking back on it now.

I have also been blessed and lucky to have known people that have helped and supported me. And sometimes new people just appeared out of nowhere and helped the label forward no matter if it was about distribution or finding new artists or something else.

During the first years I only worked with smaller bands, or bands that released their debut albums. When the time came to release the new albums by Theocracy and Harmony – bands that already had an album out and a following – that was a huge difference. It wasn’t like I could just sit back and relax, but it made a big difference as I could invest more time and money to promote them outside of their fan base and the scene. Since those early years the label has gained a loyal following as well, and that’s been so extremely helpful.


EVERGRACE: Evergrace (ULTCD001)

The debut release for Evergrace and Ulterium Records. Known later as Incrave, these guys laid down straightforward metal with heavy grooves and a nice balance of power, crunch and melody. The melodic vocals of Johan Falk, however, would fit more into the commercial progressive metal genre. With melodies reminiscent of Parallels era Fates Warning and Harmony – Dreaming Awake, and a quality mix, these guys provided a solid metal foundation for the fledgling label. While promising, I felt that with a bit more toughness in the vocals, more varied songwriting and the addition of some speed, these guys would shine. The original version contains a 12-page booklet with lyrics and credits.

Tell us about the debut label release. How did you come to sign this band and what was it about Evergrace that caught your attention?

By following the scene closely I knew about the Swedish band Evergrace as they released a very cool demo in 2003. I felt that this was a band right up my alley that would be great to work with. I really liked their vocalist Johan Falk and the songwriting on their (a bit raw) demo, so they felt like a very promising band.

During winter 2005/2006 I reached out to them, telling them about my label plans and that I would love to work with them on their debut album. They liked the idea, we agreed on a deal and they entered the studio later that year. On September 30th, 2006 the self-titled Evergrace debut album was released, which was the first release on Ulterium Records.

It was really cool, and a big deal to me and the band to have Mattias Norén create the artwork for the album, since he created artworks for bands like Kamelot, Evergrey, Epica, Sabaton and many others around that time. Mattias actually lives in the same small city as I do, and he’s a fantastic guy and a truly talented artist.

The label name Ulterium Records is actually taken from the song “Ulterior World” from that album. We basically re-wrote “Ulterior” to “Ulterium”, and that was it. The label logo was created by Heli Berg, a good friend of mine, who is a fantastic designer and photographer.


What happened with this release? Something that could have been but never materialized?

Yes, there was a release planned for this catalog number, but it was delayed and delayed, and then delayed some more. The material will be released eventually, but some other way so now this catalog number will be an empty one until the end of time. 🙂


GRAND LUX: Carved in Stone (ULTCD003)

Officially the second release on Ulterium, Grand Lux flexed hard rock, melodic metal chops akin to heavy Stryper. If you are going to play this kind of music you had better find a confident singer with the range and swagger to deliver the goods. Phil Goode fit the bill for all intents and purposes – his only fault sounding just a bit too much like Michael Sweet (eerie) and Dale Thompson. Second, you had better be able to write catchy riffs and melodies that hook as deep as the ocean. Check. Third, you need a guitarist that can shred.

When this was originally released, I had reservations about whether this band could hold up to the likes of Stryper, Bride, Impellitteri or Circle II Circle. Afterall, this was a competitive, very tread-worn genre of metal/rock when this album was originally released, and so to succeed with this style you had to really work hard to stand out. But to the credit of Ulterium Records, when I go back and listen to this album now, these tunes sound much better than I remember. The production sound/mix is solid with plenty of low-end power and push on the drums and bass. I don’t think the quality of this release surpassed Evergrace, but it solidified (and diversified) the young label’s efforts to develop a foothold in the scene.

[Note: This CD featured enhanced content with the video for “Escaping the Clouds.”]

How did you discover Grand Lux and what lead up to the release of Carved in Stone?

Grand Lux released their debut album on a Norwegian label in 2005 and the guys managed to create quite the hype around the band as they put on great live shows! Lots of fire and pyrotechnics and also a very 80’s metal image done the right way. They basically went all in! (you can see this clearly in the “Escaping the Clouds” music video) Because of their image and awesome live shows they not only appealed to the metal crowd, but to regular people as well, and they played a lot of shows in Norway.

I saw them live a couple of times in Norway and once in Sweden, and instantly loved them! Pål from Nordic Mission helped me get contact with the guys, and when my band played in their hometown Kristiansand in Norway in 2006 I met the guys and we signed a deal for Carved in Stone that came out early 2007. Me and some friends travelled to the release party in Norway and it was fantastic!

The music video for “Escaping the Clouds” entered one of these “top list shows” on Norwegian television, which was very cool for the guys. (see below)

Samuel did the artwork for this album, and while creating it he got the idea to have something special somewhere on every Ulterium release, to bind them all together somehow. That’s when he came up with the idea about the 4 (3, 1) lines on the CD spine, so from this release and moving forward you can find these lines on all CD editions from Ulterium Records.

Grand Lux seemed like a band with great potential. What happened to them after they left the label and why have we never heard anything from them since?

The band played a number of shows after Carved in Stone came out, and the guys started to work on material for a new album. But one of the members moved abroad for some years, and then the years just passed I think, so they didn’t release anything new yet. But I am in touch with them from time to time, so let’s see what happens in the future.

INCRAVE: The Escape (ULTCD005)

After Evergrace changed their name to Incrave, Ulterium reissued the debut album with new title and with the bonus track “The Masquerade.” The booklet was reduced to 8 pages with center booklet band photo moved to the rear tray and slight alterations in the layout. As I listen to this album 15 years later, I am reminded of the strength of the lyrical content. It takes a lot of guts for a label to twice release the same album in a one-year span, but I can hear why – this album helped put Ulterium on the radar.

Why did you choose to reissue this album less than one year later? Was there anything you wanted to improve or was this just a new release to feature the rebranding of the band?

Some months after the Evergrace album was released we found ourselves in a legal situation where we had no choice but to change the band name. This was of course not an ideal or fun situation, but both me and the band understood and accepted the situation and after a while we decided on the new band name Incrave.

As the band was playing shows and promoting the album around this time, we felt it was best to re-issue the album as soon as possible under the new band name, to get the new name out there so we wouldn’t have to start from scratch with a new band name for the second album.

Was “The Masquerade” recorded around the time of the original release or was this newly recorded for The Escape?

The bonus track “The Masquerade” was recorded for the re-issue, and it was basically a re-worked song from their 2003 demo, which turned out really cool I think.

DARKWATER: Calling the Earth to Witness (ULTCD006)

In the wake of the epic symphonic 7days release, Markus Sigfridsson (along with three other mates from Harmony) continued to navigate the seas of high-minded metal. This release was chock-full of heavy, yet dynamic melodic/progressive metal tunes—all anchored by a killer, pristine production sound. With the sound and chops of bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X and Evergrey Darkwater would make their mark on the scene while simultaneously anchoring the label with their first world-class release. Afterall, these guys delivered the credibility alongside great songwriting. For me, it was the ebb and flow of intensity and melody that really made this release so tantalizingly infectious. “In a world of repetitively dehydrating dark metal, this is an incredibly refreshing gulp of melodic/progressive water.”

How early in the process did you realize you had a monster of an album here?

I knew most of the guys in the band a bit, especially Markus, since 2004 or so as I was a big fan of Harmony, and I had been following Darkwater news and updates from them and online. I remember reading on their website (can’t remember which year) that they decided to re-record the entire album. Well, they wanted to get it right the first time it seems, haha … but it was a hard time for the people (including me) that really looked forward to the album. 🙂

Were you in touch with the band from inception or was this a last-minute discovery that demanded the proper treatment and support?

Sometime early 2007 I suddenly received a promo CD from them with the full album and I was blown away! I offered them a deal and we agreed to work together. In the end I was a bit lucky I think since some bigger labels were interested in the band, which I completely understand as it’s a fantastic album.

Four of the five Darkwater members played in Harmony when they released Dreaming Awake in 2003, and I think the experience they had, being a small band on a bigger label in another country played a part in their decision. I was located in the same country as them, actually only 30-40 minutes away by car, and they already knew me, so the communication was bound to be much easier.

Feel free to share some of your favorite moments from this release.

To release this album was an amazing experience and it opened up many doors for the label. We got better distribution in both Europe and North America thanks to this release. The interest from fans and media was also much bigger than we had experienced before, and I am so thankful to the Darkwater guys for giving me and Ulterium the chance to work with them on this monumental album.

Darkwater was invited to the Bay Area Rock Fest in San Francisco in 2008, a festival that was headlined by Liquid Tension Experiment. That was so cool and showed that the band was gaining ground in the US, which is still their strongest market today.

IVORY MOON: Human Nature (ULTCD004)

I remember first hearing this album – being a bit critical at the time because there were, at the time, so many entries in this burgeoning genre – and after a few listens I concluded that it was very good. They have gone on to press a few more albums but confess I haven’t had the privilege of hearing any of them. My original review from Heaven’s Metal follows:

Here is a relatively new symphonic metal band from Italy that has a lot going for them: dual male and female lead vocalists (both melodic); twin-guitar attacks; a wonderful keyboard player and a solid rhythm section. The sounds are heavy and symphonic—taking root in the power metal genre (rather than goth or black metal)—yet not overly orchestrated (like Epica or Nightwish). In fact, there is some “catchiness” here, and a fair amount of variety. Lyrically, while not all the themes deal directly with Christianity, Christians will have much to ponder here. While not the “A” caliber of Epica and Nightwish—not quite that grandiose—this is very melodic and a bit more accessible.

Emil, if I am correct, Ivory Moon was your first connection/signing with an artist outside of Scandinavia? Tell us about how this came about and what was it about this Italian band that caught your ear.

Yes, you are right about that. I received a promo CD from the band and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought that the mix of male and female vocals brought another dimension to their sound and decided to talk to them about a possible co-operation and later on offered them a deal.

Can you tell us anything about what happened to these guys? Did they call it quits after this or move on to another label?

They have had some lineup changes since Human Nature and released two more albums independently, in 2012 and 2020.


INCRAVE: The Forgotten Single (ULTCDS001)/Dead End (ULTCD007)

Original review:

Incrave (formerly Evergrace) play mostly mid-tempo metal with heavy grooves. On Dead End, their second release, they have improved in all areas (songwriting, skills, production quality). With the melodic vocals and the dancing keys, this could easily be categorized as commercial progressive metal; think melody-driven Parallels era Fates Warning rather than chops-driven Dream Theater. While they are still missing the big hit song with crushing hooks I really admire the consistency of the output here. In the “dead end,” this is a solid release – look forward to greater things to come from this young band.

Incrave had so much promise and potential. Discuss a bit about the second release and ultimately what happened to these guys.

Me and the guys in the band had a great time working on this album and the ideas and creativity was really flowing. The guys worked hard to improve the songwriting, performance and everything to come up with the best album possible.

We decided to bring in Kristian Wåhlin who did a fantastic job on the artwork of the album. Me and Samuel travelled to the city Edsbyn where the band was located and Samuel took some great band photos. We thought the guys really stood out with their modern/suit & tie image, kind of the opposite of the traditional power metal outfit (leather pants and so on) so we wanted to take that even further. Together with the quite dark cover artwork, I think it worked out quite cool.

There were also some great guests on the album, for example Markus Sigfridsson (Darkwater, Harmony) and Daniel Olsson (Tad Morose) who recorded really cool guitar solos for two songs on the album.

I think the album turned out really cool and it was received well. The guys in the band were quite young, around 22-25 years old when this album came out, so I think basically “life happened” and the years passed by. I am in touch with them from time to time, and I think there’s hope for some new material to be recorded at some point, so let’s hope it will happen someday!

HARMONY: End of My Road EP (ULTCD008)

With this EP Harmony showcased their heavier and slightly more progressive side, and in doing so provided a wonderful preview to the masterful Chapter II: Aftermath. The single edit version of “End of My Road” here is about a minute shorter than the full-length version. While “Prevail” and “Rain” are part of the full-length, “Enter the Sacred” and “Alone” represent the bonus tracks exclusive to this EP and are worthy in every way. Both songs are heavy, progressive and melodic – anointing this EP as the perfect complement to Aftermath.

Why the choice to release an EP in the era of digital downloads? What kind of decisions go into cost to produce physical product vs. benefit in return?

The inspiration for this move came from Samuel and Endtime Productions, as they have released EP’s ahead of albums to help increase the hype around the band and the coming full-length album. A good example is the Antestor EP Det Tapte Liv that was released ahead of the full length The Forsaken.

I think this is cool and something that fans enjoy no matter if it’s released as an appetizer before an album, or 6-12 months after a full album release, especially if there’s some exclusive content, of a high quality of course. But nowadays I guess that singles and videos that are released ahead of the release date of the album can fill this purpose as well, to an extent.

HARMONY: Dreaming Awake (Reissue) (ULTCD011)

Harmony’s debut release (originally released on Massacre Records in 2003) may have fallen into musical obscurity if not for this important reissue. After all, this group of musicians, over the past two decades, would go on to produce multiple high-quality releases (Darkwater, Harmony, 7 Days, All Things Fallen). Yes, Markus Sigfridsson is at the core of it all, but he had a lot of help. Melody was the key to the core Harmony sound and it was so evident on this debut release. And while Dreaming Awake didn’t contain the same technical prowess as some of those subsequent releases, these songs nevertheless hinted at a tremendous potential. In fact, so compelling were these songs that they were eventually reworked for Remembrance (more on that later) and Sigfridsson and friends seamlessly matured to excellence. I’ve included a portion of my original 2003 review below:

“It would be fair to compare these guys to Stratovarius due to the stylistic similarities and song structures and tempo changes. However, these guys really focus on melody rather than speed, and I think there is a bit more of a progressive element which fortunately doesn’t sacrifice the more radio/commercial friendly vibe. This is a conceptual piece and the musical interludes are beautiful and effective in creating an orchestrated and connected feel to all the songs. Again, melody is a huge emphasis here. Technically, the playing is solid, but fairly straight-forward and the solos will not blow the listener away. Still, for those who desire a Christian version of Stratovarius with a big production sound Harmony delivers.”

How did you get connected with Harmony and what was about this particular band that showed promise?

I purchased their debut album Dreaming Awake as soon as it was released, and to be honest I wasn’t instantly hooked, for some strange reason! I blame it on being young and stupid. 🙂 But to be honest I think it was because I listened mostly to extreme metal at that time and this album came across a bit soft for me then. But after more listens it grew on me and I really liked it. I saw their first show ever at the Bobfest festival in Sweden in 2004, and they blew me away! They all played really well and Henrik’s vocals were out of this world! So after that I was a big fan, and got to know the guys a bit as well, especially Markus.

Me and some friends travelled around Sweden and saw many Harmony shows between 2005-2007 and during those shows they started to play songs like “Rain” and “Kingdom” from their next album, and me and my friends were dying with anticipation.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened but since I knew the guys and we already worked together with Darkwater at that time it felt natural that Ulterium would sign Harmony as well and I am very happy that it turned out like that.

I think Dreaming Awake is a really cool album, and I felt that if they made an album of the same quality (or a little bit improved) – with great production – then we would have a winner. And indeed, that was what happened!

What changes (if any) did you make with the reissue that were purposeful improvements over the original Massacre (2003) issue?

It was starting to become a bit difficult to purchase the original pressing of the album at that time, and we had a feeling that many people would discover Harmony with the new album, so we wanted to make sure that Dreaming Awake was available. Markus Sigfridsson updated the artwork a bit, and we added some booklet pages. Other than that, the master, etc. is the same as on the original.

HARMONY: Chapter II: Aftermath (ULTCD009)

More world-class metal from Ulterium. This album would eventually land on position #78 on the Heaven’s Metal Top 100 Christian Albums of All Time list. More original words… (mostly because I can’t say it better now then I did back then).

Guitarist, songwriter, producer Markus Sigfridsson is a busy man. In addition to his recent work with 7 Days (Weight of the World) and Darkwater (Calling the Earth to Witness) he and his band mates have just completed a new EP and full-length for Harmony – the Swedish melodic metal band we have not heard from since 2003 when they released their well-received debut, Dreaming Awake, on Massacre Records. The band remains intact and has recorded 13 tracks for the new album, 11 of which appear on this release; the 5 song EP, End of My Road, has 3 tracks from the full-length plus 2 bonus tracks.

While it’s hard to distinguish Harmony material from Darkwater material, there is no denying that this is a much heavier collection of songs when compared to the band’s debut. Markus’s guitar solos have improved significantly – the solo interplay of keys and guitars here noteworthy – and the production quality is top notch. There is a nice mixture of lyrical subjects going on here: victory over darkness (“Prevail”); consequences of sin (“Aftermath”); perseverance (“Don’t Turn Away” and “Kingdom”). “Silently We Fade” is a beautiful ballad … just a lot great material. In summary, this bunch of musicians has hit another home run with this crunchy, slightly progressive melodic metal.

Share your thoughts on this release…

I remember hearing the album for the first time. I had heard some demo’s/pre-production versions before, and I knew some of the songs by hearing them on many live shows so I knew a bit what to expect, but I was still blown away when I heard the final master.

I think the guys managed to improve everything – songwriting, performance and production – from their debut album, and it also felt huge to have Daniel Heiman (ex- Lost Horizon) laying down the vocals on the track “Inner Peace.” I was a big fan of his vocals for many years, and he really did a great job on that track.

Since Andreas Passmark (Olsson back then) left the band after Dreaming Awake, they asked Kristoffer Gildenlöw (ex-Pain of Salvation) to record the bass on the album and he did an amazing job.

The album was received really well, and also did really well in Japan which was cool. I think there are many great songs on this album, and “End of My Road,” “Rain” and “Inner Peace” are probably my favorite songs of the album.

THEOCRACY: Mirror of Souls (ULTCD010)

The close out of 2008 would usher in one of the most important bands to the Ulterium fold as Theocracy would make their label debut with their now legendary classic sophomore release. How good was this release? This one ended up at #16 (highest position for any Ulterium release) on the Heaven’s Metal Top 100 Christian Metal Albums of All Time list. I think my original review (below) best encapsulates the essence of the album.

Matt Smith, now accompanied by Shawn Benson (drums) and Jonathan Hinds (guitars), has done it again. One of the most anticipated releases this year in the Christian metal market, Mirror of Souls delivers just about everything a fan of this genre could desire. Every song is well-crafted, with catchy hooks and memorable, melodic vocals. Smith is a gifted songwriter and uses his voice effectively – with so many layers – to portray the beautiful message found within the lyrics. The addition of a real drummer was a huge plus for Matt and really propels this band into a position to perform live. The only piece missing from the Theocracy equation is that neither guitarist really solos. While the songs certainly don’t suffer for lack of it, soloing is generally indigenous to this type of metal, so it seems a bit odd … but it’s not a huge negative.

Every song here is excellent – no filler – but the highlights would be the very heavy “Laying the Demon to Rest” and the epic title track. Interestingly, both these songs represent the most progressive tunes on the CD, with lots of tempo changes and dynamic contrast. The biggest difference to me on this one compared to the debut release would be in the vocal department. Matt has really improved in this area and the recording quality/mixing, etc. sounds better as well. While the songs aren’t as magical this time around, probably because they are a bit more direct and the “newness” factor of this band is now gone, this is still a fantastic collection of quintessential power metal.

Define your relationship with Theocracy and how it all began. I think it is fascinating that an independent artist from Atlanta, GA ended up on a small label in Sweden! How did this all come about?

Haha, you are right about that! And without internet I guess it would never have happened.

I remember my first encounter with Theocracy. I visited blastbeats.com, a Christian rock/metal webstore sometime in 2002-2003, and saw a feature for the Theocracy debut album that was about to be released … or had just been released. The description said something like “for fans of Avantasia, Symphony X, Sonata Arctica and Dream Theater” which caught my interest. I remember downloading a sample from the song “Theocracy” and I loved it! This was exactly the kind of band I was looking for, so I ordered the album and became a big fan. I sent an email to the guys in 2006 asking if they were looking for a label, but never heard back.

Then early 2008 I suddenly received an email from Matt, who got my contact info from Christian Liljegren (Narnia). Apparently, the band had been in touch with a bigger label for some time, but in the end, it didn’t work out, so they were looking into other labels and some people on the Theocracy forum had suggested to them that they would contact Ulterium. Matt sent me three songs to listen to, and I remember “Mirror of Souls” and “Laying the Demon to Rest” being two of them.

As a fan I had hoped that the second album would be an improvement from the debut (which I really liked!) with real drums and a better production. When listening to these songs, and later on the full album, it was clear that Mirror of Souls was a monster of an album and that it would take Theocracy to the next level.

Me and Matt sent some emails back and forth and it felt that we were on the same page about everything and we started working together.

Emil with Theocracy – Elements of Rock

What are some of your favorite moments from this release?

Oh, there are many… It was cool to see everything coming together like receiving the great mastering from Mike Jussila at Finnvox Studios in Finland. The artwork was quite a bumpy ride as two artists worked on versions that didn’t feel right, and then Robert G. Wilson, Jr stepped in and after much sweat (and probably some tears) he delivered this fantastic album cover! Thank you, Robert!!

Soundholic Records in Japan licensed the album for the Japan market, and they needed a bonus track. I guess most artists would do something quite simple in these cases, but not Matt. He went all in (and probably didn’t sleep for a week or two) and produced the great bonus track “Wages of Sin.” He also created a mini documentary about the creation of this track, and I think you can find it on YouTube.

Once the reviews started to roll in, it was evident that the album was received extremely well, as the album got many 10/10 and 9/10 score reviews, so the hype was definitely there.

But I think my favorite moment from this release was when Theocracy was booked for the Elements of Rock festival in Switzerland, their first show outside of the US. It was great to meet them and they put on a great show! They told me that they had mostly done very small shows in the US, so to do their European debut show with hundreds of people singing along to their songs, that was something special! I also remember that they played the last part of the title track “Mirror of Souls” and that I started to cry at the end, because it was so powerful and moving!

[Note: The first time I ever saw this band live in Atlanta, GA they opened the set with the entire version of “Mirror of Souls.” Like, what band opens a set with a 22-minute song?!! Click HERE for the full live report from that night.]

SEVENTH AVENUE: Southgate (Reissue) (ULTCD012)

Employing the help of the guitarist from Lightmare (Andi Gutjahr), Seventh Avenue finally found excellence and released their first world-class album. While Tale of Tales alluded to this potential, the power metal on Southgate – while not the most original – had a credibility that could stand up to anything out there. Not to mention, Herbie Langhans’ vocals were his best to date as he continued to mature with each release. The epic title track was the highlight of the release with tons of melody, guitar shred and the relentless pummeling of snares, toms and bass drums by Mike Pfluger, but this entire album would garner tons of praise from any fan of German power metal. The reissue features a new band logo – the cover layout altered slightly– and 8-page booklet.

What made you decide to reissue this particular album in the Seventh Avenue catalog, and what kinds of changes were made from the original master, other than the layout/booklet?

Seventh Avenue is one of the first Christian bands I got into (together with Stryper and Narnia), so I am a big fan. Southgate was the first album I ever heard by them, at a time when I was looking and craving for a Christian power metal band, so this album means a lot to me on a personal level. Since I knew Herbie a little bit from organizing a Seventh Avenue show five years earlier and also briefly running a Seventh Avenue fan site, and since the album was a bit difficult to get ahold of, I reached out to Herbie and we worked out a deal.

The master is the same as on the original, so there were only changes on the artwork side of things, like you mentioned.

THEOCRACY: Mirror of Souls 12” Picture Vinyl (ULTLP010)

This was the first of the limited picture vinyl discs (limited to 250 copies) for Ulterium … and what a grand way to commence! The epic title track – in Rush fashion – covered the entire Side A. As I go back and listen to these discs in celebration of the 15-year label anniversary, I marvel at how good the vinyl sounds. Sometimes picture vinyl doesn’t deliver the sonic spectrum, but this disc still sounds amazing. Side B would have to be one of the strongest 12” Side B’s in the history of metal featuring not only the heavy “Laying the Demon to Rest” but also the stunning “Absolution Day” and “Wages of Sin,” the latter song featured on 7”-single a few years later. Fantastic artwork.

Share some thoughts on making picture vinyl and your motivations to release a limited edition. Why did you choose this album and how did you select the songs since space was limited?

The feedback and hype for Mirror of Souls was really good and the band started to get quite many shows booked so I wanted to do some kind of limited release to build on the hype, and also have the band offer something special on their merch table. I talked to Samuel about this, and we felt that vinyl was a good option. However, at that time not many bands and labels released vinyl, so we felt that doing a full double gatefold vinyl release was a bit too risky. But a picture disc on the other hand, we felt that it could work. A nice collectible that you can put on the wall even if you don’t listen to vinyl, and we wouldn’t have to sell it very expensive either.

We couldn’t fit all songs on the album on a single picture disc vinyl and it wasn’t very easy to decide which songs to include, but it felt like the title track “Mirror of Souls” just had to be on it and of course it would take up one of the sides. “Laying the Demon to Rest” and “Absolution Day” were two other fan favorites from the album that showcase the album quite well so we decided to include them, and lastly it felt fun to include “Wages of Sin” – the ultimate bonus track!

IMPELLITTERI: Wicked Maiden 12” Picture Vinyl (ULTLMT001)

Released only on Ulterium as a picture vinyl (limited to 250 copies), this fantastic album was the first release in the new line of “Limited” releases that would feature mostly vinyl, but some special edition CDs and a cassette as well. Wicked Maiden was an incredible album (see my original review below), maybe one of the best the band ever created, but this vinyl treatment worked – fantastic depth and power of sound!

There is no band out there right now that is playing this kind of heavy melodic metal better than Impellitteri. Yes, Scorpions (along with Dokken in the 80’s) once wore that crown, but there is no denying that they aren’t as heavy or as fast as they used to be. Circle II Circle comes close, but they don’t have a shredder like Chris Impellitteri – who by the way sounds faster and more creative than ever. Regardless, Wicked Maiden – which heralds the return of Rob Rock to the band – picks right up where they left off with 2000’s Crunch. This time, however, all the ballads (the gloriously melodic “Eyes Of An Angel” about as close as it gets) and instrumental songs have been left off in favor of 10 well-crafted and heavy songs filled with great riffs, speedy solos, thundering fast double bass drumming and those amazingly catchy choruses.

The key this time around is great songwriting. They have incorporated elements from their best albums: the melodic hooks of Answer To The Master and the speed, heaviness and progressiveness of Screaming Symphony.  The wonderfully crafted “Wonderful Life” is probably the best example of this hybrid of old and new sounds – simply amazing! While vintage Impellitteri, most of the songs feel fresh, with only “Garden of Eden” harkening back to/slightly rehashing content covered in “Master of Disguise” from ‘98’s Eye of the Hurricane. They even show off a bit of humor in the bluesy, retro 80’s “Hi Scool Revolution.” Brilliant!

What made you decide to have a “Limited” catalog line (ULTLMT)? What was your vision for these limited releases and how did you land Wicked Maiden for the initial release in this series?

The response to the Mirror of Souls picture disc edition was very good, so we decided to look into doing more of these. Wicked Maiden was released in Europe via the German label Metal Heaven, and they were our partners for European distribution at that time. As I am a big fan of Impellitteri and Rob Rock, I reached out to my contact at Metal Heaven and we reached a deal for this release.

By then we planned to move into the direction of doing more limited releases, so it felt like a good idea to make a special catalog number series where all those releases would fit.

STRYPER: Murder by Pride 12″ Picture Vinyl (ULTLMT002) (500 copies)

This review from 2009 has never previously seen the light of day…

Michael Sweet and company are back … yet again. Suffice it to say, this feels more like a reunion CD than 2005’s lackluster Reborn. They have nicely culled all the styles from their first five releases and mixed it up for a very diverse, sincere and enjoyable collection of rockers. The opener has a decidedly upbeat punk feel, but then things really get old school with the catchy “4 Leaf Clover,” the hook on this one a winner for sure. The song – probably a radio hit – could have easily been released 20 years ago on either THWTD or IGWT. The cover of Boston’s “Peace of Mind” – which features Tom Stoltz on guitar – is surprisingly positioned early on this disc, but the band pulls it off with ease. And then there is the ballad “Alive,” which sounds just like a late 80’s Stryper ballad. “The Plan” is a nice mid-tempo song featuring Oz’s vintage buzz saw riffing, reminiscent of the debut output.

The next two songs are really the pinnacle of the CD: the title track and “Mercy Over Blame” perfectly display the very best of Stryper – both past and present – the latter song just a blistering song (akin to “Soldiers Under Command”) with the perfect lyrical message. While “I Believe,”which follows, is also a wonderful ballad, the rest of the CD is mediocre … that is until the final track – a very powerful version of the debut’s “My Love I’ll Always Show.” The biggest thing missing from this album is Robert Sweet’s “bigger than life” drumming. Still, that said, and considering everything these guys have been through (to include the death of Michael’s wife Kylie), these songs represent a heartfelt and triumphant return for the boys in yellow and black.

Original Poster with Picture Vinyl

Stryper has a ton of great material to reissue. What made this album worthy of the picture vinyl treatment?

I am a huge Stryper fan and I would have loved to reissue all their albums on vinyl, but it’s sometimes quite tricky to get the rights to do it. However, when I reached out to Frontiers Records (they released Murder by Pride in Europe) about this, they were very open to my offer, and we agreed on a deal.

For me as a fan this was huge, and I will never forget when I met the Stryper guys and handed them some copies of the vinyl when they toured in Sweden early 2010.


SINBREED: When Worlds Collide (ULTCD013)

The release of this powerful German classic would mark the first simultaneous multi-format release in label history – this one getting both CD and picture vinyl treatment. Once again, my original review (below) best depicts the sheer magnitude of this music.

My, oh my! Now this is tremendously great German power metal! It has been a long time in waiting for a release like this … one that transcends the usual power metal format. First of all, Herbie Langhans (Seventh Avenue) collaborated on this and he sounds better than I’ve ever heard him before on vocals. Seriously, this has got to be his best vocal performance ever! His voice is grittier and his English comes across crystal clear. Okay, so that’s one plus – Herbie’s voice is perfect for this kind of metal. Second, who is this guy Flo Laurin … and where did he come from? His songwriting and his playing is brilliant. He has managed to create fast and powerful songs without sounding cliché, without copying everything that has gone before. Most importantly, these songs have a great feel, and the choruses are extremely memorable. Third, incorporating the speedy drumming of Blind Guardian’s Frederik Ehmke will pay dividends – these songs have a professional quality lacking in so many of the genre’s entries. Fourth, the lyrics are inspiring – so few effective and sincere spiritually minded bands in the power metal scene.

Finally, Ulterium has done it again. This young label is making wonderful decisions. Along with the Darkwater release a few years ago, When Worlds Collide is a world class recording and the label did its homework in recruiting and producing/promoting these guys.

Tell us something of Sinbreed from your perspective. How did you find this band and what lead up to the release of this amazing album?

When me and Herbie were in touch about the Southgate reissue, he mentioned to me that he was in a new band called Neoshine, which I thought by his description sounded really interesting, so I asked him to keep me updated. Eventually they changed the band name to Sinbreed, finished the album, and sent me some songs and I really liked them! I think Herbie’s vocals were just getting better and better, and the playing and production was phenomenal. So after some talks with Flo Laurin, the band leader, we agreed on a deal and moved forward.

We had some issues with the European distribution at that time, so it was quite stressful to get everything in order, but finally we found a new distribution partner and could set the release date. The album was released in Europe, North America and Japan, and also as a picture disc edition, so it all turned out good and the response to the album was very good as well.

“Newborn Tomorrow” and “When Worlds Collide” are my favorite songs off the album, but I think there are many great songs. The song “Infinity’s Call” always gives me a huge Seventh Avenue vibe, so that’s also a big favorite of mine!

SINBREED: When Worlds Collide 12” Picture Vinyl (ULTLMT003)

This is a beautiful picture disc (250 copies) which contains the full album material. More importantly, the songs sound great in analog format. I think “collectible” is a fun thing but the most important factor for me has always been more about, “how it sounds?” Yes, yes, yes!! I love this album!


Original review:

Think Jesus Metal is dead? Think again. With the relative lack of missionary-minded bands within the current Christian metal scene, it’s tempting to deduce that God no longer works through metal evangelism. Not so. Swedish rocker Christian Liljegren – recently departed from Narnia – has set out, with the help of his talented new band mates, to encourage believers around the world and to reach out to those in need of salvation via the band’s brand of blistering melodic metal. And while the music is of the same basic genre as The Calling, this one is more diverse – the lyrics clearly focused on both edifying the body of Christ and challenging non-believers to receive the gift of salvation.

Additionally, Audiovision is now a band – Christian’s main band now since leaving Narnia. Thomas and TorbjornWeinesjo (from Veni Domine), along with Simeon Liljegren (Modest Attraction) and Olov Andersson constitute the musical backbone of the band. The production and sound quality is vibrant and full thanks to the help of Eric Martensson (W.E.T.). Along with the new Narnia, fans of melodic metal and hard rock have much to be grateful for as both bands have never sounded better.

Discuss your connections within the Swedish Christian metal scene, with artists like Christian Liljegren, the Weinesjo brothers, Olov Andersson as well as producer Eric Martensson whose work with W.E.T. has been phenomenal. How did Audiovision land him as producer for this release?

The scene in Sweden is very small, so basically everyone knows everyone, at least if you have been involved for some years, and have been to festivals and shows. Narnia is probably the band I have seen the most times live, probably more than 15 times. Christian also helped out with distribution during the first years of Ulterium Records, so we have known each other for many years. I have seen Veni Domine a number of times as well and have met those guys every now and then during the last 15 years or so.

Christian’s got a passionate love for melodic metal, and he’s a very outgoing and social guy so he knows most of the metal musicians in Sweden, including Erik Mårtensson. I remember that Christian said that he wanted to work with Erik on Focus as they were aiming for a sound and energy that Erik is a master on. And I think it worked out really well, a good fit!

INNERWISH: No Turning Back (ULTCD015)

Greece’s InnerWish proved to be a credible force of melodic power metal on their 4th release – this one their most mature, intricate and credible release to date.  Plagued by line-up changes throughout their history, this group was mostly stable over 3 releases, and subsequently they released their best album to date with No Turning Back. Babis proved himself to be a heavyweight vocalist with great clarity and Thimios Krikos – the anchor of this band – crafted some of his most engaging melodies and lyrics ever. Not surprisingly, it was the maturity of the songwriting which clearly separated this album from their early releases. Hefty tempos and plenty of melody. As with all things Ulterium, the 16-page booklet is primo and the production quality stellar.

INNERWISH: No Turning Back 12” Picture Vinyl (ULTLMT004)

Yet another fantastic sounding picture vinyl – with the full 12 tracks from the original, no less. Although these picture vinyls were not released with any packaging other than sleeves, the artwork/layout is superb.

The Greek connection. InnerWish was the first Greek metal band you worked with, but others would follow from this release. Where did this relationship originate?

I got to know the German musician William Hieb (ex-Seventh Avenue, Treasure Seeker) in 2009 over the internet, as he found out about the Southgate re-issue we did and reached out to me. He hadn’t been a member of Seventh Avenue for many years then but was one of the founders of the band and still shared a big love for melodic metal. He gave me a lot of support and encouragement and had many ideas for new signings as well.

William somehow found out about InnerWish online and contacted them to see if they were looking for a new label for their new album, which they were. So, some months later, I received the promo for the album, and I was really impressed! I really like the band’s earlier albums too, but with No Turning Back it was apparent that everything from songwriting, performance and production was improved.

The attention to detail is something I really love with this album. It feels like almost every time I listen to it I find new details or layers in the compositions or arrangements. “The Signs of Our Lives,” “Chosen One,” “No Turning Back” and “Full of Lust” are some of my favorite songs from the album, but the overall quality of the songwriting is really high on the album, in my opinion.

Why did you select this particular release for vinyl picture treatment?

I guess we were on a roll with picture discs at that time, and as InnerWish seemed to have a good following and liked the idea as well, we decided to go for it. The album was later re-issued as a double gatefold edition on the Greek label Shiva Records.

When I signed InnerWish I knew that they had a following as they had been on the German label Limb Music, and in Greece they had supported bands like Helloween and played on festivals with bands like Judas Priest, Manowar, Rhapsody, etc. But I wasn’t prepared for how popular they were in Greece. After the signing of InnerWish was announced I received emails from fans telling me that InnerWish was at that time the third or fourth biggest metal band in Greece. [More about this and about Greece later on in this interview series…]

DARKWATER: Where Stories End (ULTCD016)

What a fitting way to close out the first 5 years. Fortunately for Ulterium Records, however, this release would not be the end of the story, but rather the fuel for continued quality and greater things to come.

While the vocals of Henrik Bath may not appeal to some, there is no denying that Swedish act Darkwater delivered a high-quality progressive release with their debut. Unlike the Dream Theater clones that abound in this scene, these boys have developed a unique style, sound and presentation. Unpretentious, the music they create is melody-driven, with equal utilization of the keys and the guitars. There is a certain wholesome quality to the sound – one created by musicians who write music for music’s sake and not for their own commercial gain. And while they may not have the most memorable hooks in the genre, I think they are in the top tier.

Where Stories End sounds a bit more refined than the debut, but perhaps lacks the aggressiveness. The guitars of Markus Sigfridsson are crunchy, but as a whole, the transitions are less abrupt, smoother. Introspective lyrics rule the day (as on they did on the debut), but it’s not hard to relate to anything they are trying to portray. While I prefer the “shock” factor and heaviness of the debut, Darkwater has once again crafted a high quality, melodic progressive release.

What an amazing release to round out the first 5 years! What kinds of things did you and the band want to change for the second Darkwater release?

Thank you! And I have to agree! 🙂 The band had full artistic freedom on the music side of things, and I remember that they wanted to do a bit more melodic and slightly less progressive album, which I think worked out really well.

Given the success and praise for the debut release, was there a lot of pressure to change things in any way for this one, or was it just a natural flow of artistic energy?

The guys probably felt the pressure do a great follow-up to the debut. But I don’t think they did any musical changes based on pressure or market demands. But we really wanted to improve everything on this album, so besides having the band write the best songs possible we wanted to improve the production of the album, the presentation of the band and the promotion as well.

DARKWATER 2010-06-20

What kinds of restraints did you face in producing this one compared to the debut, or was there more room this time for a bigger sound and production?

There was a bigger budget for this album so I think that helped. Studio Fredman (HammerFall, In Flames, At the Gates) handled the mix and mastering on the album, which I think turned out really good. The very talented photographer Lars Adarve who worked with bands like Pain of Salvation took the great band photos, and the guys also recorded a cool music video for the album opener “Breathe” that went on to get over 250,000 views on YouTube.

The album was received very well and received many 9 and 10 out of 10 reviews and a good number of interviews in European metal/rock magazines. Darkwater was invited to ProgPower USA in 2011 and played other European festivals as well. So Where Stories End definitely helped to take the band to the next level.

[Note: Here concludes Part I in this series. Stay tuned over the coming months for Parts II and III as Emil and I continue to explore the story of Ulterium Records.]

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