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Helloween is a band that loves the idea of concept albums. But that’s about it. Because when it comes to the actual execution of the thing, well – they sort of just do their own thing. Not that I care. And here’s why.
So the "concept" is taken from Nostradamus. So you know it’s going be all downhill. Doomsday dropkicks don’t make money out of good news stories. Which might explain why the album opener is called “We Burn”. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s based on Nostradamus, but I am pretty sure it’s rooted in something called heavy metal. Deris wrote the thing complete with back breaking riffing and a catchy onslaught for a chorus. This is album opener central people.
But back to Nostradamus. I think i’m pretty safe in guessing that “Steel Tormenter” doesn’t have much to do with the guy. But i’m pretty happy to be corrected by anyone that can dig up a prophetic quatrain where he talks about Deris and Weikath teaming up to let rip with a road rage anthem that makes Judas Priest sound like elevator music. But even that’s just a curtain raiser compared to what happens next.
“Power” is the song that changes everything. From the machine gun power chord intro to spine tingling verses to deafening chorus – this one leaves no exit wounds because the bullets stay lodged. And yet the truth is that on an album this good – and even on a song this powerful – Weikath is merely cocking his weapon for more to come.
But let’s not forget Deris though. Two albums in as Helloween’s new frontman and his songwriting smarts just keep getting better. “Forever And One (Neverland)” is heartbreak reduced to hurt reduced to a ballad you won’t forget. And “Before The War” is crushing speed metal delivered with death metal brutality and a thrash intensity. Missing Kiske? He was good, but have a listen to this song to get an idea of why Weikath chased this guy for years to get him onboard.
So back to Weikath. Not since Keepers 2 has he made so sizable a contribution to a Helloween album. And it shows. “Kings Will Be Kings” roars and shreds its way to yet another chorus that sounds like it invented the word. And the guitar solo is so epic it’s practically a separate track. Hold on to the word epic actually, you’re going to need it for a song called “Mission Motherland”.
The first thing you notice about this song is lyrics about aliens crash landing to earth. They try to fit in, have a tough time of it – and decide to go into some sort of hibernation instead. What Weikath is really writing about is the plight of refugees the world over. So you get social care factor by way of science fiction analogy by way of a metal masterpiece.
The music of the song is credited to Weikath and Helloween. It’s a strange credit but is easily explained by a couple of lengthy jam sessions in the song. They’re okay, but nothing can take away from the overwhelming melodic firepower of verses, a chorus and a haunting coda that cry foul at the way humans beings sometimes treat each other. In fact it almost seems sacrilegious to bother trying to follow a song like this, but Helloween do with two more songs anyway.
The only one that matters is the ballad by Weikath. It’s called “If I Knew” and years later he would go on the record as saying it sounded too much like a Beatles tune for its own good. I know The Beatles and they don’t sound like this. Unless I’ve missed their greatest heavy metal band on the planet period. Which sort of sums up this album. Period.
Biggest difference with Master Of The Rings is that this album sounds more cohesive. The balance is much better and as a whole the album is purely a power metal album from start to finish. Except for one song that is. The average pace is slightly higher this time and also there are more guitar harmonies within songs.
However unlike many others I think Deris’ performance on this album is less impressive than on “Master of The Rings” and albums that came after this. On the previous album he sang a bit more raw and raspier. This time he tries more clear falsetto vocals but it becomes obvious he loses a lot of power when he does so. Kiske sounded more powerful when he sang higher and higher. With Deris however it is the other way around. What happens a lot on this album is that some songs do not achieve an epic touch because the falsetto vocals at certain points fail to give some songs a deserved powerful climax.
As a result of this some songs don’t have a chorus that is majestic nor impressive enough to make them rise from decency. A good example is “Power”. The song has potential and is light weight speed metal we knew from Helloween in the eighties. The song is good, but unfortunately not excellent.
“Before The War” does a better job. Now this is a song which is fast and has so many strong parts it can easily compete with eighties Helloween. Also “Kings Will Be Kings” is one of the best power metal songs here.
Opener “We Burn” is a simple and enjoyable up tempo opener with a decent speed metal chorus and dito riffing. Second song “Steel Tormentor” has more in common with mid-eighties Iron Maiden than Helloween. Except for the double bass drums this song sounds like the Piece Of Mind / Powerslave period but with Paul Di’Anno’s brother doing vocals. Strong song though.
The titletrack “The Time of the Oath” gives me mxed feelings. Everytime I heard this song live it was one of my favorites. This studio version however is lacking something. Maybe it’s heaviness, maybe it’s Deris’ vocals which are more powerful live. I’m not sure what it is exactly. Good live song though.
Now for the bad section of the album. “Forever and One” is pretty awful. Imagine the song with a female vocalist and you’d have the cheesiest Nightwish/Within Temptation song. Of course those bands were not as big back then and in those days I obviously couldn’t compare Helloween to them. But looking back now it is obvious.
“A Million to One” and “Wake Up the Mountain” are mid paced sin-a-long tunes but far from impressive (except for the middle section of “Wake Up the Mountain” which is impressive). The verses and chorusses sound much more generic than for instance the old classic “I want Out” and “Future World” did. These songs would have been decent coming from a Helloween clone, but not the masters themselves.
Funny thing is that after “A Million to One” the next song “Anything My Mama Don't Like” sounds pretty enjoyable. It is a hardrock tune with groovy touch and balances between the Pink Bubbles and Chameleon albums yet has little to do with the power metal approach on the rest of the album. But because it is so much better than “A Million to One” it becomes refreshing at that point. When changing the tracklisting on the album it has far less impact though and sounds like a funny B-side.
Now for “Mission Motherland”. The length promises an epic track. It is not however. It is a stretched mid paced pounder with an overlong middle section and a rather average chorus. Not a bad song, not at all, but just nothing more than decent.
So even though it is slightly more cohesive than Master Of The Rings it still is an inch short of the best Deris-era works.
After falling off the face of the earth in the early 90s, Helloween was wrestling with it's own identity. Kai Hansen, who had pushed the band the most in the Power Metal direction, had opted to make music on his own terms and basically abandoned a band he co-founded.
During subsequent years, a power struggle was developing between singer Michael Kiske, who wanted to go a more eclectic route, and the others who were not keen to the idea. With the exodus of Michael Kiske, and the entry of Andi Deris and Uli Kusch, the course had been set.
After a somewhat powerful yet inconsistent first effort in "Master of the Rings", the new line-up delivered solid gold with this release. We have some amazing shredding visive Roland Grapow on "Wake up the Mountain" and "Steel Tormentor", rivaling Malmsteen, one of his primary influences. Marcus Grosskopf is still in top form, writing highly active bass lines, including a rather technical slap bass part for a section of "Mission Motherland".
Andi Deris displays his amazing range and adaptive vocal style in every song, but his rough edged grunts on "We Burn", his high Halford-like wails on "Mission Motherland", and his tempered low range on "Forever and One" deserve the most note.
Uli Kusch makes one hell of a racket, paying tribute to the memory of Ingo Switenberger, whom this album was dedicated to. "Before the War" and "We Burn" display his speed, while "Wake up the Mountain" shows off his more intricant slow work. And Michael Weikath is still composing some great rockers, including "Power" and "Steel Tormentor".
The songs basically fall into 4 categories, the fast ones, the medium tempo ones, the experimental ones, and the ballads. Of these, the strongest are the fast ones. "We Burn", "Steel Tormentor", "Power" and "Before the War" are instant classics. Of these, "Before the War" is the most powerful, not letting up for a moment between Deris' vocal storytelling and the rhythm section's unrelenting assault.
The medium paced ones are a tiny bit mixed. "Wake up the Mountain" is an amazing technical display, The title track is extremely memorable, and lyrically quite surprising for a band that wrote Rise and Fall 8 years ago. "A Million to One" is a solid rocker, but "Anything my momma don't like" gets a bit silly at times. It is a well-meaning attempt at either recapturing or satirizing the spirit of angst driven bands like Twisted Sister.
Of the experimental ones, the epic "Mission Motherland" is loaded with many treats for the ears, not the least of which is an amazing vocal performance. The Ballads are also a bit of a mixed bag, "Forever and One" is a charming ballad with a good melody, but "If I knew" is a bit boring, and a tiny bit too long.
Although not quite a perfect release, this is the Helloween that I remember from the late 80s who were more concerned with writing great songs rather than trying to mix genres in innovative ways or delve into abstract philosophical concepts with their lyrics. Although I have a preference to Michael Kiske's voice, it is obvious that he ultimately was not the right personality for Helloween in the long run. Andi Deris fills his shoes adequately, and brings a unique new sound to the fold. Recommended highly to power metal fans and to fans of older Helloween material.
Helloween’s “The Time of the Oath” follows a structure that has become pretty standard for a power metal release - a mix of fast and mid-tempo tracks, a vaguely “epicish” track near the end and the obligatory couple of ballads thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless, despite the variety of the songs and the fact that there are four contributing songwriters, the release maintains a certain continuity that differentiates an album from a mere collection of songs. The production is adequate and as it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of any of the songs I won’t mention it further.
What separates “The Time of the Oath” from similar releases are the patented Helloween moments of genius, both in the compositions and in the performing. The album also manages to avoid the clichés of modern power metal such as repetitive double bass drumming that can reduce a grown man to tears faster than throwing handfuls ground glass into his open eyes and the entire lyrical “exploration” of “sword and sorcery” themes. In particular, the title track (which succeeds in being purely evil - and not merely in a “scream-through-your-eardrums-and-rape-your-brain kind of way that I understand many black metal bands are going for), “Power”, “Kings Will Be Kings” and “Steel Tormentor” standout as brilliant.
The title track is my personal favourite on the album, being the most menacing piece of atmospheric metal since Tony Iommi and the boys sat down with Satan himself and penned “Black Sabbath”. The mood is perfect and while the heavy and malevolent primary riff might not be quite as distinctive as the one from the aforementioned song, atmospheric keyboard work and an excellent vocal performance really make this one a standout. My only complaints with this one are the occasional stupid “whooshing” sound effects (there’s only about 3 in the whole song 7 minute song so its not a major issue) and that the solo that kicks off at 4:00 seems slightly out of place. Don’t worry, they haven’t inserted a cut of 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” or a reggae breakdown into the song, I simply think that a slower-paced, heavier solo would fit better here than the speedy guitar work on offer.
“Power” is the furthest thing from “The Time of the Oath” on the album (and yet is my second favourite track), being a more traditional happy, sing-a-long Helloween song with an exceedingly catchy chorus and nice guitar leads. Surprisingly, the lyrics are another high point of this song and seem to document Helloween’s history from Weikath’s (slightly smug) point of view.
“We Burn”, “Steel Tormentor” and “Before the War” are great blazingly speedy yet melodic metal tracks and all three are among some of Helloween’s best of the style. Steel Tormentor is the superior of the three, though “Before the War” isn’t far behind.
Uli Kusch debuts as a songwriter on this album and his two compositions, “A Million to One” and “Wake up the Mountain”, stand out as particularly important as his influence is to grow and he is to become more involved in the song writing on the following two albums. His contributions here are both enjoyable, mid-paced tracks that provide the listener with something slightly different while still remaining true to the Helloween sound.
The ballads are the weakest part of the album and unfortunately don’t maintain the high standard of the other songs. “Forever and One” just seems uninspired and rather boring, it’s not dreadful though. “If I knew” strikes me as a longer, less interesting version of “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” from the first Keepers album and during its 5:31 length, the “skip track” button beings to look awfully tempting. The only plus side I can think of is the deliciously melodramatic ending: “I’d simply break down…. and cry”.
“Mission Motherland” is the “epic” of the album and seems to be an attempt to marry the many changing tones and intricate instrumental work of another Helloween epic, “Halloween”, with the more melodic style of another of their earlier compositions, “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. The result as a whole doesn’t quite live up to either of the earlier works and isn’t as memorable (though Grosskopf’s bass work is just as remarkable as it was on “Halloween”) but the song remains tight and doesn’t get boring despite its 9 minute length. There are also some great vocal melodies early on in the piece and in the chorus.
In my opinion, “The Time of the Oath” contains some of the greatest Deris-era (and even some of the greatest Helloween) songs and is essential for fans of the band and comes highly recommended for fans of the genre. This record is often overshadowed by the following two albums and, while I can’t speak for “The Dark Ride” (I haven’t heard it), I’d place this release at least on par with the heavier follow-up “Better than Raw”. And as a side note, if you really don’t like the ballads on here there’s a quick fix – just burn the CD minus the two ballads onto a blank disc. The thing will still be about 52 minutes long (longer then a fair number of other power metal releases) and it will save you having to reach for the “skip track” button on your player at any point during the disc.
Definitely a strange album from Helloween. I don’t know what happened with the incredible anthems these guys prepare on each album. The songs are no as remarkable as in other albums, even though this doesn’t mean it’s a bad album. I really prefer the predecessor (Master of the Rings) or the successor (Better Than Raw) of this album, but in the end it has some nice tunes on each song and good ideas on the solos and melodies. Let’s talk about these strong aspects from The Time of the Oath.
There are two songs on this album that have the typical trademark from the pumpkins: We Burn and Power, the only problem I find is that they’re too short hahaha, but it seems that they work specially good live because of their sticky and powerful choruses (We Burn) or the leading riff (Power). Maybe the strongest song of the whole album would be Before the War, I really like this track, the bass performance is impressive and the solo section is the highlight of the song. Wake Up the Mountain and A Million to One are good and in a very “sing along” style, but don’t have anything special to mention. The rock ballads are good enough (Forever and One and If I Knew) and maybe the best of the whole Helloween career just as In the Middle of a Heartbeat from Master of…, but remember that Helloween is not very good with ballads. Anything My Mama Don’t Like is the Rock & Roll song of the album: the riff, the lyrics… there’s always one on all the Helloween albums from the Deris era. Mission Motherland is awesome and has a lot of flawless interpretations: the vocals, the slapping bass section, and of course some progressive drums and guitar riffs mixed with the galloping metal main riff. A long song, but you won’t notice it; it’s very well driven only a step below the superior Revelation from the Better Than Raw album. Finally comes The Time of the Oath, a little bit long and repetitive, but strong enough as all the Grapow’s contributions to this band, without mentioning that the solos for this one are among the best of the album.
The Time of the Oath is an album to be heard because everyone has different points of view about its importance in the pumpkin history. I must say that in my opinion every album from any band is important. But if you want to hear to the best from Helloween look after Better Than Raw or Master of the Rings, or maybe you must listen to anything from the Keepers’ era (when the real history began!). Anyway, is a good choice to complete your Power Metal collection.
And best of all: more COHERENT and therefore a lot better. That was the biggest problem with the previous album, that several songs sounded a bit underdeveloped and poorly constructed, thus losing a lot of coherence and character and therefore overall enjoyability. However, even the weaker parts showed promise in places; and after all, the circumstances were that 'Master of the Rings' was recorded just one year (or so, I don't have the exact dates) after the pop-metal "experiment" 'Chameleon', and this with two new members on board, so the result could have been much worse. I guess all Helloween needed now was to reload and refocus for the follow-up, this very album.
They did. On this album, the band just sounds a lot more comfortable and focused, creating a much clearer "identity"; something that the previous album really lacked in places. The songwriting is still every little bit as fresh and original as the previous album, though, still making the band difficult to compare with any others. Actually, I've often heard this album being described as a return to their roots, but I find that a bit hard to agree with, as I generally hear more 'Master' here than either Keeper or even Walls. There's ONE important thing it does return to in places, though...
...namely the SPEED!! This album has a fair share of straight-up speed metal blazers; the previous album had pretty much none, at least nothing of this caliber! This album therefore belongs a bit more in the power/speed metal vein than the pure power metal one of 'Master', and add to that the heavier and more vicious guitar tone and it's noticeable that the band has shifted up a gear since two years earlier. However, including a few speed metal songs does not automatically make you 'Walls of Jericho', so with all things considered, this album being a full return to their old sound is quite far from the truth. It's still a NEW sound they're working with - but a really good one (and just as fucking METAL), mind you.
There's just this one thing that unfortunately forces me deduct a point or two - namely the production. I did write "rawer" in the title, and as 'Master' wasn't really all that soft-around-the-edges either, that doesn't necessarily have to mean a good thing (it's just seemed a bit synonymous with "darker" and "heavier";)). I mean, it's not quite raw in that said sweet, balls- out 'Walls of Jericho' sense, but rather in an "awful mixing" sense. The hi-hat tends to completely bury the guitars quite often, especially when they're playing really fast - in which the BASS becomes more audible, in fact! Actually, EVERYTHING on here sounds rather low-budget and technologically backwards, but at least the guitar tone carries enough punch to fit the heavy nature of the riffs.
There are twelve songs on here, making up over an hour of music in total, but with the exception of a couple of clearly skipable tunes, this is an album that completely keeps my attention from beginning to end. There aren't just highlights everywhere, there are also a number of absolute fucking CLASSICS that stand out even more, deserving special mention.
For example, "Power" just plain fucking rocks. Flowery as fuck and equally fun, it's Helloween doing what they do best - inventive, but no bullshit power metal. Check out the amazing lead after the second chorus - this has been turned into some silly sing-along section at a few live shows, probably because it's MEMORABLE as fuck!! Not quite in the raw, heavy speed metal vibe of some of the other tracks, though...
like "Before the War", for instance!! Holy shit, is this one aggressive, but still with an extremely good sense of melody, like in the chorus and of course THE SOLO!!! Hell fucking yes, best solo since "The Chance", if you ask me - Roland Grapow is indeed more than Kai's shoe-filler (I think he's the one doing that first solo, yes?).
You want more speed? The two first tracks really blaze as well, with the second one, "Steel Tormentor", probably being the highlight of the two. Can't miss that fast vocal delivery in the verses!! Then, "Kings Will Be Kings" is solid too, but unfortunately a bit like a watered-down "Before the War" and VERY hurt by the terrible mixing, more than any other track. At least it's a bit epic and memorable.
The two Uli Kusch (drummer)-written tracks, "Wake Up the Mountain" and "A Million to One" are a bit slower and more experimental, but both are surprisingly awesome and surely among the true highlights on here. "Wake" has an especially amazing verse - Andi truly takes it away here. "Million" has this really interesting and extremely catchy chorus, nice emotional verse and also that super-nifty lead at 2.52...Helloween are doing just FINE w/o Kai Hansen, thank you very much!! Happy power metal works for them, aggressive speed metal too, also slower and more melodic stuff, even ballads...
Well, not quite this time. Both ballads on here are more in the overblown, almost symphonic vein rather than the said country-esque "In the Middle of a Heartbeat" on the previous album. "Forever and One" isn't bad, but...it's just kinda movie-soundtrack cheesy, but admittedly works just fine when played live, as the sing-along-ability is undeniable. "If I Knew" is also pretty OK, I guess, but definitely overlong and just kind of uninspired in places. Anyway, to me none of them really come close to "In the Middle...", but ballads in this vein are usually what you can expect from a German band;).
But don't go just yet, there are more highlights up ahead! "Mission Motherland" is one of the heaviest numbers, if maybe not the fastest, but some of the riffs just plain crush, in a fast chugging while not-quite-generic groove sense, while still not sacrificing anything in the way of melody. At around nine minutes, it's "teh epic" on here, but unfortunately it really feels more overlong than epic and thus not quite as good as it could have been. Maybe it was made for nostalgia, just to make some old fans happy by trying to sound a bit like "Halloween" or "Keeper of the Seven Keys" just by making the song a bit long. It does not succeed in that, but oh well. "Anything My Mama Don't Like" is the obligatory goofball track ala "The Game Is On", but actually, it's almost a bit like a recycled "Why?", as the main riff is quite similar. Not bad by any means this time, though; the pre-chorus is excellent, the chorus is mindless fun and the verse riffage is still fairly heavy for what it is.
Finally, the title track - HELL FUCKING YEAH! Amazing dark, epic and EVIL fucking power metal tune here...you thought 'The Dark Ride' was dark? This makes whatever the darkest track on that album is sound like Freedom Call in evilness and Europe in heaviness, even though this one DOES incorporate keyboards, as well...but even they are surprisingly evil too, making the "Mr. Crowley" intro sound like "Jump"! Holy shit, this track just has to be the high water mark of Roland Grapow's career as far as songwriting goes - the riffs are dark, heavy and convicting, the atmosphere is thick as FUCK and the vocals sound eerie, torn-up but also soaring at the same time. All this, finely crafted into a perfectly written and constructed seven minute masterpiece of power metal. The best track on here and maybe the best Helloween track EVAR. That includes EVERY album with the "Helloween" label on it.
Yeah, I guess you can say that it was with this release that Helloween were TRULY back. Not back with the old line-up, not even back with the old sound - but back as one of the top power metal units in the world (though not with that much competition by 1996, I guess), a position they've upheld ever since. As I said, they're more comfortable with the new sound this time around than when they created it two years ago; pretty much everything that was wrong about the last album is now gone/corrected, and also, they're not afraid to throw in some blazing speed metal every once in a while, certain to make plenty a metalhead happy.
And YES, this album is obviously underrated as fuck. "'The Dark Ride' was Helloween's comeback album" my ass; THIS is the shit, kiddies. Get it. Now.
Holy fucking hell, where did this come from? Master of the Rings was a pretty damn good album, but there was still no sign of the greatness that was to come only two years later.
The Time of the Oath is only my sixth favourite Helloween album in fact, but it is nonetheless completely amazing. The production is instantly noticeable- the difference from Master of the Rings to this one is spectacular. It's thick, it's powerful and it gives the album all the intensity and explosivity (is that a word?) it deserves. The guitars especially sound ten thousand times better, which alone increases the overall quality of the album alot, since Helloween like any other metal bands obviously rely heavily on the guitarwork.
The band also sound much tighter and well organized, they really work like a well-oiled machine in this one. But the biggest notable change is still in the songwriting. Master of the Rings was very good, but this is incredible. The actual style is pretty similar to the previous album, although the general pace of the songs has increased quite alot. And of course, the quality has increased hugely. This is classic power metal of the very best kind, through almost the entire album. A few of the songs don't quite reach up to the general standard of the album, but they are few and the difference is rather marginal.
The lyrics also seem a bit more serious for the most part. They are still in the traditional fun-loving Helloween vein, but there are no all-out silly moments like there were on most of the previous offerings.
What we have here, is that the band totally puts their heart and soul into the album, and manages to whip out intense, asskicking riffs, fun and memorable vocal lines and tons of divine lead sections like only Helloween can do them.
We Burn and Steel Tormentor start things out with a solid kick in the sternum. Fast paced power metal with speed tendencies, loads of melodies, and overall ownage straight through. Steel Tormentor is in fact one of the album's best songs, and a true Helloween classic.
Wake Up The Mountain is a bit more experimental, with very cool bass highlightings during the verses and a quite different atmosphere. The solo is also completely mental. Power goes back to the style of the first two, and is just as amazing. Forever And One (Neverland) is the first of the album's two ballads, and is in fact one of the best Deris-era ballads ever. Like any Helloween ballad it's very, very emotional and cheesy. It's a love-hate thing, and I fall into the former category.
Before The War is the best song on the entire album. Speed metal based riffwork with a lethal dose of melody, fast sung vocal lines whose awesomeness cannot be put into words, and a mindblowing guitar solo are all standout factors on this power metal masterpiece.
A Million To One is another pretty different tune. Midpaced, melodic, fairly emotional and has a very interesting atmosphere overall. Not one of the highlights, but a great song nonetheless. Anything My Mama Don't Like seems to be the least well-liked song on here. But of course, I love it. Fast and catchy riffwork, killer lyrics and more splendid soloing- and of course the strange, silly ending. Kings Will Be Kings is standard Helloween: Pretty fast and heavy underlying riffwork with excellent melody lines supporting the memorable vocal lines, a great chorus and whatnot. Mission Motherland reaches over 9 minutes, and has a semi-epic atmosphere and a killer middle section featuring a bunch of heavy riffs and solos.
If I Knew is the second ballad on the album, and is yet another masterpiece of cheese. It's a beautiful acoustic track with a more sad atmosphere than Forever Than One, although it's not quite as good.
We close of with the title track, which is another of the highlights. It has this really dark and scary atmosphere over it, and is quite unlike anything the band has done before. It is also insanely heavy, and has these really cool Latin backing vocals towards the end. A magnificent closer to a magnificent album.
With The Time of the Oath, Helloween reclaims the title of Power Metal Gods, and rightfully so. And they just seem to get better with each record.