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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.