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In case you forgot, we're a power metal band! - 85%

Ridley, November 17th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1996, CD, Raw Power

Sometimes, a little time can work wonders...

After releasing a lukewarm "Return to form" album a la Master of the Rings (I still have no idea what that album title has to do with anything), the newly formed lineup of Weikath, Grosskopf, Grapow, Kusch, and Deris returned to the studio to begin work on their next album. I think the biggest reason behind the overall "Lacking" quality of their previous opus was simply that it was rushed. Less than 1 year isn't a long time to throw a full-length album together. Well, 2 years was all the power metal quintet needed to load some anthracite in the engine and get the old locomotive back to flying down the railway. Well, nearly so, at least.

The first thing you'll notice when picking up the the album is the TOTALLY METAL album art. The "Keeper" featured on Keepers 1 makes a return, with FLAMES, DEMONS, AND CRYPTIC IMAGERY. METAAAAALLLLL!!! It's the perfect set-up for great things or absolute crushing disappointment, and fortunately it's the former that reigns victorious. Nearly everything has changed or has been improved on since last time, with the most notable adjustment being the choice to cling to what they have always done best: straight up power metal. See, the last album had a sort of split personality between hard rock and power metal, quite likely influenced by Deris as his previous band, Pink Cream 69, was certainly more hard-rock orientated. Whatever happened within those 2 years, in the end the hard rock sound was pushed aside for the most part and metal was brought back to the forefront... And with that came a production job that is a little more "Muddy" and less atmospheric. It's a very subtle change, but in the end I believe it does actually work in it's favor, at least on the faster tracks. Another production change is that Deris isn't drowned in effects like last time, and his voice really gets to shine. Actually, regardless of the production, Deris sounds way more comfortable behind the mic this time around. He sounded surprisingly good o MotR, but it was on this album that he really fell in place with the rest of the band. I mean, just listen to "Kings Will Be Kings" and then compare it to anything off MotR, and... You can easily hear the improved conviction.

The Time of the Oath simply explodes on takeoff, skipping any sort of intro and going straight for the throat (Or in this case, the neck) with "We Burn", a furious burst of energy with a fist-in-the-air chorus and some killer soloing. It's a short song, but that's the beauty of it: it really pumps you up for the album without dragging you do with it's length. It is followed up by an equally great track, "Steel Tormentor". It's a slower number, but never becomes boring due to having an absolutely killer main riff and some beastly rhythm work. Oh, and the lyrics kick ass, too; but hey, with a song title like Steel Tormentor, you already know it's going to pulverize on all levels.

As the album rolls along, one gets the feeling that they put a whole lot more thought into pacing the album correctly. I hate to draw so many parallels to MotR, but that album had probably the absolute worst pacing in any Helloween full-length release, with the speedy tracks loaded on to the very beginning and end of the album and nothing but midpaced (And often shitty) tracks filling up the middle. This album spreads everything out evenly for the most part, with only one gripe I have which I will point out later.

There are plenty of gems strewn throughout this album. Two of the album's singles, "Power" and "Forever and One", succeed in their individual goals as a power metal anthem and a moody ballad, even if the latter has one-dimensional love song lyrics that could have been written by an angst-ridden high school outcast who just lost his girlfriend. This album also marks the return of the "Minor key speed metal" style of songwriting which had been absent for quite a while from any Helloween full length. Along with the opener, we also get "Before the War", which really penned Deris as a capable songwriter with it's interesting chord progressions and rhythmic choices, and the aforementioned "Kings Will Be Kings", which is probably the strongest song on this album. It has it all: blazing riffage, strong bass work out of Grosskopf, Deris singing at his best, and Kusch pulling off his best performance on the album. Kusch's drumming is actually a major talking point, as he avoids the common pitfall of falling into simplistic rhythm and manages to keep things interesting throughout the entire album with creative beats and fills thrown around. Hell, listen to the insane, out-of-signature drum fill after the first chorus on "Kings..." and tell me that this guy isn't beyond competent.

There's very little here that could be considered filler. "A Million to One" is rather boring and uneventful, with a chorus that sounds oddly reminiscent of Iron Maiden circa Somewhere in Time, which should be a good thing but it just doesn't have any real hooks. "Anything My Momma Don't Like" could easily be called filler because of how goofy and surprisingly simple it is in composition. A lot of people absolutely hate this track, and I know I'm in the minority when I say that I love it. Looking beyond how stupid and simple it is, it somehow manages to be catchy and FUN. Maybe it isn't "Tr00" enough for people, I dunno. TTotA unfortunately loses steam in the last third of the album. This is the only area where the pacing is weak, and it isn't helped that the final two songs are yawn-inducers. Then you have the album's signature epic, "Mission Motherland". Too bad it's completely unfocused, bereft of any good hooks, is repetitive as a skipping vinyl at times, and goes on for way too long. It's crammed full of *cough* Nu-metal*cough* riffs, sure, but it just never forms into anything beyond sounding like the whole band just pooled a bunch of unrelated ideas together and called it a song.

A huge step in the right direction? Yes. Perfect? Certainly not. It wouldn't be until their next release that they really knocked it out of the park, but The Time of the Oath showed the world that yes, Helloween is back. Back with a fury.