13 Feb 2018

Visigoth - Conqueror's Oath (Metal Blade Records - 2018)

Utah heavy metal warriors Visigoth returns with the highly awaited follow-up to their 2015 debut, Revenant King, can this sophomore offering live up to the expectations that the debut gave birth to?

A second album, the true ordeal by fire that faces all bands early in their careers! While forging the a debut in the fiery passion of youth one has usually had years to tweak and add/subtract to the formula. Both in the rehearsal room and in the form of demo releases, as well as trying the tracks out in live situations. But when the sun finally dawns upon the time to once again fire up the machinery, and start working on the new material you are faced with a new obstacle: time itself. Take too long crafting you weaponry and you will lose the momentum gained with the previous release, rush your work and you will have forged brittle and inferior steel that will shatter upon the shields of your foes. Oh, when rummaging through the chronicles of old, of how many bands has it not been written that released incredible first offerings only to fall into mediocre depths just years later? I'm glad to see that the lads that make out the band of adventurers in Visigoth has waited the golden amount of time that is three years before swearing the conqueror's oath. Not so long that they begin their plunge into obscurity, yet enough to give me the hope that the material will not feel rushed and not thought through. With fear and excitement I held my breath before carefully placing the stylus of my record player on my newly acquired white/blue splattered vinyl.

"Steel and Silver" pours out of my speakers in a boiling river of melodic riffing that immediately grabs me by surprize, as "melodic" is not the first word I would use to describe the brand of heavy metal that Visigoth dishes out. Rather the more chugging and heavy rolling riffs of the verses that enter the fray not long after the short intro are what makes me feel like I am once again sharing a flagon of ale with an acquaintance of the past at the inn we frequent in-between our separate adventures. It's nice to hear that they are incorporating more of the melodic instrumentation in short bursts here and there, while still staying true to the formula that grabbed me three years ago. Jake Rogers's lyrics are as spot-on as ever, sounding like generic, although extremely well put together, fantasy/sword and sorcery ramblings to most, but for us familiar with the source material the lyrics are nice nods nerdy sub-culture.

Second track "Warrior Queen" is a more hard rocking affair, and while it's a somewhat repetitive track it is easy to understand why it was chosen as the first single to be released prior to the album as it has an infectious chorus and a lot of attitude. Several short twin guitar interludes does their best to break up the repetitiveness, but when the same break leading into the verse riff appears for the third time I can't help to roll my eyes, even if just for a brief moment. The solos are to be commended though, and it's a good thing that Visigoth found the right context to introduce Jake's flute playing capabilities that he has displayed in his previous projects.

The pace picks ups with "Outlive Them All" and drummer Mikey Treseder gets more use of his double kicks. If this track doesn't get your blood pumping you have truly strayed from your intended path and wandered into realms where you have no business of dwelling and should immediately roll a dexterity check to avoid the righteous hammer of the metal gods! The main riff has a jumpy gallop rhythm to it which gets my head nodding approvingly without even breaking a sweat. The verses have a lot air to them while the vocals are delivered, yet pummels forward in-between the vocals lines so the track never looses its drive. Each time I reach the later part of the track where the backing vocals join on "The cosmic fire burning silver and cold" the hairs on my arm stand straight up in attention and salute.

"Hammerforged" manifests the true essence of that which I associate Visigoth with: pummelling riffing on drop/tuned guitars, with a bass that actually is audible (!) chugging along with them and some absolutely epic vocals and lyrics on top of that. When treated to a track that in my opinion just as well would have fitted into the previous album I do notice that the production is strikingly similar to that of "The Revenant King", say for the fact that "Conqueror's Oath" lacks a little in the low-end frequencies when compared to aforementioned album. You won't catch me remastering the album for my own purposes though, which has actually happened in the past, as all instruments fit together very well and the composition of how the instruments interact with each other leaves nothing to want. The conqueror could just have used a little more of the thunderous aspect that the king had. All in all though the track is an extremely good finisher of side A and has me rushing to flip my record over and continue my quest into realms forgotten.

Once again the stylus is lowered upon the spinning disc. With the first side of the record having stilled any doubt that lingered in my heart I eagerly awaited what the "Traitor's Gate" had in store for me, which turned out to be a whole lot. The intro features somberly plucked guitars accompanied by Jakes soaring vocals which lead into yet another faster track. This seems like a good point to reveal another fear I had before even giving this album a proper listen, being that from recordings I had come over from the bands recent live shows I felt that Mr. Rodgers had lost some of the rasp and slight growl he had to his voice. A common trait for vocalists that essentially become "better" at singing, but along the way loose some of the aggression they initially possessed. But hearing him sing "brothers no more, in single combat we stand" here it is evident that he still connected to his passionate origins, while still evolving his vocal technique. The track itself is the strongest on the album, alongside "Outlive Them All" and "Hammerforged", and displays many sides of the band.

"Salt City" I can only assume is a fan favourite at local shows, as I know it has been a part of their live sets for quite some time, and if the local hockey team doesn't enter the ice to this tune it is a damned shame. Much in the vein of earlier tracks "Creature of Desire" and "Call of the Road" it is a rockier and more up-beat offering that provides a bit of variation, but on the other hand somewhat breaks the mood set by the rest of the album. The track is however the shortest on the album and provides no long distraction before it's over.

I am re-immersed into mythical worlds with "Blades in the Night", a very catchy number that also feature fantastic solos by guitarists Leeland Campana and Jamison Palmer. Not only does Visigoth know how to use fact that they are blessed with two axemen capable of dishing out fantastic leads by having them share the solos back and forth between them, but they stay true to the ancient (but now almost completely forgotten) tradition of actually noting who of them is currently leading the fray in the booklet. It is a true shame when you want to give credit where credit is due for a fantastic solo, but actually can't find any way to trace the lineage of said solo. Other bands take note!

Lastly we are introduced to the titular "Conqueror's Oath". This is the longest number on the album, a feat rightfully bestowed upon a title track. It closes the album with a regal aura to it and the band does a great job with conveying the epic tone that I can only assume that they were aiming for. Closing a live set with this track I am sure would bring a tear to my eye, and it is no less effective here.

I have already touched upon the production, and there is really not much to add. The sound is warm and pleasant to the ear and I am glad to hear that the bass is clearly audible. That is nothing new to Visigoth, but definitely worth mentioning in this day and age of forgotten bass players. The drums sound honest and are played with precision as well. But when placed back to back with the fullength from 2015 it lacks a bit on the low-end.

I am surprized to find that this time around I seem to enjoy the faster tracks the most, which hasn't necessarily been the case with Visigoth in the past. I am relieved to hear that the fire of heavy metal still burns bright within them, because "Conqueror's Oath" sounds as vital as any debut, and still they have fine-tuned their craft yet a bit more. Clocking in at the perfect runtime of just over forty minutes they seem to have trimmed the fat of each song, as there is really not much filler here. The few qualms I had are really just nitpicking in context of the whole album. The reigning champions of Faerun rolls a their d20 for a score of 8/10.

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