Review: Swear the Conqueror’s Oath with Visigoth
Hail the coming of the conqueror!
Back in 2015, Visigoth released their monolithic debut. It boasted a thick, imposing sound, a monumental play time of just over an hour, and above all, an unending string of catchy hooks the likes of which other bands would kill for. To put it mildly, the bar was set high for their sophomore, yet when news about Conqueror’s Oath surfaced, I was pretty confident that it would live up to expectations. Let’s see how it fares against its older brother.
The first difference I noticed was a change in song structures, which more or less directly results in the shorter run time of the album. Revenant King achieved its epic length with songs that would hardly ever clock in below the six minute mark. More often than not, these would contain bridge parts so elaborate that it almost seemed like every song carried another song nestled within it. As much of a sucker as I am for grandiose storytelling, I must admit that the formula wasn’t always successful. Transitions between the “outer” and the “inner” song weren’t always smooth, and sometimes, it seemed like the two parts weren’t quite on a par quality-wise. On Conqueror’s Oath, this type of structure is not treated as the mandatory thing it seems to have been in the past. Rather than shoehorning in parts that might have been better off on their own, Visigoth let songs develop more freely. Now, if there is some sort of drastic change, it feels like it comes about naturally and because it makes sense within the narrative of the song – both the lyrical and the musical narrative, meaning that everything flows together much more nicely. The first single “Warrior Queen” exemplifies this quite well.
At around 3:40, the bridge emerges beautifully from the preceding solo, and it’s a change of pace which almost seems necessitated by the story the lyrics tell. The part doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the way the band transitions back to the chorus is bound to become an absolute “Fuck yeah!” moment at shows. You might describe the approach as simplified, but ultimately, not just this song but the whole album benefits from it, not least because it results in a much more easily digestible play time of just over 40 minutes. Visigoth manage to write considerably more organic and focused songs without taking away from the grandeur of the music.
Speaking of grandeur, how about that production? I already mentioned the debut’s impressive sound. The way the opening chords of its title track hit you like a one-two punch square in the chest; the stomping main riff of “Mammoth Rider”; the booming drums at the beginning of “Iron Brotherhood”; too many great moments to name, all magnified thanks to the stately, yet not overly clean sound. When I first got to listen to Conqueror’s Oath, I couldn’t help the feeling that it was lacking in this regard, and I’ve heard this raised as a point of contention elsewhere. Listening to both records side by side, there definitely is less of an emphasis on the low end here, and overall, perhaps less dynamic between the individual instruments. Everything sounds more “on a level”, resulting in a bit of a flatter sound. I’m still in two minds about this. On the one hand, the production of the debut was a huge draw for me; on the other hand, I can’t claim that the new sound is excessively detrimental to the experience. To my ears, it’s a shift away from the sound of modern-day epic heavy metal and towards the old school trad, power, and NWOBHM influences the band proudly wear on their sleeves (or vests, rather). The latter of these is perhaps best exemplified by the up-tempo rager “Outlive Them All”. I just wish this shift had manifested itself in a slightly more organic-sounding way.
This absolute killer is followed by “Hammerforged”, a track that sadly gets somewhat lost in the fray. It’s not really a bad one, but I think it suffers from sitting between the above song and “Traitor’s Gate”, an epic tale of revenge that rightly takes the center spot on the album. Despite being the longest one at close to seven minutes, nothing about it feels strained or unnecessary, and the time practically flies by – another testament to the progress the band has made in terms of songwriting. This big centerpiece is – rather cleverly – followed by the quick, short, and lighthearted “Salt City”, which sees Visigoth paying tribute to their home town. More than just a palate cleanser, however, the song also ventures into some new territory, albeit not in a fashion that makes it seem out of place. It’s just enough to take you a little bit by surprise. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s fun as hell.
I’m happy to say that second-to-last song “Blades in the Night” is a) another fast one with a slower part worked into it very nicely, and b) a decent segue into the topic of hooks. Once again, there’s many of those all throughout the record, and this song is no exception. I’m happy to say that Visigoth does not disappoint on that front, even though nothing has quite managed to dethrone the choruses I fell in love with on the debut. However, I can only see myself growing fonder of the record as time goes on, and I gotta say I’m kinda looking forward to finding more parts to raise my fist and sing along to. So far, “Blades in the Night” has done a good job in that regard, as have the verses of “Traitor’s Gate” and the chorus of opener “Steel and Silver”.
That only leaves the closer, “The Conqueror’s Oath”. Regrettably, I feel like the album ends on a bit of a low note with this one. I can absolutely see what they were going for: an empowering song about finding your purpose and a place where you belong, but I feel like “Iron Brotherhood” did a much better job with that topic. While the guitar lead later on is awesome, the rest just doesn’t really connect with me. Perhaps here is a song that does suffer from the production; the riff in the verse, slowly staggering forward like a wounded but determined soldier, would have sounded a lot more bombastic on the debut. Here, it sadly falls flat, and while I don’t exactly grow impatient, the song does feel a little too long. Plus it lacks that part that is clearly designed for the crowd to take over and actually feel the unity that the song is about.
Overall though, that’s a relatively small fly in the ointment. While Conqueror’s Oath didn’t sweep me off my feet immediately, I can’t honestly say that that was the case with Revenant King either, and after a couple of spins, I came away immensely happy with this. The refined songwriting is a huge improvement and makes it far more likely that I’ll listen to the whole thing rather than just dropping in for two or three tracks. One underwhelming song and the production job make for a bit of a detriment, but it’s an absolutely worthy follow-up that deserves at least
4 Out Of 5 Toilets Burning With Vengeance