Visigoth - Conqueror's Oath - (9/10)
Published on February 6, 2018
It’s been three years since Salt Lake City barbarians Visigoth made their statement of wrathfulness and might, The Revenant King, known to metal masses world-wide after four years of conquest in the traditional heavy metal underground. In the two prior years alone, metal has seen a massive resurgence with some of its most visionary and artistically accomplished works since the early 80’s to 1995. The classic styled variants of power, speed, thrash, doom, and heavy metal alone, already on an upswing since 2008, did not slack with stellar releases from Lunar Shadow, Angel Sword, Tyfon’s Doom, Forcefield, Stallion, Demon Bitch, Wrathblade, Heavens Decay, Burning Shadows, and Litany released incredibly strong albums that in some cases outdid the very bands most would wrongly accuse them of worshipping. There’s few that can match them but the iron will of Visigoth is not so easily deterred. While their debut album certainly brought them into the well-deserved spotlight, it did have some shortcomings in terms of riffing, pacing, and track selection with its second half being somewhat inconsistent due to rerecordings and a solid if unnecessary cover track. However, all of these issues have been completely dealt with for a follow-up that not only addresses them in full but shows new growth and brilling confidence combined with not just an impressive knowledge of the craft of gods of olde but a versatility in the ancient arts rare to recent so called “New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal” bands. Conqueror’s Oath is thus fittingly titled; the promise of might and magic that informed them since their humble beginnings have resulted in a string of triumphs that their competition would do well to take notice of.
While they bear the banner of “80’s heavy metal” proudly, perhaps Visigoth’s most distinct character is that they don’t belong to a particular easily pigeon-holed version of a perceived golden age. They are just as comfortable working within a grandiose sense of scale as a band like Solstice or Battleroar possesses as they are rollicking hard rock tinged numbers or blitzing speed metal barrages. While the metallic diversity hasn’t changed, it’s performed with a newfound sense of finesse and grandeur that leaves the debut in the dust. Straight from the triumphant march of “Steel and Silver”, the percussive marching cadence and rapid flourishes of semi-folksy licks capping off these muscular riffs speak of a band that knows how to immediately grip one’s attention and combine titanic rhythmic force with highly distinct melodies. On that note, the lead playing has seen a significant upgrade. Guitarists Jamison and Leeland’s melodic sensibility shows a fair share of 70’s hard rock flourish, adding quite a bit of colour and tonal variety to these tracks and at its best moments, particularly in the swift single string onslaught of “Blades in the Night” and the colossal stomping of the title track. However it extends as well to the soloing where newfound technical accuracy results in renewed ferocity and velocity taking that 70’s expressionism and rounding it out with a semi-shreddy approach that’s hard not to love with its exuberant energy.
However more importantly their fretboard artistry is their riffing and how strikes with twice the fury than it did before. It definitely takes on a more “epic” character (in Manilla Road or Atlantean Kodex sense) on average than on the debut. Compared to say, Enforcer or Iron Kingdom, many of the songs features heavyweight doom metal dense guitar work, often getting chunkier relative to slowness of tempo and integrated with a slowly mounting but undeniably colossal melodic character. While they do have a number of faster moments, the most distinct riffs are typically the slower ones like on the vengeful war hymn of “Hammerforged”, exploding into a triumphant harmony in its choruses with Jake’s powerful J.D. Kimball (Omen) reminiscent bellow. “Traitor’s Gate” is another standout in this department, flirting with viking-era Bathory and Primordial reminiscent technique with its colossal broad-stroke strumming during its verses that swell into a tidal wave carried by Jake’s most savage vocal lines. The singing as you might have guessed is in top form with Jake easily joining the ranks of fearsome warlords like Hansi Kursch, Geoff Tate, Alan Averill, and Deathbringer (Doomsword). He’s instantly recognizable with his smooth, deep tenor but this album shows a wider range of character. A song like “Salt City” would’ve been unimaginable back in 2010 but this jaunty almost early Riot style rocker really lets Jake use that gutsy voice in a context that’s less high fantasy world conflict and more backstreet boozing and late night partying. Strange as it sounds, his voice works wonders in this kind of setting but if you want something more grim in its aims, “Traitor’s Gate” shines in its choruses, hinting at a rougher, grittier approach during its verses though not to the level of their first two release. Choruses in general are absolutely massive, nearing Blind Guardian size in the almost symphonic grandeur with which they explode into the scene. For some they might be a bit too much but I find them to accompany their approach to riffing and pacing perfectly.
At this point, I think it’s best to say that traditional metal is not undergoing a revival as much as it is merely reminding the world where it stands amidst the increasingly fractured directions metal as a whole is going in. Lovingly crafted with an attention to history and musical detail yet erupting with wrathfulness and energy, Conqueror’s Oath is an early landmark in 2018 that elevates them from stalwart guardians to titanic usurpers. Few traditional heavy metal bands today are capable of this level of eclectic influences yet without the mark of a tribute band, all the while excelling with flying colours no matter what songwriting choices they make. The album is notably shorter than The Revenant King at 42 minutes versus the other’s hour long length and there are only three songs over six minutes as opposed to seven. However time has honed their playing to a level far beyond anything they ever were, to the extent where at times it feels like not just a different band but a superior one. The now very prominent epic heavy metal leanings are more than welcome, making best usage of their ear for mounting immense tension and communicating an enormous sense of scope and space while their faster, conventionally riffier numbers have benefitted as well. The horizons are vast and the possibilities beneath them are endless. 2018 is off to a triumphant start and I hope to see future bands bear the mark of the Conqueror’s Oath.