(Metal Blade 2018)
It is not hyperbole to say that Visigoth are one of the most exciting new bands to emerge in the last few years and one of the great shining hopes for handcrafted American metal in the 21st century. Hailing from – of all places – Salt Lake City, Utah, Visigoth captured the minds and hearts of the underground metal hordes with their 2015 debut, The Revenant King. This was hammerforged epic doom-flecked metal of the highest order. With mesmerizing songs, swords-and-sorcery lyrics, and the truly sublime vocals of Jake Rogers, The Revenant King was nothing short of an aural feast for the discerning old-school metalhead, and the marketplace reacted accordingly. The band solidified their reputation with a string of killer live shows, including a U.S. run opening for Night Demon and legendary festival appearances at prestigious events like Frost and Fire, Keep It True and Pounding Metal. Now Visigoth return with the first major release of 2018, in the form of their sophomore album, Conqueror’s Oath, on Metal Blade Records.
After spending considerable time with the album, I can confidently declare Conqueror’s Oath to be a triumph, a bold step forward for the band, and a milestone for the genre. Make no mistake: This is the same Visigoth you fell in love with on The Revenant King. The massive riffs, the dynamic arrangements, the mystical songwriting, and the chest-beating feeling of indomitable power and magick in the night remain fully intact. Rogers sounds better than ever here, and just might have cemented his status as the finest metal singer of his generation. The combination of power, control, range, emotion and charisma that Jake Rogers brings to the table is truly special, and I always get a kick out of his signature “oooh” grunts in just the perfect moments (not a million miles removed from what Tom G. Warrior did on those early Celtic Frost records). Guitarists Leeland Campana and Jamison Palmer have stepped up their game as well, with numerous memorable, magnificent leads and melodies. And production-wise, Conqueror’s Oath packs a real wallop, sounding punchier and yet more organic than the debut.
In many ways, Conqueror’s Oath is a continuation of The Revenant King, and Visigoth proudly proclaim in the press release that they are not endeavoring to reinvent the wheel here. That said, it is important to recognize a key (and potentially controversial) difference between the two records. With Conqueror’s Oath, Visigoth have streamlined their approach, refining their attack to something leaner, meaner and more pointed and concise, distilling their sound to its essence for maximum impact. What does that soggy pile of adjectives mean? Whereas The Revenant King clocked in at 60 minutes with seven songs eclipsing the six-minute mark and two exceeding eight minutes, Conqueror’s Oath is a mere 42 minutes of concentrated thunder and bombast, with a handful of songs shorter than five minutes and none exceeding seven minutes. This development may understandably be met with skepticism by the more-epic-than-thou segment of the band’s fanbase, but take heart, my stout-hearted friends of the iron brotherhood. This album is pure Visigoth through and through, just condensed into a more focused and lethal package. To my mind, the grandiose, epic tunes like “The Conqueror’s Oath” (which is every bit as sweeping and grand as anything on The Revenant King) or “Traitor’s Gate” or the sublime second half of “Warrior Queen” are accentuated, emphasized and strengthened by the presence of offsetting, quick-hitting, ass-kicking shorter cuts like “Outlive Them All” (a heart-pounding scorcher that is already one of my favorite Visigoth songs ever) and “Salt City” (a fun rockin’ homage to Visigoth’s hometown). That sense of dynamics works with devastating effectiveness on Conqueror’s Oath, and prevents the sort of “epic fatigue” that might set in when listening to the debut. To be sure, not everyone will be enamored by this change, but I think Visigoth have executed the modification masterfully, tightening things up while preserving the true essence and heart of the band.
Special mention must be given to the album’s opening track. Anyone who’s caught Visigoth onstage over the last couple of years may remember a song that they introduced as “Vatt’ghern (By Steel and Silver),” which has become a staple of the live set. Now going by the abbreviated moniker “Steel and Silver,” it makes a welcome appearance as Track 1 of Conqueror’s Oath. It rules. A lumbering monster of a song, “Steel and Silver” captures everything I love about Visigoth in six glorious, fist-pumping minutes. It’s well worth it to buy this album just to own a proper studio recording of “Steel and Silver,” a timeless, immortal old-school anthem that gets better and better every time you hear it. Damn thing gives me goosebumps.
My fearless prediction is that Conqueror’s Oath will carry Visigoth to greater international prominence and allow them to take their rightful place at the vanguard of the old-school metal elite. Visigoth is poised for greatness. Recognizing this auspicious moment, the band will strike while the iron is hot by spending three weeks conquering Europe in February and March to promote the record, including high-profile appearances at the Metal Assault Festival, Swordbrothers Festival and Hell Over Hammaburg. I hope and expect that significant U.S. touring will follow. Wield the spear of destiny and ride the mammoth beast of Visigoth to the promised land, won’t you? They are the silver and gold standard of epic metal in 2018, and Conqueror’s Oath sees them prepared to outlast the moon and the sun. Bow your head and kneel. There can be only one. Hail!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~