(This is a guest review by The Metal Elitist of the new album by the Utah band Visigoth, which was released by Metal Blade Records on February 9th.)
I consider myself a wary person. So, while I generally do agree that there exists a “golden era” of heavy metal long since passed, I tend to eye with suspicion many of the so-called NWOTHM bands which seem to coast their way to success on the waves of nostalgia. Though it is certainly true that we’ve been blessed with several excellent releases in this vein (think Sumerlands, Eternal Champion, or Night Demon), there are also countless me-too retro acts which have left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Visigoth, however, is no such band. When I, like many others, first discovered them in 2015 after the release of their debut, The Revenant King, I knew that they had created something very special.
While The Revenant King certainly had its flaws, I sensed in it a maturity and passion that is missing from many of Visigoth’s leather-clad contemporaries, which is probably why the mournful wails of “Blood Sacrifice” and the thundering grooves of “Mammoth Rider” still manage to hold my attention almost three years later. Not content to simply rehash classic bands like Cirith Ungol, Heavy Load, and Grim Reaper, the Salt Lake City quintet had crafted a perfect chimera of both old and new.
Nevertheless, it was with caution that I patiently anticipated their follow-up. I knew the potential was there, but I felt the ol’ pessimism rising up within me, which couldn’t help but wonder, “Has the band already peaked? Will the successor be a disappointment?”
Enter Conqueror’s Oath, which has answered both questions with a resounding and triumphant “NO!” I felt relief wash over me as I listened to the record in seclusion from start to finish, as is my tradition. Soon it became clear that most of my expectations, if not all, had been exceeded.
To begin with, the entire 42-minute outing manages to feel more varied with regard to both mood and tempo, as well as feeling more cohesive overall, with just one exception which I’ll address later. The songwriting is more concise and runs the gamut of styles from thrash/speed metal songs such as “Outlive Them All”, to fist-pumping power metal knockouts such as “Traitor’s Gate”, to the soulful and doom-tinged epic closer that is “The Conqueror’s Oath.”
Each member has improved in his respective role, and at times the members even cross over, such as on the aforementioned “Outlive Them All” in which Jake not only performs his usual role as vocalist with renewed vigour but handles guitar and bass duties as well! Not to be outdone. though, both Leeland and Jamison have stepped up their game as well, with refined virtuosity and more memorable, energetic harmonies, such as those on the excellent “Hammerforged.” Meanwhile, both Matt and Mikey act as the pulsating heart that steers and supports all the others, with propulsive low-end frequencies and boisterous percussive rhythms, respectively.
The production is thicker, being handled this time around by the multi-talented Andy Patterson of SubRosa, and even the artwork is more luxurious than before, having been brought to life once again by the renowned painter Kris Verwimp.
As for lyrics, I feel that other bands should take heed of Visigoth’s approach. Here Jake paints vivid pictures with a poetic flair that helps to elevate them above the tired tropes common in such music. While many of the songs are ostensibly written about and inspired by various topics from both history and fantasy, such as the catchy opener “Steel and Silver”, which is written from the perspective of Geralt of Rivia from Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher books; when taken as a whole, the album’s subject matter could just as easily be interpreted as a monument to inner-conquest, and not just the literal conquest of external realms and kingdoms. The common thread that seems to tie everything together is the concept of self-mastery, or at least the pursuit of it, and the idea that one’s fate is not dictated, but forged through one’s own willpower. This proud and rebellious spirit is exactly what I look for when I listen to metal, no matter the subgenre, and its presence and depth here is therefore greatly appreciated. Suffice it to say, every verse and chorus on Conqueror’s Oath is a lexical treat, regardless of your chosen interpretation.
Despite all this praise, however, there remains room for improvement. While certainly a stellar sophomore effort, the missteps of the debut are unfortunately repeated here, albeit to a lesser degree. In particular, the song “Salt City” is to this album what “Creature of Desire” was to the debut, and feels jarringly out of place here. While I understand and appreciate the sentiment behind the song, the twangy bass and cheesy hooks end up channeling Blue Murder more than they do Thin Lizzy. This song probably should have been buried, or at least heavily revised from the largely unaltered live version that I first heard played more than a year ago. Up to this point the album’s momentum is very strong and sweeps you from one vignette to the next like an engrossing film, but this springy ode to Utah’s underground scene breaks that careful pacing and then doesn’t fully recover until the titular closing song, which is a shame, because “The Conqueror’s Oath” may well be my favourite battle-hymn.
Despite this, I obviously have no qualms about recommending Conqueror’s Oath to you, dear reader. On the contrary, I feel it is required listening for 2018, and a very early contender for album of the year. Overall, Conqueror’s Oath is a valiant success, which equals or surpasses the previous release in nearly every way. Which of course is to say that within their own subgenre at least, Visigoth stands peerless in their craft. If you’re a curmudgeon like me, who bemoans many of the current trends and longs for a return to glory, but who simultaneously values progression as opposed to stagnancy, then look no further. Upon listening to this record, one feels emboldened in the face of all odds, as if one could topple the mightiest of empires both within and without, much like the roving Barbarian hordes that lend the band its name.
On that note, should you have the opportunity, you must try to catch them in concert. The band is set to embark on a European Tour in just a few short days, for which I will list the dates below. A North American tour will hopefully come after, but that’s just pure speculation on my part. I promise you, these lads are even more impressive on stage. Now go and lend them your support!
Link to Purchase at Metal Blade (Physical):
Link to Purchase at BandCamp (Digital):
Official Facebook Page:
Feb. 17 – Wurzburg, Germany – Metal Assault Festival
Feb. 18 – Oldenburg, Germany – MTS Records Store
Feb. 19 – Berlin, Germany – Cortina
Feb. 20 – Leipzig, Germany – Four Rooms
Feb. 21 – Wien, Austria – Escape Metal Corner
Feb. 22 – Innsbruck, Austria – Livestage
Feb. 23 – Dornbirn, Austria – Schlachthaus
Feb. 24 – Lunen, Germany – Swordbrothers Festival
Feb. 25 – Genk, Belgium – Flashback
Feb. 27 – Barcelona, Spain – Rocksound
Feb. 28 – Zaragoza, Spain – Sala Lopez
Mar. 1 – Madrid, Spain – Sala Live
Mar. 2 – Ljungby, Sweden – Turbofest
Mar. 3 – Niederjossa, Germany – Full Metal Fest
Mar. 6 – Goppingen, Germany – Zille
Mar. 7 – Leiden, Netherlands – De Noble
Mar. 8 – Marburg, Germany – Szenario
Mar. 9 – Weiher, Germany – Live Music Hall
Mar. 10 – Hamburg, Germany – Hell Over Hammaburg Festival