Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The Godfather: Part II
The Dark Knight
The Road Warrior
Dawn of the Dead
The Raid 2
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
While I’m sure there are those who would make a case (with hands wringing) for one or more of the above films eclipsing their predecessors, the truth is that they all, at the very least, do a remarkable job of equaling the value of their antecedent while managing to deliver a few new…enrichments. Such is the dominant ambition for any contribution that follows a splendid introduction, and that’s precisely what’s on tap with Salt Lake City’s Visigoth and their sophomore effort, Conqueror’s Oath.
Fortune has smiled on this band, and deservedly so. After releasing one particularly inspired demo through Swords and Chains Records back in 2012, Metal Blade scooped them up and green-lighted a full-length, which resulted in 2015’s first-rate The Revenant King. A charming individual here at Last Rites referred to that debut as “heavy metal tailor-made for the patched-up troopers who would drive 500 miles at the drop of the hat to catch Ironsword opening a show for Manilla Road.” That’s probably as good a descriptor as any to help snare the sort of listeners the band ultimately hopes to snare, but I’ll quickly add the following identifiers to hammer the point home: Galloping, doomy, melodic, battle-ready, epic, galvanizing, old-school and walloping.
In the end, The Revenant King’s most mutually agreed upon blemish dealt with how long it expected listeners to sit through it, which, in retrospect, seems like a pretty rude thing to complain about when a band first bursts into the spotlight excited to showcase their wares. (And given how easy it is to, you know, press “stop.”) However, keeping shoulder-to-shoulder with the root bands Visigoth so candidly pay homage to, economy remains one of the keys to success when it comes to delivering Good Ol’ Fashion heavy metal. Just look at nearly every metal album that fired down the chute back in the 80s. Apart from Metallica, most everyone was pretty damned pithy, and people still enjoy complaining about how a record like MoP would’ve benefited from a little less fat around the middle. So yeah, Keep it Short, Stupid.
Much like the films listed above, Conqueror’s Oath takes a well-developed backstory that deepened interest and garnered acclaim and does a superb job of refining and enriching the experience. Three principal factors present here that help rout any notion of a sophomore slump:
- This record is catchier.
- This record is quicker, both in terms of overall pace and album length.
- This record is brighter and more polished.
With regard to that first point, Conqueror’s Oath features an explosive abundance of infectious choruses and bridges that are at times startlingly invigorating, so be sure to pound the album into your ears before that dreadful 3:30pm numbers meeting if you like the idea of envisioning someone running an impressive glaive through old man Bottomburp while he drones on and on about deferred revenue reports.
Vocalist Jake Rogers is an absolute beast. His voice was fantastic throughout The Revenant King, but it’s honed to an even sharper edge for the duration of Conqueror’s Oath, thanks to, well, probably time and routine, plus the added emphasis the record puts on rowdiness and loads of layered belt-outs. His delivery is clean as a hound’s tooth, and it’s 100% rooted in the sort of robust, dynamic baritone that made folks like Ronnie James Dio, Eric Adams and Jeff Scott Soto famous. If you don’t find yourself inspired enough to be doused in flames and remain fully intact as he vents about fists to the sky after the brief mellow measure inside “Warrior Queen,” you might have circuitry beneath that dirty skin instead of veins and blood, homeslice.
Conqueror’s Oath is a full 18 minutes shorter than the debut. Smart move, considering most folks can’t make it through a 25 minute episode of Bojack Horseman without checking their phone to see if someone liked the Nasty Savage video they tweeted out to 300 people. Our attention spans are getting shorter, technology is to blame, and it’s wise as hell to hit people hard and quick when it comes to metal such as this that’s… that’s… what were we talking about?
Where The Revenant King emphasized mid-paced pummelers with flashes of splashy velocity, album number two reverses the directive and puts a touch more priority on stepping on the gas pedal. The result is an overall mood that’s a pinch less Grand Magus, DoomSword and Argus and more classic Twisted Tower Dire, Slough Feg and Destiny’s End. There’s still plenty of space for swinging big & slow(er)—the excellent “Steel and Silver” that opens the record, “Hammerforged” and the closing title track, specifically—but a little more energy and hot rockin’ allows Conqueror’s Oath more room for variety, which culminates with the sassy stomper “Salt City,” a song that recalls a time when metal bands loved throwing at least one “Blow Your Speakers” curveball to brush fans off the plate.
About that polish…
Any mention of buffing the raw edges has a small chance of sending a handful of old bangers running for the hills, but it works to the advantage here because 1.) it’s fairly subtle and clears some of the muddiness without sacrificing heaviness, and 2.) it justly highlights the stronger priority the record places on melody. Lee Campana and Jamison Palmer’s leads have leveled up since 2015—or at the least, the overall production does a much better job of bringing them further into the spotlight—and the record’s fiery fretwork represents the most significant development since full-length number one.
If The Revenant King made you a fan, Conqueror’s Oath will do precisely what’s needed to strengthen your appreciation of the band. The record doesn’t render what preceded it obsolete in any way, shape, or form, but rather takes the crux of what made the original narrative great and simply intensifies the effects. Pure and simple, it’s an ideal sequel. There’s still room for growth, and just how classic the record becomes hinges on a good deal more time spent parsing its details, but early signs point to this being one of those moderately rare instances where all the hype is very much warranted.