Review Summary: "We've got the power, we are divine. We've got the guts to follow the sign"
As an old adage states, if you fall off the horse, just get back on again. Once great riders, Helloween were bucked unceremoniously from their high horse when Kai Hansen, founding guitarist and one-off vocalist, quit the band. The group explored more mainstream territory on the following two albums, eventually losing vocalist Michael Kiske as well. Just when it seemed that Helloween would call it quits for good, unlikely vocalist Andi Deris stepped in. With Master of the Rings, Helloween became critical darlings again. However, the group were not finished reestablishing themselves, and quickly showed the world that the success of Master was no fluke.
The Time of the Oath begins immediately – baring some chirping and flute-like instrumentation – with the powerful “We Burn”, the ultimate call-to-arms for the album. In quick succession comes the revving engines of “Steel Tormentor”, which features a more mid-paced groove and some fantastic melodic lead guitar. These two tracks provide a blueprint for much of the rest of the album, which alternates between speed metal anthems such as “Before the War” and “Kings Will Be Kings” and more mid-paced rockers like “Wake Up the Mountain”. The album also features some of Helloween’s most infectious choruses, specifically on “Power” and the first ballad, “Forever and One”.
Despite the upbeat material and earworm choruses, The Time of the Oath also explores the darker, heavier side of Helloween. This is most noticeable on the album’s two epics, “Mission Motherland” and the closing title track. “Mission Motherland” is a somewhat messy song, mostly concerned with some extraterrestrial creatures attempting to live in peace with humanity. The song’s experimentation is anchored well by simple, yet powerful riffing and some absolutely pounding drums. On “The Time of the Oath”, Helloween are at their most Sabbath-like, utilizing a doomy guitar riff that wouldn’t be too out of place on one of that group’s later albums. Andi Derris also provides his most powerful vocal performance here, as he laments that his “sweetest memories die in the cold” as now is the time of the oath, the end of the world.
Even with all of the quality material on display, a few of the album’s tracks fall flat. “A Million to One” simply plods along, unable to keep interest for very long. Also, while “Forever and One” avoids negative status despite its clichéd songwriting, “If I Knew” is not nearly as lucky. Nothing about the track really stands out, and it’s relegated to a fitting position near the album’s end, where it will hopefully be forgotten. One particular curiosity of this album is the hair-metal styled “Anything My Mama Don’t Like”, a divisive track amongst many fans. With its fantastic chorus, silly lyrics and general catchiness, it’s really a hidden highlight of the album.
Ultimately, Helloween proved with The Time of the Oath that they weren’t going away anytime soon. While they may never have reached the same heights of quality and popularity as they did on the Keeper albums, the band showed anyone left wondering that they still had a lot of great music left in them, and would continue to for years to come. While not an essential release, this album is a solid work and a testament to the group’s staying power and their unwillingness to stay down.