‘Master Of The Rings’ marked the end of an era for Helloween. Not only because of the departure of iconic singer Michael Kiske, it also marked the return to the triumphant Power Metal sound the Germans were instrumental in creating. However, where that album still showed some caution, its follow-up ‘The Time Of The Oath’ would turn out to be a crowning achievement for the Power Metal giants. The arrival of Andi Deris meant a more intense vocal performance and less inner-band turmoil, while ‘The Time Of The Oath’ easily beat even their classic ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys’ albums in terms of consistency.
Deris was an important addition to the band for another reason than just his role as the singer. He would quickly become the composer of many of the best songs to the point that he basically became the band’s main songwriter. Many of this album’s finest moments are his compositions, although I suspect the band takes a somewhat Queen-like approach to their songwriting credits. Regardless, two of the band’s most intense moments – the energetic opener ‘We Burn’ and the borderline Thrash of ‘Before The War’ – carry his name and are amazing. That’s hardly where the fun stops though.
‘Power’ was the perfect choice to be the first single for the album. It’s a textbook Power Metal tune that contains all the characteristics of a Helloween classic, which was quite likely to draw some of the fans back in who gave up around the time of ‘Pink Bubbles Go Ape’. Its anthemic chorus, self-empowering lyrics and soaring twin solos make it the best single of the band since ‘I Want Out’. But also the album’s more experimental works work incredibly well. It’s unbelievable how well the mood shifts in the mindblowing ‘Wake Up The Mountain’ work, ‘Mission Motherland’ is a fantastic epic based on amazing riffs and the almost Doomy title track in all its atmospheric glory is a perfect closer to the album.
The only weaker moments are the ones that are to be expected; it wouldn’t be until the next album that the band finally succeeded in creating a truly good power ballad in the shape of ‘Time’. It’s not that ‘Forever And One (Neverland)’ and ‘If I Knew’ are bad songs, but they’re extremely predictable and cliché-ridden – particularly in the lyrical department. Save for those, every song on the record is a winner and that’s impressive, figuring that even the ‘Keeper’ records had atrocities like ‘Rise And Fall’. It’s easy to mistake ‘A Million To One’ as a beefed up power ballad, but when it sinks in after a couple of spins, it’s obvious that its a very well-written Heavy Metal tune with a slightly progressive twist. Even Helloween’s trademark goofy song, ‘Anything My Mama Don’t Like’ this time, is surprisingly good.
While yours truly is quite fond of every era of the band, I’m a fan of Deris. Kiske may have been technically superior, but I’ve always found more character and passion in Deris’ delivery. Combined with wild guitar antics of Roland Grapow and founding member Michael Weikath and Uli Kusch’s stellar drumming, which never disappoints, we’ve got ourselves a hell of an album. It’s my personal Helloween favorite. That may not be the most popular opinion, but whoever takes the time to listen to the album will most likely hear the same qualities that I do.
Recommended tracks: ‘Wake Up The Mountain’, ‘Before The War’, ‘The Time Of The Oath’, ‘We Burn’