Even though they enjoy a cult status and are credited with giving birth to the power metal genre as we know it, Halloween’s road to success wasn’t without a few bumps. After Kai Hansen left the band, the members formed factions with conflicts of interest in terms of where the band will go musically. As a result of that internal struggle, singer Michael Kiske and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg were replaced with Andi Deris (formerly of Pink Cream 69) and Uli Kusch (after leaving Hansen’s new band, Gamma Ray). Even though they had a difficult task of convincing the fans Helloween is done experimenting with their sound, the cheerful Germans surpassed all expectations when they published Master of the Rings, an album that paid respect to their roots but also pushed the band in a new, fresh direction.
Twenty years ago, on February 29th, 1996 power metal pioneers HELLOWEEN published their seventh studio album titled “Time of the Oath” that is in many ways one of the most important releases in the band’s career. After “Master of the Rings” proved the band was on the right way to recover from the commercial failure of both “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” and “Chameleon”, Time of the Oath proved that what might have been considered a controversial choice to replace Michael Kiske with Andi Deris was the right choice of the band.
“Time of the Oath” was a clear nod to the style that the band formed on the legendary double album “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. Another clear node to that album was the resurgence of their mascot, a hooded figure named Keeper that adorned the cover of the “Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1″ album created by Frederick Moulaert who provided the artwork for both parts of the album. Apart from that, the band insisted that Tommy Hansen produces the album. Hansen was a part of the winning duo that was, you guessed, in charge of producing the legendary double album.
Even though the album was not conceptual per se, one of the topics covered on the album are the prophecies made by Nostradamus predicting a World War at the end of the 20th century the band naively believed in. The other topic was more personal. After being fired from the band, Ingo Schwichtenberg suffered from depression and turned to drugs, which led to the drummer committing suicide by throwing himself under a train on March 8th, 1995. Therefore, the whole album was dedicated to him, and judging by founder and guitarist Michael Weikath “Time of the Oath is an album Ingo would have probably liked”.
Listening to the album you can feel the chemistry in the newly formed lineup was blooming after the tour in support of “Master of the Rings”. Therefore, “Time of the Oath” is the first album that features contributions from every band member (even though Markus Grosskopf’s songs ended up in the B-Sides). Drummer Uli Kusch certainly stood out from the bunch, penning classics such as “Wake up a Mountain”, “A Million to One” and “Anything My Mama Don’t Like” together with Deris. Deris also co-wrote the eerie title track of the album together with Grapow. Still the team comprised of Deris and Weikath (both in cooperation and individually) was responsible for some of the finest cuts of the album including “We Burn”, “Kings Will Be Kings” and “Before the War”, as well as tracks that are a staple of the band’s every show like “Power”, “Steel Tormentor” and “Forever and One”, which Deris still claims is his favorite song recorded with the band.
Even though “Master of the Rings” was accepted by the fans everywhere, “Time of the Oath” was the album that brought back the renown the band earned during the 80-s. Therefore, on the tour in support of “Time of the Oath” Helloween swapped small clubs for concert halls across Europe. Their special guest for the tour was none other than Bruce Dickinson, who had left Iron Maiden a couple of years prior and who at the time was touring in support of his solo album titled “Skunkworks”.
The chemistry in the band was captured on the live album titled “High Live”, made available on VHS and CD (later published on DVD as well). The live album was recorded in Milano, Italy as well as Pamplona and Gerona, Spain and published on September 6h of the same year. The album captured all the qualities of the band’s shows: flawless musicianship, the harmony between lead and backing vocals and the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd to old and new tunes alike. The list contained a couple of fan favorites from the 80’s Deris made his own, supported by Grapow’s powerful voice.
“Time of the Oath” was made during a period many consider the hardest for the heavy metal genre. Still, Helloween managed to win back part of the enormous popularity they enjoyed during the 80’s and attract a new generation of fans by turning to the sound they felt most comfortable with and their fans enjoyed the most. Many critics still believe this album was responsible for the popularity the band enjoys to this day, especially when compared to some of their peers that either went silent during the 90’s, went deep underground or just recently reunited. In any case, Time of the Oath is an exceptional album every heavy metal fan must have in their collection.
“Time Of The Oath” tracklist:
01. We Burn
02. Steel Tormentor
03. Wake Up The Mountain
05. Forever And One (Neverland)
06. Before The War
07. A Million To One
08. Anything My Mama Don’t Like
09. Kings Will Be Kings
10. Mission Motherland
11. If I Knew
12. The Time Of The Oath