Label: RTR Records
Date: January 12th, 2024
He himself said it best, the man who sent me this press kit. It’s all there and yet somehow it isn’t. Of course, being an integral part of “Tales of Valor”, he wasn’t speaking about this album in particular, but he put words in my own mouth. But I’m skipping to the end before even beginning.
This is Oathbringer’s second “book of tales”. They are a band of outsiders on the Serbian metal scene, who had to work thrice as hard to get where they are right now. However, there’s an upside to “per aspera”. Along the way, Oathbringer slipped under the radar of ever-present fervor of any scene, ever. With that, the band focused on their craft, growing further and erupted with full force where nobody expected them. Unsuspecting Pompeii could do little but gasp at the power emanating from these true metalheads. Coming from the town of Kragujevac, the heartland of Serbia, they’ve pumped a fresh batch of blood into the living organism of Serbian metal. Doing so by performing one of the oldest types of heavy metal is a feat of its own.
Namely, Oathbringer is all about traditional heavy metal. The band keeps clean of any outside influence that is often associated with the normative. None of the power / speed / thrash metal or primal doom. Clear cut, classic sound, “soiled” only by the modern production tools. What’s more, “Tales of Valor” honors both sides of the Atlantic. It houses Manowar and Cirith Ungol (as declared by the cover of “Join the Legion” in their live set), with their rhythmic tonnage and epic atmosphere, as well as galloping melodies of Teutonic greats such as Running Wild or Grave Digger (another live asset of Oathbringer). With that, Priestkiller’s voice reminisces those of Mr. Boltendahl or Mr. Adams, thus showing a respectable range, coupled with the rarest of “skills” – coping with shifting intensity of music he needs to adhere to. If you cannot find proof of that beforehand, postpone the judgement for the closing track of the album, “Dragonmount”.
Even more impressive, the vocals are followed by a neat selection of musicians whose display on “Tales of Valor” shows a definite knowledge and confidence not only in handling their respective instruments, but also in a matter at hand. Obviously, they are well-fed with a decent number of genre-specific releases, so they can pick the nuances necessary to exploit. Hence the “it’s all there” part of my opening statement. The elements that make for every successfully executed heavy metal album are there in abundance and are used to full effect.
Of course, that bears the question of whether we’re dealing with a simple copycat, a continuation of the legacy or a fresh force on the worn-out stage. Somehow, Oathbringer is none of the above, especially on the global “market”, as I’m sure their goals do not end on a local pedestal. Nor should it, because these guys were a serious potential already on their debut record. “Tales of Valor” is, for all intents and purposes, a matured version of the soundscape explored on “Tales of Glory”. In every possible regard Oathbringer display themselves as a group ready for greatness. Yet they still do not achieve it.
The one issue I have with the album is that it’s “a grower, not a shower”. In every meaning but the literal. Seriously though, one needs to be patient with “Tales of Valor”. It doesn’t open up at once. Apart of the first single, “Holy War”, a radio-friendly straight shooter destined to become a hit, the other songs need to sit with you for at least a few spins. However, once they’re lodged inside your brain it is difficult to get rid of them and you will certainly come upon a bunch of favorites. “Hall of the Slain”, “Witch’s Hut” and especially the explosive “Strike to Kill” are among those that will grow on you. But there’s also a number of those that will not reach the same heights, no matter how long you keep spinning this record, even if they are hardly definite misses. They’re just not up to the standards of the leading pack.
And that’s the whole “but it somehow isn’t all there” of my mentioned statement above. Well, perhaps the lyrics could stray a bit further away from the clichés of epic fantasy, but it’s not that big of a fault in my book, since I am a fan of “sword & sorcery” type of simple yet effective, adrenaline-pumped rhyme.
Anyway, while I cannot put “Tales of Valor” up high with the strongpoints of the genre, for Oathbringer it is a massive step ahead from the debut. More importantly, shortcomings and all, it is a good album. In this particular field of interest, probably the best Serbia has produced to date. But I’m still counting on the crucial third one to seal the deal. For better or for worse.