If you haven’t listened to the rockandrolljunkie.com podcast with Kyle Shutt about the new The Sword album I highly recommend listening to it first.
I’m exactly the mother fucker they are talking about. I hate boogie rock, I hate ZZ Top, I hate Thin Lizzy, I hate a fuck of a lot of the 1970’s. I HATE the movie “Dazed and Confused”; it’s fucking trash of the worst order. A celebration of jock culture, yay! Just what the world fucking needs! That movie collectively made my high school experience stupider. It made stoners stupider; that takes fucking talent (I have nothing against stoners or weed, far from it, I just kinda hate stoner culture).
Did I mention I hate Thin Lizzy and ZZ Top? That’s what The Sword’s become to me. Sadly.
“High Country” is a low point for early fans. The band we (fuck off I’m generalizing) liked is completely gone. All that’s left is a band trying to do a 2015 version of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” right down to the bad synths (and I fucking love synths) and awkward drum machine parts. Add in some Thin Lizzy and a metal riff here and there for the few older fans that are still holding on. Increased production values and “better” vocals doesn’t make up for middle of the road songs.
Sit down and listen to Toronto’s “Quest for Fire”. They have a similar vibe and sound to the new Sword material; the same sort of Don Felder “Takin’ a ride” (from the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack) vibe. Listen to “DreamThieves” and not think Don Felder. Yeah, can’t be done. This just doesn’t have the memory of watching a bootlegged copy of “Heavy Metal” on VHS backing it up.
But that isn’t what we’re talking about. The reason that many of the early fans are pissed is “Age of Winters“, by miles my favourite album of the Sword (and one of my favourite albums of the 00’s) never got a proper follow-up. But what do you mean Shane?
THE HORNED GODDESS by THE SWORD
“God of the Earth” is a tribute to the British New Wave of Heavy Metal. “Warp Riders” is a heavy boogie rock album that sounds great production wise that I didn’t even buy. I didn’t like the songs. “Apocrychon” I barely remember; I saw them on that tour (and they were fucking great), but the album did zero for me. The closest thing we got to a follow up to “Age of Winters” (and the early demos) is “Sea of Spears” off their split with Witchcraft,
(the other track by the Sword on that is a cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrants Song”, which in hindsight hinted heavily at what was coming) and the slower tempo version of “Under the Boughs” complete with it’s kinda offputting sea chanty chorus, but awesome tape flange break down into outro from the “Invaders” compilation (which got re-recorded for “Gods of the Earth”, but I like the version on invaders way more). That’s it.
“Age of Winters” is a fucking amazing slab of stoner doom. The groove is still there, but everything around it is just slower, heavier and more intense. The opener “Celestial Crown” is a cool instrumental introduction to the world this album exists in; a realm of synths and sludge. Where is my d20? “Barael’s Blade” is heavy as fuck but still has a lot of groove to it. “Freya”, the “big” single starts of with a groove and gets down to business. Yes, there are moments of Thin Lizzy and all that sort of stuff, but it’s channeled through the influence and the attack of bands like High on Fire instead of being firmly rooted in 70’s worship. “The Horned Goddess” starts off with JD on his own in a nice touch before it brings the fucking doom. This song is awesome. It’s goes all over the map and settles back at what the sword did best, dual palm muted riffing and awesome leads. Every part is well written; nothing feels like an afterthought. “Iron Swan” is the thrash number of the album, you could say this is the song that links “Age of Winters” to “Gods of the Earth”. It’s a cool detour on THIS record, with some great palm muting and tremolo picked parts. Plus a large part of the song exist in mid-tempo palm muted drudge with the thrash used as a tool, and not the primary writing focus. The thrash pushes the sludge forward, not the other way around like so much metal. “Lament for the Aurochs” is cool, and well written. It’s never been a song that has grabbed me fully. I really don’t know why. Nothing is bad, but nothing really transcends, but the palm muting bit near the end. Still, a good song. I’ve never skipped it unless I was in a hurry and only had time to listen to one track. “March of the Lor” is instrumental. It’s cool, and has a ton of great riffs packed into its 3 minute run time, shows off that you don’t need vocals to make metal work and serves as a great intro to “Ebethron”
EBETHRON by THE SWORD
Oh “Ebethron”, by far my favourite song on the album. Last tour they were closing with a mash-up of it and “Working Man” by Rush that was totally bad ass. It starts off with the most basic doom riff ever, but played with such fucking conviction it’s incredible. The lyrics are amazingly fantasy; if this was an automobile it would have a Frank Frazetta painting in the side and smell like bottle tokes. There is a subtle black metal undertone to this song, which I love in the chromatic tremolo guitar fills. The drum break down is completely non-offensive and works by making the outro that fucking much heavier. The outro verse is JD best vocal performance in the entire Sword discography. Listen to the way he comes in; it’s like he wants to tear your fucking head off. His delivery is just great. I fucking love the 2 lines he doubles with black metal style shrieking near the end; which is also the only use of that technique on this album. It shows that screaming when done right can be awesomely musical and have a place. This song leaves you waiting for more.
We’re still waiting. If the last album is any indication we will be waiting a long time.
I do understand. They didn’t want to and don’t want to do Age of Winters 2. It just it feels like there is a hole in the discography between the first 2 albums that people never really got over. By the time “Warp Riders” hit most the original fan base had kinda tapped out.
There is also the matter of the songs. Age of Winters was years in the making. The demo’s date back to long before the album was released. They’d already
toured them before that album was recorded (they played in Ottawa with “And You Will Know Us By Our Trail of Dead”). While “Gods of the Earth” has moments nothing after feels as crafted as it does on Age of Winters; as the production gets better the songs seem to suffer. At least what I love about The Sword songwriting seems to suffer.
Now The Sword are just a good boogie band with metal elements. A throwback ’70s stoner tribute act. I still will always go see them if it’s within reasonable distance and sample the records when they are released, but now I am totally prepared for disappointment. A couple tracks here and there that are okay (I don’t mind the instrumentals on the new album). Mostly, they just evolved into something their early fanbase kinda dislikes. That happens. Some might say that is growth.
PS: The new Mutoid Man album is the shits. Yeah, the drumming is good. I just hate every minute of it. Half my band seems to love it. I never want to hear it again. – SHANE