I don’t hate the new record by The Sword. I don’t like it either, but for me to say that I hate a record means that it has to suck in writing, execution, production… basically every mark of suckitude must be hit before I can say I hate musical output of any kind. I hate Metallica’s St. Anger, for example. The songs are terribly written, the vocals are milquetoast at best despite James Hetfield taking singing lessons, the lyrics are incredibly trite and soulless (something I suspect actually lurked within Hetfield, but surfaced only when he was sober enough to no longer suppress it), and that snare sound… Oh God, that snare sound. That’s the extreme for me, when my tolerance is simply exceeded by something awful. So, to people who say they absolutely detest The Sword’s High Country, who say they felt betrayed by the band when they moved in a more 70s rock direction, I say “chill the fuck out.” There’s more than enough music out there to provide what you crave (and Brawndo, if electrolytes are what you crave).
But that’s not my message here. I mean, why bother, right? Reasonable voices are made to be shouted down by the Internet. The reason I dislike High Country and Apocryphon, The Sword’s penultimate release, has nothing to do with the direction they took. I’m no fan of modern boogie rock. Sure, I own a couple Thin Lizzy records, and I recognize that a lot of today’s music wouldn’t be around without some 70s staples; but hell, the same could be said about Elvis, and you still won’t find Loving You in regular (or even singular) rotation in my house. But just disliking the genre is not enough to make me hate this record. I totally get why Fats and Dan are positively hard over this album, I really do. OK, maybe not enough to understand what Dan means by “classic Sword”, when what he describes is actually a complete departure from the signature sound the band established over their first three records, but I get it. You guys dig the vibe of it, but you’re missing something. I don’t blame you. After all, you’re not drummers. Well, Fats used to be, but I’m pretty sure he’s forgotten all about that.
My love of the Sword was primarily a love of Trivett Wingo’s playing. In case you aren’t familiar with him, he was the band’s founding drummer, and left between Warp Riders and Apocryphon because his anxiety and depression just weren’t compatible with tour life. I totally get why he left, but am still saddened by it, as I found Wingo’s style simultaneously amazing and confounding. It was a cross between a hard rock drummer trying his damnedest to play metal, and a NWOBHM fanatic trying to make due with just one kick pedal. And it worked. Oh man, did it ever work. Nowhere is this more evident than on Warp Riders, far and away the best (and best-sounding) Sword record made to date. The Sword peaked with Warp Riders, Wingo put his stamp on the first three records, and his drumming style was part of The Sword’s take on metal. Although a great drummer in his own right, Santiago Vela can’t possibly hope to define the band the way Wingo did.
The first two records (Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth) were passably recorded by lead singer and guitarist J.D. Cronise. Passably may even be a bit of an overstatement. J. Robbins and Adrian Quesada helmed production for Apocryphon and High Country respectively, and those guys don’t have another heavy record to their name, so no surprise there. But I want to talk about Matt Bayles, guys.
Bayles was responsible for probably my favourite heavy records of all time. From controlling the chaos of Mastodon’s first 1-2 punch, Remission and Leviathan, to recording the bulk of Isis’ brilliant output, he’s done wonders for all things distortion. He took locals Buried Inside to an entirely new level on Chronoclast. I can’t say enough good things about Matt Bayles, so I was pretty stoked to hear that The Sword would be collaborating with him on Warp Riders. The record introduced the use of organ and synthesizers (played by Bayles himself), a bit of a psych rock element into their sound, and also provided Trivett Wingo the platform on which to excel. The fantastic thing about the production on the record is that it was still gritty enough to allow the band to exist as a metal act, while injecting some hard rock into its sound without having it completely take over. More than that, the band was interesting to me. And for anyone who laments that they didn’t explore the use of screaming vocals doubling the clean pass on Age of Winters’ “March of the Lor,” just listen to “The Chronomancer II: Nemesis.”
THE CHRONOMANCER II: NEMESIS by THE SWORD
So, although I don’t begrudge them the change in direction, and I sort of understand it, it no longer interests me. In fact, I commend Kyle Shutt, Cronise and crew for their dedication and single-minded pursuit of what interests them, musically. Look at what the big metal acts have become: Slayer is a shadow of itself without Hanneman and Lombardo, and even Tom Araya admits it. Metallica is garbage. Megadeth is almost a self-parody of their early days. Who the fuck wants that? Better keep yourself happy, and if a label is going to support you no matter what, do whatever the fuck you want! Sure, folks will lob vitriol at you, because that’s what people do now (maybe that’s what they always did, but now they have the platform to put it right up there in your face), but who gives a shit? You don’t owe them anything. But don’t expect them to buy your records, and don’t bitch about bad reviews. There is no fan more fickle than a metal fan, and that’s where The Sword started out. Where they end up is entirely up to them, and trying to take that choice away from them is contrary to any artistic integrity. – JP
(JP Sadek brings his intellect and wit to a site overrun with opinionated, yet passionate yahoos. After successful stints with such acts as The Dead City Rebels, Longtimers, and Tokyo Sex Whale, JP now drums for a fantastic group of doom rockers, Loviatar. When he’s not taking on the life of a family man or ravenous fight fan, JP is hard at work as owner/operator of Wolf Lake Studios, in Lac-Des-Loups, Quebec. Every Wednesday night, HEAD ON A SWIVEL brings a vibrant, yet grounded view on everything from music, the ever-growing world of MMA, politics, art, and everything in between. Check it!)