Band: The Sword
Origin: Austin, TX
Ever want to soundtrack your weekend D&D campaign to try and attain that delicious shag-carpet-and-lava-lamp authenticity? Need an album to permanently occupy the tape deck of your airbrushed van? Do you just really like getting high and listening to some Sabbath, but your brother lost your copy of Master of Reality? Well, then gear up.
The Sword is, depending on who you ask, a retro metal act infatuated with the doomy haze of early Black Sabbath and 90s stoner metal acts like Sleep and Kyuss, or a hipster metal band that got big on the back of Guitar Hero II featuring their single “Freya” on its track list. Or a little of all three. Needless to say, when they first popped up on the scene they were targets for the derision of serious metalheads due to the faint praise they received from popular music publications, and for wearing button-up shirts, and for having lyrics rooted entirely in their love of psychedelic fantasy and polyhedral dice.
“Barael’s Blade” lays out the template for most of the tracks on Age of Winters: fuzzy guitar riffs chug along at a steady clip, the rhythm section provides a solid stomp with enough swing for the occasional time signature changeup, and at some point things typically speed up and the band brings the song to a thrashing crescendo. The players are tight, even if drummer Trivett Wingo loves that ride cymbal a little too much. The weakest link is the voice of singer J.D. Cronise, who just doesn’t have the presence or personality of an Ozzy or a Lemmy, but certainly never seems intent on taking attention away from the riffs. Really, all of this largely succeeds or fails depending on how receptive you are to phrases like “bane of the demon lord” and “slayer of the spider priest.”
Not to suggest that The Sword doesn’t have any tricks up their sleeves. “Iron Swan” manages to transition from bouncy, mayfair tambourines and acoustic guitars to full-force, Slayer-esque thrash metal with surprising ease. “The Horned Goddess” shows the boys doing their talent-show best to imitate Sleep’s Holy Mountain, and, for the most part, succeeding. Album closer “Ebethron” shows the band trying out a more groove-oriented rhythm, with a fake-out ending that precedes a nice comeback finale.
For myself, this works most of the time. Songs like “Freya,” “The Horned Goddess” and “Iron Swan” offer a fun and affectionate mix of chugging riffs, tight guitar solos, and pulp-fantasy lyrics, but generally with enough sense to know when to reign it in. The exception is “Lament for the Aurochs” which reaches eight minutes without offering much in the way of buildup or tension to justify its length. However, at a 43-minute runtime overall the album doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There are times on Age of Winters when the joke wears thin. “Winter’s Wolves” use of a cheesy howling wolf sound effect goes too far, and Cronise just doesn’t have the vocal chops to lend much weight to his lyrics, which often makes them come across as ironic, on-the-nose “prog metal lyrics.” These are the kinds of problems that can be forgiven on one record, but can be the death of any subsequent efforts if not attended to. The Sword would struggle with this on their sophomore album, 2008’s Gods of the Earth, but by 2010’s Warp Riders would begin to course-correct.