Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sword - Warp Riders

You can be forgiven for now recognizing the name The Sword. They're an Austin, TX metal/stoner metal band that seemed to rise to prominence because the track "Freya" from their Age of Winters album was pretty popular on one of the Guitar Hero games. I'd heard about them a couple of times prior from some of my more metal-centric friends.

I had thought to give them a listen, but never really made the effort until I knew I was going to see them as an opening act on Metallica's Death Magnetic tour. I downloaded Age of Winters, and was fairly impressed with their performance on the tour. They certainly came off better than Machine Head.

Generally speaking, I liked the album. It was a very throwback-metal kind of thing. Lots of Nordic mythology imagery in the lyrics, and big, droning guitars that would turn on a dime to metal riffing. I was also taken with the guitarist/vocalist J. D. Cronise, who's vocal style really does call to mind classic Ozzy Osbourne, but in an unaffected, natural way. However, I have to admit, it's not an album I listen to all the way through. It's got ebbs and flows, and sometimes the result is electric, "Freya" is a really good example, and sometimes it just becomes kinda dull.

The second album, Gods of the Earth, fared even worse with me. It felt rushed and too much like a carbon-copy of the previous record. I really only have one standout track, "Maiden, Mother, and Crone."

I hadn't thought too much about the impending release of their third set, Warp Riders, until I caught the video for the first single, "Tres Brujas," and it blew my mind. Something about the style and lyrics, as well as the mythology they were building, which felt miles from their usual Nordic stuff. I resolved to download the album, figuring $7.99 was worth a risk.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Take a look at that cover. If you sort of chuckle and say, "oh, that's the kind of album it is," then I'd advise you to go out and buy it, because that's EXACTLY what kind of album it is. It's a throwback, an album that feels like something from the 70's when metal could be heavy as hell, and yet still embrace catchy hooks and melody.

Not only that, it's a concept record, and one that's not so obscure as to be difficult to follow. I mean, yeah, it's sci-fi hokum and fantasy nonsense, but I, personally, REALLY DIG that stuff. From the website:

Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. How it’s told – through the dueling lead guitars of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt, and the concussive rhythm section of bassist Bryan Ritchie and drummer Trivett Wingo – underscores the narrative with molten steel and unreal precision.

I've listened through the album about three times in 24 hours. It's not that long, again, like a 70's album, brevity aids the finished product. The musicianship and precise riffing is still on display, but there's also a constantly-changing feel to the songs. The riffs changes 2-3 time in a track, and it doesn't feel messy or over-packed, just dense. It draws a listener in.

I can't talk enough about the track "Night City." I'm just in love with it. It's supremely catchy, yet doesn't loose the hard edge. It makes me want to have a band just so we could cover it, if that makes any sense.

I also like the fact that the band looks like a gathering of normal dudes. Not overly tattooed, or swathed in black and leather. Just a bunch of guys laying down music they like.

I'm really getting the "Them Crooked Vultures" vibe on this album, if you recall my rabid love of that disk. Not in style or sound, but in my immediate reaction to it. I'm really, really taken with it, and it does somewhat share the retro-vibe I felt from the Vultures. This one, however, kinda blindsided me, I completely did not expect to like it this much.

I see The Sword will performing at Metro, here in Chicago, on Saturday, Oct. 23rd. I'm dropping by the box office tonight to grab some tickets.

Can I dare hope they'll just play Warp Riders in it's entirety?

Top Tracks:

  • Tres Brujas
  • The Chronomancer I: Hubris
  • Warp Riders
  • Night City

1 comment:

  1. I love these guys, they are my favorite, modern, band. Probably because they don't play modern stuff, they sound like they fell through the cracks of the seventies.

    I had the same reaction to Gods of the Earth but over time, it's grown on me. It's not as strong as Age, but it's still a darn good album.