The following is a CD review I wrote for the Slackers.com newsletter.
The Sword, made up of vocalist/guitarist John D. Cronise, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie and drummer Trivett Wingo, hail from the alternative music mecca of Austin, TX. Do not dismiss these guys as some wimpy alt-rock band however, these guys are metal. That's right kids, the land of SXSW has delivered unto us what is quite possibly the best metal act of the 00's.
I'm not talking about what usually passes for metal these days either. One look at the vintage style album cover, which cries 'What is contained herein is epic', will tell you there is no guy-liner or whining to be found here. And for those of you who consider the day spandex was invented as the day the music died, this is the band you need to be paying attention to. While sometimes lumped into the doom and stoner metal genres alongside acts such as High On Fire and Fu Manchu, The Sword would probably be best described as straight metal. No post- or -core modifiers necessary. These guys take the playbook that Iommi, Ward, Butler and Osbourne wrote and run with it.
Warp Riders, the band's third effort is easily as strong as their earlier two albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, and is as good a place to start as any for someone new to the group. For those of you already familiar with The Sword, do not be put off by the band's change in motifs from dungeons and dragons style fantasy to science fiction, their sound remains wholly intact. The guitars are still a wall of sludgy bad ass, but the production is a little cleaner here, turning the distortion down from 11 to 10. This helps Cronise's vocals from getting buried in the mix as well, a problem Gods of the Earth was plagued with.
The cleaner vocal mix is important on Warp Riders too as The Sword plays the concept album card on this one. Although a pretentious and indulgent device, the concept album is an unabashedly metal thing to do, and I think they manage it here. I say 'think' because I tend to approach vocals as another instrument, soaking in melody while paying little attention to what's actually being said. And as far as instruments go, Cronise's voice doesn't stand much of a chance against the massive double guitar attack. However, if you're the type to hang on a singer's every word, you'll be treated (or subjected) to the story of some guy named Ereth and his role in an epic struggle of good versus evil. Or something. I wasn't paying that much attention. I can hum you the tunes, but if you want to know the story you'll just have to buy the album yourself.
In any case, the truth is when I listen to Warp Riders I don't see epic space battles. I see a smoke filled basement circa 1970-something. In one corner there's a record player that's spent it's life spinning equal parts Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath. Nestled in a milk crate alongside all these classic LP's is this band that both fits in and stands out, The Sword, like some messenger from the future telling us that although metal may sleep here and there over the years, it is still alive and well in the year 2010.