Austin, Texas outfit The Sword are in their 12th year which emphasises enormously how time can seem like it’s flashing by. No longer the new breed on the block “High Country’’ is their fifth album recorded in their home-town with producer Adrian Quesada. This time out they have taken a slight detour from their so far well-trodden Stoner rock sound. Out goes the heavy distorted bombastic attack of previous album ‘’Apocryphon’’ and enter a thoroughly mature, restrained, and polished display relying on finely nuanced guitar hooks and flab free uncomplicated song structures. It still has a retro heart but they have breathed in a wider scope of influences, resisting relying solely on the confines of metal.
The sound The Sword have incorporated this time round – the classic rock sound of Judas Priest’s ‘’Rock n Rolla’’ and Thin Lizzy’s ‘’Johnny the Fox’’ albums – not only refreshes and invigorates but actually catapults them to stand head and shoulders above the surveying crowd of many. It’s like they had an epiphany and the result is a quietly slow burning, breath taking, masterpiece. It doesn’t shout from the hilltops but caressingly whispers in your ear – in other words give it time.
To illustrate these wider screen ambitions they open with the big beat, siren wailing, dance floor, pumping sound of ‘Unicorn Farm’, of which the Chemical Brothers and Holy Fuck would be proud. ‘Empty Temples’ and ‘High Country’ then sets the identity for the rest of the album as they boast concise streamlined, even melodic, riffs to coax you in. The coolly delivered hypnotic hook of ‘Tears like Diamonds’ best reflects the self assured confidence and new found depth in their song writing which runs throughout the album. They are fine examples of lean, close to perfection, song-writing craftsmanship. John Croncise’s vocals are focused on complementing the melodies, singing in a style at times reminiscent of Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss.
The embracing of eclectic musical styles is presented in the slight excursion into folkie space territory with the instrumental ‘Silver Petals’. ‘Seriously Mysterious’ confidently uses synths and a metallic modern drum sound but avoids any Muse trappings. While ‘Early Snow’ is a fabulous example of a band spreading their wings – from the opening big chords it expands to far grander designs fusing additional brass with gorgeous guitar harmonies – the song is like a changing of the seasons as expressed in the lyrics – it’s majestic.
This is then followed by another standout song ‘The Dreamthieves’; the vocals float over with well-crafted guitar harmonies and wonderful guitar interplay. There are harder moments with the Judas Priest esque swagger of ‘Ghost Eye’, and the instrumental ‘Suffer No Fools’ sees them flexing their rocking out muscles. The album closes with a fine blast of southern rock boogie as ‘The Bees of Spring’ showcases that their musically unique birthplace has seeped into their veins.
This band is devoid of the bucket loads of gimmicks or the different angled novelty act value of current darlings of metal being endorsed in the major metal mags. They are simply five ordinary looking blokes who have produced a skilfully mastered set of songs into a well thought out and consistent album of high quality rock, which should outlast any short-lived fad.
The Sword has come of age to exceed expectations and deliver their finest album to date.