posted on 9/2010 By:
I was introduced to The Sword via a glowing review of the band’s debut album, Age of Winters, by Keith Bergman on Blabbermouth.net. Having no prior knowledge of the band, I assumed that Kemado Records was just another indie label and that The Sword was just another band trying its hand at doom metal. I subsequently purchased the CD and enjoyed it for some time before I discovered that The Sword, for reasons that are still not clear, had generated quite a shitstorm of controversy. Among the accusations leveled at The Sword, many coming form people whose opinions I respect, were claims that the band was a bunch of bandwagon-jumping former indie-rockers (The Horror!) cashing in on the doom trend (doom was a trend?), or that Kemado Records was a front for a covert corporate conspiracy to infiltrate the underground and propagate false metal, with The Sword as its principal agent. Others flatly dismissed the band as shit, which was easier to swallow, but nonetheless made me question my taste. What was I not hearing that was so bad? Could it be that I had already fallen victim to the trap? Had I been brainwashed? Would I soon find myself trading in my wire-framed glasses for some thick, dark-framed spectacles? Would I be ditching my Slayer t-shirt for a sweater? Would I move to Brooklyn? Would I start sucking dicks to pay the rent? Okay, that last one has nothing to do with The Sword turning me into a hipster, it's just a phobia of mine (along with sharks and crocodiles).
As it turns out, I continued to enjoy Age of Winters, and even more so its successor, Gods of the Earth, while still residing in Massachusetts, wearing the same wire frames and the same old Slayer t-shirt, and all the while enjoying a mercifully dick-free mouth. I began to feel secure in my faith in The Sword, regardless of other’s opinions. However, my period of serenity was shattered upon reading the initial press release hyping the band’s upcoming third CD, Warp Riders, which delivered a one-two punch of bad news. First, it was announced that Warp Riders would be a sci-fi concept album. The last sci-fi concept album I listened to was Obsolete, and that piece of shit put me off Fear Factory for good. Second, it was made known that The Sword would be incorporating hard rock influences into its sound. Oh, fuck. Here comes the big sell-out. The Sword will release a tepid commercial turd and reveal itself as the bunch of poseurs it has always been, and I will look like a real asshole for supporting them all this time. Everyone will laugh at me; they will all say "I told you so," and I will end up sucking dicks to pay the rent.
Despite my misgivings and apprehensions I purchased Warp Riders the day it was released, and the minute I had the CD in my hand, I began to feel a bit more optimistic about it. First off, the earth-toned cover art of a space ship cruising by a couple of big asteroids hit me with a warm fuzzy hammer-blow of nostalgia, bringing back memories of the 70’s sci-fi paperbacks that I used to paw through at the bookstore in my youth. Much more importantly, upon listening to the music, I discovered that while there was definitely a change in the band’s sound, much of what I had come to expect from The Sword was still, in varying degrees, present on Warp Riders.
The hard rock influence that had my panties in such a twist is really not such a dramatic departure from The Sword’s already heavily pentatonic doom. One listen to Black Sabbath's first album will tell you that the roots of doom lie in blues rock, so it is not as if The Sword is trying to combine oil and water. Furthermore, the band melds the rock and metal together with subtlety and finesse, manifesting in a sound where swing and swagger rests comfortably next to blood and thunder. A prime example of this approach is “Tres Brujas”, in which the band marries a stuttering boogie riff to its more typically straightforward, hard-hitting style. The result is a song with an infectiously propulsive groove that will find you stomping your feet and banging your head at the same time.
For those looking for The Sword’s darker, more purely metallic material, Warp Riders has some on tap. The opening instrumental, "Acheron/Unearthing the Orb" thunderously gallops with much the same fury as its counterpart on Gods of the Earth, “The Sundering.” Dark and brooding, “The Chronomancer II: Nemesis” offers a full-course meal of lumbering doom, heavy-handed chugging and aggressive soloing.
As for The Sword moving from fantasy to science fiction, I suppose there is a reason the two genres are often filed together in the bookstore, because the switch has not turned out to be much of lyrical makeover for the band. The songs on Warp Riders still feature gods and witches, brave warriors and fierce battlesl; the warriors just ride in starships instead of on horses.
With regard to the “concept” aspect of the album, I must say that the band handles it exceptionally well. The album is broken into two structurally similar five-song sections that simultaneously mimic the sides of an LP and the acts of a play. This structure contributes a cinematic flow of peaks and valleys to the album, wherein each song paints a different scene that contributes to the whole, yet each remains a viable composition unto itself. This careful structuring of the tracks enables the band to tell its story with out the songs becoming so bloated with lyrics that the music takes a back seat to the narrative. So, while I may not know exactly what is happening with the plot, through the mood of the music, I reach the correct emotional conclusions. And speaking of emotional conclusions, The Sword really brings it home in dramatic fashion with the album’s stunning closer, “(The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire."
Warp Riders is not the record I expected or wanted from The Sword, but the band pulls the whole thing off so well that I cannot help but be won over. With Warp Riders, The Sword has created a weird and wonderful galaxy that I look forward to revisiting often.
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