posted on 11/2012 By:
Few young metal bands have had more success in recent years than The Sword. The band’s debut, Age of Winters, while critically acclaimed, met with more than its fair share of detractors claiming the band was a bunch of bandwagon-jumping hipsters. The band’s more expansive and aggressive second album, Gods of the Earth, however, gained the group enough fans to drown out the detractors, and also earned The Sword the coveted opening slot for Metallica. The Sword then accomplished the formidable task of creating a concept album that did not suck, with the hard-rock injected, sci-fi triumph Warp Riders. In the face of this success what does The Sword do for album number four? Essentially the band plays it safe. Apocryphon splits the difference between Warp Riders and Gods of the Earth, resulting in an album that offers few surprises, but no real disappointments.
It should be noted that Apocryphon marks the debut of Santiago Varela, who replaces original drummer Trivet Wingo. Varela’s playing is a little busier and more varied than Wingo’s straightforward style. Despite the differences, however, Varela effects no dramatic change in the band’s overall sound. He is a good fit and a fine addition to the band.
Lacking the engaging narrative of Warp Riders and the surprising shift in style present on Gods of the Earth, Apocryphon is an album without a gimmick; it has to get by on its songs alone, and it gets by just fine. Though The Sword’s D&D doom / whatever metal might not be very original -- its heavily pentatonic riffs are well worn, and its compositions do not stray very far from the standard verse / chorus / verse formula -- the fact remains that the band can flat-out write songs. J. D. Cronise is not really much of a singer, but he never falls to come up with a memorable chorus and catchy vocal melodies. And the band, while competent, is certainly not prone to virtuosic displays of musicianship, but it always seems to play exactly what the song needs, in just the right amount.
Although The Sword keeps Apocryphon’s songs within set stylistic parameters, the band manages to keep the tracks fairly diverse and give each its own distinct compositional hook. “Arcane Montane” continues on the rock path the band first ventured down on Warp Riders. The track’s greasy blues-boogie intro finds The Sword sounding a bit like fellow Texas act ZZ Top. (Incidentally, if you would like to hear The Sword sound more than a bit like Z Z Top the special edition of Apocryphon fatures a note-perfect cover of "Cheap Sunglasses".) “Dying Earth” is notable for the ethereal solo that makes up the track’s melodic theme. “Execrator” is the closest the band comes to stepping outside the box: The track features flowing melodic verses, but a menacing, shouted chorus, and grinding noise-leads give the song a uniquely nihilistic vibe. “Hawks & Serpents” has a spare, rigid arrangement which, combined with Cronise’s clipped vocal cadence, gives the track a robotic feel. Finally, the title track, with its new-wave-sounding synthesizer intro captures some of the sci-fi atmosphere of Warp Riders, but the tracks chugging riff recalls the more aggressive moments on Gods of the Earth.
I admit to some minor disappointment that Apocryphon does not have more surprises in store, but when evaluating an album, quality should trump innovation, and Apocryphon has plenty of the former. My only other criticism is that the album seems a little light on aggression. I don’t expect brutal death metal from The Sword, but the band is quite effective when it flirts with thrash and aside from the title track, there is precious little of that to be had on Apocryphon.
In summation, Apocryphon is a finely crafted album that doesn’t rock the boat. Fans of The Sword should be pleased with this effort, if not necessarily blown away.
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