As long as the Stoner Metal freight train keeps on chugging, spouting huge plumes of cannabis smoke and towing endless boxcars of unkempt 70’s-throwback hobos, Austin, Texas’ THE SWORD will live, and most assuredly, rock on. Their latest effort, 2012’s full-length “Apocryphon,” is a colorful deluge of bright sounds, quirky ideas, and enough hooks to clear the Apollo theater stage for a month.
Moving further away from their oft-critiqued, yet no less enjoyable, Doom dispositions found on their 2006 debut, “Age of Winter,” THE SWORD have returned with as enjoyable and as carefree an album as one could hope for. Brimming with silvery riffs, organic production, and a new drummer in Santiago Vela III, the band seems to have jogged themselves into a stride, transitioning from one song to the next with considerable ease and naturalness, resulting in an album that harbors more than a few stand-out tracks.
“The Veil of Isis” is a worthy opening track, with Bryan Richie’s solid bass runs and a noteworthy jam towards the song’s climax. The follow-up, “Cloak of Feathers,” is even better, featuring a greater emphasis on Southern groove and a larger platform for J.D. Cronise’s ever-improving vocals and lyrical delivery. And with that said, the most, if not only, frustrating track, “Arcane Montane,” yields one of Cronise’s most glaring fumbles: a stunningly flat moment during the waning seconds of the chorus. Still, one relatively weak refrain amongst a venerable harvest of others shouldn’t spoil a good time.
Matter-of-factly, from that point on, THE SWORD manages to cut deep and consistent over the final seven-tenths of the album. “Hidden Masters” is a plodding slow-cooker with great head-banging potential, and “Dying Earth” works well with its fading land of wizards and beasts, its mixture of the sublime with the rollicking, and a slick, driving solo and rock-out finale. And while the closer “Apocryphon” is another strong track that presents heavy grooves and some interesting synth effects, the two highlights of the album are “Execrator,” undoubtedly the record's most thundering track, and “Seven Sisters,” with its impossibly infectious guitar work and a perfectly syncopated lyrical push that lends the song huge replay value.
THE SWORD might not be playing the grooviest, heaviest, or even the most original Stoner/Heavy Metal at the moment, but there’s no refuting how entrenched they are, and deservedly should be, within this continued boom and homage to the greats like FU MANCHU, KYUSS, PENTAGRAM, and BLACK SABBATH. It’s a reflection on the band’s sustained dedication to tried-and-true Hard Rock song-writing, and when all is said and done, “Apocryphon” might wind up not only as the band’s most accessible record, but likewise the one where they found their collective voice.
(Online November 9, 2012)