High Country review by The Sword

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  • Released: Aug 21, 2015
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 6.7 (25 votes)
The Sword: High Country

Sound — 8
The Sword has been heavily compared to Black Sabbath since they've come out, though I haven't personally felt like that line of comparison was as strong as some. I have, however, enjoyed the retro-metal vibe they had going on, which had a distinct stoner-metal sound to it. With the release of "High Country," they've left a lot of their previous sound behind, but the "stoner" quality to their sound remains - maybe more like stoner rock than metal on this one. If they were previously like Black Sabbath, then with this album they are more like Led Zeppelin. "High Country" has 15 tracks with a runtime of approximately 50 minutes. The title track, "High Country," was released as the lead single from the album in mid-July. Several other tracks from the album were leaked/released ahead of time through various websites.

The album opens up with the track, "Unicorn Farm," which is a short 50 second instrumental utilizing some synthesizer and midi-drums and turntable sounds - I think that track is mostly to mess with a lot of people worried about how the band's sound has changed. "Empty Temples" is the first "real" song on the album, which utilizes some interesting guitar riffs and vocal harmonies in the background of the lyrics. The lead single, "High Country," is next up, and it is also a largely riff-driven track. At this point in the album on my first listen is when I really started appreciating their "new" drummer - Jimmy Vela. He's surprisingly good at using dynamics and being actually interesting with the drum parts on this tracks these past few albums he's been a part of. "Tears Like Diamonds" stood out for the guitar solo that seemed to somehow come straight out of the early '70s, and really made me want to get my guitar out and spend several hundred dollars on fuzz pedals. "Mist & Shadows" has a clean intro with some jazzy drumming, and melds into some good ole stoner music - the bass and vocals come in together, and the vocals have a healthy dollop of reverb that gives the whole track an otherworldly feel to it. "Agartha" opens up with some weird synth stuff going on, and is an instrumental track. "Seriously Mysterious" has a weird thing going on - again, a lot of synthesizer going on, but incorporating regular rock instrumentation and a weird little lead guitar flourish. "Suffer No Fools" opens up at a good pace, and the lead guitar line that comes in pretty early in the song and sticks around for a minute is pretty extraordinary to me. The track changes gears a few times and stays interesting. This is another track without any vocals, though it has some really interesting lead guitar work. "Early Snow" is riff-driven (of course), and this is another track with some fairly simple but phenomenal drumming. "The Dreamthieves" opens up with a traditionally metal riff, but the lead part comes in with a much more '70s prog thing going on, then the vocals have choral "aahs" going on in the background which all add up to make a seriously interesting track. "Buzzards" opens up with "He is a deadly and desperate man/ On the run with a gun in hand" and has a kind of metal cowboy thing going on. "Silver Petals" is a mostly instrumental acoustic track, and it slowly transitions to a happy song from the melancholy intro. If anything, the initial transition takes a little too long in the song, as it always feels like it is getting boring before the first change. "Ghost Eye" opens up with a vintage metal opening, and in some ways is more similar to the band's earlier stuff - but "Ghost Eye" may be the coolest song title on the album. "Turned to Dust" has a long instrumental intro, and when the vocals come in they have a slight delay on them - the lead guitar is what makes this track work, though it is mostly just at the end part of the song. The album closes out with "The Bees of Spring," which somehow had a Doors vibe to it, though I couldn't pinpoint what about it gave me that impression. I absolutely enjoyed this album, but it may be because I am an album person and not a song person.

Lyrics — 8
J.D. Cronise is a competent vocalist in his style, but isn't what I would normally categorize as a "singer." He definitely fills out that space in the band, but he carries it mainly because of his lyrics, which are strangely psychedelic and range between abstract and narrative. The rest of the band provides backing vocals, and some guests in the studio helped with backing vocals on a few of the tracks as well. The lyrics is where the vocals really shine, with most of J.D.'s vocals sounding more like poetry. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the title track and lead single, "High Country": "Brothers, sisters/ Listen closely to the earth/ Dawn arrives, a rooster wails/ Clouds enshroud the mountainside/ Like a virgin's bridal veil/ Summer nights, silent trees/ Fireflies like galaxies/ Encircled by black butterflies/ Up the road, side by side/ Down the valley come raging storms/ Dying just as fast as they are born/ On summer nights, among the trees/ Fireflies like galaxies/ Taking flight upon the breeze/ Butterflies of ebony." Awesome lyrics.

Overall Impression — 8
In the spirit of full disclosure, the first several times I listened to this album I was listening while I was multi-tasking and doing other things, and I felt slightly disappointed in the album. The first time I sat down and listened without anything else going on was probably my third full listen. I felt a lot better about the final product when I listened to it this way. My favorite tracks on the album are going to have to be "Empty Temples," "Mist & Shadows," "Agartha," and "The Dreamthieves." I really feel like this is a well-made album, and the performance on it by each of the musicians is immaculate. Special note that Jimmy Vela did an exceptional job on the drums. I would strongly recommend this album, but I do realize that some people aren't going to like the change in the band's sound.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    At the risk of massive down-voting: I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I have plenty of heavy shit from The Sword, and I think a mellow album rounds out the collection quite well. Even then, "Buzzards" was a fantastic heavy track, and a highlight of the album. Empty Temples, High Country, The Dreamthieves, Ghost Eye... There's not much on here I didn't like. There are flaws, though. I've always enjoyed The Sword's habit of fitting instrumentals into their albums, but this time around the instrumentals felt very much like unfinished ideas rather than polished works. Bottom Line: 8 out of 10.
    Same note for me ! Mist and Shadow is Fantastic and stoner as F*ck ! But , Why put on this album that track 7 ?
    Why did no one tell me about these guys? I find this album quite enjoyable but now that I'm listening to their earlier stuff I'm really loving Age of Winters, such a beautiful album.
    Such a shame. They must have realised that you don't get famous playing metal
    Eh it's not like they're going to get much more famous playing this, it just sounds like Clutch but kinda worse.
    Perhaps famous isn't the right word.....recognition? Its a weird one for me, because I saw them first when they were supporting Metallica, off the back of them releasing Warp Riders and I really loved them, but this album feels so flat compared to how energetic the music was for their earlier albums
    They blasted off from planet metal on warp riders, still in orbit but I'd like to see what happens if they drift a little further.
    This is probably their worst album yet, and its not close.
    I thought so at first, too and i still do. But after a few listens i can tell it's definitely grower and not that bad. Production is not the best, though. The only song i really can't stand is "Seriously Mysterious". Just my opinion 7/10
    "Seriously Mysterious" is one of my favorites actually. I also think "Turned to Dust" is one of the best. Clearly "Empty Temples" and "The Dreamthieves" are probably the most "Sword-like" songs tho. But hey would you want a band to pump out the same music every release? I think Warp Riders was probably their best album, but i've liked all of their releases.
    You're absolutely right! A band has to develop their sound! btw: Warp Riders is my favourite, too Gonna see them live in 2 weeks. Let's see
    I'll give it a couple more listens then, I really liked the rest of their outputs, so maybe I was expecting a bit too much.
    tbh its becoming my favorite. I love their previous albums especially warp riders and apocryphal, but after a while it all starts to blend together and sound the same. i can see this staying fresh because how different it is from their previous work
    Terrible album. Incredibly boring and by far their worst. I cannot believe I'm typing that. The Sword were so amazing and before anyone says I just want the same album over and over, I am fine with change, but it still has to be good. This sucked and is the biggest disappoint this year thus far.
    With the exception of the addition of some synths and maybe a song or two, I don't think this is necessarily a "stylistic" departure for The Sword. A lot of the songs sounded fundamentally like them. To me, the big thing that affected this album is the mix/production. The drums sound weak and distant. It's hard to describe the guitar, but it's like the guitar tone is smoother and lacks that big, jagged stoner fuzz that I came to know on their previous works. Overall, the songs just didn't seem as dynamic or bombastic. The songs will probably be good live, but they just seem like they're lacking some life on the record. Maybe my impression will change after more playthroughs; I'm a fan of theirs and have been listening to the record since release and am initially disappointed, but things have a way of growing on you.
    A lot of these kinds of bands are going for that uncompressed, old school, open sort of mix now (Kadavar comes to mind.) Just do what they did back in the day, crank it up to 10 and enjoy the extra dynamics.
    The more I listen to it, the better I like it. I'll be on a 9 hour drive tomorrow to get my son settled at college and I'm sure we'll give it a listen a couple times. Sonic-ally, it's a bit of a departure from their previous stuff, some of it being huge and bombastic. The sound on this is more subtle. Good songs and enjoyable guitar work is still there. Looking forward to seeing them in the fall.
    For me, the first half of the album kind of misses that punch the band is capable of. The second half leans more towards their past albums with that good hard, heavy, classic vibes.
    The Sword going for that phat Black Keys money. Look out for Mist & Shadow in the next Ford commercial.
    I liked the record. It is very different from any of the before but is it good. I guess their metalhead fans will talk about sellout and whatever but I think is shows not so much of evolution but versatility. I mean, their sound didn't change that much in their other records... They probably wanted to do something different without losing their soul. Which in my opinion they did. Because even if it the opposite of the last albums, you can still feel their vibe in these song. I liked it. I would say this is their best record after Age of Winters (f*cking masterpiece!!!) and Apocryphon.