Sound — 6
Best known for properly conjuring a Black Sabbath-inspired vibe in their sound, The Sword have recently started to venture beyond that stoner metal base. 2015's "High Country" starting this pivot, showing an increased usage of synthesizers in their songwriting, and more blues-inspired riffs and harmonies drawing comparisons to other '70s rock/metal bands like Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy. Generally, it wasn't a change in sound by leaps and bounds, but it was a solid indicator that The Sword could stretch beyond their Sabbath-style metal.
However, the band's next prospect of going unplugged in their acoustic rendition of "High Country" (bearing the complementary name "Low Country") is more daunting, considering how this journey into an acoustic realm is one that moves further away from The Sword's comfort zone of loud, gritty electric guitars and pedalboards. In general, the lighter sonic atmosphere of "Low Country" does bring some refreshing characteristics, such as a more country/folk vibe (heard especially in the fingerpicking of "Ghost Eye") and having the easygoing mixdowns focus more on the vocal harmonies (heard in "High Country"), but beyond that base difference, The Sword prove early on in the album that their heavy-rocking songs can translate well acoustically. With the basic conversions of tricky riffs (heard in "Empty Temples") and multiple guitar layers (heard in "Mist & Shadows") sounding just as nice in acoustic form, other songs show the acoustic versions punching up the original electric version, like the mingling acoustic riffs converted from the analog synthlines in the opening "Unicorn," or the increased richness of "Seriously Mysterious."
Unfortunately, "Low Country" starts faltering in this goal as the album presses on. Aside from "The Dreamthieves" not translating as well acoustically as the electric version, the biggest issue of the latter half of the album is that it breaks the unplugged streak that it had initially set for no real gain. While the touch of electric guitar used in "The Bees of Spring" isn't anything to get worked up about, the sparse acoustic chords in "Early Snow" get buried by the fuzzy bass hits and full-on electric guitar leads in a jarring takeover of electricity, and the arrangement of a synthetic drumbeat and bluesy guitar renditions of the originally heavier riffs in "Buzzards" doesn't even include any acoustic elements.
Lyrics — 6
[Because the lyrics in "Low Country" are the same as those in "High Country," they will not be reviewed.]
Overall Impression — 6
While the composition of a record is healthier when one leaves leeway for other things, the main issue of "Low Country" and its inability to stay fully acoustic is more of a misstep towards the unplugged goal The Sword were striving for rather than a petty complaint about acoustic versus electric in a Bob Dylan-esque fashion. That goal of acoustically converting "High Country" does well in the early stretch of the album, but while The Sword's collective minds regarding their songwriting may be wanting to reach for more, the extra things they try to put into "Low Country" only obscures the pure acoustic role the album was meant to serve in their catalog.