Sound — 9
The Sword, for those of you who don't know, are a band who masterfully blend together all the best elements of heavy, doom and stoner metal. If Black Sabbath and Mastodon had a child, The Sword would be its name. They are built around driving riffs, classic tones and overdriven solos. Vocalist J.D Cronise has been compared to a latter days Ozzy on more than one occasion, although I consider Cronise's vocals to be much stronger and varied, especially on this, their third album. One thing that struck me about this album was the production. The guitars sound incredible, huge and crushing - as they should. The vocals cut through the mix but don't overpower, the drums are clear but not distracting, the bass is a little lost in the mix which is a sad occurrence, but it can be made out if you listen closely. Overall the production is very, very good with the perfect balance for this bands style. Warp Riders is a concept album, based around a story Cronise came up with concerning a traveller leaving his home planet and travelling through space. However, each track can stand up on it's own or as part of a whole. The band decided to go in a more hard rock direction, there is less of the sludgy, doom influenced trudging and more driving riffs, but the influence from their earlier work is still present. The instrumental opener "Acheron/Unleashing the Orb" is laden with fuzzed out riffage which serves as an excellent example of what The Sword do best. They have excellent timing and pacing, swiching from riff to riff, with licks thrown in everywhere, it's interesting, exciting and pretty damn impressive to boot. Next comes Tres Brujas, the lead single from the album. Again, solid, hand-banging riffing, overlapping solos and the first example of Cronise's stronger vocals. Other highlights of the album are The Chronomancer I: Hubris. Which, as well as having the most concept album-y name, is also the longest song at just over 7 and a half minutes. This gives the band time to shift gears several times and pump out more deliciously fuzzy riffs. Astraea'a Dream shows the band at their most experimental on this record, even featuring some synth. It is a dark and atmospheric song, kept short and effective. No vocals, it's pretty much a big ol' guitar duel. And I love big ol' guitar duels. From start to finish this is a crushing behemoth of an album. There's no slowing down, no nice mid-tempo ballads, no acoustic numbers. Just brazen, pumping metal. Riffs, licks, solos, all that good stuff that'll leave your head banging and your ears bleeding.
Lyrics — 8
In all honesty, I've never paid much attention to the lyrics. The music has always been structured in such a way as to shift the focus away from them and onto the musicianship. However, as I've mentioned before the vocals on this album are different from the previous two. Stronger and clearer, which makes them easier to understand and consequently increases my interest in them. As would be expected from a concept album, the lyrics tell a story. They are steeped in mysticism and fantasy/sci-fi. Telling of a wandering adventurer, or a scorched planet or an evil villain. The meanings are perhaps ambiguous at times, but I think this is good as you can add your own interpretation to the music, deepening your involvement with it. Cronise isn't a soaring, virtuoso sort of vocalist. His Ozzy-like wails add another layer to The Sword's sound and I honestly can't imagine this sort of music working with another kind of vocalist. It adds to the doomy, droning sound perfectly.
Overall Impression — 9
There are a lot of bands I would compare The Sword to. Black Sabbath, Mastodon, Dozer and Baroness spring to mind. But they are not a carbon copy of any other band, past or present. They borrow well-known elements from a variety of genres and blend them together excellently. The guitar work is excellent, the phrasing and timing of the solos is spot-on. The dual guitar work of J.D Cronise and Kyle Shutt is what The Sword's sound is based around. The rhythm section of Bryan Richie (bass) and Trivett Wingo (drums, and owner of an awesome name) keep the pace perfectly and provide that sludgy, driving feeling behind a lot of the songs. It's simple, effective, it's been done 40 years ago and it's still being done today, just as well. I can't honestly pick any REAL favourites from this album. The Sword have this wonderful habit of making every song on an album strong for its own reasons. Both their previous albums are solid and cohesive, with no bad songs among them. In conclusion, this another brilliant album from a band that I can only pray get more attention as their career continues. They're a breath of fresh air in the world of something-core. Their music is huge and dominant, their sound is massive, their tone is vintage fuzz and heavy metal overdrive. They are The Sword, and you should go listen to them immediately.