Have a listen to: "Seriously Mysterious" and "Suffer No Fools"
The Sword – High Country
The Sword have returned with new record ‘High Country‘ – a dramatic departure from any of The Sword’s other endeavours. Opting for a more diverse range of sounds and influences, it makes for a refreshing addition to their back catalogue. Although it has polarised some fans somewhat, I personally welcome this change for The Sword. This record sets them apart from being just another “Stoner/Doom/Metal” band, showing they aren’t one, or even two trick ponies. These musical wizards have a damn large sleeve, and they haven’t shown us all of their tricks yet.
Album opener ‘Unicorn Farm‘ gives you a hint at what you can expect, with prominent fuzzy bass and a dance beat, most Sword fans would be somewhat alienated before the album has really begun, but, fear not as ‘Unicorn Farm‘ closes we fall into the massively Thin Lizzy (a massive influence on some tracks on this record) style track – ‘Empty Temples‘ flows through at a mid-tempo pace. Complete with harmonised licks, gallops and splashy drums it is not your typical “heavy metal” Sword track, in fact, a lot of the Metal and Doom aspects that have defined The Sword have been stripped away completely. First single from the record ‘High Country‘ feels like a lament to a dying earth, with lyrics such as: “Down the valley, a distant storm, dying just as fast as they are born”. ‘Tears Like Diamonds‘ sounds and feels like a logical successor to the previous track, and at times feels like something more from Clutch’s back catalog than Sword’s, if not for the signature vocal style of singer/guitarist JD Cronise. The song keeps up the gain and pounds the drums harder for the closing minute of the track as Cronise sings “With tears like diamonds, upon her haggard face”.
‘Mist & Shadow‘ begins as a real blues-ey track, as the guitar slides and picks gently, while the hi-hat taps delicately behind it, until everything punches up to 11; typical stoner/doom style, and it is BAD-ASS, especially when everything gets stripped back once again for the verse. This is probably the most familiar sounding Sword track so far on the record – not quite as heavy as their other tracks but it’s still familiar to the ear.
Where things start to get weird is track 6, ‘Agartha‘. A dark and brooding synth flares in the forefront whilst the drums have an almost electronica feel to them, meanwhile the guitars yawn loudly like a whale call. I’ve spoken with a few different fans from around the globe and a lot of people hate it, some like it, most are indifferent. I personally dig it. It sounds like it’s pulled straight from Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures‘.
If you didn’t like ‘Agartha‘ then ‘Seriously Mysterious‘ might make you run for the hills. An intro featuring an extremely pop dance beat and synth, this song sounds like it’s been influenced more by Prince or 80’s New Wave, especially when you hear the guitar tone and licks at 01:25” -I gotta say, this song is so fucking cool and unlike anything I’ve heard a band produce in contemporary metal. It’s a ballsy move, one that, to be honest, I’m not so sure will pay off. But if you’ve stuck around, then the pay-off is coming I promise, as we dive right into another Thin Lizzy/Iron Maiden style track ‘Suffer No Fools‘. This instrumental track is the full monty; chock-full of shit hot riffs and blisteringly fast drums.
The record has a whopping 15 tracks. It is quite hard to keep the attention of the listener all the way through and The Sword provide a pretty varied selection of tracks, but ‘Early Snow‘ doesn’t have quite the impact the other 14 tracks do. It does however provide some interesting lyrics and themes, plus, the brass section sounds off in celebration with the band as this turns into some sort of Lynyrd Skynyrd homage.
The album chills out quite a lot towards the end with ‘Turn to Dust‘ & ‘Silver Petals‘, a beautiful acoustic piece, adding to the whole stripped back and mellow vibe The Sword are aspiring to on this record. Album closer ‘Bee’s of Spring‘ is, yep, you guessed it, another Thin Lizzy style track, but this one is as hard hitting as the others; it has the folk-rock feel much like ‘Shades of a Blue Orphanage‘ or any other track from Thin Lizzy’s first two records, until it explodes into a southern rock super jam.
Overall I welcome the changes The Sword have brought to ‘High Country‘. Although the album fluctuates at points and wavers your attention, it’s overall, a refreshing listen.