For Fans Of
If you had not heard of Austin Texas’ The Sword and you saw their third album Warp Riders at the record store, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had accidentally slipped a classic rock album into the new releases section.
Gazing at the artwork for this record is like peering into a time portal- it’s unashamedly retro and oozes a geeky 1970s science fiction vibe. Following this theme of nostalgia is The Sword’s brand of hard rock, which harks back to a time before autotune, radio singles and rock n’ roll clichés began tarnishing the genre. Indeed, The Sword are beckoning their fans to buckle up, strap in and take an intergalactic trip down memory lane on Warp Riders.
While some contemporary metal bands are attempting to push the genre’s sound forward by experimenting with song structure, tunings and complex time signatures, The Sword are taking a different approach by placing a modern twist on a largely retro sound. Listen to Warp Riders and you will hear the sludgy, metal riffs of Black Sabbath, bluesy bends of ZZ Top and classic rock of Led Zeppelin all come screaming back to life with the reinvigorated energy of a modern metal band. On the one hand, it’s familiar, but on the other, it’s spiced up by a contemporary metal sensibility and crystal clear modern recording and mix that was unattainable when The Sword’s influences first laid down their tracks all those years ago.
Wedged amongst the monolithic hard rock of Warp Riders resides a science fiction narrative of stars and spacecraft. Coined by guitarist and lead vocalist J.D Cronise, it tells a fairly trippy but entertaining story that follows an archer named Ereth, from a planet called Acheron, who is entangled in a battle between “pure good and pure evil” that involves warriors, witches and androids (I know, it sounds nerdy but don’t let this deter you, as the music never boarders on the overly cheesy or trivial. Cronise’s lyrics are entertaining, theatrical and in no way delve into the overly serious or bog the album down in unnecessary waffle).
The journey kicks off with a thrashy, instrumental passage that’s followed by “Tres Brujas”, which has a gritty, dirty southern rock swagger about it that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd proud.
The plot thickens during “The Chronomancer 1: Hubris” when vocalist J.D Cronise’s harmonic wail is perched upon seven and a half minutes of pure rock n’ roll bliss crammed with soaring lead, relentless riffs and a pummeling rhythm section. The harmonized guitars of Cronise and Shutt feature prominently and fluctuate between subtle bluesy licks and red-hot, face melting solos.
Elsewhere, “Astraea’s Dream” begins with some spacey synthesizer before opening up into a barrage of instrumental heavy metal crammed with plenty of shredding solos (think old school Metallica and Megadeth) while “The Chronomancer II: Nemesis” serves up a slab of vintage heaviness with a heaving riff that progresses onto a galloping dueling of guitars.
With progression, it becomes apparent The Sword allows their free flowing songs to dictate the journey. At times, they digress into unrestrained musical territory where it’s okay to just dwell on a smokin’ riff for a while or to follow a howling chorus with a mellow interlude for guitar doodling (“Lawless Lands”). This approach gives each song a distinct character and an unpredictability that suits the album’s concept perfectly.
Combine an old school rock sentiment, a modern metal twist and an intergalactic science fiction narrative and you have all the ingredients for Warp Riders. It’s bold, raw and has a stripped back sound akin to a couple of heavily bearded dudes just bashing out songs in their garage on the same instruments that they grew up playing. There are no radio ballads or self-indulgent symphonic cock rock moments of ego here. Instead, The Sword have an agenda on Warped Riders that’s geared towards playing a gutsy blend of hard rock- and they stick to that agenda with unflinching conviction.
1. Acheron/Unearthing the Orb
2. Tres Brujas
3. Arrows in the Dark
4. The Chronomancer I: Hubris
5. Lawless Lands
6. Astraea’s Dream
7. The Warp Riders
8. Night City
9. The Chronomancer II: Nemesis
10. (The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire