The Sword – High Country


Artist

Album

High Country

Label

Razor & Tie

Year

2015

For Fans Of

Mastodon, Kyuss, Thin Lizzy, Smoking weed in the desert

Summary

A retrospective and nostalgic album that exhibits a mellow side to these Texans.

Rating

80 / 100

Likened to artists such as Black Sabbath, The Sword have always been a band influenced by rock’s ‘glory days’ – the 1960’s and 1970’s. Their albums are consistent, representing a psychedelic time, everything from their music to the album artwork have been at least a little out there. This is especially the case with latest release, and fifth studio album, ‘High Country’. The LP is a 50-minute sonic adventure, reverent to the days of old, which sees The Sword slightly toning back their harsher, more sludge-metal sound, for an accessible stoner rock vibe, similar to that of Kyuss, or even the latest Mastodon record.

Opening with ‘Unicorn Farm‘, a fifty second instrumental that centres around a gloomy yet atmospheric riff, the track is full with synth and fuzz. ‘Empty Temples‘, previously released to the public during the promo trail, is mellow and showcases the new direction the Texas boys are aiming to achieve. Title track ‘High Country‘ continues the vibe that the previous two songs set up and highlights the comfortable and gradual progression to this accessible sound.

Mist and Shadow‘ is the first moment to show a heavier, and more doom-esque style to the record while still fitting in with the album’s overall vibe. The excellent riff work from both JD Cronise, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, as well as Kyle Shutt are prominent. ‘Agartha‘ is a zany instrumental while ‘Suffer No Fools‘ is up-tempo and rich in harmony.

Approaching the final songs on the album, ‘Silver Petals‘ is truly a highlight offering a change in vibe for the release, while still fitting in and giving listeners a break from the psychedelic front of the previous tunes. ‘Ghost Eye‘ is an eerie track, combining both clean guitars and fuzz-addled distortion under Cronise‘s hearty vocals as well as displaying the superb drumming that showcases The Sword as a full unit. Closer ‘The Bees of Spring‘ is simply fitting of the other songs on the record.

Instrumentally, the album is a powerhouse, delivering on all counts from riffing, to crushing bass and pounding drums – the inclusion of the melodic and psychedelic synths are a welcome bonus adding to the atmosphere and dimensions of the record. Vocally, ‘High Country‘ is nostalgic and reflective of many of the bands this album was so clearly influenced by, elements of Ozzy Osbourne and Josh Homme shine in the vocal performance, but the real merit lies with Cronise alone. Produced by Adrien Quesada and engineered by Stuart Sikes, the full-length delivers an individual sound sadly lacking elsewhere today. For what it strives to be, ‘High Country‘ showcases the true sound of 1970’s heavy metal: heavy in fuzz, slightly reverberated vocals and intentionally thin, but somehow crushing drums. While it may lack major dynamics, as some of the songs carry the same vibe, this new offering from The Sword continues the development in an upward direction.

Conclusion

‘High Country’ has a positive feel, more than some of The Sword’s earlier works. It is an interesting step in the right direction for a band who has been at the front in what is now one of the most popular sub-genres of heavy metal. In a scene so over saturated by the same thing, it is refreshing to see something slightly different being thrown in the mix, even if the ‘something new’ isn’t exactly new. ‘High Country’ is a wonderful callback to the nostalgic 70’s and is a must listen for any person into mellow, riff-heavy music that can still pack a punch.

Tracklisting

1. Unicorn Farm
2. Empty Temples
3. High Country
4. Tears Like Diamonds
5. Mist and Shadow
6. Agartha
7. Seriously Mysterious
8. Suffer No Fools
9. Early Snow
10. The Dreamthieves
11. Buzzards
12. Silver Petals
13. Ghost Eye
14. Turned To Dust
15. The Bees of Spring

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