Part one of a THE SWORD two-parter. Epic conclusion comes tomorrow!
THE SWORD – High Country (2015 Razor & Tie)
Right, so let’s get to it! The brief intro “Unicorn Farm” sounds like Queens of the Stone Age discovering synthesizers for the first time, or The Sword’s version of “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” by Van Halen. Then “Empty Temples”, the first real song, sounds like The Cream gone stoner metal. The truth is these songs do not sound as if recorded in 2015. They inhabit a netherworld between 1975 and 2015, where the two are one. The sonics have the quality of today, the grooves are as valid as anything in the Fu Manchu catalogue, but the songs are out of the 70’s. “High Country” is Sabbath meets the Eagles in its metally groove.
The laid-back psychedelic metal of “Tears Like Diamonds” is right up my alley. Lead vocals by John D. Cronise are relaxed and somehow hypnotic in an Ozzy-like fashion. “Mist and Shadow” on the other hand is swampy and blues-laden. Of course it’s as heavy as weapons grade plutonium, but it still resides in some swamp in the deep south. Either way it’s an album highlight.
Progressive synth with crazy drums up your alley? “Agartha” is the instrumental for you, like something out of an old Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, but amped and hard to resist. Continuing with the synth, “Seriously Mysterious” is impossible to categorize and very difficult to describe. Synth rock with balls? That’s the best I can do. Again I can’t help but think that 1984-era Van Halen must be an inspiration, somewhere. This is the “I’ll Wait” of the album.
We gallop off with “Suffer No Fools”, plenty heavy enough and this time sounding inspired by another album from 1984, but this one’s called Powerslave. This is only an instrumental, which in a way is too bad, but not really because it’s awesome. “Early Snow” then takes inspiration from the slowest and heaviest Sabbath grooves. Even lyrically, you could imagine Ozzy howling about the days getting shorter and leaves falling from the trees. Then the horns blast in. What the fuck? Chicago/Sabbath! This is absolutely insane stuff! Into “The Dreamthieves”, riffs and melody coalesce perfectly into a sweetly pummelling song. The mixture of guitars, sweet vocals and keys render it strangely Ghost-like. The riff and guitar solo section seem directly inspired by Judas Priest’s version of “Green Manalishi”. “Dreamthieves” is classic, and instantly so.
Watch out for the “Buzzards”: straight heavy rock, but at the same quality level as the rest of the album. The final instrumental, “Silver Petals” showcases the acoustic guitar, much like how Savatage would throw an acoustic thing right after something heavy. Or right before something heavy: “Ghost Eye” is certainly that. A jagged Dio-ish riff precedes some quiet picking and melodic vocals, but it is quickly back to the heavy again. The penultimate track “Turned to Dust” is quiet and spare, though dramatic. Finally make way for “The Bees of Spring”, a strange Deep Purple circa 1968-ish track that is as great as it is bizarre. Hippie-era Purple with Rod Evans on vocals is the perfect description. It could have fit right in on their self titled record.
There is little question that High Country is a great album. It has diverse influences, but a cohesive sound. It packs in more great riffs per minute than most bands can write in a single album. Instrumental excellent is a given. How do you rate something like that?