Purchased at BMV in Toronto 2016 for $6.99.
The scene: Earth, post-Rapture. A seedy bar somewhere in America, haunted by the few remaining survivors. In walks a cloaked figure, here to recruit the only man who can help him defeat the Antichrist: former CIA agent Stan Smith. On the jukebox in the futuristic post-apocalyptic watering hole: “Barael’s Blade” by The Sword. (American Dad season 5 episode 9 – “Rapture’s Delight”)
Sounds bizarre, right? Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad has always used modern rock music in interesting ways, and this wasn’t the only use of music by The Sword on that show. “Iron Swan” appeared in an episode called “Minstrel Krampus” (also featuring soul crooner Charles Bradley). Interestingly, not only are both these appearances in rather twisted Christmas episodes, but both songs were drawn from The Sword’s debut long-player, Age of Winters.
The doomy riffs of opening track “Celestial Crown” immediately recall early Black Sabbath circa 1970-72, but drawn out, slowed down, grinding heavy like a glacier carving its path through a mountain. J.D. Cronise’s howling vocals break the ice on “Barael’s Blade”, but the assault continues right on to “Freya”. This track, the ogre stomping “Freya”, wields multiple guitar riffs as heavy as the thunder of an avalanche. The Norse goddess of fertility is also the goddess of war and death. “Freya” brings the sonic conflict to your speakers.
When the “Winter’s Wolves” arrive, your senses are already overloaded by the riff-heavy metal. “Wolves” centers on a heavy drum section, like Bill Ward on ephedrine. Almost as if part of the same song, “The Horned Goddess” reverberates like a coda to “Winter’s Wolves”, different yet solidly in the same icy field. “The Horned Goddess” soon transforms into a stampede of mammoths making their last stand. Hypnotizing lead vocals welcome you into this hazy landscape of sound.
Acoustic instrumentation brings “Iron Swan” a different aura, like the Beatles via The Sword. Then it immediately launches in a thrash metal “War Pigs”, as if all the speedy chops the band had in storage were being used up right now at this very moment. Epic only touches on what “Iron Swan” is, as there is so much riffery that it becomes overwhelming. Scientific studies* have shown that the human memory can only retain so many riffs at one time, and so “Iron Swan” becomes like a wave of them hitting your senses one after the other.
The Aurochs, a part of European megafauna until their extinction in the early 1600s, were the direct ancestor of the modern domestic bovine whose products millions of people consume every day. It is the Aurochs you see in cave paintings today. The Sword have given us a seven-minute-plus “Lament for the Aurochs”, and we do not forget the impact that mankind has had on the ancient land we inhabit. Although back-breeding has produced Auroch-like “Heck cattle”, we shall never feel the ground shake with a herd of Aurochs again.
“And none may see again the shimmering of Avalon,
Or know the fates of all the races man has cursed,
Long gone are the ages of the alchemists,
Now there are none who know the secrets of the earth.
“Lament the passing of the Aurochs,
And the slaying of the ancient wyrm,
Would you dare meet the gaze of the basilisk,
Or face the flames as the phoenix burns?”
The Aurochs give way to an epic instrumental “March of the Lor”, another exercise in maximizing potential riffage. When “Ebethron” arrives to end the album with a hammering blow, it is a mercy killing. Age of Winters is almost non-stop, all-in, nothing but riffs and pounding through its entire length. That in mind, it only takes a short while to recover, and hit play one more time….
I look forward to exploring more of The Sword’s discography.
Look for a review of album #2, Gods of the Earth, soon.