30 years ago, there was a heavy metal band from Quebec named Sword. They only released two albums (Metalized and the more ambitious Sweet Dreams) before disbanding at the end of the 1980s. Lead singer Rick Hughes is one talented guy though, and he gave it another shot with a hard rock band called Saints & Sinners in 1992, who were produced by Aldo Nova.
Hughes has remained active in Canada, though Sword are now long gone. Fortunately the internet has given old metal bands like Sword a way to get back in touch with their fans. Thanks to the web, you can now buy a live CD recorded in 1987 on Sword’s opening tour with Motorhead. Lemmy took the band under his wing early on and fortunately this live tape survived. They played two nights at Hammersmith Odeon and recorded them to 4-track tape. The liner notes do not state which gig the CD is from, or if it is a mixture of both. Considering the age of the tapes, Sword’s Live Hammersmith CD stands up remarkably well. There is a real sense of “being there” at Hammersmith, in spite of (or because of) the sonics.
Ripping through all 10 tracks from their debut album, Sword made the most of their opening slot. Even so, they still had time for a brand new song too, “Prepare to Die” (later released on Sweet Dreams). With 11 songs and only 36 minutes, Sword’s already thrashy material seemed faster live. Sword’s songs had the goods, too. These blazing aggressive tunes weren’t simple or easy. Most importantly, Rick Hughes’ incredible metal shrieks were 100% intact in the live setting. Hughes’ voice was critical to the Sword sound, being their most unique characteristic. It is always disappointing when you hear a band live, and the singer can’t scream like the album. Not a problem with Sword.
The singles “F.T.W.” (“Follow the Wheels”) and “Stoned Again” are the immediate highlights. The gallop of “F.T.W.” sounds like a heavier Iron Maiden, while “Stoned Again” goes for the groove. If anything, the songs have more impact in the live CD setting. It is quite possible that Sword were one of those bands who were better live than on album. They were, at the very least, flawless live. Rick Hughes didn’t miss a note, word or scream. Dan Hughes (drums) was also bang-on. You can’t get a live album like this without the rhythm section doing it right. Dan Hughes and bassist Mike Larock were right there, locked in, and driving the machine forward. Larock had the groove, and also a knack for throwing in catchy bass runs. As for the lead work, Sword were a one-guitar band, so Mike Plant had to switch from rhythm to lead seamlessly, and he made it all sound easy.
Inhabiting the fine line between metal and straight-up thrash, perhaps Sword were not unique out there in the 80s trying to make it. This CD proves that they did have the talent. As Henry Rollins says, live is “the only way to know for sure”. A soundboard recording like this is as close as you will get.
As an added bonus (always appreciated in these frugal days), the Sword CD is signed by all four members and comes in a jewel case. A very nice reward for the devoted fan. You can buy Live Hammersmith from the Sword Facebook page.