Mike Plant

REVIEW: Sword – Sweet Dreams (1988)

scan_20170121SWORD – Sweet Dreams (1988 Capitol)

Canada’s mighty Sword took another swing on their second and final album Sweet Dreams.  They recorded a fine debut in Metalized (1986), but as with any band, growth is expected on album #2.  No problem for Sword.

Metalized was relentless, thrashy, fast, and punishing.  Sweet Dreams is heavy but diverse.  This is immediately obvious on the opening title track.  The tempo is condensed to a slow metal Zeppelin stomp.  The melodies are more focused.  The sound (thanks to Gggarth and Jack Richardson) has more oomph and depth.  What the band sacrificed in speed was paid back in other qualities.

Capitol records released “The Trouble Is” as the first single/video. Rick Hughes’ enviable voice makes it sound like Sword, otherwise it could have been one of Dokken’s heaviest tracks. The lyrics are surprisingly still valid in 2017: “People are lying, they keep on trying, to live where they can be free. They jam into boats with a knife at their throats…” It hasn’t changed much in 30 years. “Land of the Brave” tackles war, a popular metal topic ever since Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs” back in 1970. The screams of Rick Hughes mimic the horrors of the battlefield. An apt comparison would be Iron Maiden, with a little bit of Metallica. For some rebellious attitude, check out “Back Off”, which hits the gas pedal during the chorus. Another popular metal topic: “Back off preacher, stay away!” Ozzy would have been proud. Guitarist Mike Plant blasts through his solos effortlessly, showing off a variety of rock styles. “Prepare to Die” (also heard on the recent Live Hammersmith CD) is the thrashiest of the bunch on side one, sounding like vintage Sword.

Cool thrashy shreddery kicks “Caught in the Act” right in the nuts to commence side two.  It switches up on “Until Death Do Us Part”, focused by the stomp of the beat.  If Sweet Dreams has any weakness it is that there are two Swords.  The speedy metal of “Caught in the Act” and “Until Death Do Us Part” are a contrast to the more accessible rock of “The Trouble Is”.  One of the most stunning tracks on the album is “The Threat”, on which all the ingredients mix perfectly.  (They get bonus points for naming themselves in the lyrics:  “Ride with the sword in your hand, and some day with the sword you will die.”)  For a real surprise check out the slide guitar grease of the incredible “Life on the Sharp Edge”.  It’s all over with “State of Shock” which will knock you senseless for all the headbangin’ going on.  Seems Motorhead must have rubbed off on them a bit.  “State of Shock” goes out like a champ leaving you punched out drooling on the mat.

Sword stopped after two albums and Rick Hughes moved on to the mainstream rock band Saints & Sinners.  (Check out a review of that album by Deke.)  Sweet Dreams succeeded as a second album should.  It pushed the sound outwards.  Hughes and company should be proud of both of their records.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sword – Live Hammersmith (2016)

scan_20170103SWORD – Live Hammersmith (2016)

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.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sword – Metalized (1986)

 

SWORD – Metalized (1986 Aquarius/Capitol)

I was watching the Pepsi Power Hour one afternoon in the 10th grade when they debuted the first video from Quebec metallers Sword — a song called “F.T.W.” My best friend Bob and I were both watching that day, and we got into the song big time. I was recording and we went back and played the video two or three more times. Later on, lead throat Rick Hughes was in the MuchMusic studio live, and explained that some people thought that “F.T.W.” stood for something else; the chorus of of the song goes “Follow the Wheels”.  The song is about bikers, but some assumed the song “F.T.W.” stood for “Fuck the World”.  I discovered this first hand when I scrawled the Sword logo on my Math notebook, along with the initials F.T.W.  The kid behind me didn’t believe me when I told him I meant it as “Follow the Wheels”.

We were blown away by “F.T.W.”, a galloping metal song with gritty vocals. Bob and I agreed that Rick Hughes had the power and grit of a guy like Dee Snider, but the music was borderline thrash metal.  A couple years later, when I signed up for Columbia House music club, I ordered the album Metalized on cassette.   It was every bit as heavy as “F.T.W.” and then some.  It seemed to lie somewhere between W.A.S.P. or Anvil and Megadeth.  It was on the heavier side of music that appealed to me but I gave the album a shot.  (That is, until the cassette got eaten.  Capitol Records were issuing some of the worst quality cassette tapes in Canada in the 1980’s and Metalized was one more victim.)

The second single was a track called “Stoned Again”.  Hughes clarified on Much that the lyrics are not meant to promote drug use, which I was relieved to learn.  Either way it takes the tempo back from breakneck for a bit, instead throwing in a heavy groove.  “Stoned Again” was every bit as great as “F.T.W.,” and perhaps a bit forward thinking.  A few years later, Pantera would be eating up and chewing out songs like “Stoned Again” at a furious pace.

The rest of the album stands up.  It’s a bit singular in direction, the songs suffering from a certain sameness.  The production is echo-y and typical of many albums of this period.  The rest of the music is virtually all up-tempo, with vicious vocals and biting riffs.  Each song is executed expertly, the guys were not slouches on their instruments, and Hughes could let loose some chandelier-shattering screams.  On “Outta Control” he’s Ian Gillan during the Sabbath phase!  Another highlight is “Runaway” which features a cool Maiden-esque intro riff and a decent chorus.

“Pee away, buddy!” – Dave Mustaine

Metalized is an enjoyable but non-essential romp through the tundra of heavy Canadian metal.  Our winters may be cold but this Sword was clearly forged in fire.

4/5 stars

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