The Sword

#729.7: The Mighty Tom’s Top 16 of 2018

Before we get going on our final list (which is a good one I assure you), I’d like to say a few words about irony.

Every year before we went to a new on-site voting system, Tom would rant and rave about getting our Sausagefest lists in.  “PAY YOUR ROCK AND ROLL TAXES”, went the mantra.  He’d make posts and memes about it.  Hell, I’ve posted some of his memes!

 

So the irony is, Tom the Taxman was last with his 2018 list for me this year.  That’s all.  Tom, the guy always wanting the lists in early…was last with his list.  

In his defence he said, “Whoa…there was no timeline or due date…as far as I’m concerned I have until the 31st at 11:59.”  He then goes on to throw Uncle Meat under the bus!  “Meat stole most of mine, he didn’t even have a list two weeks ago…”  

That almost sounds like “the dog ate my homework!”  More irony?  Tom’s a teacher!

Onto the mighty list!


 

TOP 16 OF 2018

16. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Late comer…just got it yesterday…might be higher on the list after a few more spins…Nothing like this…Devo on coke…and other shenanigans.

15. Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto
Let down? Yes….But if I can hear J.B. belt out , “I’m the Daddy Ding Dong” I’m in!

14. Mos Generator – Shadowlands
Doomy, stonery, riffy, heavy…revolutionary? Nah…just rawk!

13. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe
A return to form…Wished I liked the Alex Lifeson track more, but it’s a meandering mess…

12. Yes – Fly From Here (Return Flight)
Originally recorded in 2011, this version has Trevor Horn on lead vocals and a couple more bells and whistles. With Horn at the helm it features the lineup that produced 1980’s grossly under-rated Drama album. Any fan of that masterpiece will find much to like here. (But probably not Steve Howe’s vocal debut “Don’t Take No For An Answer” which would work much better as a B-side, or better yet a No-side.)

11. Brant Bjork – Mankind Woman
Is there a cooler dude alive? Probably not. He was a driving force in both Fu Manchu and the mighty Kyuss for fuck sake…This slice of classic heavy rock is direct yet it does have flavours of blues, jazz and even bit of funk that spices it up. Solid rawk!

10. Ghost – Prequelle
Love the sax…hate their homage to Asia, “Dance Macabre”…Overall, Satanic ear honey…which they’ve done better before.

9. Magpie Salute – High Water I
Is it the Black Crowes? Not really…But it comes from the same rock’n’roll, Americana and southern blues spring…And it has Marc fucking Ford on it…looking forward to High Water II this year.

8. Adam’s House Cat – Town Burned Down
One of the odder releases this year…since it was recorded over 20 years ago. The little rock ‘n’ roll acorn that would grow into the mighty oak that is the Drive-By Truckers. Not just a curio however, but great, gritty American rock (with smatterings of early R.E.M.).

7. Necromancers – Blood & Wine
Sophomore slump? Only if you compare it to their phenomenal debut (my #1 last year). A heavy dose of guitar riffage from Satan’s apothecary.

6. John Prine – Tree of Forgiveness
My favourite songwriter. Darkly comic with a heart of pure gold. Writes about the essence of a situation, and sings them in a way that you know it’s the truth. I love this man.

5. The Sword – Used Future
Played the shit outta this…Love how they’re stretching out with their sound and finding ways out of the metal box…but still retaining the noodly rock greatness that keeps them heavy.

4. Voivod – The Wake
I just knew this sucker was going to be good…their last few have been great (Target Earth a gem)…but I didn’t think it was going to be this good. Thrash, punk, prog, jazz…King Crimson at there most pissed off and ragged…You know you’re listening to a Voivod album and that these francophone fucks are still giving a shit! I love the variance of the tempos and textures of the songs that allow the riffs to burrow deep.

3. Clutch – Book Of Bad Decisions
God damn! These guys cannot make a shitty album. Heavy groove merchants with wickedly fun and fucked-up lyrics that always put a smile on my face as I belt them out. This album would make this list for the strutting horn-driven “In Walks Barbarella” alone… Making heavy metal fun and in-the-pocket funky…

2. Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back
These guys should be huge. Their diverse influences are expanding their heavy metal pallet, and it is all so fucking cool. Orange Fucking Goblin baby!

1. Crazy Bull – The Past Is Today
Thanks to Classic Rock’s July free CD I was turned on to this album of southern fried heavy riff rock at it’s groovy gritty best. Skynyrd, Hatchet and more than a few nods to Brits Wishbone Ash. Sumptuous riffs, and leads and solos that put a smile on your face….

 

 

 

 


Thanks to Tom for his awesome list.  I’m placing an Amazon order for Tenacious D and Voivod right now!

#729.4: LeBrain’s Unorthodox Top 10 of 2018

Given everything that happened in 2018 (cancer, more cancer, death), I wasn’t as tuned-in to rock and roll as I normally would be.  I missed a lot of new releases, some on purpose, others by accident.  Therefore, this year I’m doing something different from my Top Lists of 2018.  Before we get to the lists, let’s talk about the past 12 months.


2018: RELEASES IN A NUTSHELL

January saw new CDs by Joe Satriani and Corrosion of Conformity, finally reunited with Pepper Keenan on vocals.  There was new Loudness, and a release by Beth Hart & Joe BonamassaDef Leppard had a low-key EP exclusive to iTunes (The Lost Session).  In February we got the return of the mighty Saxon.  March was a big month, featuring Judas Priest, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack White and Myles Kennedy.  The rock kept rolling in April.  The big metal one here was Stryper‘s God Damn Evil, along with new Godsmack and Thirty Seconds to Mars.  During this time I was personally only able to get the Stryper and Priest.

As temperatures warmed in May, Bad Wolves came out with their novelty cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries which became a predictable hit.  Frank Turner and Five Finger Death Punch also released new records in May.  News in June was unfortunately dominated by Kanye West and Drake, but don’t forget Ghost, The Darkness (with their first live) and Nine Inch Nails!  In July, Halestorm came out with the critically acclaimed ViciousAlice in Chains made their long awaited return in August with Rainier Fog, an album I bought but have not yet fully penetrated.

Autumn began with the biggest name in rock and roll, Sir Paul McCartney himself.  SlashPaul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Suicidal Tendencies had records out on the same day.  VoiVod, Therapy?, Metric and even Rod Stewart returned in September as well.  October featured two big soundtracks:  Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is BornAce Frehley, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts came out with new music the same month.  In November we got Mark Knopfler, the Smashing Pumpkins, Ted Nugent and yet another live Beth Hart.  The month closed with the latest Def Leppard best-of.  December boasted Metal Church but not a lot of rock.  Thank the Metal Gods that Max the Axe swooped in with Status Electric to save the year.


I spent most of 2018 checked out mentally.  I missed most of the new releases and have a lot to catch up on.  The summer was spent on Highway 401, and a flash drive loaded with music helped me survive it.  New releases were not the be-all and end-all for me.  Therefore, my Top Albums of 2018 list includes some oldies that just helped me get through it all.  It seems right to do it this way, since I can’t really do a well-curated list of new releases without absorbing them properly.

TOP 10 ALBUMS THAT GOT ME THROUGH 2018

  1. Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)
  2. Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)
  3. Ghost – Prequelle (2018)
  4. The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith  (2018)
  5. Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)
  6. Blotto – Tonight At Toad’s (1982)
  7. Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)
  8. Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)
  9. The Sword – Used Future (2018)
  10. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  1. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)
  2. Hello Hopeless – Dark Pasts, Brighter Futures (2018)
  3. Mike Slayen – Dude: A Guitar CD (2018)

TOP MOVIES OF 2018

Can’t do a movie list this year.  Not possible.  I didn’t see ’em all, but one movie blew away all the rest.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

A PEEK AT 2019

What’s hot for 2019?

  1. Star Wars:  Episode IX
  2. Motley Crue‘s long awaited movie The Dirt, and new songs too.
  3. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
  4. Avengers:  Endgame
  5. Queensryche – The Verdict

Stay tuned….

 

 

 

#729.2: Uncle Meat Destroys 2018!

Man of few words, but many lists:  Uncle Meat presents his top movies, albums, and disappointments of 2018!

 


TOP 10 MOVIES

1. Bohemian Rhapsody
2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
3. Mandy
4. A Futile and Stupid Gesture
5. Avengers: Infinity War
6. BlacKKKlansman
7. A Star is Born
8. Solo
9. Ant-Man and the Wasp
10. Black Panther

* LeBrain’s comment:  I’m pleased to see the MCU and Coens make strong showings here, but Solo surprises me.


TOP 10 ALBUMS

1. The Wake – Voivod
2. Used Future – The Sword
3. The Tree of Forgiveness – John Prine
4. The Sciences – Sleep
5. Town Burned Down – Adam’s House Cat
6. The Wolf Bites Back – Orange Goblin
7. Mankind Woman – Brant Bjork
8. Our Raw Heart – YOB
9. Spaceman – Ace Frehley
10. Triumphant Hearts – Jason Becker

 


DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2018

1. Tenacious D – Post Apocalyptico (Both the animated show and album)
2. Kiss completely playing to tracks live
3. Troy Tulowitzki
4. LeBrain’s Porn Debut

* You can’t please everybody!

#672: “The”

GETTING MORE TALE #672: “The”

In the spring of 1996, the Record Store chain expanded to its third location. This was a life-changer for me, as it was my store — the store that I had been assigned to manage.  I spent eight years at that location, and that’s where most of Record Store Tales came from.  Myself and a young employee who was obsessed with Pink Floyd stocked the place.  It took weeks to manually clean, input and price thousands of used CDs.  We had fun working in a closed store away from the public, but the used CD stock we opened with was very monotonous.  It was just overflow crap from the other stores; a lot of the same-old-same-old.

When training the new young Floyd fanboy, the Boss told him, “When you enter a band’s name that starts with ‘The’, skip the word ‘The’.”  This makes sense for three reasons:

  1. Speed of data entry.
  2. Saving on the cost of expensive Dymo tape for the labeling gun (for the header cards).
  3. Alphabetical listings becoming much more tedious and cumbersome when scrolling through hundreds of “The” bands.

It’s pretty logical.

  • BLACK CROWES = The Black Crowes
  • FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS = The Fabulous Thunderbirds
  • FUGEES = The Fugees
  • KINKS = The Kinks
  • SEX PISTOLS = The Sex Pistols

This worked especially well with Fugees and the young guy’s favourite band, Pink Floyd.  Both artists had a “The” in their name in the past.  You don’t call them “The Pink Floyd” but it was certainly possible you’d see something when they still had the “The”.  Dropping the “The” on our header cards kept things simple.

The young fella got it, but followed it a little too closely.

One of his header cards said simply:

  • THE

“What is this one?” I asked and he showed me a CD by The The.

I told him to change it to The The, but he didn’t get it.  The Boss told him to drop the “The” on every header card.  But the header card didn’t make sense without it.  He wouldn’t change it, so I did it myself.

It seemed pretty clear to me then, and still does now.  The name “The The” just doesn’t make sense on a header card when it’s just “The”.  Tell me I’m wrong.

I was at Sunrise Records the other day, where I found The Best of Sword on CD. I eagerly put it under my arm, since I was missing the three previously unreleased bonus tracks.  (In case you didn’t know, Sword recently reunited and are recording a brand new studio album.)  But guess where I found the CD?  Or, rather, guess what two bands were filed together under the same name?

  • SWORD

Sword is from near Montreal, Quebec.  The Sword is another band altogether, from Austin Texas.  They both play heavy metal but are nothing alike.  In this case, there need to be two header cards, and one needs the word “The”.  It’s another rare exception.  The Sunrise store should have made these two header cards:

  • SWORD
  • THE SWORD

Even better:

  • SWORD (Montreal band)
  • THE SWORD (Texas band)

But clearly nobody who worked there knows enough about either band to see this.

A customer who enjoys The Sword could be very disappointed by picking up The Best of Sword.  Likewise, a fan of Sword might have thought the live Greetings From… CD was a reunion CD by the French Canadian metalers.

This is why it is critical to have staff who know music.  It’s the kind of proficiency that in our insta-knowledge internet era, most people don’t maintain anymore.  Proper header cards were a problem when I was managing the old Record Store too, and it was the same root cause:  It’s hard to find staff who know and care about this stuff.  And it’s not impossible to learn it.  The truth is, if I were a young The Sword fan today I would already know there was another band called Sword, because I would have stumbled upon their albums and looked them up on Wikipedia.

You could take this header card business too far, of course.  Just as you don’t need both “Pink Floyd” and “The Pink Floyd”, a record store doesn’t need two Queensryches or two L.A. Guns.  But you do need two Swords…with “The” and without.

* Here I am nitpicking about proper filing of header cards, when I should be complaining about the mistakes on this Sword CD.  Right there, on the back and inside covers, is a massive typo:  “Get It Whole You Can”.  Inside, the liner notes make the classic “there/their” screw-up.  Can’t believe nobody caught these before they went to print, but there it is.

 

 

#621: Bad Axes

GETTING MORE TALE #621: Bad Axes

Ever have extracurricular activities at work?  Do you enjoy them?

We had very, very little at the Record Store.  In 1995, the mall had a bowling tournament.  Different stores faced off against each other.  The Record Store had to take on the ladies from A Buck Or Two, a bargain shop.  We had a lot of fun, and I cannot recall who won, which means we probably lost.

We did have annual Christmas parties at the Record Store, and for a while we even had summer parties.  There was nothing else though that would have qualified as an extracurricular activity, unless you count endless staff meetings.  I know some places have team building events, like going to an “escape room”.  That sounds like fun, unless you don’t like your co-workers.

The best work event I had the pleasure to attend was Jan 31 2009, right after Jen and I married.  I received four passes to go see the Toronto Maple Leafs from a private box.  My boss and I went, and of course I had to bring Jen.  It was fantastic!  So much food:  nachos, chips, prime rib, chicken, sushi, ribs, wings, everything!  On top of this, it was Dougie Gilmour night, and they raised his number 93 to the rafters.  I didn’t even know who Doug Gilmour was.  But the Leafs beat the Penguins and Sidney Crosby.  Good thing; the rest of the season sucked!

Our work is doing a team building event this Friday, which unfortunately conflicts with Star Wars, but that’s life right?  We all voted, and for our event we are going axe throwing!  How metal is that?  Fortunately I do like all my co-workers, so I’m not worried about any errant axes headed my way.  The establishment is called Bad Axe Throwing.  By that I hope they mean I’ll be like a bad ass, not that I will be throwing axes badly.

Knowing my teammates, we’ll be laughing as much as throwing.  I’m looking forward to it, though the timing is shitty.  This will be the first Star Wars Saga* opening that I’ve missed since Return of the Jedi.  No big deal; it’s only a movie and I’ll see it soon enough.

Axe throwing is just so metal!  With that in mind, here are five awesome tracks involving axes.

1. KISS – “I Love it Loud”, because of Gene’s axe bass.

2. KICK AXE – “On the Road to Rock”, because they have axe in their name.

3. PINK FLOYD – “Careful With that Axe, Eugene”.  Not metal, but good advice.

4. HELIX – “Axe to Grind”, from my home town!

5. THE SWORD – “How Heavy this Axe”. Really fuckin’ heavy!

Gallery: First New Arrivals at LeBrain HQ for the of Summer 2017

We have had a solid rain in Kitchener, Ontario. Not only are the banks of the Grand swollen to the limit, but there has also been a steady rainfall of new arrivals at LeBrain HQ! Summer has officially arrived, and what is summer without new rock?

First we have some gratuity for Mr. Geoff “1001” Stephen. Some surprise mail arrived from him this week: two 7″ singles and some Leafs memorabilia. As Mrs. LeBrain said, “Thank you Geoff Stephen for the wonderful surprise this morning. The calendar brought back so many memories of my favourite hockey year. Go Leafs Go!”

For myself, a Kiss “Christine Sixteen”/”Shock Me” single, which alas is too late to fit into my Love Gun re-review!  Those two songs make it virtually a double A-side.  The other single he sent has a similar standing:  Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”/”Jailbreak”.  Two singles, four amazing cuts of rock history.

On the same day, I received this from a Discogs seller in Japan:  a CD that has been on my wishlist a long time.  Despite the long wait, I managed to hold off from buying the domestic edition of Ghost’s debut Opus Eponymous all this time.  A sealed copy finally came up on Discogs within my buying threshold, so I jumped at it.  For my rewards, I got “Here Comes the Sun”, Ghost’s Beatles cover…and a very different one it is.

We will jump briefly to new arrivals in the toy department.  Thanks to J. at Resurrection Songs we recently covered the ins and outs of Third Party products.  Behold!  Badcube has released their take on Masterpiece Transformer Insecticons.  These are heavy, heavy toys with lots of diecast and G1 accurate insect modes, with robot modes an homage to the cartoon.  Check them out with their leader Megatron (third party Apollyon) and their original 1985 toys below.  These, by the way, are deluxe collector’s editions with clear plastic and chromed parts for added value.  I’d love to compare them to an official Hasbro Masterpiece Insecticon, but such a thing does not exist.  That’s why third party companies have a niche.  Labels by Toyhax.

Apollyon by X-Transbots with Evil Bug Corps by Badcube

Badcube Claymore and Transformers G1 Shrapnel

Badcube Hypno and Transformers G1 Bombshell

Badcube Kickbutt and Transformers G1 Kickback

Last new entry in the toy Department: I found some new Star Wars Black Series 6″ releases kicking around at the local Toys R Us on Sunday.  I should have grabbed more of the Imperial AT-ACT driver, that one being a Target/TRU exclusive, but sometimes you find those to still be warming the pegs a few weeks later.  The Imperial Death Squad commander will look great with my Stormtroopers, but I feel to ask $30 for one little tiny Jawa figure is a bit much.  They should have included two Jawas or a droid in there for that price.

 

The same day as the Toys R Us trip, I also dropped in at the newly re-opened Sunrise Records at Fairview Mall, which is really starting to come along with great customer service and an improving selection.  I couldn’t browse long, so I leaped immediately to the metal section and grabbed two CDs that I was missing by The Sword:  Low Country (2016) and the new live album Greetings From… (2017).   I am slowly getting caught up on that band — loving everything I have heard so far.

A wonderful week to be sure, but it’s time to stop buying music and toys for a short while, and get ready for Sausagefest 2017.  I finished recording my parts yesterday, and I have inside information that suggests that this Sausagefest countdown will be pretty awesome.

Stay tuned.

 

 

#555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

GETTING MORE TALE #555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

Yesterday I took Mrs. LeBrain to Toronto to see a neurosurgeon.  It was a great meeting; very positive, but we will get more into that in a future tale.   (Look for an upcoming Getting More Tale story called “Seize the Day” if you want to know more.)   After the meeting with the doctor, she had some tests.  I didn’t need to be around for the those, so with a couple hours to kill, I went down to Sonic Boom on Spadina.  I was accompanied by Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom, who insisted we cab to the store.  It was a rainy miserable day outside.  Wet, cold, windy and unpleasant.  The cab ride wasn’t unwelcome.

I’m glad I shaved my beard down to a goatee the other day, because almost every dude in that store looked the same.  Bearded hipsters buying vinyl, left right and center, lookalikes all!  I tuned out the background noise and focused on the cool.  Upstairs they had two colouring books I almost considered getting.  Do you know anyone who is a huge fan of either James Franco or Benedict Cumberbatch?  If so, I am happy to report that Sonic Boom had colouring books of both.  (They also had Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.)  I spied the new Mastodon among the new releases, but headed downstairs where the real treasures usually lay.

Although I put in a Herculean effort, there was little to be found.  Maybe I have too many CDs, because everywhere I flipped it seemed to be “got it, got it, got it, got it…”  Aaron asked me to look for Danny Michel and a few other titles.  Nothing to be found.  I was struck by how just about everything seems to be reissued on vinyl today.  The Spice Girls’ first album, Spice.  I fail to comprehend.  It doesn’t compute.  I considered buying some Kiss reissues, but I didn’t really want to come home with something I already owned.

With some persistence I did liberate three titles:

  1. The Sword – High Country (CD, used, $9.99)
  2. Queen – The Game (2 CD remaster, used, $9.99)
  3. Rush – Agora Ballroom, Cleveland Ohio, May 1975 (vinyl, new, $32.99)

The Queen set was in the recent arrivals, and that is a nice score.  I’m nowhere near complete with my Queen remasters, but when I can pick them off one by one, used?  That’s the best way.  The Rush on the other hand is something of a chance I’m taking.  This is a radio broadcast vinyl, and I’ve never bought one of those before.  They had several available.  I don’t have anything live from Rush in 1975, so that was the key factor.  Also a non-album track:  “Bad Boy”, a Larry Williams cover.  180 gram coloured vinyl to boot.  Should be good times.

Not a knockout shopping excursion, but not a waste of time either.  We walked back to the hospital (although Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom would have preferred a cab) and got soaked, but it’s good to stretch the legs when it’s a long day of driving and sitting.  Besides, we enjoyed looking at the Toronto scenery.  The fruit and vegetable markets smelled great.  They even had bonsai trees.

Back in the hospital waiting room, I was able to do a little research for my Kiss Re-Review series in progress.  Guess which album I have to write up next.

I don’t want to use the word “disappointing” for this Sonic Boom trip, because I am very pleased with my new albums.  I told Uncle Meat I wanted some more The Sword, and Sonic Boom delivered.  I’m more surprised than disappointed that I was only able to scrounge up three finds this time.  Every visit is different, and I’m sure that next time I return (either in the fall with Aaron, or sooner for more tests) it will be another story.  Sonic Boom is still an absolute must for any music fan visiting Toronto.  Don’t miss out, and be sure to check out the new arrival bins.  They are often the key to many great finds.

As always Sonic Boom gets 5/5 stars.  And so does Mrs. LeBrain for being a tough-as-nails trooper.

 

REVIEW: The Sword – Age of Winters (2006)

Purchased at BMV in Toronto 2016 for $6.99.

scan_20161126THE SWORD – Age of Winters (2006 Kemado Records)

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.

Painting of an Aurochs from Wikipedia

Painting of an Aurochs (Wikipedia)

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.

4.5/5 stars

Look for a review of album #2, Gods of the Earth, soon.

*Not really.

 

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW: The Sword 04/12/2016 by UNCLE MEAT

Part two of a two part series. Part one: High Country album review

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW by UNCLE MEAT

THE SWORDTHE SWORD – London Music Hall, London Ontario 04/12/2016

I don’t think we ever found out the name of the first band that played on this night.  They had some great riffy moments, nothing too spectacular but a good way to warm up the crowd.  Seconds after they finished their set, Tom turned to me and said,  “Never too old to enjoy a Rock Show.”  A month earlier we had enjoyed another Rock Show, catching ZZ (that little band from Texas) Top when they rode into town. Ironically enough, tonight was all about seeing The Sword, another band of Texans who actually cite ZZ as a major influence. Six degrees of integrity, or something like that. Thus begins yet another musical journey, and yes Thomas is right.  In our 40’s and still lovin’ the Rock Show.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Sword once before as openers for Kyuss Lives: Relentless hard-rock riffing personified.  We realized that this would be quite the different experience.  Not only because they were playing a headlining set, but more importantly, we were seeing a completely different band than they were just a few years ago.  Debuting in 2006, The Sword released four great metal albums.  Albums that I definitely enjoyed, but apart from a few exceptional tracks, to me they were just another metal band.  While I can still appreciate a good thrashing once in a red Satanic moon, the genre as a whole has kind of taken a nostalgic back seat for me.  Before their latest album High Country was released, I didn’t LOVE The Sword.  When I read comments from The Sword that basically stated that this new album would reflect more of who they really are, and that if they made another similar “metal” album it wouldn’t be authentic, it instantly intrigued me.  From the first listen I connected with the polarizing High Country in a serious way.  So much so that I actually over-played it and had to put it away for a bit.  However “metal” fans had a different take on it.  Almost every review I read was negative and most of them could have been summed up with three words: “not heavy enough”.  That’s OK, cement-heads.  They didn’t make this album for you.  They made this album for themselves, and apparently me.  Several songs on High Country tap into the 70’s soft-rock genre (Ambrosia/Little River Band/Bee Gees) that I am a huge sucker for.  Thank you The Sword.

Since this is the home of Record Store Tales, I should include this.  While we were in London we stopped by the Record Store Tom used to own in London.  I don’t think the name of this particular chain can be mentioned around these parts, but I swear it doesn’t rhyme with “Pete Rose Con”.  Anyways, I witnessed first-hand that while record stores are a dying breed, there are still gems to be mined out there.  Tom’s face lights up as he finds a new copy of a Spiritual Beggars CD being sold new, at a used record store.  Irony ensues as we find out that the store manager that ordered in that particular CD was a guy Tom trained 20 years ago.  Sowing the seeds of Rock.  But I digress.

Second opening band Royal Thunder took the stage and began doing a…umm…sound check?  Considering there was a fair crowd in the London Music Theater at this point, this was something I haven’t seen very often, if at all.  After their first song which understandably sounded pretty shitty, the female lead singer goes on a bit of a tirade about problems at the border and that Canadian cops are assholes.  Aha!  Live sound check explained.  Royal Thunder had some great groove moments, but too many scattered riffs going nowhere.  And too much “plinkilly plinkilly” with the guitars going on; it overall needed some more beef to it.  Female lead singer/bass player certainly had some good pipes on her, but and I quote from Tom, “I liked their sound check better than most of their set.”  To me they kinda sounded as if Bonnie Tyler developed an affinity for Satan and became the singer of Concrete Blonde.  I also enjoyed that the drummer looked like our friend Tyler Generoux or 1971 Ian Paice, and he played like 1971 Bill Ward.  In all reality their whole set acted as a glorified sound check for The Sword anyways.  Step aside…this is High Country.

The lights go down and before The Sword come out, Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” blares through the theater and it’s a glorious confirmation to me.  This band is making a statement right away.  High Country’s opening track “Unicorn Farm” plays as the hombres walk on stage.  Launching into the album’s next track, Empty Temples, all sound issues have been corrected and they sound great.  It’s during this song that it hits me.  The Sword is one of my favorite bands and I don’t know even the first name of any band member on stage.  I can still tell you off the top of my head that the classic lineup of Ratt is Stephen Pearcy, Juan Croucier, Bobby Blotzer, Warren DiMartini and Robbin Crosby.  I even know how to spell them.  But I have to use Google to find out the names of the members of one of my favourite bands.  That’s just freakin’ stupid.

Lead singer John D. Cronise (who also plays rhythm/lead guitar) never had your typical heavy metal voice, so their new direction sits right in his wheelhouse.  His partner in axemanship, Kyle Shutt, is the most rambunctious one in the band, and these two guys trade rhythm/lead guitar with the grace and prowess of combos like Adrian Smith/Dave Murray or any or all of the twin guitar combinations within the under-appreciated Thin Lizzy, and the great Wishbone Ash.  Watching these guys together was a pure joy.  Perhaps the most interesting musician on stage was bass player Bryan Richie, realizing early on that the standing synthesizer and keyboard foot pedals surrounding him make it possible for them to play some of the more eclectic material from High Country on stage. The band’s new direction has basically made him the most important member of the band, for live performances. Last but not least, in the immortal words of David St. Hubbins…“Great drummah…great drummah”.  Fittingly enough, he even has a Spinal Tap-esque name.  His name is Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III.  You just can’t make that shit up.  But seriously, he was a very solid drummer.  Every few songs he would ride that cowbell all the way to Valhalla!  There is just something about the cowbell that cuts clean through, especially with live music.  It’s powers certainly worked on Tom and I, as we often found ourselves screaming ROCK SHOW!!…ROCK SHOW!!, in appreciation of The majestic Sword.

Staying mostly within the hallowed fields of High Country, more aggressive tracks “Ghost Eye” and “Suffer No Fools” actually conjured up a mini mosh-pit, which thankfully faded away as fast as it started.   Who needs that bullshit anymore.  Stand-out track “The Dreamthieves” was executed perfectly with background vocals and keyboards abound.  The mind-blowing portion of the night comes when they play the robust “Mist & Shadow”, putting everyone in a rock and roll haze.  I have been calling this song “The ‘Layla’ of hard rock” since I first heard it, and the patience in the composition and performance of “Mist & Shadow” defines not only this show for me but what this band has become.

The Sword left and subsequently returned to the stage for their encore.  This is when I believe the band made its most profound statement of the night.  I am sure that the metal fans wanted to hear their classic riffer “How Heavy This Axe”:  Great heavy tune off their second album that I wanted to hear as well.  Almost seemed to be what they should do.  Instead, they chose to play the two tracks on High Country that are the most un-metal songs of not only the album, but their career.  It was a brilliant choice and the message was clear.  A message that became clearer as the lights come on and America’s “You Can Do Magic” starts playing.  The look on some of the stunned faces around me in the crowd were pretty comical, and made me almost me feel proud of this band for not taking the easy way and going through the motions with just another metal album.  This is what happens when musicians know who they are and what they want to become.  Maybe the message is that once you get to this magical place that The Sword are in musically…You can do magic.  You can play anything that you desire.

665/666 stars

REVIEW: The Sword – High Country (2015)

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?

4.5/5 stars