The Sword: Infectious Riffs Direct Hefty Southern Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Sword: “Tres Brujas”
[audio:|titles=The Sword: “Tres Brujas”]

The Sword’s third full-length album, Warp Riders, is blown open by a deep, thunderous chug. It’s a hefty, bowel-distressing rumble, one almost better fit for the avant-garde drone of Sunn O))) rather than Austin, Texas’ resident titans of stoner metal. But in less than a minute’s time, this uneasy intro gives way to a fireworks display of furious riffs, courtesy of the band’s dueling axe men, J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt. In no time flat, the nebulous red herring that kicks off the roaring, high-speed instrumental is but a forgotten memory.

The Sword: Warp Riders
The Sword: Warp Riders

Following the intense yet melodic works of its first two albums, Age of Winters in 2006 and Gods of the Earth in 2008, The Sword stays true to its heavy, hook-laden aesthetic, delivering its most accessible album in Warp Riders (Kemado). More of a rock-’n’-roll band blessed with a superhuman heaviness passed down from Valhalla than a strictly defined metal band, The Sword bolsters each of the album’s 10 songs with infectious melodies, from the fist-pumping chorus of “Tres Brujas” to the exotic riffs that kick off “Arrows in the Dark.”

“I’m sick of bands with no good melodies,” Shutt says, citing bands like Queen and Thin Lizzy as the biggest influences on his band’s sound. “You can be shredding solos all day, but if there’s no melody, there’s nothing for people to latch onto.”

Deft fretwork is an essential part of The Sword’s makeup, but never at the expense of a complete package. After having taken more of a raw approach to their prior two albums, Shutt, Cronise, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Trivett Wingo spent more time fleshing out their songs before entering the studio, ensuring that they had worked out any kinks and tied up every loose end before the first click of the “record” button.

“J.D. will bring in a song, or I’ll bring in a song, and then we let Brian and Trivett come in, and we just play it over and over again until we’re comfortable with it,” Shutt says. “We’ve gotten a lot better at songwriting; it just takes one or two practices for us to come out with a song. We just spent more time shaping things, so it was more polished and ready to go.”

The resultant album is the band’s most polished and most focused to date, flowing seamlessly from the Holy Diver-influenced heavy groove of “Lawless Lands,” to the tempo-shifting dynamics of “Astraea’s Dream,” to the streamlined power-chord punch of “Night City.” Though the songwriting reveals that the band has grown creatively since its 2006 debut, much of the sonic clarity and texture comes courtesy of producer Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon, Minus the Bear), making Warp Riders the first Sword release not produced by the band.

“He brought out the best in us,” Shutt says. “We would let ourselves get away with things that he wouldn’t. He would really crack the whip. But it took a lot of pressure off of us. In the past, we would spend 12 hours a day, for three weeks straight, just mixing the record. And at the end, I would want to bang my head against the wall.”

Shutt says that the band had a simple goal for the album: “We just wanted to make a 10-track, 45-minute rock-’n’-roll record.” With Warp Riders, The Sword has succeeded on that front, and then some. Contained within those 45 minutes are some of the most dazzling intersections of tunefulness and beastly metal dynamics in recent memory , yielding the rare album that can appeal to both head-bangers and rock traditionalists alike.


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