What It Sounds Like: The cover artwork gives you a pretty good idea. This is hard classic rock; a straight throwback to the late 70s / early 80s. It’s certainly not hardcore at all – it’s simply heavy – with significant bits of doom and stoner rock thrown in that bring to mind the heaviness of Black Sabbath and the blues of Thin Lizzy.
I got into The Sword back in college, back when eMusic.com was all the rage, and just for trying it, they would give you one hundred free song downloads, and then you could cancel your membership if you wanted. I’ve went back and purchased many of those albums on CD since then, but those offers certainly got me into a lot of new music that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. 2006’s Age Of Winters was one of my first downloads. Barael’s Blade? I was in.
Their fourth record, Apocryphon, certainly has its satisfying moments, but it’s a somewhat mixed bag compared to their previous efforts. Cloak Of Feathers starts off with a monster riff, and you may think that it can’t get much better – but it does – when Dying Earth kicks in with its hair-thrashing, head-banging intro. The Sword are at there core, a throwback metal band for the current day and age. However, past releases gave us a little something extra. The flat-out intensity and power that was behind 2008’s Gods Of The Earth set them apart from the crowd, and the my favorite record, the science fiction concept album, 2010’s Warp Riders, was artistic, experimental, but completely accessible at the same time. However, Apocryphon falls somewhere right in the middle. Granted, it’s the curse of any band getting reviewed that has a back catalog (which, unless it’s your debut record, it’s obviously going to happen) – you’re simply going to be compared to your prior works. Apocryphon is far from a bad record, but too many of the tracks play it safe, staying in a safe mid-tempo stride, though while still super powerful, can start to seem somewhat repetitive.
Take Execrator for example. It’s heavy, and has some oh so fantastic guitar work, especially near the end. It’s flashy. It’s like a firework going off in the sky. But haven’t we seen those fireworks before? Didn’t we see them already on The Veil of Isis? Many of these songs are definitely enjoyable to listen to, but the same tricks are used too often. Some of them, such as the likes of Seven Sisters or Hawks & Serpents, are simply middle of the road. They don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but they simply fade into the background. Lyrically, we don’t really need to get into it too much, safe it to say – it’s fair game for what you’re going to expect from a stoner metal band. Tales of witches, fire, aligning stars, and the end of the world. It’s fun to try to get inside their heads and figure out where exactly each song is going lyrically.
The Sword have an easy setup of how their career has went so far:
Age Of Winters: The promising debut
Gods Of The Earth: The heaviest
Warp Riders: The experimental concept album
Apocryphon: The average, play-it-safe album.
While this is far from anything that would be considered a “complete letdown”, I can’t deny that I would like a little more intensity. Maybe I’m completely out of line – maybe this is a record where they wanted to appeal to the mainstream more (which it probably does), and there’s nothing wrong with that. Heck, it’s their first record while being signed to Razor & Tie, so that should offer some insight into it’s mid-range melodies.
It’s far perfect, but it’s worth your time.
If you had to listen to two tracks: Cloak Of Feathers / Dying Earth