Concept albums are a strange beast, and in a world with an ever decreasing attention span, they’re becoming something of an endangered species. In a few years, they’ll almost certainly be spoken of in cryptozoological terms, which will probably please Mastodon, because they could then write a concept album about concept albums. Such a scenario is a few years off – at the moment such items are still sneaking out and giving bands an arena in which to indulge their fantasies.
This is where we find The Sword; three albums in, and with a story to tell. And so, over the course of 10 songs, we follow the tale of an archer by the name of Ereth, who has been cast out from his tribe on the planet Acheron. As luck would have it the planet has undergone a tidal lock, causing one half to be cast in shadow, whilst the other is burnt to a crisp by a set of unforgiving suns. With light and shade being quite a feature of the planet, it was only a matter of time before a battle between good and evil broke out – cursed metaphors. Warp Riders follows this tale to the bitter end. As if that wasn’t metal enough for you, the opening instrumental track is named Acheron/Unearthing The Orb – which can only call to mind the green Loc-Nar orb from the animated movie Heavy Metal.
If the idea of a concept album is too abhorrent to bear, fear not, there’s plenty here to get lost in other than the Fighting Fantasy storyline. The Sword still know how to write killer riffs. That said, they’ve changed tack a little this time around mainly thanks to the polished production of Matt Bayles (previous clients include Isis and Mastodon). The band also seems a bit more direct in their approach. Although they’ve always been about massive stoner riffs, the likes of Tres Bruges go straight for the temples with a well aimed punch. Vocalist JD also seems to be edging away from the Ozzy Osbourne comparisons that were fairly attributed to his style on earlier recordings. There’s still something of the bat munching, Alamo defiling madman in his performance (The Warp Riders in particular is pure Ozzy), but he’s now sounding different – a little less strained perhaps; more at ease. On Tres Bruges in particular, it’s impossible not draw comparisons with Scissorfight’s Ironlung.
These minor points aside The Sword haven’t really deviated too far from their original vision. They still rock like true ’70s metal bastards. They know there’s nothing as invigorating as duelling guitars, pummelling drums and most importantly riffs that grind and groove like solid steel glaciers. Night City for example mixes up the lot, flavours it with southern fried rock licks wonderfully and still finds time to have the audacity to sound like a pop song when the chorus kicks in.
There’s nothing new in what The Sword do, that much is true, but even when they’re using a maligned form such as the concept album, they still manage to sound vital and thrilling.