Every so often a band comes along that gets the undercurrent of the rock scene humming. One such band is The Sword. Founded in Austin, Texas nearly a decade ago, The Sword embodies the term “underground”. For all those in the know they are secret hiding out in the open.
“Apocryphon” marks the band’s fourth studio effort and its first for Razor & Tie. Rather than record the new album on familiar soil, the band opted to head to Baltimore with producer J. Robbins (Clutch, Jets to Brazil, Jawbox) to create its latest opus. The album’s sound is thick and burly without sacrificing clarity to overdone fuzz.
It is often said that the band’s third album is where most bands find a signature that sticks. The Sword, is arguably no exception. The band’s 2006 debut, “Age of Winters” put the band on the map and open eyes and ears amongst the sub-genre of stoner metal. In 2008, “Gods of the Earth” brought with it, the unfortunate sophomore slump. In 2010, the band rebounded with the highly regarded “Warp Riders”, cementing the group’s sound, and perhaps proving The Sword worthy of its stalwart name. This week, the band unveiled, “Apocryphon”, which translates to “secret writing”.
“Apocryphon” finds the band stretching at the edges a bit, without ever extending too far beyond the boundaries laid forth on “Warp Riders”. In fact, the biggest change on this record is the addition of new drummer, Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III, who fits in quite nicely, keeping it solid yet loose. Vela joins John D. Cronise (Vocals, Guitar), Kyle Shutt (Guitar), and Bryan Richie (Bass). The new record finds the quartet eschewing long jams for a more refined writing scope, and it could be easily argued that this is the band’s most complete collection of songs. Perhaps not as grand as some previous efforts, but more melodic, and focused. No instrumentals this time around.
The album jumps right into a catchy groove on “Veils of Isis”, infused with that bluesy Crowbar meets doomy Black Sabbath over a shot of Southern Comfort and Blue Cheer, throwing the album into full swing. This segues nicely into the muscular riffage of “Cloak of Feathers”.
“Arcane Montane” is another splendid groove and blues jam with a few swampy moments, and a taste of The Allman Brothers beneath the surface, intentional or not. “Execrator” has a punkish vibe driving it along and lyrics that take aim at the band’s critics, while “Hawks and Serpents” has more or a traditional feel to it, though plays nicely off its predecessor.
The album’s title track, which also closes the album out, is perhaps the most unusual on the record, with its electronica opening and galloping riffs. There is something of Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” here, though not overdone: Simply whispering around the edges.
Track by tack, “Apocryphon” is very much everything you have heard before, but still intrigues you to listen to it all again through The Sword‘s modern sonic manifestation. It’s like a 70s flashback without the whiplash or retro hangover so many bands of this ilk leave listeners contending with. Lyrically this is an intelligent album with depth and moments of amusement: A thinking man’s record which can still be appreciated by those who prefer not to think. Easily one of the best stoner rock/doom metal offerings of 2012. Naysayers may whine that The Sword sound to similar to Sabbath to which I both disagree, but would argue, who cares? In fact, if and when Sabbath finally releases a new record, I hazard to guess it won’t be as impressive as “Apocryphon”.
Music is the universal language, speak it loudly!
Rustyn Rose is a veteran music journalist who owns and operates Metalholic Magazine and Metalholic Radio.