THE SWORD – HIGH COUNTRY
RELEASED: August 21, 2015
I found out about The Sword probably the same way many did, when they had their song Freya featured on Guitar Hero II. Sure they have devoted fans who knew them before that, and have made a lot more fans along the way since then, but I’ll always remember playing Freya on Guitar Hero II back in high school. Suddenly it’s 2015 and now five albums into their career, The Sword still maintain that doom metal influenced sound on their recently released High Country album.
This time around, The Sword take on a more rock oriented approach. Rather than blasting speakers with volume, they calm (dare I say tame) down their sound. This only makes the riffs stand out even more, but at times it makes J.D. Cronise‘s vocals seem a little too gentle. Opening track Empty Temples is where I notice this the most. It took me a few listens to realize that the music is incredible, but the vocals have no power at all. High Country does have songs where the vocals match the music a bit better, while still unfortunately lacking a bit of dominance, but this song isn’t one of them.
The title track to High Country is where I noticed that the vocals could work. Mind you, J.D. adds a bit more intensity to his vocals on this track, but it’s these songs where the The Sword‘s riff-heavy sound matched with J.D.’s simple yet spellbinding vocals show that this new calmer sounding The Sword can work quite well. The doomy sounds of Tears Like Diamonds and Early Snow don’t go unnoticed, despite not being as heavy as older stuff by the band. In fact, I hear tinges of southern rock in certain parts of Early Snow, including it’s intro, as well as a horn section towards the end, so The Sword seem to be taking advantage of this new sound quite well.
I find Buzzards and Ghost Eye to be the heaviest (or at least the most fuzzed out) songs on High Country, and the main song that I think will get long time listeners of The Sword banging their heads, and a good change from the less than fuzzed out tracks like closing track The Bees of Spring. However, the most unique moments on High Country are the slowest ones. Starting with Mist and Shadow, where J.D. Cronise goes back to that very tamed voice similar to what he laid down on Empty Temples, only it actually works on this soft yet explosive track, but one of my favourite tracks would have to be Dust. The sound of that song just goes so well with its title, being quiet and simple, kind of like a walk through the desert.
There are a number of instrumentals on High Country and these are the songs where I find The Sword explore their sound a little further than just playing riff based hard rock. Unicorn Farm is a fifty second instrumental that opens the album, but it’s just whatever. Suffer No Fools is an intensely fast track, the fastest on High Country. It’s too bad there is no singing to it cause I’d have loved to hear some vocal melodies, but Suffer No Fools is still no different from the usual stuff from The Sword. It’s instrumentals like the strangely beautiful acoustic Silver Petals and the spacey keyboard driven Agartha (which leads into the equally unique and spacey Seriously Mysterious, which kind of reminds me of a song that Muse could come up with) that really add texture to High Country.
The Sword have been on top of the doom metal world for some time now and have become an influence to many recently started up bands. I don’t know how many people notice the influence they have on modern metal because they do it so subtly. Even I was shocked the first few times I saw newer independent bands I’d review list The Sword as an influence. I feel High Country is a good enough album to keep The Sword close to the top of modern metal, and it shows that rather than putting out another album similar enough to their last, the band isn’t afraid to explore a bit and try something new while sticking with what they are familiar with. Despite the new rock oriented sound, I feel long time fans of this metal band will be pleased with this output. It’s not an album you play for the purpose of blowing your speakers, but you sure can jam to it none the less.
“High Country” – It best shows how The Sword‘s riffs and slow grooves can work just as well when they turn the fuzz and distortion down and how they’re still the same old The Sword, just a little evolved.
7.5 (Out of 10)
|4.||“Tears Like Diamonds”||3:46|
|5.||“Mist and Shadow”||5:26|
|8.||“Suffer No Fools”||2:43|
|14.||“Turned to Dust”||3:31|
|15.||“The Bees of Spring”||3:57|