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Monday, October 22, 2012

Album Review: The Sword – Apochryphon

As time marches on, are a band that seem to be developing more and more roll in their rock. They’ve always been -worshippers first and foremost, but lumps of and are beginning to appear in their work more often. Previous release, Warp Riders, was loaded with bass crunches, galloping rhythms, and plenty of power-riffing – the kind of music that encourages lots of arm windmilling and power-stances.

Apochryphon may initially venture down the same path with chuggers like “The Veil Of Isis”, “Arcane Montane” and the album’s requisite show-stopper “Cloak Of Feathers” (reminiscent of both 2008′s “Maiden, Mother & Crone” and 2010′s “Tres Brujas”), but it soon becomes apparent that the band have been tweaking their sound. It seems the change of label and drummer (Jimmy Vela replacing Trivett Wingo), a variation of lyrical approach (“not as much storytelling … songs about real-life subjects” according to frontman J.D. Cronise) and a more suitable variation of tempo, has inspired to integrate elements you’d associate more readily with bands like or .

It’s a welcome shift in their dynamic. Take “The Hidden Masters”. It’s a track that starts out marking out the rolling blues of , before winding the power up to become a steady nodder; one with a menacing chorus of “Your gilded houses will give no shelter, when the heavens fall / Your sacred domes will give no answers, when The Masters call”. “Dying Earth” cosmically warbles in, steadily marches us forward and hammers home a similarly bleak story, whilst “Execrator” sticks it back in “chug mode” but, essentially and hauntingly, switches to a laconic delivery to reveal its dark messages – “You. Are. Nothing”.

These songwriting changes have allowed the band to concoct a winning formula; a beautifully-structured change-up that gives their music very real hooks to snag you with. Suddenly, the songs seem inescapably short rather than dangerously lengthy. Further expansion of tracks like “Seven Sisters”, with its magnificently experimental edge and jerky structure or the hypnotic title-track with its synthesized wanderlust and fiery spine, is a campaign I feel I could get behind. But, then again, perhaps that would be over-egging an already perfectly decent pudding.

In my mind, Apocryphon represents ’s finest hour. The band clearly approached this one with a fully-formed idea of what they wanted the release to achieve and they have succeeded in every respect. It’s a brilliant continuation of the more dynamic style they established on Warp Riders, yet it is, without doubt, an album that stands apart from it. Most importantly, it re-establishes the band’s natural curve of progression and, fully ten years after first forming, marks them out as essential listening.

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