The Sword are a band that seem to be developing more and more roll in their rock. They’ve always been Black Sabbath-worshippers first and foremost, but lumps of Iron Maiden and Slayer 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 The Sword to integrate elements you’d associate more readily with bands like Baroness or Torche.
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 Graveyard,
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 The Sword’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.
Also online (with sound) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/the-sword-apochryphon