Album Review: The Sword – Used Future

Longtime metal act The Sword, most notable for their pounding drone riffage and epic fuzz metal albums such as Age of Winters, Gods of the Earth, and Warp Riders look to add to their stoner metal majesty with their new release ‘Used Future’.

The only used future I’m looking at is The Sword’s.

What was once an epic metal act has now resigned themselves to the realms of ‘dad rock’, and once I saw them list Tom Petty as a comparable for the new album’s direction I knew it was over. Used Future is a light concept album regarding a dulled future for humanity. It’s not the most inspired concept, but it still is a very viable thematic piece. What The Sword does is truly masterful, in its own way, taking the concept of a dull future and applying it to their own music.

Now that I think about it, maybe this is as perfect as a concept can get. I arrived at The Sword’s 6th record and found nothing but a tired, worn out, dull, grey-scaled musical landscape. Once you get past the 20-second atmospheric prelude, titled ‘Prelude’, you’re going to question whether you’re even listening to a Sword album. The album opens with a very “cutesy” keyboard/synth led atmospheric lead-in before dropping into the opening track ‘Deadly Nightshade’, which is one hell of an experience.

It’s funny because it tricks you into thinking it might be good; the riffage is tight, the drums are on point, it’s all musically decent. Except the music continues past the first ten seconds, and the riffage loses its luster almost immediately. The Sword will tell you they’re “evolving” towards a more Thin-Lizzy-esque melodic dual guitar approach, yet they have none of the spunk that makes successful Thin Lizzy inspired rock music worthwhile.

Once J.D’s vocals come in and the picture clears up, and while his vocals are solid, it only brings the whole picture together regarding that bad taste in your mouth. It’s a shame too because over the years his voice has evolved into a very complete form of itself, yet his droney qualities have no fire or panache to back them up, so instead the dronage in everything else becomes far more apparent, and without the qualities of classic Sword’s intense stoner riffage you simply have music that drones.

It’s baffling to see one of the bands that assisted in elevating an entire genre relegate themselves to tired, repetitive music and call it an evolution beyond the “diminishing labels” (as quoted in the band’s promotion) of “retro/stoner” music.

What’s truly strange is the wooden energy behind the music, as if The Sword recorded this album with guns to their head. Now I don’t believe Phil Specter is having a go with the Sword, so I have to believe the band has really lost their edge. You can tell they want to be ZZ Top 2.0. You can tell the music is being pushed towards an area of dual-guitar melody rock and it sounds just as manufactured.

Don’t get me wrong, this album has at least one kicker hidden within, the track ‘The Wild Sky’, otherwise it mostly sounds like a vastly watered down version of The Sword’s 4th album, Apocryphon. There’s far too much attention paid to the synth work in the album, the band constantly states this is the most synth they’ve ever used, and you can tell.

Again, it feels like they’ve manufactured their new look instead of evolving into it as they would have you believe. You just know beforehand they said they were going to blow this record up with synths like never before, and because of that so much focus was paid to it that you end up with blatantly third-rate songwriting on a fourth-rate album. There’s an entire track dedicated to synth work, the track ‘Intermezzo’, and while it’s a very well performed and written piece, it’s more fit for a video game about outer space and not a Sword album.

This album is really bothersome because it’s not outwardly bad, yet the low energy and droney qualities within it really hurt the band, the latter quality especially given they don’t play stoner/fuzz metal anymore. At the end of the record you end up with an experience that gives you nothing more than the nudging confusion of “How did we end up here?”

Also, my mind is blown because of the whole concept of the album regards entering the future and seeing it as a battered, greyed landscape devoid of all life and vibrancy, and that’s exactly what you get with Used Future; almost to a depressing degree.

This context is painful: you can go back and look at the wondrously fresh, vibrant Age of Winters built off the back of J.D Cronise’s singular effort, an album he wrote nearly all of before the band even existed, an act of pure passion. You look at Warp Riders, one of the best metal concept albums in the last two decades with its fantastical journey through the realms of space, time, and magic and you can feel the passion and creativity brimming within.

With Used Future? It’s old, it’s tired, it’s completely devoid of color and flavor; it’s an experience that leaves with you even less than when you went in, because at the end of this journey you’re hit with a stark realization.

The Sword is no more, replaced with a new band simply trying to mimic the footsteps of others.

And whoever this new band is, they suck.

– by Ryan Falla

Rating: 3/10

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Record Label: Razor & Tie
Release Date: March 23 2018

Track Listing:
01. Prelude (0:27)
02. Deadly Nightshade (3:01)
03. Twilight Sunrise (3:08)
04. The Wild Sky (3:35)
05. Intermezzo (1:32)
06. Sea of Green (5:37)
07. Nocturne (4:04)
08. Don’t Get Too Comfortable (4:13)
09. Used Future (4:22)
10. Come and Gone (3:39)
11. Book of Thoth (2:51)
12. Brown Mountain (5:25)
13. Come and Gone Reprise (1:41)

Total Duration: 43:35

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