By Andrew Bansal
Based out of Austin, Texas, heavy metal quartet The Sword have been in existence since 2003, and in just nine years since their inception, they have gone through a rapid growth in stature amongst fans and critics alike, thanks to their previous three studio albums “Age Of Winters”, “Gods Of The Earth” and “Warp Riders”, and a worldwide tour supporting Metallica in 2008-09. The latest studio effort “Warp Riders” was a concept album with an original science fiction story written by guitarist/vocalist JD Cronise, and turned out to be a massive creative undertaking. Now, they are ready to unleash their fourth studio album “Apocryphon”, which releases today, October 22nd 2012, via Razor & Tie. I must say, this was one of the easiest reviews I’ve had to do this year, having seen the band live on multiple occasions both as opening act and as headliner, and being very familiar with their back catalog. Very little ‘homework’ was required on my part. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve always looked forward to a new Sword album with great anticipation.
The concept aside, musically “Warp Riders” had a bit more of a bluesy, hard rock-ish vibe to it as compared to “Age Of Winters” and “Gods Of The Earth”, and it was somewhat of a departure from that dirty, sludgy sound. With “Apocryphon”, they have gone back to the kind of musical style they laid down on those two records, and yet they’ve implemented a new approach to do so. With a primarily riff-based songwriting style and a degree of rawness, ‘Apocryphon’ is probably a more satisfying listening experience than ‘Warp Riders’, for fans of The Sword’s aforementioned first two albums.
On the tunes “Veil Of Isis” and “Dying Earth”, the lyrical subject matter is based on science fiction, but that’s where the similarity with the Warp Riders album ends. The title ‘Apocryphon’ and most of the other lyrics are based on Gnosticism, early Christianity, and topics of that nature. So for those of you interested in lyrics and such, this album is a lot different to Warp Riders, or to any previous Sword album for that matter.
In terms of the music, the riffs have clearly been given utmost importance, and the result is the catchiest, most solid and most memorable set of riffs the band has ever written. JD Cronise and Kyle Shutt have always excelled in their guitar work, but I feel that the strength of their riffs has been captured better this time. They hit you straightaway, and before you know it, you’re head-banging and swaying along in rhythm with the riffs on tunes such as “Veil Of Isis”, “Cloak Of Feathers”, “Arcane Montane”, “Dying Earth”, “Execrator” and “Apocryphon”. So as you can see, the majority of the album boasts of crushing riffs that carry their respective tunes and lay the foundation for the other musical elements to step in and enhance the music further. New drummer Jimmy Vela seems to fit into the fold nicely too. These six thoroughly enjoyable mid-tempo songs are intertwined with some slower, laid-back ones like “The Hidden Masters”, “Seven Sisters”, “Hawks And Serpents” and “Eyes Of The Stormwitch”, songs that not only provide the variety such an album requires, but also lets these musicians express themselves a bit more, specially Bryan Ritchie on bass, the guitarists with some of their cleaner, melodic parts, and of course, Cronise’s vocals as well.
Talking of vocals, Cronise has certainly exerted himself and explored his abilities more in that regard, coming up with his best performance as a vocalist. I guess any band that has anything to do with stoner/sludge/doom metal has a tinge of Black Sabbath in their music, but I would say The Sword have a stronger Sabbath vibe on ‘Apocryphon’ than on any of their previous work, partly due to the vocals. The term ‘Sword Of Doom’ perhaps makes more sense than ever before. Another reason Cronise’s vocals are more prominent on here is the album’s mix, which really does capture every single member’s sound the way it should be. In the past, the guitars and drums dominated over the vocals to a large extent, but that’s not the case with the new album.
Overall, I would say “Apocryphon” is an album that came more naturally and instinctively to the band as a creative unit, and their flow and cohesiveness shows in the final product. At the moment, this is my favorite Sword album for sure, but it will be clear in due course of time whether or not this indeed is the best album they’ve written so far. An album filled to the brim with fantastic riffs that provide instant gratification to fans of heavy music, The Sword’s ‘Apocryphon’ is best described as ‘sheer awesomeness’.
Record Label: Razor & Tie
Release Date: October 22nd 2012
The Veil Of Isis
Cloak Of Feathers
The Hidden Masters
Hawks & Serpents
Eyes Of The Stormwitch