The Sword Bring Apocryphon Tour To Los Angeles

By Avinash Mittur

December 12th 2012, El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA: Though traditional metal and thrash have been my usual standbys when it comes to daily listening, I’ve always had a fondness for doom and stoner metal. Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality is probably one of the heaviest pieces of music I have listened to, and a whole genre of metal music dedicated to furthering the sounds pioneered by that record is something that will always be welcome in my library. It’s my love of the Almighty Riff that made me want to go see The Sword play a headline date in Los Angeles and the band delivered in that regard, but perhaps a little too much so. More than capable support from local favorites Gypsyhawk and fellow Texans American Sharks made for a more than fun night of loud, in-your-face old school stoner metal.

Houston, Texas’ American Sharks kicked off the short but solid bill with a lighthearted half hour of punky stoner rock. The closest comparison that comes to mind is Fu Manchu but with a snottier attitude and goofier songs. Singer Mike Hardin frequently took the time to chat with the crowd, and his enthusiasm was truly infectious. Nearly every one of his speeches was dedicated to how excited he was to play and be in Los Angeles, and the crowd was very receptive to his humility. I didn’t mind these chats since the band tore through a surprisingly high amount of songs during their time onstage, and their energy was more than enough to satisfy this audience.

Taking the middle slot was Gypsyhawk from nearby Pasadena. This was my second time seeing them after first catching them at the Metal Blade 30th anniversary show a couple weeks back, and the band offered a shorter, yet more relaxed and fun performance. This crowd was much more in line with the target audience that their music suits, and it drew a more energetic and happier performance from Gypsyhawk as a result. Frontman Eric Harris was again a charismatic presence, but he seemed to be having a better time onstage here than the House of Blues two weeks ago. This time around, the highlight of the set was “The Fields”- I especially loved Andrew Packer and Erik Kluiber’s trade-off solos in this track. Erik in particular truly shined during the Ram Jam cover, “Black Betty,” and many of the earlybirds clapped along with Ian Brown’s four-to-the-floor kick drum hits. Though the set was nearly identical to the one I recently saw, I still enjoyed it a great deal as did the hometown audience as evidenced by their large cheers upon the end of the set.

Gypsyhawk Set List:
1. Overloaded
2. The Fields
3. Hedgeking
4. Gypsyhawk
5. Eyes of Ibad
6. Black Betty (Ram Jam cover)
7. Commander of the High Forest

The El Rey Theatre was now packed to gills with rabid fans, and The Sword took the stage to the synthesizer intro of “Apocryphon.” Immediately I noticed the sheer force and power that new drummer Jimmy Vela exerted on his drums. The man beat the living hell out of his kit for the entire set, and did a phenomenal job playing the older material. The band got the crowd moving almost immediately by playing their eternal classic, “Freya,” early in the set; a pit was always nearly in motion on the floor despite the El Rey’s repeated attempts to quell it. Stagediving was also a frequent occurrence, much to the obvious annoyance of frontman J.D. Cronise. His interaction with the crowd was limited at best- J.D. mainly opted to give the occasional thank you or announce a song or two. His vocals also sounded thinner and less powerful than the last time I caught the band a year ago opening for Kyuss Lives! at the Wiltern, though his guitar tone suffered no such fate.

Otherwise, the band’s performance was stellar and the riffs sounded absolutely immense in the live setting. The setlist was nearly perfect for any fan of the band, with non-album tracks like “Codex Corvidae” and “Hammer of Heaven” standing proudly next to established classics like “Tres Brujas” and “Barael’s Blade.” However, the set began to drag a bit near the middle. Though it clocked in at around eighty minutes or so, the set felt much longer than it really was. Nearly every song was a mid-tempo track mainly focused on gargantuan Iommian riffing, so I feel like throwing in a thrashier track like “Iron Swan” would have gone a long way towards making the set more dynamic and exciting. Luckily the band busted out “Arrows in the Dark” near the end of the main set and showed how great the songs from 2010’s Warp Riders come off live. J.D. and Kyle Shutt’s guitar tones on this song in particular were simply immense, and it proved to easily be the highlight of the set. Kyle offered an outstanding solo at the end of the song and after a final run-through of “Veil of Isis” The Sword left the stage.

It took only a couple minutes of waiting (and a few ‘we want more!’ chants from some eager fans) for The Sword to return, and the band gave us a quick encore of “Barael’s Blade” and “Winter’s Wolves” to cap off the show. Normally I tend to complain about headline sets shorter than an hour and a half, but I feel like The Sword’s eighty minutes were more than enough for the crowd. Had it been any longer, I might have actually gotten sick of the band’s songs and as such I feel like the set was of a perfectly adequate length. The two very well chosen bands also helped to make for a consistent bill, and ultimately this show can be marked as a success. Hardcore fans of The Sword (and believe me, there were a very fair amount in this packed theater) had plenty to go crazy for throughout the set, and more casual fans like myself still had a good enough time to justify going out and spending our cash. On this Apocryphon Tour, The Sword fanatics are in for an unadulterated delight- lovers of The Almighty Riff are in for a sore neck the next morning.

The Sword Set List:
1. Apocryphon
2. Freya
3. Hammer of Heaven
4. Codex Corvidae
5. Tres Brujas
6. To Take the Black
7. Cloak of Feathers
8. The Hidden Masters
9. Dying Earth
10. Maiden, Mother  & Crone
11. The Horned Goddess
12. Seven Sisters
13. Arrows in the Dark
14. Veil of Isis
15. Barael’s Blade
16. Winter’s Wolves