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More riff-heavy goodness from The Sword,
This review is from: Gods of the Earth (Audio CD)
Texas-derived Seventies/Eighties metalists The Sword could make a strong case for being the Black Sabbath of the new millennium. Their debut, 2006's "Age Of Winters," was a smashing success which turned the heads of many-a-metalhead and hard rock fan, and a top-notch installment of latter-day doom metal revival. Now, 2008's sophomoric "Gods Of The Earth" is, for all intents and purposes, the next logical step in the evolution/progression of sound. True, in a lot of ways, it does find the band are more-or-less picking-up where they left-off two years ago. So, likewise those on that debhut, these new songs are bursting Ozzy Osborne-inspired singing, fun and fantastical lyrics, surprisingly heavy and forceful drumming, sludgy guitar leads, and, most importantly, excellent, big, fat, meaty, towering doom-laden riffage. This means that, yes, granted, there are only a select few of real differences between that 2006 release and this one. But they are all substantial and immediately recognizable ones. Most importantly, it was quite common for the debut to show-off a blatant "under-the-influence of bong hits" songwriting approach -- as evidenced by its frequent use of strong stoner metal leanings. (Its arrangements were heavily reliant on downtuned/distorted string tuning, slower and at times nearly plodding tempos, and trance-inducing repetition.) But that is not that is not the case this time around. Why? Because the trio have clearly spent the meantime listening to a lot of thrash. As such, most of the Bongzilla/Cathedral/High On Fire-sounding parts of old have been replaced by surprisingly blistering, Slayer, Exodus, Kreator, Sodom, and Overkill-esque aggression. Strong Metallica influences -- particularly of the "Kill `Em All"/"Ride The Lightning"-era - are also displayed by The Sword, here (thus making them front-running candidates to be hand-picked by Kirk Hammett & The Gang for a late 2008 tour.) Secondly, this newfound sense of fastness has another added bonus: It helps to open things up more and makes for an increasingly large amount of room for pleasantly strong and prominent bass lines. Which brings us to the last point -- the reason why the bass sounds so strong, and the bass playing is so thoroughly audible, is at least in part, due to the fact that drummer Trivett Wingo (no laughs, please) chooses a slightly altered approach by making the music now completely devoid of any and all blast beats that sometimes popped-up on previous material. But rest assured, because his drumming retains every bit of its potency. (And plenty of booming double-bass kicks are still included.)
"Gods Of The Earth" is a grade-A slab of traditional/pure heavy metal, although it occasionally draws various amounts from the same well as several other (sub) genres. It possesses an abundance of old-school-derived doom metal influences (so much so that it is sometimes rooted in true sludge/doom), while simultaneously venturing more-than-a-few times into blood-pumping thrash. Furthermore, really deep and adherent grooves (a la Pantera and Soilent Green) also abound here, as does Motorhead/Judas Priest-like speed metal influences. But back on the more familiar side of things, a few stoner rock flourishes are tucked-here and there into the mix for good measure. Plus, as expected, absolutely no trendiness it heard, here. That means there are zero traces of emo or hardcore to be found anywhere.
And are The Sword definitely still as riff-choked as ever (and more-so than most bands)? Oh, yes! Darn near every moment in this forty-five-plus minute-long playing time explodes with one riff after godly guitar riff. And from beginning to end, one would be hard-pressed to find one spot of riffage that is not very mammoth, bone-breaking, bullying, vein-bursting, and muscle-bound. Time after time, it always remains effortlessly crunching, immediately memorable, and instinctively satiating. No, the six-stringer might not do much in the way of reinventing the riffs After all, even if about 90% of their guitar work weren't oh-so-Tony Iommi-lite (which they are, thus sounding as if they could have been lifted off of any Sabbath-demo), it would still closely evoke a lot of the post-Mastodon-ian stuff that has become increasingly-widespread in recent years much of the time. Even so, the riff-work (and overall guitar prowess, for that matter) that is on display throughout nonetheless never ceases to be outstanding.
After a proggy, Mastodon-like string intro, opener, "Sundering" storms and lumbers out of the starting gate in fierce and commanding fashion. It attacks the listener with catchy, Rush-worthy swing, thundering rhythms, and meaty, lumbering, brutally heavy guitars. Without slowing down, The Sword swing right-into "The Frost Giant's Daughter," which is highlighted by a deft, cracking opening drum solo, massive, crunching grooves, wailing, classic metal singing, tasty, soaring harmonies, and killer, towering, Mastodon-esque, epic, doom-laden riffage. It makes effective use of occasional speed metal tempos, thrash beats, and blazing, well-placed solos, too. Next up is "How Heavy This Axe," an epic, stoner-tinged, stadium-sized (and not to mention honestly-entitled) stroke of pure, old-school doom metal, and a dense and sludgy collage of abrasive, bone-crunching guitar picking. It is sure to shake one's speakers, as frontman/guitarist J.D. Cronise seemingly builds-off of his own momentum, effortlessly stacking one riff on top of another. And they are all as memorable as they are doomy and huge (they often evoke "Masters Of Reality"-eta Sabbath, if however, Iommi were really peeved-off and juiced-up.) By contrast, then, "Lords," is almost the polar-opposite of its predecessor in that its blistering, turbo-charged buzzsaw riffing, "boom boom" non-hardcore breakdowns, and forceful, pounding skins play like full-on thrash metal. "Fire Lances Of The Ancient Hyperzephyrians" continues in this vein, as another blood-pumping thrasher that recalls Motorhead on steroids. It is a frenetic, rollicking number with thunderous bass lines, even more thunderous drumming, and fiery, machine-gun guitar licks. There is a really cool part near the end, too, when the twin-guitar leads interlock and chug like a mother-hubba.
The remainder of the songs may not pack QUITE as much punch as the first five, but still rock mighty hard. The Sword do an admirable job of keeping things interesting with ample variety and unpredictable curveballs. "To Take The Black" and its neighbor, "Maiden, Mother & Crone," adopt a faster, angrier, and fiercer than-usual take on metal. One does so with speed-metal pacing, the other with a crushing thrash groove. The former also includes a dreamy, flamenco-style intro to go along its aggressive speeds, big choruses, and irresistible vocal hooks; and the latter is bolstered by smoking, barn-burning chainsaw-stutter/machine-gun riffs, The Sword continue to keep things interesting with ample variety and unpredictable curveballs throughout. They give us a dose of experimentalism with a trippy and ethereally doomy intro here ("Under The Boughs"), a ton of nasty, machine-gun riffage there ("The Black River"). They also toss-in a mesmerizing piece of pure stoner metal, as well (see the abrasive, gnawing, mesmerizing power chords, crashing beat, plodding rhythms, echoing vocals, and prominently fat, distorted, steady, and muscular bass bottom of the Godflesh-ian conclusion called "The White Sea.")
It is quite a rare find, anymore, to find a band that is this capable of writing so much positively amazing riffage. But The Sword have done it in spades. And even though it is not likely to turn the heads of many people that don't already follow the band, metalheads looking for an instinctively satisfying, memorable, realized, and arresting old-fashioned metal album could not do much better than what we have right here.