Now going on a decade of existence, The Sword have long ago become accustomed to turning heads with their music. Writers have variously labeled the Austin-based quartet as doom metal, progressive metal, retro music and stoner rock.
That shouldn't be too surprising for a band whose chief lyricist, singer-guitarist J.D. Cronise, is fond of tackling big subjects like early Christian gospels, Egyptian mythology, and science fiction writers like Jack Vance, and Phillip K. Dick.
Cronise, bassist Bryan Ritchie, guitarist Kyle Shutt and drummer Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III explore these ideas with relish on Apocryphon (Razor & Tie), which appeared last October – and marks a departure from the sci-fi conceptual storytelling of its predecessor, Warp Riders.
If that shift seems intentional, you're getting the right idea, as Cronise explains, on the band's website. “In a way, I realized music as a vehicle for expressing my own views and thoughts. I shied away from that before in favor of entertaining people with colorful narratives. This is where I'm at,” he said.
Suffice to say, if you don't like hearing more complicated lyric rhyming than “moon, June, spoon,” The Sword probably won't be your favorite band. However, for fans who've enjoyed the ride all along, The Sword's upcoming Club Fever show – as special guests of Clutch's Earth Rocker tour – is likely to be among the hottest tickets.
Apocryphon also marks a leaner, rawer sound that's drawn comparisons to Black Sabbath, among others – which Cronise chalks up to the influence of producer J. Robbins, who'd come recommended via Clutch, as Shutt details.
“He really helped us capture the dirty, grittiness in the songs. It was there, but he knew what we wanted, what we were going for, and how to communicate it,” he said.
For another example of that influence, look no further than the album's first single, “Veil Of Isis,” whose central themes focus on cycles of nature, as well as the Egyptian goddess. However, there's nothing fancy about the main riff that drives the song, according to Shutt: “It's the next logical step for The Sword,. It's got a big-ass riff and chorus. There's a solid and memorable groove.”
Created in Baltimore over a five-week period last summer, Apocryphon coincided with Vela's arrival as a new member, along with the recruitment of a new manager – and the signing of a multi-album deal with Razor & Tie, as well.
All these changes injected a major burst of energy into the band, from Shutt's perspective. “It felt like a fresh start. We always made our records in Austin. This is the first time we left the city to live somewhere and make music. It was good to shake things up,” he said.
So far, all the returns for the new direction are resoundingly positive. Apocryphon debuted at #17 on the Billboard charts – which is the band's best showing yet – amid near-unanimous critical raves. “All over the album it feels as though The Sword are bringing together everything they've learned from their other records,” The All Music Guide observed. “This combination makes for a sound that isn't so much more mature as it is more refined.”
All things considered, Cronise and company couldn't be more pleased with how the future is shaping up – especially with such a dedicated fanbase that's been willing to follow the band through its various stylistic shifts.
“Music is supposed to transport people somewhere away from their daily lives,” said Cronise. “For Apocryphon, the idea was to do that in a more introspective and philosophical manner. I'd like it if listeners think a little bit more about life, their existence, and their place in the universe while taking this trip."
Featured Quote: “In a way, I realized music as a vehicle for expressing my own views and thoughts. I shied away from that before in favor of entertaining people with colorful narratives. This is where I'm at.”
- J.D. Cronise
Live: 8 p.m. Thursday, January 9, 2014,
Clutch, The Sword and Crobot
222. Michigan St.
South Bend, IN.
Doors open at 7 p.m.; must be 21 and older to enter.
$25 in advance, or $28 at the door. On sale at Club Fever, Orbit Music, El Vegas and online at www.showclix.com. (574) 234-5200.
Presented By Ardent Entertainment. For more info visit: www.ardententertainmentllc.com