For many hipster rock fans, the knee-jerk reaction to any album
boasting song titles such as "Barael's Blade," "Lament for the
Aurochs" and "March of the Lor (Instrumental in Eight Movements)" is
to snicker and invoke the ghost of Spinal Tap. But the Austin,
Texas, quartet the Sword is winning a measure of respect for its
debut album "Age of Winters" that's well-deserved, and the disc is
winning over devoted metalheads as well as more alternative types
(or snobs, if you prefer).
"We have noticed that -- being
accepted by people who aren't necessarily metal fans -- and we think
it all comes from the songs," bassist Bryan Richie says. "It
definitely takes some musical appreciation to be able to play metal:
It's not something that you just pick up and are able to do, you
have to have some real ability. But the song is ultimately what's
most important. I was just thinking about that the other day with
some bands I saw live -- I'll let them remain nameless -- because
there were no songs involved. It was just like, 'Let's see how fast
we can play this s---.' That's cool, and I'm into that personally,
but I don't see how you're ever going to retain any sort of mass
audience like that. Our s--- can be heavy as hell, and we can riff
out, but there needs to be a song there."
With influences that include stoner-rock gods Sleep, art-noise
monsters the Melvins and death-metal masters Slayer, as well as more
old-school metal heroes such as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Deep
Purple, the Sword joins a growing list of new bands that mix a
number of sounds from the varied underground-metal subgenres --
Mastodon is another good example -- as well as groups that aren't
afraid to wave the pothead freak flag, even if that means skirting
parody (as Wolfmother does).
Veterans of several other bands that used to share bills around
Austin, Richie, guitarist-vocalist J.D. Cronise, guitarist Kyle
Shutt and Trivett Wingo (whose drumming is as cool as his name) came
together as the Sword about three years ago. "J.D. listened to Sleep
and loves Black Sabbath, and his take on it was that he saw a void
where there wasn't a band like the Sword that was heavy but with a
pop sensibility, as far as the melodies he sings and the major
pentatonic scales we're playing and things like that are friendly to
people's ears," Richie says.
"When I joined the band, I was given a CD of songs that had
already been written: It was all J.D. performing them with a drum
machine, and it was basically the blueprint for Side A of the first
record. Then we kind of put together 'Iron Swan' and 'Lament for the
Aurochs' as a band, though J.D. was still kind of the lead idea
machine on all of those. With some of the newer stuff, we've got
Kyle coming in and laying forth his deadly riffs and whatnot, but
we're not really like the jammy kind of band. We can jam, but we
don't jam to write, if that makes sense. We can fool around and come
up with some slick-sounding psychedelic stuff, but nobody just
starts galloping on a riff and then everybody else comes into it."
From the beginning, the group's live shows have won some
influential fans -- "You know how Indians used to hunt buffalo by
forcing them off a cliff, and they'd fall to the rocks? That's kind
of what they sound like," Spin's Chuck Klosterman wrote, proceeding
to call the Sword the best band at the South by Southwest Music
Festival in 2005 -- and the band attracted the attention of several
labels, including Kemado Records. But the twentysomething musicians
were impatient to begin recording, so they simply started doing it
on their own, in Richie's basement.
"Kemado was interested, but their lawyer was really taking his
sweet time, and months would go by without any sort of
communication," the bassist says. "The album had been written and in
the can as demos for a long time, since October of 2004. So we were
like, 'Let's just record it ourselves! Then we'll take it to record
labels, and if they want it, great, and if not, screw it; we don't
have anything else going on!' So that's what we did, and Kemado
ended up loving it, and that's what everyone has gotten to hear."
Since the album's release last February, the Sword has been on
the road almost constantly, playing with metal bands as well as
hard-core groups. "It's been hard, because it's difficult
remembering to pay the bills and stuff when you're never home,"
Richie says, laughing. "But it's great, because when you tour and
play every night, you just become like this insane machine-tight
unit capable of calculus-like thought processes while playing!" Not
to mention dreaming up the backstories to flesh out the elaborate
fantasy world portrayed in the songs.
Richie laughs when I ask how many of the band's lyrics are
"None of them!" he says. "We're all sci-fi and fantasy buffs. The
song 'Freya' is based on Norse mythology, but there are other things
that J.D. just kind of made up. Like, he says the Lor is an ancient
race of spider beings, and we're like, 'Alright, dude!' But we're
definitely all for the idea of trying to take listeners somewhere
different. If you can close your eyes and envision this giant battle
happening, well, we're all for that."
THE SWORD WITH TRIVIUM AND PROTEST THE HERO
Where:Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.
Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 at the door