Sometime in the distant future, when the world is overrun with strange creatures, thoughts are currency and humans are a thing of the past, I imagine some curious young slug/cat/robot/(enter future species here) will stumble upon some sort of 2010 time capsule, giving the futuristic society a glimpse of what we were like today.
Musically speaking, when they unearth that ancient relic of yesteryear, I hope they find a copy of The Sword’s new album Warp Riders, which was released this week. It is my hope that these future beings (Giant slugs? Dogs walking on two feet?) will be able to sift through the detritus of today’s “popular” music to find what we REALLY were (or should have been) listening to. This record, folks, is the answer to that question. Throw your bubblegum pop records and AutoTuned commercial jingle music into the trash bin and get your grubby mitts on this behemoth of a record right now.
The Sword, a heavy metal band out of Austin, Texas, have, on their previous two records, released collections of unbridled heathenry in the form of sludgy, Sabbath-esque aural assaults about things like Vikings, “HyperZephyrians”, wolves, wizards, and other such mystical creatures. They opened for Metallica on their 2008 US tour, and had a song (Freya, off of Age of Winters) featured in one of the Guitar Hero games.
With Warp Riders, though, The Sword has really honed in on rhythm and precision, something that I thought was lacking from their past records. Before, every song was a dark, densely-instrumented blast of crazy riffs and jarring vocals courtesy of singer/guitarist JD Cronise. This time around, though, the band changed things up a bit, and the result is much more focused on groove and tasty, crunchy guitar licks. What’s more, this album is a concept album. As the band states on their website,
Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. How it's told – through the dueling lead guitars of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt, and the concussive rhythm section of bassist Bryan Ritchie and drummer Trivett Wingo – underscores the narrative with molten steel and unreal precision.
So yeah….a sci-fi concept album by a heavy metal band, complete with Star Wars-ish cover art. If that doesn’t get you in the mood, then I’m convinced you are just a jerk who can’t appreciate mind and soul-altering badassery of this quality. You can go back and listen to your watered-down bro-tastic Avenged Sevenfold records if you wish.
If you think Warp Riders is for you, then by all means dive in. I wouldn’t necessarily say you have to be familiar with The Sword already to dig this record; in fact, Cronise has said in interviews about this album that it will alienate a portion of the band’s pre-existing fanbase, due to its more groove-heavy approach.
Personally, I say fuck ‘em if their jaws don’t drop, Tex Avery style, at what the band did with this album. Songs like the instrumental prologue Acheron/Unearthing the Orb set the mood for the following ten tracks, all with similarly nonsensical/amazing titles such as The Chronomancer I: Hubris, Astraea’s Dream, Night City, and epic album-closer (The Night and the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire. Behind the song titles are excellent heavy metal songs with blazing guitars and propulsive drums that are mixed to perfection. The band’s first two albums were generally fuzzier affairs, but this time around (thanks to the help of producer Matt Bayles, marking the first time the band has used an external producer on an album) everything is much more crisp and sonically pleasing.
I know there’s a big convoluted sci-fi story going on about Ereth and Chronomancers and things of that nature, but each time I listen to Warp Riders (and it’s been about four times thus far) I get more caught up in the blistering riffage and insanely thunderous rhythms on the songs than the actual lyrics. I’ll work on that.
Tres Brujas is the first “single” from the album, and it’s also going to be part of a music video trilogy from the album (with the other tracks being Lawless Land and Night City). Given the nature of the band’s songs themselves, I can only imagine how mind-bending a “music video trilogy” will be, especially given the fact that the songs are from a sci-fi concept album.
I haven’t really called out specific songs as “highlights”, because this is a concept album that really works as a whole. It’s also split into two halves, with both instrumental tracks (Acheron/Unearthing the Orb and Astraea’s Dream) beginning each half. All ten tracks meld together cohesively to form one brutally savage whole piece, and while a few of the tracks (such as Arrows in the Dark and the last track) can be considered among The Sword’s most impressive songs to date, this entire collection is really worthy of “highlight” status.
Most concept albums are scattered, or filled with extraneous nonsense to help push across the “story”, but Warp Riders is a complete, not overly long (the run time is 48 minutes) exercise that should help establish The Sword as one of the best heavy metal bands currently fighting the good fight every day.
Check this out if you like their other albums, but be warned that it’s decidedly different than their buzzy, sludgy older work. That said, if you dig bands like Priestess and Baroness you will probably (hopefully) like this as well.
I think I’ll find myself re-listening to this over and over, as it’s one of my favorite releases thus far this year. I wasn’t expecting that, but The Sword really blew the doors off my expectations.
On that fateful day in the future when the Lizard People excavate that 2010 time capsule, I really hope they find this album inside.