The Sword are everyone’s favorite stoner band. Their laid-back style of metal has been one that has captivated and overtaken many, and their last two albums have proved this. The band were relatively active following Apocryphon, and have now unleashed their newest album High Country upon us all. The band were going to need this album to be a strong one, however, because the massive success of their last two records would dwindle and efforts the band did afterward unless they were truly profound, truly noteworthy. Whether or not the band succeeded will have to be judged by the listener, but as far as this listener goes, the band might have taken a step down a different path that might upset some.
The album’s first noticeable difference comes with the track listing, which is comprised of 15 individual tracks. Most of their records in the past have had anywhere around 10 and 11 songs, but their newest effort has 15. Granted some of these are instrumental tracks, but the tracklisting might be a bit off putting. The instrumentals themselves don’t add to the individual songs, and would be great for live segues but fall flat on the record. The music itself, however, is very straightforward rock and roll, keeping that signature Sword style. J.D. Cronise sings in a lower voice this time around, and many will miss his vocals from previous recordings where his range was up a few octaves. The overall impression you get is that this record is all about laying back, having a good time, and maybe taking a bong hit or two while disappearing into Metalopolis.
There is a noticeable difference in sound, however, that might trouble some. Whereas previous records contained songs focused around riffs, this album feels like one long ride into the desert with a very slowed down vibe to it. Most of the songs are around the same tempos give or take a few BPMs, and the songs themselves seem less focused on riff writing and more focused on creating an atmosphere to envelop it, and envelop the entire album as well. Many fans might be a little bit upset to find that the best songs that the band released are the singles, particularly ‘Empty Temples’, which is one hell of a track. Normally the band’s previous singles have fared well, but in this case they severely outshine the rest of the songs on the record.
The record overall, however, is in the midst of a dilemma. While it is a solid release, and would b a solid release for many other bands as well, it doesn’t hit the same chord as past record has. Granted, the band decided to mix things up a bit and experiment with some new ideas on this new record, but something feels a bit off. Maybe the band were trying too hard to do new things, or maybe their past output has made any chance of following up greatness with more greatness near impossible. They band have shown they could do it before, but this record will not woo any people trying to get into the band, and will just do enough to fans of the band.
The Sword have proven they could write a decent record, and they have also proved to us that they can compose fantastic records. However, this time the band have also proven to us they they are indeed mortal. Every band has a misstep with the rare exception of a lucky few, and this seems to be The Sword’s. While it will tide over fans, one can only hope that the next record is a return to form and marks the return of the legends that we know now as The Sword.
The Sword’s High Country gets…