Album Review: The Sword’s Apocryphon

The Sword

Apocryphon

Razor and Tie Records

Release Date: October 23, 2012

 

Track Listing

1.     Veil of Isis

2.     Cloak of Feathers

3.     Arcane Montane

4.     The Hidden Masters

5.     Dying Earth

6.     Execrator

7.     Seven Sisters

8.     Hawks and Serpents

9.     Eyes of the Stormwitch

10.  Apocryphon

 

Personnel

John “J.D.” Cronise – vocals and guitar

Kyle Shutt – guitar

Bryan Richie – bass

Santiago “Jimmy” Vela – drums

 

Apocryphon, the fourth full-length album from the Austin, TX-based metal quartet the Sword has an unlikely analogy to that of Interpol’s 2011 self-titled release – both albums find each respective band in an unusual (and yet similar) period of transition. In the case of the Sword, their previous album, 2010’s Warp Drivers was a stylistic change of direction for the band, as it was a concept album based around a complex sci-fi-based narrative and mythology written by J.D. Cronise. Cronise had intended the songs to be much more hard rock based than the heavy metal sound of their previous releases. And it turned out to be first album in which the band had an outside producer. Warp Drivers did exceedingly well commercially as it debuted at #47 on the Billboard 200.

  As a warm up to their own headlining tour for their third album, the band opened for the legendary Metallica for a number of dates in Australia, New Zealand. But within a handful of shows during the North American leg of the Warp Drivers tour, their original drummer Trivett Wingo unexpectedly quit the band, forcing the remaining members to postpone their tour until they could find a suitable replacement. Austin, TX-based drummer Kevin Fender joined to the band for much of their tour – until he was replaced by Santiago “Jimmy” Vela, who became a permanent member of the band.

   As a follow up to the commercially successful Warp Drivers, there are some similarities and some major differences. Much like their previous release, the lyrics concern themselves with a sci-fi (and fantasy) related mythology that feels like a continuation from Drivers but the narrative is looser, almost episodic in nature. If you were familiar with the band’s previous albums that includes references to space travel, multiple dimensions and universes, witches, spells and the like. It’s a geek’s dream, really. And although you’ll hear big arena-filling power riffs and thundering drumming with a bluesy, whiskey-fueled looseness, they’ve added some prog rock flourishes – album title track, “Apocryphon” employs the use of buzzing synthesizers, which may well be a first for the band. And considering the material it makes absolute, perfect sense, here. “Hidden Masters” has some crunchy, power blues riffs that bear an uncanny similarity to early Black Sabbath. Guitarist, Kyle Shutt has an incredibly fiery solo during the bridge of “Dying Earth” that forces you to pay attention, if not press repeat on your iPod. Interestingly, “Execrator,” the equally bluesy “Seven Sisters” and “Hawks and Serpents” sound as though it could have easily been a part of the Warp Driver sessions as they share a similar tone – and the differences much are exceedingly subtle.

   What I will say for Apocryphon is that the album captures the Sword at their loosest and most self-assured to date but it also seems to capture the band as they’re beginning to gently expand their sound. Granted, that expansion is exceedingly subtle but it shows artistic growth, and it’ll be interesting to hear what will be the result of that. I say that because as musicians I get the sense that they have the ability and the talent to do much more with their sound. Unlike the Darkness whose material is drenched in ironic, tongue-in-cheek detachment, the Sword has always sounded like a bunch of guys who geeked out on heavy metal, who care about the craft behind the music. And although it is a little unoriginal – I mean how many metal songs have you heard that have talked about witches, space travel and the like? – it is filled with some of the hardest power rock riffs you’ll hear all year. You will spend your time headbanging and headbanging hard to this one, much like I have while listening to it.