Here’s the simplest (if not best) way to explain why Texas-based metal titans The Sword are thoroughly awesome: As evidenced by the appearance of guitarist/vocalist John D. Cronise in the AV Club’s sorely missed Random Rules column, they get funk. Up comes Kool & The Gang’s ‘Get Down on It’ and Cronise says, “I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, not just rock and metal. I like soul music and funk, anything that’s good, really. I consider any music that moves you or motivates you to be soul music, whether or not it’s normally considered to be in that genre. All good music has some kind of soul to it.”
While that connection’s been pretty evident in their work all along (these guys have always chosen space over speed), it’s never been more explicit than on High Country, The Sword’s newly-released fifth album. And the results are stunning. Even soulful.
There are plenty of monster riff-driven tracks here that wouldn’t be out of place elsewhere in the band’s catalogue (Suffer No Fools, Buzzards) but also fodder aplenty for the more variety phobic brand of banger who talks a lot of nonsense about so-called ‘hipster metal.’ Screw those people; ‘Seriously Mysterious’ is a straight-faced and reverent slab of funk that’s entirely danceable and yet never feels out of place on this effortlessly diverse album. ‘Early Snow’ is one of those more straightforward metal tracks but a super cool horn arrangement takes it somewhere unexpected and wonderful.
‘Agartha,’ meanwhile, is the opening theme of a psychedelic sci-fi movie yet to be made; it’s not for nothing the band shout out Moog in the liner notes. ‘Silver Petals’ is a gorgeous acoustic and synth-led breather leading into the closing one-two-three punch ending with ‘The Bees of Spring.’ It’s a relatively gentle sounding blues that I suspect says something dire about colony collapse disorder and hubris (“Give us your honey,” Cronise sings, “spare us your sting”).
It sounds exhausting, sure, but have a look at this math: 15 songs in 51 minutes. ‘High Country‘ says a lot in very little time and that’s an accomplishment in any genre. The Sword are now five for five.
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