Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grooves: The Sword - Age of Winters (2006)

As much as some people may not enjoy playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you have to see the value in what it has done for popular music. Mixing rock music with video games is nothing new, but these games bring the music to the forefront and with it, you will inevitably hear something new to you. Be it a younger audience discovering Deep Purple for the first time or someone older getting a little taste of Paramore and finding out it's for them, that has a magical quality to it. What does this have to do with Grooves you might ask? Without Guitar Hero, I would most likely not have heard of The Sword. Sure, maybe someone would have introduced me to it, but GH2 is who I have to thank for this love. The Sword is one of those bands that gets the reason why vinyl is better than CD's. sure, you can't take a record with you in the car, but The Sword always includes a digital download of the album with the record. Their album art is always really cool and each of their records comes in some multi-color format. Age of Winters, which is their first record and the album that has "Freya" from Guitar Hero 2 on it, is pressed on translucent vinyl. Very cool. It looks like a disc of ice, carved from a Norwegian fjord.

The Sword is on easily my favorite non-Matador independent label, Kemado Records. Other bands that had Kemado under their wing at one point or another include Danava, The Fever (sadly defunct), Cheeseburger, Saviours and Vietnam. I purchased the album directly from the band at their show during the tour prior to releasing their second album, Gods of the Earth. As you can see by the album cover, it's got some gorgeous artwork. This is a staple of The Sword as you will see on their two other full length LP's as we continue this grand excursion in analog. I mentioned in the last post how it was fitting that The Sword show up so soon and that is because they are currently on tour and coming to Philadelphia touring behind their new album Warp Riders. Getting to spin this record was already in the cards as I need to amp myself up for the show.

Age of Winters does not fuck around. Side one starts with an instrumetal "Celestial Crown." The guitars rumble in like the surging North Sea tide and as the song picks up, you can immediately conjure up the image of warlords aboard a Viking ship running head-long for foreign shores, preparing for battle. As the song comes to a rumbling close, it immediately launches into "Barael's Blade." Here is when the gang-planks drop and the warriors start their furious fight. It's a riff heavy track that is bludgeoning and fast. The fury doesn't stop (and won't) continuing on with "Freya." It's the kind of battle cry metal chug that got me into this band. It's not so much a song that is showy in it's guitar solos, but more impressive in it's sludging and heavy sound. The mid-section is just a neck breaking back and forth between fast drums and extremely heavy guitars. Probably the best track on the album, "Winter's Wolves" tears at the flesh with it's Iron Maiden chug and intense rhythm. It's a staple of The Sword's live set, where it takes on new heights in thrash goodness. The side ends with "The Horned Goddess" which is hardly a highlight on the record. This track is best suited for the live show where they expound on it's sludgy riff, but on the record it kind of pales in comparison to the rest of side one.

Side two starts off strong with "Iron Swan." This is speed thrashing at it's best, with an acoustic and tambourine stomp intro. It's easily the fastest, heaviest song on this album, only to be matched by Gods of the Earth stand out "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians." Try saying that ten times fast. "Lament of the Aurochs" is a little long winded. It's the first "epic" of sorts for The Sword and not until this years Warp Riders have they been able to nail down a downright enthralling epic. More instrumetal (n omitted on purpose) comes by way of "March of the Lor." Supposedly it has 8 movements, but it's all of 4 minutes and much like other Sword instrumetals, it's very awesome. The Sword's lyrical content is much like any doomy metal band. It's hardly what you're listening for and the production on this album kind of proves that point. On the instrumetal songs, we get crisp guitars and pummeling drums. But if vocals were involved, they would be buried behind the cacophony of metal demanding a listener who wants to hear tales of warriors and wolves and Aurochs, whatever they are, to turn their record player up to insanely loud levels. This isn't a bad thing as metal should be blasted, but until Warp Riders, the vocals hardly make an impact. "Eberthorn" closes the disc in grand fashion, wrapping everything up in a guitar blitz not much different than the eight tracks prior. This may sound like a dis of sorts, but The Sword write consistently bone crushing tracks throughout Age of Winters. It's only 42 minutes, perfect for vinyl as you may see, and it rocks furiously only getting a little indulgent during the one epic.

The Sword may not be the greatest metal band and I may not be the best judge of metal in general. What I do love about The Sword is their epic consistency. They slightly change their game on Warp Riders by taking their epic tales into the stratosphere, but not much else ever changes with The Sword. This consistency makes them a damn good band. It's hard to release three decent records in a row. They might get harshed on either by hardcore metal heads calling them "hipster metal" or by the average person as run of the mill or cliche metal, but their rootsy vibe and adoration of Black Sabbath aside, they still know how to slay. To me, that's all I need from metal. Ridiculous riffs, splintering guitar solos and cheesey lyrics to get lost in.

{Editors Update: Sadly, Trivett Wingo, Drummer for The Sword, has left the band. This is indeed sad news as he has shown his weight in gold on Warp Riders and is a huge part to my love of The Sword. The website for The Sword has more info. I wish him the best in the future.}

Up Next: One of several David Bowie alter egos

No comments: