Album Review: The Sword – “High Country”

the sword high country

So wait, was hating on The Sword always a thing? Sure, the Austin quartet’s always made their love of Black Sabbath a little too plain, and yes, it was starting to get a bit stale, but shouldn’t you just be able to…I don’t know, not be totally into something and leave it be? Oh wait, it’s the Internet. Silly me. Well, good news for fans, haters and everyone in between: the band’s new album, High Country, finally mixes things up a bit — and ends up being a fun little listen. 

Make no mistake, J.D Cronise and Co. still show occasional flashes of the stoner metal feel they’ve been cultivating over the last decade or so. But on High Country, that sound’s more of a backseat passenger; the driving force this time out is a lighter, more nuanced approach that reveals a previously unseen feel for dynamics in the band’s songwriting.

For the most part, Cronise and fellow guitarist Kyle Shutt don’t fully distort their riffs here, so much as slightly overdrive them. On tracks like “Empty Temples,” this makes for a completely different listening experience than we’re used to from The Sword; there’s still a fire burning under them, to be sure, but it’s a less bruising, more contemplative one than they’ve lit before. There’s a kind of geographic quality to the sound, too; it feels like the soundtrack to a long road trip through the southwest — but less Fear and Loathing-y.

(Did I just use “Fear and Loathing-y” as an adjective?  Christ, I need to get more sleep.)

The problem with High Country, though, is its length. With a run-time of 50-ish minutes, it’s not that much longer than any of their past albums, but the 15 songs that fill that time make it seem like a much longer listen. Why, in 2015 — a full decade-and-a-half after the downloading boom that was prompted, in part, by folks not wanting to buy albums stuffed with filler tracks — is any band putting out a 15-song album? (To be fair, The Sword is far from the only band doing this, but it feels like a pertinent question after an album with an average song length of 3:20ish that somehow still feels like a bit of an ordeal at times.)

Had the band trimmed a few songs here or there, they would really have been onto something. Even as it stands, though, High Country‘s a refreshing listen. It’s hardly a world-changer, but it shows the band’s able to think outside the box and lighten things up a bit. And in the end, they’re all the better for it.

Keep it heavy,

High Country is available now via Razor & Tie Records. For more information on The Sword, visit the band’s official website.

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