In the metal world, it seems that everything old is new again. Hundreds of bands are mining the rich ore of melodic British icons like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and combining it with the sludgy doom of Black Sabbath and Pentagram — with varying degrees of success.
Austin's the Sword has arguably been one of the most artistically successful of this new school of old rock. This is not to say, however, that the group's sound is entirely retrogressive or unoriginal. The group's deftly fingered guitars alternate between screaming and grinding, while the rumbling bass is relentless, the drums thunder like stampeding mastodons and J.D. Cronise's vocals manage to be simultaneously caustic and harmonious. The overall effect is a new alloy of aggressive, intellectual and undeniably dark metal.
The Sword began as the brainchild of wizard-obsessed hesher Cronise, who added second guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie and drummer Trivett Wingo after an early solo gig with just a guitar and a drum machine drew derision instead of devil horns. Nevertheless, in short order, the quartet was blasting its signature blend of 12-sided metal to appreciative crowds around Austin.
With The High Cost of Living and Collapsar,8 p.m. Monday, September 15, at Meridian, 1503Chartres, 713-225-1717.
In that musically saturated city, the Sword was careful to strike an early balance between building a buzz and overexposing itself.
"We made sure to space it out," says Wingo. "A lot of bands get together and play every single weekend. And your immediate thought is, 'Who gives a shit? What's so exciting about something that happens every week?' That's where a lot of bands fuck themselves."
That shrewd mind-set has continued to be a part of the Sword's success. Wingo passed some early demos to a well-connected friend who, in turn, sent them along to an acquaintance in New York. That friend-of-a-friend was instantly impressed and began shopping the demos to everyone he knew in New York.
The recordings eventually reached Keith Abrahamsson at Kemado Records, home to like-minded acts Witchcraft (themselves at Rudyard's Thursday, September 11) and Saviours. Abrahamsson wasted no time in flying down to Austin to catch the Sword.
"[Kemado was] just one of many labels who responded," recalls Wingo proudly, "but they were the most proactive. They immediately saw the value and jumped on it."
The result was the four-piece's critically acclaimed debut, Age of Winters. Intensive touring heightened the Sword's profile and increased anticipation for this spring's follow-up, Gods of the Earth.
Gods builds on the quartet's formula of heavy riffs, soaring melodies and vaguely medieval, lyrical imagery of death and doom. This time out, though, the Sword appears to have developed an almost pop-like approach to song structures, relying more on verses and choruses than on technical wizardry.
"I don't think the last album was a willy-nilly pile of riffs," insists Wingo, "but I'd say the songs [on Gods] are a little more evolved."
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That evolution caught the ears of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who invited the Sword to warm up at six of the metal titans' European shows this summer.
"Metallica are big Sword fans," Wingo boasts.
Other young bands might be intimidated by the prospect of opening for a musical legend, but the road warriors of the Sword are ready. Asked if he's nervous at all, Wingo responds with his own self-assured challenge.
"What's there to be scared of?"