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. Deftly fingered guitars alternate between screaming and grinding, rumbling bass drives relentlessly and drums thunder like stampeding mastodons, while 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. In short order, the quartet was writing and performing its signature blend of twelve-sided rock to appreciative crowds around Austin. In a musically saturated city, the group was careful early on to strike a balance between building a buzz and overexposing itself.
With Slough Feg and Children, 9 p.m. Saturday, April 26, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $10-$12, 303-830-8497.
"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 mindset has continued to be a part of the Sword's success. Wingo passed early demos to a well-connected friend who, in turn, sent it along to an acquaintance in New York. That friend-of-a-friend was instantly impressed and began shopping the demo to everyone he knew in New York. The recordings eventually reached Keith Abrahamsson at Kemado Records — home to like-minded acts Saviours and Witchcraft — who wasted no time in flying down to Austin to catch the act's live show.
"They were 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 a critically acclaimed debut called Age of Winters. Intensive touring heightened the Sword's profile and increased anticipation for this year's followup, Gods of the Earth.
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That sophomore effort builds on the quartet's formula of heavy riffs, soaring melodies and vaguely medieval lyrical imagery of death and doom. This time out, the group 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 are a little more evolved." That evolution caught the ears of Lars Ulrich, who invited the band to warm up crowds for six Metallica dates in Europe 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. When asked if he's nervous at all, Wingo responds with his own self-assured challenge.
"What's there to be scared of?"