Rating: 3.0/ 5.0
Label: Kemado Records
Fans really fucking hate it when bands take different directions. Rarely is an artist or band’s shift in tone or content well-regarded- on some occasions their versatility can outshine the change in sound. On their third album, Warp Riders, Austin metal band the Sword have left behind fantasy-rife throwback metal and instead focused on a progressive, sprawling vision of space and time. They’ve traded in van-art music for black-light poster metal.
The most drastic change on this record is the band’s less distorted yet more aggressive sound. For an album about a banished space archer locked in a struggle against good and evil on the planet Acheron, the sci-fi concept is not as compelling as the music the band created to fit this theme. The Sword have employed a thunderous, sleek approach, making their power chords and drum hits evoke the sound of thrusters blasting as well as fire falling from the sky. Singer/guitarist J.D. Cronise and lead guitarist Kyle Shutt create some impressive and engaging riffs, such as the menacing refrains of “The Chronomancer II: Nemesis,” where dueling guitars, drums and bass crash down, creating a violent and vintage sound, the pulsing guitar line reminiscent of Tony Iommi’s contributions to the creation of black metal.
Cronise’s voice has earned comparisons to Ozzy Osbourne, but on this record he channels more of a Dream Theater vibe. His conviction in his singing is not as compelling as Ozzy’s, and on some of the tracks it underscores the point. Lead single “Tres Brujas,” while meant to be an epic preamble, falters. Perhaps Cronise was going for a mystical quality, but it comes across as lackadaisical. Conversely, “The Chronomancer I: Hubris” is an honest-to-God throwback kick in the ass, featuring sledgehammer chord interplay and Cronise enveloping his vocals with his mid-tempo guitar playing, allowing his voice to ebb and flow as the band does. The lyricism in this song is strangely fantastical as well, with Cronise singing about the ether, evoking shades of Mastodon’s Crack the Skye– it’s a great bridging technique between the shift in style they’ve undertaken since their last album.
From a technical standpoint, the band is quite unified, and their ability to switch up tempos rapidly within the same song helps engender the necessary mood for a concept record. The lyricism is also evocative without succumbing to cheesiness- Cronise sings about jetting across the burning face of the world on “Lawless Lands,” without any eye-rolling to be found.
Album closer “(The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire” delivers no empty promises, remaining focused and energetic while Cronise acts as herald of the Apocalypse. As he sums up the eternal call of the Warp Riders while the world collapses, Shutt’s guitar speeds ahead of his, creating a particularly awesome moment of sonic suggestion, which even surpasses rote lyricism like “This is the hour of the phoenix.” What could have been an embarrassing attempt at relevance actually turns out to be revealing look at a band whose scope is much more stellar than previously imaginable. With Warp Riders, the Sword have shown that they can conquer whole planets, as well as demons and dragons.
by Rafael Gaitan