Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Razor & Tie
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative Metal, Heavy Metal
2012's Apocryphon saw the Lone Star State retro-metal spell-casters offering up another meaty, cosmos-minded set of mid-'70s Birmingham, England-blasted Sabbath worship, which would have been great had they not done nearly the same thing on their three prior outings. High Country, the band's fifth and most compelling long player to date, is another beast altogether. While it shares its predecessors' penchant for pairing thick Queens of the Stone Age-style stoner metal with vintage, tube-driven classic rock, it owes more to bands like Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, Cream, Electric Wizard, Blue Öyster Cult, Sad Wings of Destiny-era Judas Priest, and even fellow shape-shifting Texans Midlake than it does the dark wizardry of Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill.
All change for the Texan stoner riff lords. Until now, there has been one true love for The Sword: Black Sabbath. Seriously Mysterious, for one, glories in the kind of adorably daft supernatural lyrics that come with such Iommi-worship: ‘Beware those gypsy witches’, they warn. ‘They are not what they seem.’ Before going on to detail a scenario that’s exactly what it seems.
Modern stoner metal can be separated into three waves. The first wave began in the early ’90s with bands such as Sleep and Kyuss. Borrowing from Led Zeppelin’s riffing mysticism and the heavy psych of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, these bands chose to slow their grooves. Instead of headbang, one methodically nods, raises one hand skyward (fingers curled inward as if holding a piece of fruit), and lives within the riff.
The Sword have come a long way since making their name on Guitar Hero contributions. The Texan doomsters sought to bring back the power of the riff—originality be damned—and it worked extremely well on albums like 2010’s Warp Riders. Now on their fifth record, The Sword have sacrificed some of their downtuned Sabbathian crunch for more psychedelic vibes and production flourishes.
Following four albums of traditional metal that tunneled every last nook and cranny of Black Sabbath, the Sword needed sharpening. Turning to local music gadfly Adrian Quesada as producer, the Austin quartet proves itself broader than retro headbanging on its fifth full-length. Clearly a transitional LP, High Country varies in success, the locals eagerly trying on new (for them) sounds: prog, psychedelia, folk.