30 September 2015
The Sword - High Country
Confession time, if you did not read my review of "Warp Riders" (review cleverly linked here) then maybe you should before reading this. I loved the production of the album, but the sound was too backwards for me. The band sounded fantastic performance wise, but I was not impressed. So I have not really felt inclined to approach them again, but in the spirit of fairness (and a request from one of my mates) it would seem that fate has brought me back to the Austin natives. The album was recorded in Austin, Texas and Asheville, North Carolina with producer Adrian Quesada. Now I will be honest, I am always willing to give a band another chance so it is with hope that I start this blog. I have changed my mind on bands before, let us see what 'High Country' has turned out to be.
Introduction track “Unicorn Farm” is just the smallest taste of the band; it is very electronic compared to how I remember them, it is a shame it does not last longer as I feels like it could have been stretched out for a lot longer than the fifty seconds that it is in the world. The next track is “Empty Temples” which is sounds like the crossover of Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Jeff Wayne, it is a classic rock/prog melting pot and it will give classic rock fans something to cheer for, stoners something to space out to and people who are new to the band something to get excited about. It is a good song that shows they are not just Sabbath worshipers. “High Country” is the next song is another song which is unashamedly retro to the point of actually taking the style back into fashion. The big riffs and hooks are all here for everyone to hear, it is one of those bass driven numbers where the deep string beast is controlling the number with the drummer as the guitars are allowed to go on flights of fancy when needed. The old school feeling of this song does not feel dated at all, just updated and that is important. “Tears Like Diamonds” is a bit of a teaser, the song is a good song which sounds as if it is going to explode after the chorus section of the song and each time it does not quite reach that peak of expectation from what is one of the sweetest classic rock riffs that I have heard for an awfully long time; when it does finally erupt, it is a still good and they nail that riff to a mast like a flag as they head into the sun – but it does keep you wanting more, showing there is more to give; honestly, I felt like a teenager once again and it was very frustrating. Fifth track “Mist & Shadow” starts with clear guitars and a sound like a clear still night near a forest (as if insects and creatures are moving around close to you), on cue the riff and band come forth from the speakers as if nothing had chased in the last forty years and when a riff sounds this colossus then I have no problem with that; this is what classic rock should be – loud, an escape and OTT. It should be larger than life and in its own little word and this song is a planet all on its own with drums of thunder, bass lines like earthquakes, riffs from guitars like beasts roaring and vocals to guide the listener – majestic.
“Agartha” is all keyboards, drums, feedback and low bass to begin with; it sounds like the start of a sci-fi film where the body snatchers are taking over and we are all (for want of a better word) fucked. It is over too soon and much like “Unicorn Farm” it could have been expanded, but it is an interesting instrumental gives way to “Seriously Mysterious” which has some of the funkiest bass effects I have hear outside of a Sly Stone album. A tale advising to stay away from gypsies and wondering if the wise man or the fool should rule, it also mentions God sending his son to save us and I am wondering if The Sword have become Mormons since their last record? Musically brilliant, lyrically as preachy as Ghost and their Satanic sermons. “Suffer No Fools” is fast paced classic rock, it is a serious driving song with massive riffs and hooks for all rock fans to enjoy at the beginning and it shows that riffs do not need to be a million miles an hour to be fast (i.e. – Dragon Force can afford to leave a note or two out of their next album). Another instrumental track, it also shows that the band can keep their mouth shut when the song dictates it and let the riffs do the talking for itself. As the recorded cheers (cheesy, very cheesy) fade out for “Suffer No Fools” the band start the serious sounding “Early Snow”, a cautionary tale of an early onset of winter. It is another really good song on this record, but not remarkable to be honest. “The Dreamtheives” is the next song and it is very light to be honest, firmly in the classic rock part of their musical pallet and what one of my friends would call dull and I am inclined to agree here. It is played well, it does not offend the ear; but even with a solid solo and inoffensive sound, it does not stick in your brain and when it has stopped I am at a lost to remember what it sounds like.
"Buzzards" is much better, by deity it is an improvement on "The Dreamtheives". It instantly connects, sounds like a towering inferno of sound and noise, makes the album come back to life. It makes you wonder what this record could have been, but I will get back to that in a bit - long story short, it is a storming track. "Silver Petals" is the next song and it is another instrumental song, but mostly on the acoustic guitar. It is very pretty and once more you cannot accuse the band of not being able to perform well; but it does not feel essential and in a fifteen track album it is a bit lost. "Ghost Eye" is the next song and the power rock is back once more and once again it showcases the strength of the band at this point in time. They have just went all out on this song and created a song that is timeless in nature and if it was not for "Mist & Shadow" then this would have been the song of the album. It is an adrenaline infused number that takes the listener on a journey into the Black Sabbath classic era sound, basically doing what the Satanic band Ghost have been doing for the last three albums - a brilliant number. The penultimate song on this record is called "Turned to Dust" which starts with a mournful & lonesome guitar tone, it slows everything down to a crawl as the human condition is pondered. Beautiful crafted, it does not fall into the pit falls of making everything heavy after such a fragile beginning. The only grip I would have with this is that it ends too suddenly, it could have been played out a little longer but that is a personal thing. "The Bees of Spring" is the ending song of the album and it does not exactly explode out of the blocks. Another classic rock anthem that has just been discovered, you really cannot fault the quality of the music itself; but ending an album with this song? It is not an album ending song, it is a good song - but I question the decision to end the album with this number.
This album is only fifty minutes long, but it feels about two or three number over its natural limit. It is an improvement on their earlier work for me and going for that classic rock sound with an ease that suggests maybe it was always the way that they were going to head, it just feels like the right sound for this band. After the last album I heard I was not really looking forward to this, as I have not only been impressed by their playing, but that I have wanted to hear some of the album again as there is some cracking tunes in the mix; so for me that is an improvement straight away. The ordering is not perfect, it sort of limps to the end (as well played as "Turned To Dust" and "The Bees of Spring" are played - it ends on a lull when it could have been a high if those tunes were mixed up differently. Also, as I have noted earlier it could have been trimmed down to eleven or twelve track and still have achieved the same result. But that is just the opinion of a man who was not involved in the process, so what would I know. Last time I said they were too backwards and that the retro vibe did not work in their favour; here they have made it work and they have thrived on this album. They are still telling Father Time to fuck off, but it is a 100% improvement to the last time I heard them. Either way you look at this, it is a much better album than "Warp Riders" for me and I hope they continue on this form as it sounds as if they have found the right formula for them.
7.5 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out
Top track – Mist & Shadow
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Sword website here
You can follow the activities of The Sword on Facebook here
You can stream the album on Spotify here
You can stream the album on Deezer here
You can stream the album on Tidal here
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