Review, THE SWORD, High Country

3/10 stars

First, “the man” took away my Richard Rider Nova and the real Star Lord, now they take my The Sword! Is Jeph Loeb behind this album?

I’ve listened to the album and read about a dozen reviews that range from the ridiculous to spot on. I’m not some professional reviewer who’s going to croon about each riff on every track on this train wreck of an album. To quote Conan; “I have no time,” Basically, I’ve got one thing to say; this album really sucks. (Though there are a few decent tracks)

While the thick rimmed skinny jeans wearing, fly by night aficionados of the band , complete with Magic; The Gathering deck rolled up in sleeve, who now come out of the woodworks in defense of this misfire will no doubt wax ecstatic about how “advanced” this album is, and how the band has “every right” to “progress”…I say bull shit. Sadly, this thing is a total miss. High Country winds up sounding like a washed out simplistic b-rate Lizzy “Emerald” cover band and nurtures a wayward sound of a good band in “way over its head”.

But it’s ok. After all, the Sword is still a great band. They’ve put together a great career of songs and albums, and they deserve a flump after all of that. I still love the guys.

For some perspective, I’ve been a huge fan of the Sword since Age of Winters, I’ve liked everything they’ve ever cranked out. I thought the talk of “sell out” after Warp Riders was ridiculous and off target, and now we arrive at this.

Let’s make one thing clear here; this IS the sellout album. Like a stinky over ripe salmon spread that’s sat out for a bit long in the Austin heat, everything here is laid on overt, thick and intentional. That is, of course, save for the guitars. Now, what sense the notion of this sound being a realistic “sell out” move in this particular situation really does escape me, it’s not like they’ve moved into lucrative pop territory.

In High Country, basically the genre, rough structure, and feel of most of the album is, in fact, the same type of stuff The Sword has cranked out before…fantasy lyrical, retro rock that straddles a metal line, rife w/ blues influenced odes to Sabbath, Lizzy and others. But as for what goes wrong, well, we’ve just got another chip in the old/new stoner rock power struggle here. That’s right, only in this genre do we get some evolution to reduce the testosterone and make everything so sleepy and low key. Thus, High Country turns into a snooze fest.  Not only do they forget the amps that go up to “11” they forget 7-10 as well. As it progresses here, song after song of High Country forms a work that establishes itself as a toned down, mellowed out shadow of a “real” Sword album.

That’s right, it seems the name of the game in stoner metal these days is to get so utterly diminutive and regressed with sound, guitars, and metal thumpidness as to tone down everything to the point of some new genre. I guess it’s all the rage in Austin. I can only imagine, someday soon, the genre will get so toned down as to be JD Cronise singing “How Heavy This Axe” in his shower with Kevin Fender tapping on the toilet seat with toothbrushes. For the most part, “High Country” comes off as some sort of skimped down “Mystery Rock” that lacks the complexity of interweaved raw grittiness of past efforts.

From the album art, to the overt completeness of the reduced attempt, this regressed sound thus comes off as overly contrived. For High Country, think less Frank Frazetta and think more Wavy Gravy, and that’s bad news for us all. From what I have read, folks are tossing the Lizzy analogy way to much. Lizzy never stooped to this overt a sell out sound. Something like “Seriously Mysterious” sounds more like Cake than Lizzy.

Admittedly, there are a few moments here worth listening too. A couple tracks work, even if they come off as weak sauce pastiches of the real deal.  “Buzzards” in particular, is worthy of a download. “Dream thieves” also seems to work. But overall the high points are not enough, and the worst of the low points are downright cringe worthy. The Sword are better than that. In the end, the sound comes off as a band with one foot in the water of experimentation, mind you, it’s a foot that manages to miss the whole lake. They seem more like a hollow version of some band that used to open for The Sword, rather than the grandmasters of the genre.

So, The Sword has truly biffed one here. But don’t fret, save your cash, just go into your bathroom, turn on the shower, start singing “Fire Lances” while tapping on the toilet seat and save yourself the money. Other than that, these guys still are awesome, we still have so many great albums and we’ll see where they go from here. As for me, I’ll be in the Cancerverse, with Rich Rider and the real Star Lord, across The Black River , waiting for my real Sword to come back.

-Rand Dyke

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