The Sword inject Southern rock thunder into adventurous, diverse ‘Apocryphon’

Now and again, I like to be a little less serious and indulge in some fun topics. A day closer to the weekend, let’s focus a little less on Armageddon, pestilence, human decay, and dark deities and instead put all our energy into the riff. I, for one, fell in love with heavy metal because I thought it was fun, and I hold that opinion to this day, no matter how depressing some of the music is that I hear on a daily basis.

This isn’t to suggest that because they’re a blast to listen to that The Sword are not serious. That’s actually an accusation that has dogged them from day one, that they were an ironic group of hipsters with their tongues buried in their cheeks while they cranked out classic metal. I don’t think you go four albums released with such consistency if you aren’t 100 percent committed to the cause. Also, I never doubted this band for a second, and even if they do face backlash from a lot of metal fans, they’ll find nothing but love here.

The Sword, based in Austin, Texas, have been going strong for close to a decade now. Their first full-length “Age of Winters” dropped in 2006, and they’ve been putting out records on a consistent basis ever since, averaging one every two years. “Gods of Earth,” my favorite of their collection, fell to the surface in 2008, while outer space concept album “Warp Riders” came along in 2010. Now they’re back with “Apocryphon,” their first for Razor & Tie after leaving their longtime home at Kemado, and more than ever the band is kicking out dirty, riffy, dusty metal that sounds heavily influenced by Southern rock. Perhaps that is something producer J. Robbins brought to the mix, who has worked in the past with Clutch, a band whose influence is on this album.

The title “Apocryphon” was chosen to be purposely cryptic, or so it seems. The word is used to describe books that were deemed unfit to appear in the Bible and also denotes having a knowledge of secret writings or teachings that perhaps should not be known. It’s cryptic in two ways then, in that the lyrical content is something that maybe the band ordinarily would feel is too raw for consumption, and it also perhaps masks the true ideals and inspiration behind these songs. Whatever the reason, the fellows – vocalist/guitarist JD Cronise, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and new drummer Jimmy Vela — sound inspired and prepared to outright rock on these 10 cuts that make up the most varied album of their run.

As expected, you can hear the Iron Maiden/Judas Priest influence, but you even have some Southern style a la ZZ Top and even the stoner qualities of Kyuss. The guitar work should make this easy fodder for “Rock Band” enthusiasts, and it’s too bad the album’s dropping so late in the year because it would be great summertime music over cool beers. Also, Cronise’s melodic bark is becoming one of the more identifiable voices in independent hard rock and metal, and he’s way up to the challenge again on “Apocryphon.”

“The Veil of Isis” opens this sucker, with the guys conjuring the ancient Egyptian goddess, with sunburnt guitar work, slurry riffs, and Cronise howling, “The dead will rise/The living must depart.” “Cloak of Feathers” has a tasty shuffle built into it, lots of cowbell, and a start-stop tempo that allows for an interesting vocal melody that gets stuck in your head. “Arcane Montane” really turns up the aforementioned Southern rock thunder, as the riffs kick up dust, and the searing soloing rips a hole in you. “The Hidden Masters” is one of the best songs on the record, and perhaps I feel that way due to my affinity for classic Black Sabbath, but it’s sinewy and bluesy, laying a strong foundation of fine doom rock. “Dying Earth” pulls back a bit, going mid-tempo and spacey.

“Execrator” is a different kind of song, as the band goes a little poppier, but just when you think it’s getting a little too breezy, the sludge boat arrives at the dock with a mega shipment. “Seven Sisters” brings the shuffle back and has a nice bluesy edge, with the vocal melodies deliberately following what the guitar’s doing. It’s feels a little weird at first, but you’ll adjust. “Hawks and Serpents” is the most ’80s metal of all the songs on here, sounding like “Screaming for Vengeance”-era Priest, mixed with James Hetfield’s bark from that same decade. This would make a great theme song for a new “He-Man” movie. “Eyes of Stormwitch” is the weak link, as it really doesn’t stand out, but the title cut makes good for that, with keyboard runs that remind me of Zombi and a huge galloping assault that ends the album in a cloud of cinders and nails.

If you’re one of those folks huffing, with arms folded, because you don’t think the Sword make real metal, relax already. If Maiden or Priest came around today, those people probably would think the same of them. This band’s always a good time, their minds are wrapped up in the deeper issues of space and ancient battles, and “Apocryphon” is another helping of classic heavy metal that reminds me of why I fell in love with this music to begin with.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

For more on the label, go here: