Metal outfit

has been hastily judged and genrified as “hipster” or “throwback” metal. Certainly, the band’s most recent effort, Warp Riders (2010) is a departure from the earlier releases, Age of Winters (2006) and Gods of the Earth (2008), but the change is by no means a bad thing.

The Sword's world-class and intricately crushing guitar riffage remains intact, but because of this risky new direction, the Austin, Texas four-piece maintains its stature as one of our time's most intriguing and varied metal bands. Besides, a band can hardly be categorized as throwback when natural progression leads away from a familiar path, even if the new path crosses those laid by earlier lords of metal.

"We hearken back to a time in the late '70s, early '80s, when heavy metal and hard rock were kind of going separate ways and becoming their own things," frontman JD Cronise says. "But that doesn't mean we are intentionally retro or set out to be some kind of tribute band."

Simply put, The Sword's nod to previous periods of rock and metal doesn't signal a lack of growth. Rather, the band's music and lyricism have reached odd new heights of progressive metal bliss. "I like lyrics that are about fundamental questions regarding nature or the universe," Cronise says. "Heavy metal has always seemed to me like a science-fiction driven genre, and we wanted to expand on that idea with Warp Riders."

So is an epic, psychedelic, sci-fi concept album that follows young archer Ereth, who hails from the fictitious planet of Acheron. The planet endures a devastating hardship in the form of tidal lock. 

This results in the widespread and terrible scorching of one-half of Acheron by three suns, and perpetual darkness for the other. The stage is set for the enduring theme of light versus dark. Amidst the havoc, Ereth’s people cast him out, whereupon he undertakes a strange and perilous journey involving unimaginable dangers, three mighty witches (what’s up, 


?!) and a powerful, mysterious orb. 

Ereth ultimately crosses paths with the omnipotent Chronomancer, a being unlimited by time and space. Suffice it to say that the fiction in this album is endlessly compelling and utterly satisfying: Ereth's story is not some goofy, formulaic action piece about robot buddies, hostile aliens or space explosions. Instead, it is original yet timeless, exploring themes of redemption, the triumph of good over evil and the true meaning of home.

"I tried to incorporate classic and/or archetypal elements into this story as best I could but, at the same time, present something that was in and of itself completely new and different," Cronise says.

In a time when internet singles and mass mainstream radio marketing are king, Cronise and crew have taken a leap of faith not only by offering a different sound than longtime fans have grown accustomed to, but also by creating a futurist fable. Plot points and imaginative lyrics aside, Riders is still musically recognizable as a Sword album.

"Sure, the other records were sonically more aggressive, but we're trying to tell a story here," laughs Cronise. "We don't really have plans to continue with this story, but maybe in 15 years when our career is lagging, we'll release Warp Riders 2."

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