(Originally written for Reverb1)
Like fans of science fiction and fantasy literature, metalheads tend to enjoy a lack of buyer’s remorse. You pick up a hardcover of fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin’s latest, you should have a good idea of what you’re in for. The same goes for those who plunk down $12 for a copy of the Sword’s new LP, “Apocryphon.”
Just as George R.R. Martin has become the modern face of fantasy thanks to HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Sword has flirted with the magazine rack more than any metal band since Metallica. Turns out, this is no coincidence. Not only did Metallica pave the way for any semblance of mainstream metal success, but they threw the Sword the holy grail of an opening slot for Metallica’s 2008 world tour.
Tuesday night at the Bluebird, the Sword were the ones atop the marquee. Opening duty belonged to fellow Austinites American Sharks and Pasadena, CA’s Gypsyhawk, who both proved worthy of guarding the throne room for metal’s heir apparent. Gypsyhawk in particular sounded like a Pandora suggestion for the Sword, complete with the skull-crushing power chords and yes, an ode to Game of Thrones (see: “Hedgeking”), which had fans nodding in recognition and approval.
Still, nobody does high-fantasy riffing like the Sword. With little introduction, the band entered the fray with the eponymous final track from “Apocryphon”—as apt a show opener as it is an album conclusion—before plunging into the mythology of “Freya,” from the group’s George RR Martin-inspired debut “Age of Winters.” “Freya” embodies the Sword perhaps more than any other song in their catalogue: heavy, head-banging riffs blasted over low-mix vocals about dead warriors and enchanted weaponry. If you didn’t know the words before the show Tuesday night, tough luck: lead singer J.D. Cronise’s voice sank even further below than on their albums, about six feet under the dominating skirmish of drums and guitars.
But it being a metal show and not, say, an evening with Andrea Bocelli, they had their priorities straight. When “Tres Brujas” ignited the pit, it wasn’t because of Cronise’s pipes; it was the instruments. Part of the reason metal shows are so un-girdling is the near 1:1 conversion of sound to energy, and to do it right, you need to free up some amp space. The murky vocals mattered even less when they covered ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses” in their second encore, the lyrics of which are likely tattooed on more than a few of the seasoned show-goers in the audience.
Old or young, the show had something for everyone. Like true professionals and proper heir-apparents, the Sword hit the sweet spot and allowed the sold-out hall at the Bluebird Theater a chance to loose their battle cries. The fans loved it. The only other place you’d find a similar level of devotion is maybe next week’s midnight release of “The Hobbit.” And even then, I’d expect to see a few Gypsyhawk t-shirts.