Saturday, September 30, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1055: The Sword

It’s been a good week for music. On Wednesday I took in a New Pornographers concert which was pretty good. It didn’t blow me away, but they played well and it was a fun time. The opening act was Born Ruffians who were also solid. The crowd seemed to appreciate both, with many fans singing along every word, which was cool. It is always great when you see someone enjoying their favourite band.

New Pornographers aren’t my favourite band, but I like them. I’ve got two of their albums and their new one is solid and will soon grace my collection as well.

On to the next review as I continue to renew my love of heavy metal.

Disc 1055 is…Age of Winters
Artist: The Sword

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover? An Art Nouveau-style painting of a beautiful blonde woman reclining, sword and shield nearby. Perhaps this is a Valkyrie on a coffee break? If so I hope she puts on some leather boots before she heads back out to collect the souls of those fallen in battle, because battlefields can be littered with all kinds of sharp objects.

How I Came To Know It: About ten months ago I was looking something up on Youtube (I don’t remember what, but some metal album) and “Age of Winters” popped up as “recommended for you”. I gave it a chance and loved what I heard.

How It Stacks Up:  The Sword have five albums, and I own four of them (yeah, I fell for them pretty hard). Of those four I put “Age of Winters” third; Solid, but two others are that much better.

Ratings: 3 stars

Ever wonder what had happened to good old straight forward heavy metal? Well about a year ago, I did. Sure there are other kinds of metal that was birthed out of those early years. Doom metal, thrash metal, speed metal and death metal to name just a few. Lots of good stuff in there, but I was looking for that pure stuff – like what if eighties metal hadn’t died, but had just grown louder?

“Age of Winters” is the trunk of that metal tree, still alive and kicking. Called by some “the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal,” this is music that takes eighties metal riffs and makes them thicker and crunchier than ever before. No one does it better than the Sword, and “Age of Winters” is the album that got them started.

Musically, this stuff is three chords and a cloud of dust. Drums shake the earth, and guitars pound out basic riffs and assault your ear drums. When you think you’ve had your fill of riffs, the Sword shoves a few more down your throat. Eat it! Like it! If that sounds aggressive, that’s the point. This is music to mosh to. Plant your feet and sweat through your t-shirt while you let it soak into your spine and organs until it becomes part of you.

Care for a guitar solo? Well, there aren’t many of those on “Age of Winters,” just a series of competing riffs playing back and forth off each other. The boys play so tight, though, that you don’t miss any of the usual digital wizardry of other metal bands. Instead they focus on deep blues riffs, electrified and infused with iron ore and blood.

Care for some vocal gymnastics? Not much of that either. Writer and lead singer J.D. Cronise doesn’t have the operatic vocal range of a Rob Halford or Bruce Dickenson. However, he does know how to write a song that suits his more rhythm driven style. The influence of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath is obvious in Cronise’s delivery, but he adds a doom metal grimness that makes it all his own.

The whole thing is gloriously heavy, chugging along without ever descending into the stew that is Doom Metal, never furiously noodling its way into Thrash Metal but finds a nice common ground with both. Slow and heavy wins the race, my friends.

Lyrically, “Age of Winters” is all about fantasy, sorcery and – yes – swords, all of which painted with ridiculously majestic language. Here is some good stuff from the opening of “Lament for the Aurochs”:

“Laboring in the liquid light of leviathan
Spectres swarm around the sunken cities of the saurians
Rising from the void through the blackness of eternal night
Colossus of the deep comes crashing down with cosmic might.”

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it sounds really fucking important, and more than a little Lovecraftian. Even the instrumental “March of the Lor” has eight movements. These are:
  1. Through the Breach
  2. Iron Ships on Seas of Blood
  3. Invocation of Halora
  4. The Black Web is Spun
  5. Misery of the Plague-Born
  6. The Spiders’ Descent
  7. Conquest of Kingdoms
  8. Age of Winters
This list of themes could cover a whole prog album for an hour but “Age of Winters” sorts it all out in a single instrumental in less than five minutes.

Despite the rather ambitious mythology the Sword is trying to create, there isn’t a lot of complicated arrangements going on with “Age of Winters.” This is straight ahead punch-you-in-the-nose metal, thick and heavy like metal should be. While later albums by The Sword would be more musically interesting, there is a lot to be said for “Age of Winters” pure and furious energy. I liked it a lot and if you enjoy metal, so will you.

Best tracks: Freya, Winter’s Wolves, Lament for the Aurochs, Ebethron

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