It’s been a long day which has tossed me hither and yon but I am determined to deliver a music review before my pumpkin bursts.
Disc 1133 is… Apocryphon
Artist: The Sword
Year of Release: 2012
What’s up with the Cover? All kinds of awesome. We’ve got the classic “Sword” logo, arched over a mysterious sorceress. She’s conjured a couple of floating runes and a triangle of fire out of the ruins of a collapsed statue or temple. Also, she appears to be asking us to keep it down. Maybe the Sword are her neighbours and she’s tired of them jamming at all hours of the night.
How I Came To Know It: I discovered the band through their “Age of Winters” album (reviewed back at Disc 1055) and this was just me drilling through their collection.
How It Stacks Up: I have four albums by The Sword and I rank “Apocryphon” second overall.
Ratings: 4 stars
Heft: there’s nothing like it. Like a tidal wave, or a load of bricks, or the 440 V8 in a 1968 Dodge Charger, you can’t resist it. The Sword’s fourth album “Apocryphon” has heft. It digs in, thick and visceral and unleashes a torrent of chugging heavy metal riffs that are awesome and inexorable.
The Sword is part of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal or NWOTHM (yeah, they could use a better acronym). This music has its feet planted firmly in the birth of metal, channeling the early sludge of Black Sabbath, the grind of Motorhead and the fantastical bombast of Iron Maiden. Don’t expect to be surprised by creative new melodic structures – these guys know what makes traditional metal great and they stay within it. Thudding drums, power-chord fuelled guitars and churning energy that feels like the earth’s gravitational pull; diffuse yet irresistible.
Unlike some metal bands, “Apocryphon” is not a bunch of prima donna virtuosos playing their instruments. Instead, the focus is on all four band members coming together to create a singular crunch.
Jimmy Vela’s drums have the dull thud of early Bill Ward and guitarist Kyle Shutt eschews fast-fingered solos in favour of a groove that fits right in with Vela’s boom-sticks. Thickening up them both is Bryan Richie on bass. Lead singer JD Cronise doesn’t have Bruce Dickinson operatic chops, but he has an echoing quality that is the perfect match for his band-mates. Cronise channels early Ozzy but it isn’t derivative so much as it is the next step in the slow furling of blues and metal into a single organism.
As for lyrics, “Apocryphon” keeps up the fine Sword tradition of fantasy and horror fueled excess. Cronise sits in the pocket and fills all that crazy with import and urgency, like you’ve been invited to some Mithraic right. It is either going to end in shots of Jack Daniels or the bloody sacrifice of a bull and both seem equally likely. Okay, more likely the bull.
It isn’t easy to make this stuff work, but Cronise (aided by the crunch of the band) sells lines like:
“She wore a cloak of feathers
And rode a mare of purest white
A silver chalice in her hand
A look of sadness in her eyes”
“So strikes the Queen of the Air
Like a blow from a titan’s hammer”
What are all these songs about? As with Dio songs (another clear influence) it isn’t clear, but it seems Super Important. Mostly it feels like you are witnessing the human race stagger into terrible eldritch secrets we were never meant to know but that we can’t help pursue; the riffs are just too cool to resist.
Sometimes with metal I find myself drawn into the music, and other times the lyrics catch my attention, but with “Apocryphon” I feel tugged equally in both directions. The mix is nice and steady and Cronise sings with clarity and purpose. Any one of these songs could be the beginning of some fantasy novel I would have read as a kid, and I bet if I’d heard these guys when I was 10 they’d be my favourite. OK, maybe not my favourite (Blue Oyster Cult, you will always have my heart) but you get the idea.
My only quibble is with the record packaging. The cover art is cool, but it is on one of those cardboard covers that slide over the jewel case and has no song listing. When you slide that off, the songs are only listed in clever puzzles where the initials in the song’s title are drawn together so they appear to be runes of some kind. Like “The Hidden Masters” is the “T”, “H” and M” all pulled together so it looks like an ancient Norse character. Sheila deciphered it with ease so kudos to her top-notch puzzle-solving skills, but shame on the band for being deliberately obtuse. Next time put your clever rune riddles beside the track listing, not instead of it.
Otherwise, there isn’t much not to like on “Apocryphon”. I’ve had a draining few days but every time I’ve had the time to get “Apocryphon” between my ears I’ve been renewed and invigorated. This is music for raising your fist and sounding your barbaric yawp. Bust out the silver chalices and toast the return of metal, molten and primordial.
Best tracks: Cloak of Feathers, The Hidden Masters, Execrator, Hawks & Serpents, Eye of the Stormwitch, Apocryphon