The Sword carves out fresh new sound

High Country fuses retro-rock and metallic grandeur


Album: High Country

Artist: The Sword

Label: Razor & Tie

Release Date: August 21

Grade: A+

On its fifth studio album, Texas metal outfit The Sword eschews some of the heaviness of its earlier works, but loses none of its power.

After four albums of traditional metal since the band’s 2006 debut, High Country sees The Sword successfully reinvent its sound in a broader musical context.

The band works to expand its sound wider than metal’s often-insular audience, with forays into blues, psychedelia and hard rock that faithfully recall the rock sounds of the late ’60s and ’70s.

From the first fuzz-drenched notes of the instrumental intro “Unicorn Farm”, it’s clear High Country sets its ambitions beyond those of a normal metal album. The decidedly atypical percussion, pulsating electronics and swampy production have more in common with the lo-fi psychedelic rock of Tame Impala than the doomy brand of retro-metal The Sword have played on previous studio albums.

Helmed by guitarist and vocalist John D. Cronise, High Country progresses through riff-fueled escapades into lush lyrical worlds inspired by Cronise’s love for myth and fantasy literature.

Cronise’s voice, although not remarkable, perfectly complements the music.

Throughout the album, his vocals take backseat to the riffs as the driving force for melodies. Though all band members give strong performances, the guitar work is unarguably the high point of the album.

Cronise, along with fellow axeman Kyle Shutt, form the center of each track with monolithic, dominating riffs.

Drummer Santiago "Jimmy" Vela III uses a driving hard rock style that avoids the double-bass excesses of metal, while still retaining an impressive rhythmic intensity.

Bryan Richie’s bass is sometimes lost in the distorted murk of the guitars and organs, but his synth work melds beautifully with the guitars to create an otherworldly atmosphere.

No song on High Country will have you reaching for the next button, but there are many standouts: opener “Empty Temples”, the title track; the organ-heavy “Seriously Mysterious”; blistering instrumental “Suffer No Fools”; the horns at the climax of “Early Snow”; Beatles-esque instrumental “Silver Petals”; and “Ghost Eye”.

On High Country, The Sword carves itself out as a new band that blends metal’s grandeur with classic rock’s melodic sensibilities, hoping to win new fans and satisfy old ones.

Breaking away from the rigid style that often accompanies metal music, High Country is a perfect marriage of old and new, aggressive and melodic, straightforward and complex.

Five albums into its career, The Sword is a band promising to reach new heights.

The Sword will be playing in Buffalo’s Town Ballroom on Dec 5.

Luke Heuskin is a staff writer and can be reached at