By Joel Barrios, Rock At Night Miami Correspondent
Venue: The Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale, Florida–May 10, 2016
Texan rockers The Sword have been receiving critical praise since their formation in 2003. While commonly labeled as a doom metal band, The Sword has also been identified as an example of the “classic metal” movement of stoner rock artists influenced by early metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer. They are one of the greatest nerdish stoner metal bands of our time — their lyrics have embraced the obligatory maidens, witches, warlocks and other denizens of medieval and magical lore with an utter lack of irony. In recent years, following the departure of original drummer (and founding member) Trivett Wingo, the band have gradually moved away from writing tales into a direction that included focusing on items such as different harmonies, added percussions, and enhanced synthesizers – a path that coincidentally is more commercially successful and easy to market, but at the same time illuminates their notorious guitar licks. They have steadily ascended the ranks to the upper echelons of metal bands and their live show is one of the reasons why Metallica handpicked them to play their Orion Music + More festival in 2012. I’ve been loosely following The Sword since Age of Winters, but I had yet to see them live.
I got to the venue merely 3 or 4 minutes before they started. The excitement was palpable as the audience sweated together in close quarters against the stage waiting for the band to show up. The High Country opener “Unicorn Farm” started to play over the PA and slowly the band members appeared and took positions. The crowd again took it in stride and the show began with the band treating longtime fans with the hard-hitting favorite “Tres Brujas”. In heavy metal, nothing is more potent than the almighty guitar riff. Sure, a stylish solo will stand out, vocals that raise your hackles are effective and great drumming is always cool. But what get us waving our imaginary guitars in the air and banging our heads are the guitar riffs. And this night The Sword seem to be a bottomless well of thunderous and unforgettable riffage that would have painted a smile in Tony Iommi’s face.
Initially a bit stiff on stage, the band continued to hammer out relentless tracks from its hefty catalog of music, with little to no breaks between songs. Since their latest album High Country is a lot softer, centered on melody rather than their trademark heavy riffs I was curious about how they were going to approach it at stage. But since the very beginning the new songs sounded just as heavy live as the old ones and the crowd seemed to have taken the new stuff into their hearts as much as the old stuff. Singer/guitarist John Cronise was a man of few words, opting to thank the crowd periodically, but leaving the storytelling to the music itself. He and guitarist Kyle Shutt swapped leads and doubled up on chugging power chords as bassist Bryan Richie played a lethal dose of grooved licks, eyes shut and lost in his own world of metal. The fans love every moment and the Culture Room remained packed through the final song. They closed their set with an impressive panoply of neck damaging cuts, and proved us all they can turn it up as loud as they choose.
While The Sword’s musical core remains firmly rooted in the depths of sludgy metal, their constantly shifting sound continues to impress me. They are a force to be reckoned with and last night they brought the roof crashing down with their skills, mesmerizing energy and tact for unrelenting riff-rocking. I left the venue with a big smile painted in my face.
- John D. Cronise – vocals, guitars
- Kyle Shutt – guitars
- Bryan Richie – bass, synthesizers
- Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III – drums, percussion
I have a big family, my happy team: my wife, four daughters and two cats.
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