Since their debut 2006 album, Age of Winters, Texas doom/stoner metallers The Sword have been a favourite of critics and fans alike. A heady mix exhibiting the best qualities of doom metal, stoner metal, and 70s hard rock, and drawing lyrical inspiration from everything from Norse mythology to the works of HP Lovecraft, The Sword are masters of their fuzzy, riff-laden craft. Their fourth album, Apocryphon, comes on the heels of the not-quite-universally-acclaimed Warp Riders, an amazing space epic that had its feet planted firmly in the classic rock genre, but left some fans who felt it wasn’t “metal” enough disappointed.
Apocryphon is a clear step back in the metal direction, but still retains some of the 70s hard rock feel explored on Warp Riders. The Sword is often compared to Sabbath, and from the outset of the album this comparison is unavoidable. Apocryphon opens with the driving ‘The Veil of Isis’, a five and a half minute head-banging epic that culminates in some blazing solo work over extra heavy riffage. Next up is ‘Cloak of Feathers’, another five and half minute tune driven by another tasty, Sabbath-evoking riff. Clearly epic, groovy riffs are to be the order of the day on Apocryphon. The third track, ‘Arcane Montane’, kicks off with a noticeably funkier groove, and features some righteous soloing about two minutes and fifty seconds into the song. The album’s tempo slows down with track four, ‘The Hidden Masters’, a typical stoner metal song that features yet another killer riff at its heart. The fifth track, ‘Dying Earth’, is typical Sword number, and the riff played at the beginning and end of the song might just be the grooviest of the album. At under three minutes, ‘Excrator’ is the shortest song on the album, but don’t let that fool you, the sixth track is also one of the heaviest. The seventh track, ‘Seven Sisters’, is another slower-paced, doomy stoner song, and while it’s certainly not groundbreaking, it’s one of my favourites on the album. Track eight, ‘Hawks & Serpents’, is another favourite. A four and a half minute song, ‘Hawks & Serpents’ is much more classically “metal” sounding, and at times exhibits strong NWOBHM influences. It’s easily one of the album’s standouts. The ninth song on the album, ‘Eyes of the Stormwitch’, not only has a wicked name, but is also a great stoner metal track, typical of the materiel on the band’s first two albums. The tenth and final track, ‘Apocryphon’, is definitely the album’s star. Talk about saving the best for last, it’s arguably one of the best songs in their entire catalogue. Opening with an awesome 70s style synth intro, ‘Apocryphon’ exhibits everything that makes The Sword great.
Overall Apocrayphon is a very strong album. The Sword have obviously continued to sharpen their excellent writing skills and have produced an album filled with interesting and creative songs. It might be their most dynamic album yet, thriving on a perfect juxtaposition between speed/thrash metal-influenced intensity, doom metal gloominess, and stoner rock groove. Few metal bands display such a remarkable amount of artistic growth in only four albums, and if The Sword continue on this trajectory, their fifth album, whatever and whenever that may be, will surely be a defining highlight of the genre.