The Sword is an unapologetic indulgence of everything you want from a metal band. The riffs are blazing, the beats hardcore, the lyrics talk about mythical goddesses with holy nectar flowing from their celestial teats, and they've even released a science fiction concept album. While it's impossible to ignore the Sword's influences — Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, natch — trying to put this Austin, Texas-based band into a neat little box is an exercise in futility, possibly because of the differences among its albums.
For Sword singer-guitarist J.D. Cronise, the band's ever-evolving style is just a natural progression. "We just write what we feel like writing," he says. "It would be forced if we tried to make each album the same."
The heavy metal outfit has come a long way since forming in 2003, when they immediately won over the Austin music scene. The Sword's first and second albums, Age of Winters (2006) and Gods of Earth (2008), drew heavily on Norse stories. Musically, those two discs were a cacophony of sound, specializing in heavy riffs and cymbal crashes. "Our earlier music was fantasy and doom oriented," says Cronise. "We presented vignettes with a lot of energy that would make for colorful imagery."
Cronise and company turned down the concussive thrash jams for their third album, Warp Riders (2010), and it's where the Sword really came into their own. "It was a challenge," says Cronise, "which was ironic because originally it was supposed to be easier."
A sci-fi concept album, Warp Riders forced Cronise and company to follow a narrative from the start of the album to the end. "It was kind of like a big jigsaw puzzle. It was fun, but it's not something we'll be doing again soon. Not that we won't ever make a concept album again," the singer-guitarist says.
Even though the Sword sings about Norse gods and sci-fi tropes, the band avoids some of metaldom's more stage-friendly trappings. "A lot of metal is like theater. For us, the music is the show," Cronise says. "We don't have stage personas. We're just musicians playing our music in front of people."
And that attitude has allowed the Sword to evolve over the years. "Our present music has a lot more philosophical and metaphysical themes than just battles, wizards, and that kind of thing." Cronise says. "Whenever you start a band, you want to have a band or a group of bands as a starting point. If you don't have a focus it can be a problem, but once you've got that down you're free to explore. If all you do is sound like Black Sabbath, then you'll never progress."
The group's songwriting philosophy really shines through in Apocryphon. The album builds on the sounds in Warp Riders and comes out swinging and shredding, especially in the album's single, "The Veil of Isis."
Cronise admits that some music fans want their favorite bands to keep on playing the same thing, but, he says, Sword fans are different. "I think most of our fans enjoy that we change it up."
As far as Cronise is concerned, "fans should play no role whatsoever" in deciding a band's sound. "That's one thing that has become more prevalent in recent times with social media, but I don't think Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, or any of the bands that influenced us ever polled their audience to find out what their fans wanted," he says.
For Cronise, a band's art should be its own. "If people like it, that's great, but it should come from you," he says. "We love our fans, and we're stoked that they're stoked. But we're the ones driving the ship."