If there's one thing guaranteed to tick off the worldwide heavy metal community, it's bands who don't pay their dues. There is an expectation that before you attain success and recognition, you put out a few demo and independent releases; tour like dogs for no money; and generally behave in a way conducive to the metal underground.
This isn't quite what Austin, Texas quartet The Sword did: they emerged about five years ago and, very swiftly after, popped out a debut album of chunky stoner rock (think Sleep and Orange Goblin) which, it turned out, frontman JD Cronise had mostly written before the band existed. Moreover, they were signed to the Kemado label, owned by none other than the Disney corporation (although it's now an arm of Sony). Any road up, The Sword needed to rock pretty titanically to win over doubters, which they do for much of third album Warp Riders.
Tied together by the theme of a planet locked in a battle between good and evil - that's right kids, a concept album! - the band comes out fighting with majestic album artwork, akin to a 1970s sci-fi paperback, and an instrumental opening track entitled Acheron/Unearthing the Orb. All the songs are called things like that. The level of fantastical grandeur on display here is on a par with the bands who built the power metal subgenre's prototypes: Judas Priest and Richie Blackmore's Rainbow in the 70s, Iron Maiden, Manilla Road and Dio the following decade. Cronise's vocals don't quite fit this bill - they have a liquor-splashed Southern rock quality most similar to Neil Fallon of Clutch - and The Sword have by no means abandoned their previous taste for good-time boogie riffage, songs like Arrows in the Dark being the musical equivalent of a tipsy, face-wide grin.
Warp Riders is not likely to blow the mind of anyone well versed in this strain of chest-puffing metal, either in terms of originality or any member's technical ability. But The Sword have stepped up a gear with this release, and ought to crumble the defences of more than a few cynics.
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