Releasing a concept album is one of the diciest games a band can play — there's a thin, frail line between ambitious, intelligent storytelling and haplessly overdoing a bad idea. Austin four-piece the Sword give it a shot with this their first concept album and third full-length overall.
The Archer is a sparely sketched loner who journeys through the galaxy for some reason that involves a mystical orb. The Sword unravel his saga with all the pageantry they can muster: planets in dark space, witches, mercenaries, Greek mythological figures, and track titles like "(The Night Sky Cried) Tears of Fire" and "The Chronomancer I: Hubris." It's all accompanied by rough-edged but uninventive heavy metal that moves with lively speed and gives every performer lots to do.
Warp Riders is overcooked — it screams "Epic!!!" by demanding epic riffs, epic characters, and epic turns of phrase — but that's what makes it kind of appealing. With their Frank Frazetta–esque cover art, tenacious playing, and tracks about space pirates, the Sword pay adoring tribute to an awestruck brand of decades-old metal — the kind that squeezes entire new worlds into song, giving you something peculiar to visualize while headbanging. As a wholly serious project, Warp Riders is self-indulgent and only passable. The real concept here is some guys concocting a grandiose sci-fi metal saga. That's what makes this release entertaining and endearingly sincere.