HEADY METAL: If anyone can show Metallica how to re-bottle their lightning, the Sword can.
Let’s say your band are named the Sword, your albums have titles like Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, and your latest single is “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians.” Would these count as hazardous levels of irony?
“There’s no irony at all!” says drummer Trivett Wingo. And he’s serious, or at least as serious as Bruce Dickinson or Robert Plant or any of metal’s storied mythmakers has been. Although this Austin quartet have existed as the Sword only since 2003, they’ve shot to a lofty position in the metal hierarchy by sticking to the old-fashioned way of doing things: presenting, with a poker face, a 20-sided fret-burning obsession with Fantasy that has even the most wizened Gygaxians consulting their Monster Manuals.
“People spend far too much time thinking about music rather than actually experiencing it,” laments Wingo. “It’s supposed to be a ritualistic counter-cerebral thing, like when you’re in the fucking cosmic dance with Shiva, fucking rocking out to some Zeppelin jams, you know what I’m saying?”
It would seem that Lars Ulrich does. “Lars is pretty much obsessed with the Sword, and he mentioned that Metallica had been listening to a fair amount of us when they were writing [their forthcoming Rick Rubin–produced LP], so I’m interested in seeing if it has any kind of Sword inspiration on it. I wouldn’t be too surprised.”
Bold words for someone so new on the scene — but if it takes an army of handlers to instruct a middle-aged Metallica on how to rebottle the lightning they rode in on 20 years ago, the Sword have that shit covered. Which is probably why they’re opening for Metallica across Eastern Europe this summer.
A cursory listen to Gods of the Earth might support Wingo’s casual assertion that the Sword’s æsthetic is “confined to the past” — if “the past” refers to the rehearsals for Master of Puppets. Much as with Master, multiple tunes begin with acoustic arpeggios that give way to chugging bombast, with lengthy excursions into gorgeously morose twin-guitar Black Forest Old World classicism. And echoing the Lord of the Rings shout-outs in Zep’s “Ramble On” and Iron Maiden’s odes to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” the Sword indulge themselves in literary reference: “Beyond the Black River” and “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” are named after and themed on short stories by Conan creator and author Robert E. Howard; “To Take the Black” is from author George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s enough to inspire young metalheads to visit a library. Well, almost.
How does this fit in with what’s going on now in underground metal? And how does it fit in with an increasingly historically conscious metal fanbase, one that can catch references, sniff out irony, and peg influences?