Top critical review
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Tip of a Large Iceberg
on 6 November 2007
Recently it seems the relatively obscure genre of stoner metal has been creeping into more popular realms. Take for example the massive success of Mastodon, a band who, like The Sword, combine staple stoner metal with visceral classic metal. Then there are acts like High on Fire, Witch and Down all releasing huge slabs of stoner/doom tinged metal. Black Sabbath's influence is still going strong, and it seems masses still enjoy a heavy riff and groove. So, along came The Sword from Austin with their debut "Age of Winters", an album that I was fully expecting to love and wave around the mainstream yelling "here's some GOOD music". As you could have guessed from my 3 stars, I don't love this cd. In fact, I find it a rather large damp squid.
I want to talk about the album's positives firstly, as it does have some good things going. There are some songs here where the band really hit the nail, instantly recalling their classic metal and stoner influences. For example, the opening two cuts, "Celestial Crown" and "Barael's Blade" are powerful and give the album a thundering start. "The Horned Goddess" and "Iron Swan" make for a fantastic middle section, the latter being one of the best metal songs I have heard in a while. These songs are what the band should be doing all the time. Chopping and changing doom riffs, classic metal solos, big grooves etc. The backing band is superb in full flight.
Unfortunately, the band does not always deliver this. The songs I mentioned earlier showcase such penetrating riffs and writing that the utterly annoying singer's vocals are no longer important. I am able to zone out and soak up the excellent instrumentation, something I cannot do in other songs. Whoever said this guy sounds like a modern day Ozzy is talking out of their sphincter. This singer is monotonous, always singing the same pitch, tone, volume...everything. Very annoying and potentially could have ruined the album had the backing band not been as powerful. Then there is also the matter of variation. When the band hit the nail as I spoke of earlier, they are immense, they grab my attention. But, unfortunately too many songs flow past without really developing or being any more than standard stoner metal by numbers. Songs such as "Freya" and the massively overlong "Lament For The Aurochs" which goes through an unnecessary eight minutes. Then there is the issue of production. While the guitars sound deep and meaty, something any metal and stoner album requires, the annoying vocals are too far forward, and the drum cymbals are way too loud, cutting through the tones with a harsh thin treble that becomes irritating. I have seen another reviewer pick this up, so I know it is not my picky expectations. Considering this band is somewhat commercial, being given airplay and appearing on MTV, I expected a very polished production job. Finally, what do these guys look like? Cool metal dudes? No way. They look so far removed from the rest of the field, almost more indie rock than metal. I know that's picky, but I do kind of like metal bands to look badass, or at least not standard indie.
Popular stoner/classic metal a la Mastodon, High on Fire and Witch with too many flaws for me. It is a decent album, and it is nice to see this kind of music get more popularity, but this is just the tip of a very big iceberg. Go find some better stoner metal, such as Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, The Melvins, Kyuss...