The Sword, a stoner-metal band from Austin, Texas, was a surprise hit at the Bonnaroo Music Festival back in June. Despite playing mid-afternoon to an overheated crowd standing in a blowing pit of loose sand, the Sword’s churning riffage and doomtastic songs created more of a party than an uber-aggressive vibe.
Guys in front of me passed around a costume Viking helmet with horns and blonde braids as part of the Nordic-metal-influenced fun. And when the Sword wrapped their set with a cover of ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses,” the band’s heavy-metalized version of the party-rock classic couldn’t have sounded better.
There were no ZZ Top covers during the Sword’s Northern Lights show, sadly, but singer-guitarist J.D. Cronise — a skinny guy with a ’70s sitcom moustache — was wearing a vintage t-shirt from his fellow Texan band. (Sword guitarist Kyle Shutt opted for more traditional metal-wear: a Dio shirt.)
In front of a decent-sized crowd, warmed up ably by local acts Skeletons in the Piano, Ironweed and Maggot Brain, the Sword stuck to originals drawn primarily from three full-length releases: 2006’s “Age of Winters,” 2008’s “Gods of the Earth” and last year’s “Warp Riders.”
All dark songs with fantasy, sci-fi and mythological themes, skull-crushing beats and dual-precision guitar work, highlights included the punishing “Sea of Spears,” from a split EP released by the Sword and Swedish doom-metal band Witchcraft, the bouncier “Freya” (which takes its name from the Scandinavian goddess with a cat-driven chariot) and the Black Sabbath-esque “Night City.”
It was an appealing blend of Texas-burnout hard rock crossed with icy Nordic metal, played at an exceptional volume.
Yes, you know a show’s loud when you try to walk toward the center of the room — wearing earplugs — but are blown back by vibrations that rattle your ribs so hard you fear a heart attack. Or when you watch an empty beer can spin in circles, untouched by human hands, across a ledge along the wall, driven by vibrations alone.
Only previous shows by Motorhead and the Melvins at Northern Lights were louder… maybe.
But again, the Sword brought a positive vibe; aside from one moshpit scuffle that led to a quick ejection, all was feel-good. “Head bangers unite!” yelled one fan as show-goers in Dio and Iron Maiden t-shirts filtered out at the end to the sounds of Steely Dan’s “Night by Night” playing over the sound system.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
THE SWORD SET LIST
Acheron/Unearthing the Orb
How Heavy This Axe
Arrows in the Dark
The Horned Goddess
Sea of Spears
Maiden, Mother & Crone
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