By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — There are few things in heaven and earth that mercurial metal outfit The Sword hasn’t dreamt of, especially when it comes to harnessing sheer sonic horsepower. So it comes as no surprise that the ambitious Austin-natives have taken some interesting detours over the course of their artistic careers. As if sharing the stage with the likes of Nebula, Lamb of God and Metallica, and being featured on a version of the Guitar Hero videogame, wasn’t thrill enough, The Sword went ahead and released their own hot sauce, Tears of Fire (featuring the infamous “ghost pepper” a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia). According to guitarist Kyle Shutt, the band’s passion for fine food and drink has only intensified following the overwhelmingly positive response to the launch of their Winter’s Wolves Beer and Iron Swan Ale.
“We have a new beer coming out; our second with the Real Ale Brewing Company,” says Shutt. “It’s called ‘Ghost Eye’ and it’s a heavy oatmeal stout. It seemed like the perfect time of year to do a dark winter beer. We’d love to try and put out our own coffee, too. The guys and I are always joking about starting our own foodie show like ‘Kyle’s Cooking Minute,’ where I stumble off stage after drinking half a bottle of whiskey and try to prepare a tasty dish.”
But, seriously, folks.
“We’ve also been working on a 7-inch for the next Record Store Day. It’s a souped-up rendition of the old song ‘John the Revelator’ and I think people will really get a kick out of it. Other than that we’ve been toying with the idea of putting out an acoustic EP with alternative versions of the High Country songs.”
A singularly electrifying album, The Sword’s riff-roping 2015 release, High Country possesses all of the broad strokes and fantastical trappings that have made the band a mainstay of the modern stadium rock genre. Rangy vocalist John “JD” Cronise, bassist/synth-player Bryan Richie and drummer Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III once again possed-up with neon-cowboy Shutt for a ribald space-metal-western epic. The resultant tracks, including the radiant furrows of “Unicorn Farm”, divine thunder of “Empty Temples,” harrowing title track and fulsome contrition of “Tears Like Diamonds,” are remarkable achievements in any realm of the imagination.
“We had spent a lot of time on tour over the past five years and decided it was time to take a break,” Shutt explains of the three-year run-up to their latest album.
“JD moved to Nashville, Jimmy went and got his scuba diving certification and Bryan bought a new house an hour north of Austin. We had all given so much, it was time to take a year off to figure out our personal lives and get inspired. Once we were able to relax and focus on songwriting again we found that we had written more songs than we needed to make an album. I think that High Country was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, in a good way. We couldn’t agree on which songs to keep, so we threw up our hands and put it all on there.”
By Shutt’s account, the “all-in” approach to arranging High Country’s 15 chapters didn’t necessarily sit well with some fans. Produced under the guidance of Adrian Quesada and mix-master J. Robbins, who also produced the band’s previous album, Apocryphon (2012), High Country intentionally veers from the quartet’s customary chainmail-and-chalice formula in favour of a more classic hard rock sound.
“There’s a difference between a bad review and one that just misses the point,” he surmises.
“As an artist you’ve got to figure that even if people are complaining about your work at least they’re talking about it, so you must be doing something right. Always, since day one, we did what we wanted to do and made the records we wanted to listen to. We took all of our favourite bands and lumped them into some catchy, galloping, Thin Lizzy-versus-Black Sabbath-thing when no one else around us was doing that.”
A Texas-sized triumph with a retro-futuristic flare, the “tuned-up” Nashville peaks and boogie-down valleys of High Country are as unfettered as they are memorable. Something that guitarist Shutt attributes to the creative bond he shares with his daring and occasionally defiant bandmates.
“Our communication on this album was at an all-time high. We bounced a lot of concepts off of each other and began consciously talking about songwriting in a way we hadn’t before. We wanted to do something new and different on High Country. We’ve never done a double-LP before, but we were supposed to do a soundtrack for some biker gang, Satan worship kind of film and it fell through. We decided to continue with the work anyways; fleshed-out all of the instrumental tracks and explored every idea we came across. By the end, we fell in love with everything we’d done. Hollywood, we’re definitely open to doing soundtracks. Call us.”
The Sword perform at Dickens in Calgary on March 29, at the Starlite Room in Edmonton on March 30, at O’Brians Event Centre in Saskatoon on April 1, and at the Pyramid Cabaret in Winnipeg on April 2.AB, Alberta, Dickens, Kyle Shutt, Manitoba, MB, O'Brian's Event Centre, Pyramid Cabaret, Starlite Room, The Sword