Friday, October 26, 2012

The Sword - Apocryphon

Hey, I defended you turds. Stop sucking

Okay, one superficial thing I want to get out of the way really quickly: I adore The Sword's album covers.  Seriously, they've gotten better and better since the debut.  Age of Winters's stained glass affair was cool but nothing particularly special, Gods of the Earth was adorned with a really striking painting that instantly made me want to hear the album (plus I have an affinity for album covers unblemished with band logos or album titles), Warp Riders was just a damn awesome throwback to OG sci-fi (and for a very stupid personal connection, it really reminded me of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read in grade school), and now with their fourth album, Apocryphon, it's just the essence of cool.  Look at that, the colors pop, the figure in the middle stands prominent, the ruins beneath are drab and scattered like dusty old toys, it's just very striking and sticks in your mind after the very first time you see it.

And sadly, that's about the extent of the praise I can give to Apocryphon.  The Sword made a huge splash with their first album, basically roaring from out of nowhere to make this huge mainstream presence with a style that is both incredibly easy to write and done to death, so they rightly earned a staunch number of non-fans right off the bat for their perceived posturing and media-friendliness.  Personally, I found Age of Winters to be a flawed gem.  The drumming style was intrusive and headache inducing, the lyrics were shallower than a petri dish, and the vocals sounded tired and lacking in passion, but the riffs where so memorable and fun and the songwriting was so devilishly catchy that I found it hard to hate the album despite the very valid complaints.  Now, I haven't reviewed the albums since then because I was never able to find much else to say that I hadn't said already about Age of Winters.  The Sword has been so focused on growing beards and trying to find different wordings of lyrics they'd already written that they forgot to write any new songs.  Gods of the Earth was an incredibly dull album, with maybe one track I remember liking at all, and even with that I can't quite remember the name of it ("Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzepherians" or something equally stupid), and Warp Riders, while at least being more energetic than its predecessor, still carried an overwhelmingly thick essence of deja vu and had very few standout tracks.  Well the fact that I didn't skip over this newest album shows promise, right?

Wrong.  This is the same problem that's been plaguing The Sword for six years now, they've done fuck all in the way of evolving since their inception.  Their genre on MA is split as "stoner/doom metal (early), stoner/heavy metal (later)", which blows my mind because their albums are all practically indistinguishable from one another.  It's a shame because I really did like that first album, but now essentially all the charm and charisma they had has been worn away with the overuse of ideas.  These riffs are on their thirtieth run through the grinder, it's time to give it a rest already, fellas.  Try something different, anything, I don't care.  Make a trip hop song, write a high octane ode to your fetishistic love of caramel apples, a ballad about poodles, just... anything other than another midpaced Sleep/High on Fire song about space or mythic gods.  It's so played out, we get it.  The lyrics still haven't improved from the amateurish slapdash style exhibited early on in their career, so it's essentially the same flawed album for the fourth straight time.

What makes flawed things valuable is their rarity.  Into the Unknown by Bad Religion is difficult to find and highly expensive because it's a strange album that is leagues away from what the otherwise consistent band has ever done.  The Yellow Goat Head Bathory LPs?  Every metal fan knows about those and the exorbitant prices collectors are willing to shell out on ebay for them.  I'm sure there's some misprinted "Bonus Vagner" baseball card in some dusty old bat's attic that Wayne Gretzky would be willing to pay another twelve quadrillion dollars for.  The thing is, if ol' Honus was misprinted on every single card produced that year, it wouldn't be a rare valuable, it'd be a defective batch of cards.  This fourth straight album full of the exact same ideas executed in the exact same way with the exact same shortcomings shows that The Sword is a defective band.  They lack the creativity and exuberance to write anything ear catching or worthwhile nowadays.  The shit drumming and agonizingly bad lyrics were more of just a funny quirk on Age of Winters, whereas since then they've been cemented as integral to the band's identity.  This is distracting and the one huge problem with the band overall, not just little nitpicky shit like a boring song here and there.  Their very existence has been rendered redundant by none other than the band themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are indeed some things I enjoy about Apocryphon.  I think the closing title track is great.  Nearly every vibrant riff on the album (that the band used to sneeze out three times per track) seems to have been crammed into these five minutes, and I know it's weird but I love the silly little beep boop noises in the intro and bridge.  "Dying Earth" is probably the most energetic song on the album, with the highest tempo and most aggressive riffing, and it stands out because despite what the band aims for, I've always thought their fastest stuff was among their best ("Iron Swan" is doubtlessly the best track on the debut, for example).  And lastly "Hawks & Serpents" goes for more of a rock n' roll feel and benefits greatly from it.  Not only because it's something different from the low/mid tempo vaguely stonerish riffs we're normally treated to, but because the band is surprisingly pretty good at writing more rock oriented numbers.  It rides on no more than one main riff for most of the duration but it works very well and never gets grating.

But those are merely three tracks out of the ten on display, and the remaining seven are utterly forgettable in every way.  Those lyrics I complained about being amateurish and lazy are paradoxically inconsequential on this album, as I thought "Arcane Montane" and "The Hidden Masters" were instrumental the first two times I listened to this album.  They just blur by, nothing hooks you, nothing catches your attention, nothing fights for the spotlight, it's just one drab, grey mass of music buzzing past your ears.  Those two songs, by the way, are placed next to each other in the tracklist.  What's that tell you when two straight songs pass through my ears, barely measuring so much as an idle twitch from my... uhh, music receptors in my brain or whatever.  I can't even point out any particularly bad  moments on the album, all but the three tracks highlighted in the previous paragraph are completely lifeless and dull mid tempo stoner metal songs, that's all there really is to it.

It's honestly so much harder to review a mediocre or boring album than a truly bad one, and this is just so pointless of a record that I can barely justify ranting what I have.  I don't carry any vitriol for Apocryphon, I really don't, but I guarantee you that after I hit the "publish" button, I'll never be listening to it again.  Fans who have remained fans across the previous three records will adore this, as it's essentially Live Free or Age the Winterser with a Vengeance.  For non-fans, this won't sway you at all.  I can give the album at least a small bit of credit because there are a full three songs I like this time around, which is about as many from the previous two combined.  I really think The Sword needs to either drastically change up the writing process or take a break and work on side projects or something.  They need fresh ideas, or maybe an entirely new perspective.  The hipstery neckbearded drummer left, true, but clearly he wasn't the driving force behind the writing, because the replacement is nearly unidentifiable.  I wouldn't have noticed there was a new drummer had I not looked up their lineup to see if it was the same four chumps since the beginning.  That's a testament to what this album is, just another faceless replacement while they fund their prostitute habit.

RATING - 39%

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