It can be gimmicky sometimes, when a band releases two connected albums; it can look like contrived nonsense that meant to sell albums rather than create music. A lot of fans, myself included, really don’t like it when a band does this because it’s a sort of signal that the band has crossed over into the commercial realm. Not all bands though. Consider Opeth, before they were huge (okay they were never really underground but you understand what I mean) they released Deliverance and Damnation together, and Therion released Lemuria and Sirius B as a double album. There are times when dual albums explore something that a regular album just can’t because there isn’t time on a 50-minute album and the sounds needed to explore a certain theme don’t mesh well. Such is the case of The Sword and their albums High Country and Low Country.
Somehow the career and discography of The Sword passed me by until a few weeks ago. I don’t know how I managed to avoid them but now that I have found them I can’t seem to get enough. The music is a cross between Opeth, Earth, and Kansas. Yeah. It’s an odd combination but what else can I say? The Sword is not your normal stoner doom band. Doing my research, I found that High Country actually marked a huge change in the band’s sound and, like any band that changes over time, pissed off a few fans that decided they knew what was best for the band. After finding this out I deliberately avoided any of the older material, not because I wanted to put my head in the sand but I didn’t want my fresh take on the band to be colored by the other material. Having heard all sorts of glorification of the older material my brain was already being wired to believe that other stuff was better, or the exact opposite where I believed High Country was far superior to the older material.
High Country has a kind of western sound to it, not a genre of film that I normally gravitate to but somehow The Sword makes the whole thing appealing. They put a knight-errant gunslinger in a different light. The music has an almost religious tone to it, a worship of nature. Nature is the king of the wild, the untamable. The sound is harsh but beautiful, not unlike the gunslingers and lawmen of the western genre. High County is very Kansas-like, with that sort of vagabond sound. The guitars are sharp but slow, slow enough that every sound is accentuated and detailed. The vocals are killer, wailing and ululating (best word I can find) through the music, a shaman shouting prayers and incantations in the desert.
High Country’s evocative lyrics are some of the best poetry I’ve ever heard. It’s the imagery and symbolism follows the western motif, the lawless land against the iron will of the gunslinger. The story within the lyrics, the search by the gunslinger for redemption might very well be cliché amongst western literature but not quite in the world of western metal. It’s a refreshing, crazy take on the old story. The gunslinger is a religious man, but not a Christian, a rare pagan in the western landscape, searching for his soul for gods that are completely foreign. What he finds is up to the listener, they control the story here. They control the terrible, uncontrollable landscape. The listener-protagonist plays god here, a cruel god as the gunslinger fights his way through man, himself, and nature. The sound is rugged, echoing the story. Alone, I would have called this a triumph of musical ability but there was more to come.
Enter Low Country, a near copy of High Country, but this one is acoustic. It’s amazing what the difference a bit of distortion makes. Low Country is completely different from high country despite the fact that every song on Low Country is a repeat from High Country. The story is more intimate, the sound focuses more on the people, the secondary characters from the story in High Country. The gunslinger exists on the fringe of the story, directing events but not having any direct part in the story. The music is softer, richer and fuller. The guitars are more personal on Low Country; they play the same riffs but the sound is more intimate here.
The story is full here, complete; complete in such a way that no one album could have done. High Country and Low Country have awakened something in me, a desire to write a western story that would do justice to the music. The more I listened to The Sword, the more I felt it was not just a typical western. There were shades of Dark Tower, a bit of fantasy and horror, and Supernatural, with monsters hiding just around the corner. It’s crazy and fun, it’s dark and dreary, it’s harsh and unrepentant. I don’t know where The Sword had been but I like the direction they are going. It’s Epic Western Doom Metal, and it’s great!
Listen and support!