Friday Full-Length: The Sword, Age of Winters

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 12th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

The Sword, Age of Winters (2006)

 

When The Sword released Age of Winters through Kemado Records in 2006, I interviewed the band for Metal Maniacs‘ up-and-coming section. It was a short thing, maybe a page long? I had seen the Austin, Texas, natives on their home turf either a year or two before, opening a Relapse Records showcase at SXSW which I’m pretty sure was at Room 710 — did Cephalic Carnage play that night? I think so — and dug what they were doing well enough. They were already hitting the road at that point pretty hard and getting a good response for it, so you know, you do the thing.

At the time, there weren’t a lot of younger bands breaking through, and the generation of heavy rock that was already there was well established. Here came The Sword with their long hair parted on the side, definitely of Millennial ilk, and they got tagged pretty early on as “hipster metal.” That interview I did wound up quoted in some very, very long online article raging against the metallic impurities being wrought by the next generation, as though I was part of some great conspiracy to undo the work of the trvly kvlt heavy and to sell it out to… well, I guess I didn’t read that far. Whoever? Corporations? You know they’ve been dying to get their hands on the stoner rock demographic — dudes for whom $500 is a lot of money. That’s a precious customer base.

For YouTube extremists, maybe. Also, $500 is a lot of money.

Looking back on it now, if The Sword were hipster metal, then the fucking hipsters at least right about Age of Winters. Led by riffs derived from the Melvins and Matt Pike, they mastered early the ability to make a groove sound huge by half-timing the drums, and in songs like “The Horned Goddess” and “Freya,” “March of the Lor” and the prior, eight-minute “Lament for the Auroch,” they distilled a sense of the epic in their lyrics, rhythm, and vocal and guitar harmonies to the whims of a still-raw take on heavy rock and roll. Then comprised of guitarists J.D. Cronise (also vocals) and Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie and drummer Trivett Wingo, they sounded like a band who were hungry, who wanted to engage an audience, and who were ready to speak to a generation coming of age in a way that older bands either couldn’t or refused to do. They had indie cred, definitely, and they used it to ignite a massive swath of killer heavy riffs and become arguably one of the most influential American acts of the last decade-plus.

Age of Winters wasn’t the launch of a corporate conspiracy to be fought back in a get-off-my-lawn pseudo-ownership of heavy metal. It was a rock record. And a really good one at that.

the sword age of wintersI would see The Sword here and there over the years as their ascent to the forefront of heavy rock continued. I seem to recall a show at Webster Hall at some point, which would make sense, and then I caught them with Kyuss Lives! in 2011 (review here) after they had released Gods of the Earth in 2008 and Warp Riders in 2010, trying to bridge a gap between their epic tales, sci-fi and heavy rock in a way that nobody’s still really pulled off, though plenty of noble efforts have been made along the way. In 2010, they lost Wingo on drums, which seems to have been a turning point for them stylistically and in general circumstance, as they signed to Razor & Tie for 2012’s Apocryphon and 2015’s High Country, both of which seemed to get a mixed reaction as popular bands will. 2016’s acoustic Low Country, 2017’s Greetings From… live album and last year’s Used Future found them continuing to push themselves to new ground, but I guess by then the band was 15 years on from their start and kind of running their course in the way of courses and things running them.

The Sword took a break, went on hiatus, disbanded, etc., following the release of Used Future, and in light of that, it seems all the more appropriate to look back on what they accomplished with Age of Winters, which was so solidified in its approach that it was easy to forget it was their first album. From “Celestial Crown” and “Barael’s Blade” on through the rest of the nine-song/42-minute offering, they brimmed with an energy and vitality that helped show a path forward for heavy rock and roll. “Winter’s Wolves,” the driving “Iron Swan” and the even more tense “Ebenthron” were able to take what had been done before and turn it into something fresh.

And look back at the last 15 years of heavy metal. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I’m not saying it’s all garbage or whatever, but wasn’t it time for something else? Even in the mid-aughts, metal was stagnant, and I know there are bands out there now and always doing cool stuff, but I guarantee that whatever’s pushing that sound forward isn’t someone’s idea of what “real metal” should be. That’s how it fucking happens. That’s how heavy metal happened in the first place.

My experience of The Sword, my primary association for the band in terms of what I think about when I think about them, will always be that one dude on the internet who decided he needed to write a 7,000-word screed to decry the work of a new generation, and who felt strongly enough about it to drop my name in the piece. I didn’t really listen to the band after that, so yeah. Well dude, wherever you are, whatever you’re up to, you were dead fucking wrong. The corporate infiltration you were trying to fight was already in your house, and all The Sword did was record albums and tour. Heavy metal was never threatened and even if it was, it probably deserved it. I hope you and whatever passed your rigorously constructed standards were very happy together, because you missed out on some cool shit while you were caring so hard about where someone’s hair was parted.

For the rest of everyone, as always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

It’s just about 5AM, starting to get light out. I think that’s been happening earlier? Maybe later? I don’t know which of the day is getting shorter yet. But the baby is still asleep, and I’ve got my second cup of coffee going and that’s pretty killer, so yeah, I’ll take it. I got up at 3:10 this morning, which actually gave me about 40 more minutes of sleep than I got Wednesday night. It was after 9PM when I fell out — that’s kind of late for me these days — so I’ll probably crash at some point this afternoon, but whatever. You take the day as it comes. Mine came early. Go figure.

Had a stomach thing this week. Something I ate, maybe, or I don’t know what. Sucked. Uncomfortable. Old. Farty. Sad.

Sad.

Someone I respect posted something on the social medias about kind self-talk. I don’t do that. I tend toward the other end of the spectrum, which feels more real to me. Why the hell should I be walking around saying nice things to myself? “Oh, it’s okay that you’re self-centered dickhead because, what again?” “Oh you’re bringing down an entire house full of people with your radioactive negativity again? that’s cool.” Blech. I can only think that if I tried that kind of thing in earnest I’d hate myself all the more for the saccharine nature of the sentiments it would produce.

But today’s Friday. I don’t have any extra writing projects on this weekend that I can remember, no liner notes or bios immediately due or anything like that, so that’s good. I’m gonna take today and try to listen to some music and read when the baby naps if I can and not answer any email that comes in past 10AM, and let that be the day. Do I deserve it? No, but I’m doing it anyway. Real self-talk.

Which is like “real talk,” which I think was a thing the kids used to say like six years ago. Whatever.

We’ve set the dates in August to finalize the move from Massachusetts to New Jersey. My beloved Garden State welcomes us back with open arms, fresh tomatoes and a wide variety of home improvement projects to be undertaken. Windows will be replaced. Carpets will be laid. Hopefully sooner than later, I’ll get a new kitchen with a dishwasher. Then the real party can start. Two ovens, motherfucker. Two sinks. Pantry. Granite counter. Coffee nook. My own personal slice of the American dream. I’ll want to die in this house, thank you very much. Maybe not for another couple weeks. Ha. Either way, this is it. The big one.

What’s up next week? I don’t know. Do you care? There’s a Plague of Carcosa stream, an interview with The Mad Doctors, a Nibiru video premiere, a CHICKN lyric video premiere. Might try to review that Burning Gloom album unless something takes the Friday spot. We’ll see. Lots of stuff though. You know the drill. There will be posts. Lots of them, probably.

Alright, time for me to tap out and get my head into the day. Everyone have a great and safe weekend. The Obelisk Show isn’t on Gimme Radio today, but there’s an older episode airing on Sunday at 7PM Eastern if you’ve got the chance to listen. Next Friday I’ll be back with a new episode celebrating Maryland Doom Fest.

Thanks for reading. Forum, radio, merch.

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EYE, Second Sight: Into Beyond

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Birthed in a not-at-all cosmic reality known as Columbus, Ohio, the four-piece space rock outfit EYE nonetheless execute their sound with classical majesty on their sophomore full-length, Second Sight. Their first outing, 2011’s Center of the Sun (discussed here and here), was gorgeous enough to get the attention of Kemado Records, who issued it on vinyl in 2012, and the still-quick follow-up comes preceded by a 7″ single (discussed here) and a live tape (review here). Clearly, EYE — who also self-recorded the new long-player — aren’t ones for sitting still, and that sense of movement extends to the music on Second Sight as well, beginning in the gong hits and synth waves that patiently establish the psychedelic course of 21-minute opener “Lost are the Years.” Here EYE begin to unfold not just the first side, but the LP as a whole, and though it’s only been about a year and a half since Center of the Sun was released, the sense is that something ancient has awakened. There is a near-immediate sense of texture to “Lost are the Years,” also the longest track on the 45-minute outing (bonus points), and that comes in large part from the wash of Moog and analog synth effects created by Adam Smith. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Auxier has no shortage of effects on his guitar either, and even drummer Brandon Smith gets in on the ambience with chimes, congas, the aforementioned gong and other percussion in addition to regular old rock drums, so while bassist Matt Bailey would seem to be the one charged with holding the five tracks of Second Sight together, actually it works out more that the four-piece never really lose control. As spaced-out as they go — and they go plenty spaced out — the record keeps a mood that’s calm-ing if not calm-ed, and when they want to, EYE drift with futuristic efficiency into atmospherics that even the first record only seemed to hint at, a song like “Wooden Nickels” retaining some human element through harmonized vocals from Auxier and both Smiths.

Vocals are never really the complete focal point (Amy Michelle Hoffman and Anthony Jacobs contribute as well), but they’re gorgeous anyway and make the band that much richer and more lush-sounding. It is nearly five minutes of build-up before they arrive over bass and acoustic guitar on “Lost are the Years,” signaling the start of the song’s peaceful second movement. Tension is minimal, melody is rampant, and EYE are immediately the masters of the universe they’re exploring. Auxier takes a bluesy, echoing solo over acoustic strum and Bailey‘s bassline, and Adam keeps the texture varied while Brandon seems to rest until about the seven-minute mark a fill leads to the next progression, a more upbeat, distorted and somewhat foreboding swirl. The vocals are deeper in the mix, part of that swirl, not above it, and the swaying riff that backs the subsequent guitar solo calls to mind some of Hypnos 69‘s more recent progressive triumphs. The course of “Lost are the Years” is winding as the third movement builds to a crashing finish and the acoustic strum of the second movement returns, backed by subtle percussion and bathed in mellotron sunshine. It is even more graceful in its Floydian sprawl than when it first appeared, and it shifts fluidly into more exploratory acoustic guitars, a thunder sample signaling the change impending before a full stop brings back the heavier swirl, all channels full and vibrant as they transition into a shuffle led by Brandon‘s drums and soon joined by Adam‘s keys, rising, cresting and receding. They’ve departed the back and forth of one part to another that they’d previously established in favor of an extended jam, the guitars, bass, drums and keys all serving to further the atmosphere, layers of lead and rhythm guitars coming forward for a King Crimson-style push after 16 minutes in even as Auxier is in mid-rip on another solo. A series of hits ensues and backed by a jazzy snare roll, the guitars lead down a psych rock rabbit hole, ending up in a winding line that brings a return of vocals and precedes the key-driven push into the final payoff. It would need to be sizable to answer for all the twists and turns of “Lost are the Years” so far, and it is, but not necessarily any more grandiose than is warranted. Guitar is still are the fore, trading off lead lines and heavy riffing, and they cap with a return to the hits that led the way into the last movement, ending a song that, if you try to consciously keep pace with each of its changes, you’re going to wind up exhausted in the best way possible.

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audiObelisk: Stream Pharaoh Overlord’s “Suntio” from Split LP with Grails

Posted in audiObelisk on November 6th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

This Pharaoh Overlord stream is another one of those things that should’ve happened last Monday, but you know, blah blah blah, natural disaster, no power, refugee living, etc. I actually tried to make it happen toward the end of last week as well, but hotel wifi caps were too reminiscent of downloading music on dialup and I was starting to get short of breath each time it cut out uploading and I could feel my eyes rolling up into the back of my head, so yeah, here we are. Let’s frame it like this: the Grails and Pharaoh Overlord split came out one week ago on Kemado and we’re celebrating the anniversary with a track stream of “Suntio,” one of their two contributions to Palmu, their side of the full-length release.

Listeners familiar with the Finnish outfit will recognize their classic jam/improvisational style, but for anyone who might be unacquainted, Pharaoh Overlord began in 2000 as a spinoff from the band Circle. Their earlier releases were titled only by number — they went from 1 to 4 in that manner — and over time, they’ve developed a rich and evocative psychedelia fueled by the dynamic between players. Their latest and seventh LP is 2012’s Lunar Jetman and the tracks they contribute to this split with Portland, Oregon’s Grails — “Suntio” and “Palmu” — stand toe-to-toe atmospherically with their counterparts. Despite simpler arrangements, Pharaoh Overlord meet Grails head on — complementing, not competing — and while they’re by their very nature less lush sonically, the spirit remains emotionally resonant.

If that doesn’t make any sense, I’m fortunate enough to have Alex Hall and Emil Amos from Grails (the latter also plays in Om) on hand to provide insight and commentary on how the two acts came together for this release and why. You’ll find their words after the track, which is on the player below:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

The Grails/Pharaoh Overlord, Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5/Palmu split LP is available now on Kemado Records. Here’s what Hall and Amos of Grails had to say:

After hearing Pharaoh Overlord for the first time, a friend of ours drunkenly requested that P.O. be played every time he entered a room… vainly envisioning that he deserved the sort of fanfare a WWF wrestler might use to bask in illusions of superhuman power. Outside of the delusional inanity of his original proclamation, the man’s ultimate point still stands: that Pharaoh Overlord embody one of the more successful and tasteful feats of hybridization in underground music by fusing the exploratory and meditative aspects of motorik repetition with the dank sleaze and dread of early metal. There are at least two or three bands in the running for World’s Greatest Band at this moment… and P.O. have several advantages on them. If only they could backmask a message powerful enough that I might blow my head off and finally prove the true visceral nature of their aesthetic vision to the vermin-like web-crawling fleets of distracted critics. Without question, we are P.O.’s target audience. After pumping this courtesy track off the new Grails/P.O. split, treat yourself right to a viewing of “Dream Deceivers”!… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDsv_oG3KWY

Pharaoh Overlord on Thee Facebooks

Grails’ website

Kemado Records

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Grails’ Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5 to Arrive as Split LP with Pharaoh Overlord

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 17th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Nifty news for anyone who’s followed the always-intriguing progression of Portland’s Grails, in that the fifth installment in their ongoing Black Tar Prophecies series of releases will come in the form of a split with Finnish outfit Pharaoh Overlord. The last album from Grails proper was 2011’s Deep Politics (review here), and this will be the first Black Tar Prophecies to be a split since the very first in 2006 came out as part of a release with Red Sparowes.

The band may be instrumental, but the PR wire speaks the following:

GRAILS split w/ Pharaoh Overlord

Kemado Records announces its October 30 release of Grails’ new offering, Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 5, the latest in the band’s Black Tar Prophecies series.

From Portland, Oregon, Grails feature drummer Emil Amos, also of Om. Making music under the Grails name for a decade now, the instrumental band have released music on labels such as Temporary Residence, Neurot, and Robotic Empire. Pitchfork bestowed this review upon them: “From stoner sludge to swirling desert rock to meditative mood music, Grails run an impressively wide gamut… Grails’ constantly changing sound makes every moment arresting, not simply the big crescendos.”

Kemado will release Grails’ Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 5 on October 30 as one side of a split LP, the other side belonging to Finland’s Pharaoh Overlord, featuring members of prolific Finnish band Circle.

BrooklynVegan is now streaming “Chariots”, the lead track off Grails’ side of the split.

Grails head to Australia in October:
Oct 13 – Melbourne, AU @ The Corner (w/ Tortoise)
Oct 14 – Perth, AU @ UWA (This Is Nowhere Festival w/ Tortoise)
Oct 17 – Brisbane, AU @ The Zoo
Oct 18 – Melbourne, AU @ Northcote Social Club
Oct 19 – Sydney, AU @ Oxford Art Factory

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