Friday Full-Length: The Sword, Age of Winters

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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5 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: The Sword, Age of Winters

  1. goAt says:

    2006 was a WEIRD fuckin’ time for THE RIFF…

    I remember the KEMADO “one-sheet” retail thing or whatever namedropping PRONG (!) in the band description…

    …and I caught a gig of theirs in a small room around that time, and they FUCKIN’ ROCKED THAT SHIT. They played “UNDER THE BOUGHS” off that INVADERS comp (which I hadn’t heard yet) and my drunk ass kept yelling “PLAY THAT AGAIN!!!!” “PLAY THAT AGAAAAIN!!!!” I think (?) they found that amusing…

    I don’t drink or listen to THE SWORD anymore.

  2. jose humberto says:

    Hard to believe how they went from AMAZING from meh! , when “high country” was released my opinion was that was actually very good , after how hard the riffs were in the first four albums it was like fresh air , I mean great to return to super heavy in the next album so I tought it was good , but “used future” had the same spirit but not as good as “country” as two sisters can be very much alike but one in pretty and the other not that pretty and was way less heavy and they wanted the fans to accept this to “grow with them” , of course most of them , me included didnt accepted that

    such a shame

    • I don’t know what the previous two commenters have been hearing. I rate High Country and Used Future among the best 25 albums of their respective years. I for one was sad to hear the Sword had gone on hiatus.

    • Electric Woodsman says:

      I guess the same way Sabbath could go from Master of Reality to Technical Ecstasy. Bands have a creative peak. Or their musical direction alters. I saw where JD said the newest stuff was the closest representation of the bands current musical interests. I appreciated that they were being honest with themselves and not playing to type. It would have been easy to remake AOW over and over. But they didn’t.

  3. Electric Woodsman says:

    For me, they were the first underground metal band that I followed from the beginning. I had discovered stoner metal through Wino’s track on the Probot album in 2004. I began with his catalog and then found all the big names (Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Sleep…) So by 2006 when I first saw the sword, they were nearly my age and super cool dudes. Very approachable and seemed to appreciate fan interest. They had a great run. It was a joy to watch them grow from almost a Sleep tribute band into something all their own. Sure, it was a bit odd to hear them and play old songs in standard tuning later in their career. But they seemed to always try to push themselves. Not much more you can ask for

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