Remember The Sword? The Austin, Texas group’s 2006 debut Age of Winters (Kemado) was a perfect blend of Black Sabbath and Sleep with a hint of Mastodon’s relentless drive. As one of, if the not the outright best debut albums that year, it gained widespread acclaim and sold an impressive 80,000 records. The follow-up, Gods of the Earth, was another slice of the same pie and saw the band bag a tour with Metallica.
From there, however, The Sword dropped almost all the Doom and Metal from their sound. Subsequent albums saw frontman J. D. Cronise and Co. evolve into a rock hybrid of ZZ Top with the odd hint of Thin Lizzy thrown in. New album Used Future (Razor & Tie), the band’s sixth, only cements the fact The Sword are blunt.
So, might all this be bitterness about watching a band I like change direction or does Used Future stand up on its own merits? In truth, this is probably one of the better releases from the band’s more recent releases; on par with Warp Riders (Razor & Tie) at the very least. The Sword have perfected their Seventies tribute act / rock vibe, and there’s very little not to enjoy about Used Future.
‘Deadly Nightshade’ features that classic Clutch boogie – the Maryland rockers are another major influence throughout – while title track features a very Neil Fallon-like narrative thread. ‘Twilight Sunrise‘ and ‘Don’t Get Too Comfortable’ have the slow ZZ Top groove, while ‘Sea of Green’ almost sounds like a Jack White garage rock number. The Sword have never been averse to a good instrumental; ‘The Wild Sky’ is a spacey sci-fi jazz number, while ‘Brown Mountain’ could have been lifted from a film soundtrack for an old Spaghetti Western.
Of the thirteen tracks on offer, six are either instrumentals or brief interludes, so the album feels shorter than its forty-five minutes suggest. The songs are solid – there’s nothing wrong with the likes of ‘Book of Thoth’ or ‘Sea of Green’- but there’s very little here to get the blood pumping and the songs aren’t memorable enough to cry out for repeat listens.
The days of Age of Winters are gone and not coming back. If you’re okay with that, and you can dig a perfectly inoffensive rock album with some heavy ZZ Top influences, Used Future might be for you. If like me, you want another album of ‘Freya’s and ‘Iron Swan’s, there’s little joy here.