The Sword: Razor-sharp rifflords

It is said that to have an impact on the future you must first have a firm understanding of what has already come to pass.

This being the case, vocalist/guitarist JD Cronise and his bandmates from The Sword have certainly earned the right to be deemed professors in heavy music and are most worthy of securing a place of note in the genre’s ongoing history.

The Texan-born quartet have quite literally taken the fundamentals of heavy metal and rather than completely remodel the blueprint, have tweaked it in enough places to sound impressively fresh and modern.

In base terms, think of an amalgam of Black Sabbath’s thick riffage, Led Zeppelin’s mysticism, and Iron Maiden’s guitar fluency. A pretty tasty aural concoction to say the very least.

Since forming in 2003 the band has unleashed four full length releases, the most recent, this year’s astounding Apocryphon.

Currently touring America in support of the release, JD and the band - Kyle Shutt [guitar], Bryan Richie [bass] and Santiago ‘Jimmy’ Vela III [drums] - will be in Australia next year for the touring Soundwave festival, which lands at Sydney Showground on Sunday, February 24.

The band last played the festival in 2011 and prior to that visited Australia supporting Metallica in 2010 on the band’s Death Magnetic tour.

Apocryphon follows the band’s epic concept album, Warp Riders.

JD said the only pressure following up the release was due to deadlines.

‘‘When we were doing Warp Riders I don’t recall having that sort of deadline,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe we were a little ahead of schedule on that one, but with this one it seemed that before we knew it we had the studio time booked ... not all of the songs were written and barely any lyrics were written.

‘‘So there was a little bit of pressure with having to have lyrics written for eight to ten songs in the next couple of months. That’s just kind of the nature of the business when you get to the point where there’s those sorts of deadlines. You kind of have to pretend that those deadlines don’t exist and that you’re just writing theses songs because you want to and not because all these people are depending on you to do it. It’s definitely a challenge, but I think we managed to do it.’’

For Apocryphon, The Sword employed the services of producer J. Robbins, who had worked previously with Clutch and Jawbox.

Robbins made use of tape recording technology to capture the drums and bass.

‘‘He’s a kind of old school dude, but we definitely used some pro-tools and digital stuff on there as well,’’ said JD. ‘‘Unfortunately for me I would wear a tape out with the amount of tape I’d have to do for vocals and things like that. We used whatever sounded best and oftentimes that’s a mix of old and new.

‘‘He [Robbins] didn’t do much as far as the songs themselves, they were all pretty much written and ready to go when we were in the studio. We just really felt like he really knew how we should sound and what the record should sound like and how to record us and he did a great job.’’

On previous releases JD has drawn lyrical inspiration from a myriad of sources, from literary works to ancient mythology.

On this new album, his focus was more reality based subject matter.

‘‘I’m an extremely opinionated person but I usually keep those opinions to myself when it comes to our music and the media and things like that ... at the end of the day we’re trying to sell records and get fans, I’m not trying to alienate a whole bunch of people with my weird viewpoints, but at the same time I kind of realised that music, just like any artform is a vehicle for self expression and expressing one’s view points and opinions - just like a lot of the bands I grew up listening to and a lot of the literature that I read,’’ he said.

‘‘To me the best science fiction is the stories that are exciting science fiction and action and all of that, but underlying that is some kind of very heavy theme or cautionary tale; something that makes you think on another level besides just entertaining you. That’s kind of where I was trying to take it on this record.’’

Musically, there was no grand vision behind Apocryphon.

‘‘I wanted it to be heavy and just good songs really,’’ JD said. ‘‘There wasn’t much of a plan, just write good songs that we would want to hear and play really.’’

When it was released in October, the album landed at the number 17 spot on the American Billboard 200 charts.

‘‘It was weird news to get definitely,’’ JD said. ‘‘Granted these days it’s a little easier to get a higher chart placing than it once was because there are less records are being sold, but at the same time its pretty amazing. I think Warp Riders peaked at number 47 for a week or something, so that’s like 30 places better ... not bad.’’

Unlike some acts who shy clear of speaking about their influences for fear of comparison, JD is quite relaxed giving nods where appropriate.

‘‘When I wrote the initial songs, most of which were on our first record [Age Of Winters], I tried to come up with some sort of bizarre hybrid of Sleep, The Melvins, Sepultura and Sabbath I guess,’’ he said. ‘‘But since then we’ve kind of expanded that and added a lot more elements to our songs.

‘‘I was born in the 70s and I love the bands of the 70s and 80s. You can listen to our records and the heaviness is there in all of them but the aggression gets less and less, and that’s because I’m getting older and less pissed off.

‘‘There definitely seems to be quite a cross-section of music fans that come to our shows. You get the full-on metalheads and we’re probably the least extreme thing they listen to, and then you have people where we are the most extreme they listen to ... otherwise they’re listening to Radiohead or something much more mainstream. It’s a good position to be in to be able to draw on all those different places for fans.’’

JD said he was very much looking forward to returning to Australia for the Soundwave tour.

‘‘That will definitely be a chance to win over some new fans,’’ he said. ‘‘I love playing festivals with diverse lineups and bands you wouldn’t normally see. It’s a great cross-pollination of styles and genres.’’

Ideally, JD would like the band to return in the future as headliners in their own right.

For more details on the Soundwave tour click here.

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