The Sword

Gods of the Earth

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When history looks back on the first decade of heavy metal's 21st century resurgence, it will do so through the increasingly vast libraries of Guitar Hero. The Sword unleashed a gloriously unpretentious and multi-hued slab of Black Sabbath-inspired doom-retro-stoner-whatever metal on 2006's Age of Winters, casting out a lure for both current heavy metal fans and those who left the fold when hair metal brought the preeminent outsider music in to be devoured and nearly destroyed by the general public. "Barael's Blade" and "Winter's Wolves" sounded like relics unearthed in the basement of a Birmingham steel mill during the initial New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, a genre that the Austin, TX, quartet seems intent on re-resurrecting on its sophomore release, Gods of the Earth. This time around, however, the bong has been removed, resulting in a less murky, more thrash-oriented journey through time (think Metallica's Kill 'Em All instead of Sabbath's Master of Reality). The riffs are huge, the rhythms are sneaky and brutal, and the "guitarmonies" are effortless, due with little doubt to the band's epic touring schedule. In fact, everything's been turned up, except the vocals. Singer and guitarist John D. Cronise has the spooky tenor and bluesy inflection of "War Pigs"-era Ozzy, but little of the power. Much of that can be blamed on Gods of the Earth's "riff-centric" production, which beats Cronise's voice, despite it being double-tracked, into submission each time it (thinly) tries to rise above the carnage. It's so noticeable that standout cuts like "Maiden, Mother & Crone," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," and "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians," the latter of which boasts a title that would make 2112-era Rush red with envy, never reach the nosebleed seats, where they're so obviously aiming and so many potential new fans are sitting. That said, if this had been the Sword's debut, they'd be carrying the tattered flag of the second coming, as there are moments of sick bliss lurking around every key change, deconstructed bridge, and ride-heavy off-rhythm. Third time's a charm, right?

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