2012's Apocryphon saw the Lone Star State retro-metal spell-casters offering up another meaty, cosmos-minded set of mid-'70s Birmingham, England-blasted Sabbath worship, which would have been great had they not done nearly the same thing on their three prior outings. High Country, the band's fifth and most compelling long player to date, is another beast altogether. While it shares its predecessors' penchant for pairing thick Queens of the Stone Age-style stoner metal with vintage, tube-driven classic rock, it owes more to bands like Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, Cream, Electric Wizard, Blue Öyster Cult, Sad Wings of Destiny-era Judas Priest, and even fellow shape-shifting Texans Midlake than it does the dark wizardry of Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill. What's so immediately striking about High Country is how much fun it is. By eschewing some of the groups' heavier doom metal tendencies for a more streamlined, almost singles-based (if it were 40-odd years ago) approach, the Sword have managed to not just update their willfully outdated sound, but reinvigorate themselves in the process. To be fair, they haven't completely abandoned their sludgy, fantasy metal past, and psych-tinged boogie/space rock is hardly a contemporary concoction, but there's a vitality to standout cuts like "Empty Temples," "Mist and Shadow," and the brooding, vibraslap-heavy title track that transcends their nostalgic trappings. As veterans of the scene, it's their right to bring the stoner/doom genre back to its roots, and while High Country doesn't always work, it's constantly working toward moving the band forward, which means that were probably only a few albums away from a hair metal makeover.
High Country Review
by James Christopher Monger