‘High Country’ could, quite possibly, be described as The Sword‘s “happy album”. And that’s no mere throwaway descriptive on our part, but a summarization of frontman John Cronise’s take on the opus: as he explains, when he started to write the songs for ‘High Country’, he found himself at something of a spiritual crossroads, and also that the new material began to veer into a different space that at the time Cronise felt was somewhat outside of The Sword’s sphere.
“I didn’t even intend for the demos to be Sword songs,” he explained recently. “But then I realized that I had taken on a sort of limiting view of what The Sword was, and that wasn’t actually what I wanted it to be. I think the new album is more reflective of the music I listen to and where our heads are at collectively. With each of our albums, it’s become less about fury and bombast and more about trying to write good songs. We realized that our music can go wherever we want it to go. There’s no pre-determined course here now, and there never was.”
“I want to make positive, uplifting music. ‘High Country’ has moments of darkness and thoughtfulness, as anything I write probably will. But at the end of the day I want to put smiles on people’s faces.”
True to Cronise’s words, ‘High Country’ is certainly a very different album from what you might initially expect from the singer and his bandmates. Certainly the bluster and bombast of the past has gone, in favour of thoughtful introversion. Dense doominess is replaced by trance-like psychedelia as the album’s multiple layers simultaneously envelop and unfurl. There’s also a bluesier vibe, especially in Kyle Shutt’s rich guitar tone, which evokes the feel of the late Sixties/early Seventies but also sounds fresh and modern (a knack which many “retro” acts have failed to grasp), while Cronise’s vocal patterns evoke the dense levity of the likes of John Kay, Rob Tyner and their counterparts, while, again, carving his own individual style.
As Cronise referenced in his quote above, there are plenty of moments of darkness and thoughtfulness – perhaps more than he himself would care to admit – but these are counterpointed by peaks of levity. The performances are suitably intense, but there is a lightness of touch that is pleasantly surprising: although, if The Sword’s intention is “to put smiles on people’s faces” then they will be more of the wry kind than those of beaming happiness. What they have succeeded in doing is producing an album filled with lush, rich soundscapes which really have the listener thinking, in a good way, about what is going on, and at the end is a deeply rewarding listen.
Unicorn Farm / Empty Temples / High Country / Tears Like Diamonds / Mist And Shadow / Agartha / Seriously Mysterious / Suffer No Fools / Early Snow / The Dreamthieves / Buzzards / Silver Petals / Ghost Eye / Dust / The Bees Of Spring
Mist And Shadow
‘High Country’ is released via Razor & Tie on August 21.
The Sword play the following dates in September:
Monday 14 – Nottingham, Basement
Tuesday 15 – Glasgow, King Tuts
Wednesday 16 – Manchester, Academy 3
Thursday 17 – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms
Friday 18 – London, Underworld
Saturday 19 – Bristol, The Thekla