Review Summary: Break out the snack foods and viking helmets! The Sword is back!
The Sword is one of those bands that is either loved or hated by many. The reason for this is more than like almost all attributed to J.D. Cronise's very...lets go with interesting...vocal delivery. If you are a fan of his vocals from the first album, then of course you will also enjoy the vocals on this one. Even though there haven't really been huge strides in his vocal talent, they do seem to be used in a more effective manner. If you are one of the many people who can't stand his vocals, then this definitely will not change your mind on the matter. Along with the vocals, come the lyrics, which are probably the other reason most people write of the band. The lyrics continue to sound as if the band broke into Ronnie James Dio's house and stole some of his unused lyric books. Songs generally contain epic tails of battles lost and won, and the struggles of a lone warrior. Some enjoy this, others don't. Its just a matter of opinion.
Vocals aside, the instrumental aspects have greatly improved over The Age Of Winters. The music is still VERY riff heavy, with all the songs continuously hitting the listener with riff after riff in their familiar slow, almost caveman like manner. Much like the first album, the riffs have that same down tuned, almost rubbery tonal quality to them, but the quality of the riffs themselves is a great improvement. The rhythm section, which previously provided lackluster performances at best, has really tightened up since the debut, even though most will still probably gripe about the relative simplicity of some of the beats and fills. There are also more solos in this album, the quality of which has also improved over previous efforts. The only thing that brings the music down would be the sub par production quality. For the most part the underproduction really gives the album a nice raw feeling to it, but at times the sound gets way to muddied for the listener to hear practically anything.
The songs themselves flow a lot better than previously. Whereas on the debut, it often seemed as if the band simply wrote a slew of riffs and threw them together in a disorganized fashion, here it seems like they actually approached the songwriting as just that, the writing of songs. Even so, there are times where the band falls back into the previously mentioned pitfalls. The best example would be The Frost Giant's Daughter. The song simply takes way to long to build up and it seems like they took all the unused riffs from the albums and put them into a song to fill out the running time. The vocals in some songs are very sparse, and you would think that the band would choose those times to really display their best riffery. Sadly, this isn't the case. Less effort seems to have been put into the longer instrumental passages, which really causes the album to lag in those spots. Also, the album seems lag in the beginning, so if you are the type who has to listen to the album from beginning to end on the first listen, I strongly advise you to stay patient, as it may take a while before the music picks up.
Another gripe about The Sword, has been the speed of the music, or lack thereof. The album definitely still retains that same slowed down feel, but the riffs and vocals have become more aggressive to make up for it, so the music ends up hitting harder. Underneath The Boughs would be a great example of this. The band really uses the slower tempo to their advantage, and use it to craft pounding riffs that you can't help but nod your head to. The Black River and The White Sea are probably the albums best, and worst, songs respectively. The Black River serves as the album's proper closer, and would prove to be a very powerful and driving closer, but instead it is followed by the seven minute instrumental riff library that is The White Sea. The band clearly had way to many riffs left over after recording and decided to tack them on to the end, and for the most part the riffs of some of their weakest.
If you were a huge fan of the first album, then by all means pick this up. The band has taken everything they excelled at and expounded on it. If you enjoyed the debut, but were left wanting more, then i would also suggest you pick this up. If you absolutely couldn't stand the first album, you won't have a different experience with this one, so unless you desperately want to give the band a second change I would say stay away.