Review Summary: Images of fantasy abound with this doomy quartet's debut.
Did any of you guys ever read any Redwall books? They were pretty sick. From Urthripe the Strong, the Badger Lord who has dominion over the volcano-fortress Salamandastron, to the stoat captain Vilu Daskar, whose slaving ship the Goreleech held high amongst the rocks for Martin the Warrior to discover, the series is filled with anthropomorphic animals having epic adventures in a fantasy setting. I read them as a child and was absolutely blown away by the grandeur and scope of the whole thing. Just writing about it makes me want to pick one of 'em up again, it's been years. Hopefully you know what I'm yakkin about, and you can make the association.
That being said, it's really difficult to discuss The Sword without making references to imagery. Waves of patriotic pikemen filled with imperialistic zeal made into bloody bits that fly through the air by bearded, barbaric axemen garbed in animal skin. A chaotic and multi-tiered mutiny with many vying for control of a great vessel at sea during a powerful and furious storm. Nude adulteresses and gypsies dancing around a fire with song having strange, multicolored visions brought about by substances that they haggled from dwarves in their journeys. And the Redwall analogy works so well:
Legions of vermin surround me
malefic taint in their eyes
Madness gives sway to delusion
in defense of a fortress of lies
I remember reading one of the Lamb of God guitarists saying he had been listening to the Sword. I was completely taken aback. How could it be that one of metal's most famous and overrated was into one of metal's finest? That was before I learned how popular The Sword were becoming. I had discovered them swapping recent doomy digs with some friends, obscure bands with material that's impossibly hard to find. The very last thing i expected was one of these bands to be touring with Metallica, Lamb of God, and Machine Head. But that's one of the things about Age of Winters: its appeal is instant. An absolutely riff-tastic album that makes absolutely no attempt to suck you in. It's more like a magnet, it just attracts or repels, that's simply the way that its function has been defined. You spin this album, and you turn it up, or you turn it off, there isn't much of a middle ground here.
Age of Winters uses exclusively clean vocals. The thing is, the vocals are, erm, very clean. They're sometimes criticized as a weakness of the band, but it's entirely subjective, and I personally find the vocals to be refreshing in a genre over-saturated with death vocals. The guitars are definitely a main focal point here. Tuned to C Standard or Drop A#, they're used together as two lead instruments with rhythmic qualities instead of the usual i-play-rhythm-and-you-play-lead. Together, the guitars often sound like they're parading about in the soundscape with dual leads. Simple, but solid and energetic drumming works really well and adds a lot to the mix. My only gripe is in the bass guitar, or, to be more eloquent, in the lack thereof. This is credible to the admittedly sub par production.
With Age of Winters, The Sword have given the metal and hard rock communities something to be very, very proud of. This is the Rosetta Stone, the bible, and the Lucy of the light-hearted side of doom metal. And it's their first! Age of Winters is just about as strong as debuts can be.