Review Summary: I’m very pleased with what The Sword has offered in their latest release. They have matured as musicians and wrote an album that has not only exceeded my expectations, but has shown they are a still force to be reckoned with within the metal/rock scene
When I heard The Sword was going to release a concept album based around a science fiction narrative (as the band explained it) and experimenting with their sound a bit more, I was hesitant at the direction they might be going in. As more updates about the album came forth and the rad album art was unveiled, I started seeing their idea come to life and understood the direction they were going in. This wasn’t an album strictly for the fans, it was for them as a band to expand their sound and their enjoyment for making music. So with much anticipation I listened to Warp Riders (a multitude of times) and all the worries I had for the album melted away as I was swept into a world of witches, androids and a crew of space pirates with a vessel known as, The Sword…
Whereas Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth are rooted in heavy metal, Warp Riders goes in a different direction, having a broader hard rock/progressive sound to it. Now there’s no need to get worried, they still retain their trademark sound and Warp Riders still feels like a Sword album, filled with relentless riffs and rhythms that fans are familiar with. Besides it being more hard rock, they took a different approach with the theme, where their earlier albums were more fantasy driven, Warp Riders goes the sci-fi route.
The band’s official website gives an in-depth description of the album’s science fiction storyline:
Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. How it’s told – through the dueling lead guitars of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt, and the concussive rhythm section of bassist Bryan Ritchie and drummer Trivett Wingo – underscores the narrative with molten steel and unreal precision.
The album is split into a two-part story, the first 5 songs represent Part I: The Archer & the Orb, and the later half of the album represents Part II: The Android & the Sword.
The opening track “Acheron/Unearthing the Orb”, an instrumental piece, begins with an ominous, dronish atmosphere which is all but destroyed when frenzied guitars and galloping drums (courtesy of guitarists Kyle Shutt & John “J. D.” Cronise, and drummer Trivett Wingo) kick the album off with intense energy that continues throughout the entire album and doesn’t let go until the final moments of the last song. “Tres Brujas” (Spanish for Three Witches), which was released as a digital download before Warp Riders came out, is a combination of their old and new sound. I could see this song being on Gods of the Earth, that’s how much it reminds of their early material. It’s full of rocking riffs that demand head banging and a catchy chorus that will no doubt be sung out loud by the crowd at live shows. This track along with “Acheron/Unearthing the Orb” is a perfect start to the album and quickly propels you into the sci-fi world The Sword have envisioned.
The ending of “Tres Brujas” slowly fades away as the sound of wind comes in and creates an atmosphere that continues right into the next track “Arrows in the Dark”. The atmosphere is soon accompanied by the build up of drums and twanging guitar notes that just explode into the relentless attack of guitars, drums and bass that the album began with. Much like “Tres Brujas”, this track showcases the hard rocking approach The Sword took with this album, but it doesn’t stray far away from their original sound at all. It’s full of chugging riffs, killer solos and Cronise’s unique vocal work, which is a staple in all of The Sword albums. Although, it seems to be a deterrent for some people trying to get into them.
“The Chronomancer I: Hubris”, the longest track on the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes, is full of powerful/heavy riffs and pounding drums. It gives the album a different feel, having a slower tempo and deeper chugs, rather than the speedier riffs heard in earlier tracks. There are hints of some Sabbath-esque riffs found throughout this song, and the later half of the song is the band just rocking out, solos and all with minor vocal work. The next track “Lawless Lands”, continues the slower tempo, yet it provides an overall grand sound to it. You could go as far as calling this the “ballad” of the album (not saying it is), with it’s southern styled riffs, flowing vocals and epic solos. You might have heard that this album was getting compared to sounding a bit like Lynyrd Skynyrd at times, well this is the song that provides the most evidence to that statement.
“Astraea’s Dream”, the second instrumental track on the album, starts Part II of the story, and creates a spacey atmosphere with harmonizing guitars ringing out over each other. But all of that is silenced and the song kicks off when the sound of frenzied/chugging guitars and galloping drums make their return giving this instrumental track an overall thrashy feel. It’s then followed by the title track “The Warp Riders” which is complete with whaling guitars, chugging riffs, and heavy metal breakdowns (1:48 – 2:35… simply awesome) that you would find on early Sword albums. The intensity doesn’t end there, “Night City” continues the speed the previous songs setup, and is just an all out hard rocking song, one of the stand out tracks on the album. And if that isn’t enough, there is a part of the song that feels like it was ripped right out of a Black Sabbath album, and that is perfectly fine with me.
“The Chronomancer II: Nemesis”, is one hell of an epic song. Simply put, it’s the heaviest and most aggressive song on the album. The build up is powerful with deep chugs and pounding drums which eventually goes into ludicrous speed with a full on rampage of fast riffs and exploding drum work. The vocals are just as intense and keep pace with the music. The ending to this song is devastating and the inclusion of haunting choir like vocals complements the feeling this song conveys, and is my personal favorite of the album. The final track on the album, “(The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire” strays away from the speed the whole second part of the album has been dishing out, yet it retains enough power to make it a stand out track. While the pace is different from previous songs, it’s works for the ending of the album. The song flows smoothly and is filled with plenty of echoing vocals, sharp guitar notes and ringing solos that would make any Sword fan pleased. The ending also brings back the ominous, dronish atmosphere found in the opening track “Acheron/Unearthing the Orb”, so it bookends the album perfectly.