Review Summary: The answer was right in front of The Sword and they squandered it
Boredom is quite an irritating thing. It manifests and makes tasks even harder to do. Time goes to a crawl while in a state such as this. Heck, no one, in essence, is completely safe from boredom. So imagine what it must feel like to be anticipating something, only for it to finally happen and in the end wanting it to conclude as quickly as possible" This is exactly how I felt about High Country.
The Sword’s past discography is quite consistent in musical style: Black Sabbath-inspired songs with fantasy or sci-fi inspired lyrical content. While the band wasn’t exactly the most original group around, they exemplified some of the best music that the recent explosion of heavy 70’s rock worship had to offer. By the time their previous LP, Apocryphon, released, The Sword succumbed to the consequences of their decision to stick to their guns for such a long time. In the end, that record, while competent, was completely forgettable. It was about time the band changed things up.
On High Country, The Sword decided to create a much more mellow album where their original influences take a backseat in favor of drugged out stoner rock. Gone are the groove-inducing, energetic riffs and epic scale. Everything now seems more modest, going for less bombast than before. The Sword definitely sounds different then before. The guitars traded in their previous chunkiness and heft for a more fuzzy tone. The drums trot alongside the riffs, creating a much more loose sound in comparison to the pounding, epic percussion that the band exhibited on previous records. Almost all elements on the record sound considerably simpler as well.
While a change is always nice to see, here The Sword execute their new progression in sound in one of the worst ways possible: they do nothing to distinguish themselves among their hoards of contemporaries. On certain tracks, such as “Tears Like Diamonds” and the title track, a listener can easily predict the progression of the song, leaving no thrill to the songwriting on here. Weird effects such as on “Agartha” are used throughout the entirety of the album seemingly just to be as trippy as possible, making the transitions between some tracks completely jarring. One minute you have the music trying to engulf the listener in a psychedelic haze, only to be whiplashed by the twang of a sudden guitar or beat of the percussion in the next song.
While not being distracted by the wonky transitions, High Country continuously creeps along on through its runtime, doing nothing to distinguish certain moments from one other. Next to nothing stands out in the record. It fails to induce a trance, captivate a listener, or even sound original in that matter. It’s all ground covered by bands in the past, who honestly did a better job anyway. Being bored by something you were actually anticipating is especially painful, making the journey for me through the fifteen tracks on the record even more difficult. Then, at the very tail of album, there is this tease of sorts. On the final minute of the track, “Bees of Summer”, the song kicks into a more energetic tone, sounding similar to something that wouldn't be out of place on a Thin Lizzy album. It’s the sound High Country should have gone with, being less grand than before but at the same time be something that could be traced back to The Sword’s roots. It’s the gold at the end of the tunnel only teasing you that the band could have done something better all along.
In regards to an evolution in The Sword’s sound, High Country feels more like the band trying a different style rather than building on what they played before. So, in essence, The Sword's latest LP isn’t really a progression but rather an experiment that somehow failed when the band had all the materials they needed to be successful.