THE SWORD
"Age of Winters"

(Kemado)

01. Celestial Crown
02. Barael's Blade
03. Freya
04. Winter's Wolves
05. The Horned Goddess
06. Iron Swan
07. Lament For the Aurochs
08. March of the Lor
09. Ebethron

RATING: 7.5/10

How much more self-conscious orc rock can you fit into your Viking helmet? Not to be confused with the half-decent Canuck '80s metal outfit of "Metalized" and "Sweet Dreams" fame, these guys are an altogether more unwashed and skunk-weed-reeking prospect. Tumbling down thirdhand from SABBATH's loins as midwifed by SLEEP, old MONSTER MAGNET and HIGH ON FIRE, THE SWORD are undiluted hesher metal as subtle as a blacklight poster of a naked chick blowing a wizard in Valhalla.

A little of this stuff goes a long way, especially when you can almost hear the singer smirk as he over-pronounces "a-gain" like Ozzy circa 1973. The thing is, THE SWORD is one of those bands that's so into their shtick, and so convincing at it, that you can't help but wonder if they really mean it after all. They may just not know any other way to rock — it's theoretically possible that every last mother's son of them is still sleeping in a basement rec room with carpet on the walls and KISS posters on the ceiling and a Technics turntable with blown-out speakers and a receiver with built-in 8-track deck.

The point is, when you're doing this kind of hopelessly retro freakout, it all lives or dies on heart alone. Think of GOAT HORN, up in Canada pretending they're SACRIFICE into their bedroom mirrors, or Bobby Liebling of PENTAGRAM, surrounded by heroin paraphernalia, comic books, and boxes of Count Chocula in his parents' basement in D.C. at age 50. The best metal is written in blood, and if you love it enough to let it ruin your life, that madness will come across in the riffs and the grooves.

Are THE SWORD that good? Damned if they're not close – at certain moments, like about two minutes into "Iron Swan", they lock into that shambling, terrifying, off-the-rails SAB groove, all wild-eyed and spitting and fucked up, and it's all you can do to hang on. Or how about "Lament For the Aurachs", a track punted into godhood almost single-handedly by the drummer? And don't think these guys are complete throwbacks — there are even a couple blast beats tossed into the mix here and there.

Sure, there's a few places where the recycled riffs and spilled-bongwater ambience can make your eyes glaze over – it's a long record, full of long songs, and here and there the results are more fatiguing than hypnotic. But again, it comes down to heart — and THE SWORD's collective organ is charred with the ashes of hell's fires, pumping the blood of virgins, and fueling a fucking doom-rock Sherman tank of inexorable riffing and ham-handed stoner genius. Large segments of the population will write it off as bad bong rock, but you never liked those people anyway.

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