By now, folks following Texas buzz-bombers THE SWORD have learned to expect no album is going to be the same listening experience. Following 2012's superb "Apocryphon", THE SWORD all but throw that album's playbook out the door on their latest release, "High Country", an album so flipping good (even for these guys) it hurts. Not that THE SWORD haven't been given their due as one of the sludge underground's favorite bands, they've taken a few unnecessary pops from naysayers who believe them to be a one-trick-pony stoner act. Revenge is THE SWORD's on "High Country", as they reveal more than just a few new tricks up their sleeves.
The guitars and bass on the THIN LIZZY-esque "Empty Temples" are bloody awesome and fly at such a hum one has to remember to hone in on Jimmy Vela's whumping tempos, which are not to be missed in their own right. As terrific as this number is, THE SWORD really dials in on the title track and "Tears Like Diamonds" with J.D. Cronise, Kyle Shutt and Bryan Richie's munching riffs that are plunked as rigorously as Vela's methodic rhythms. Despite the force delivered into the instruments, there's a laidback feel to these numbers and the bluesy "Mist and Shadow" that dispenses with some of the band's heft from "Apocryphon" but not much.
If anything, the feel of "High Country" is less urgent to make a blunt impression and more concerned with swaying the band's girth into the groove of one catchy bobber after another. In other words, this album freaking swings as much as it strains speakers. There's still an attentive push for amp worship as there is the upping of Bryan Richie's trancy synthesizers that peek in and out of some tracks, while oozing like spacey squeeze cheese on trippy instrumentals like "Unicorn Farm" and "Agartha". "High Country" being loaded with numerous instrumentals, what THE SWORD does with "Silver Petals" by gently pouring in Richie's keys atop the BEATLES-esque acoustic groundwork is simply wondrous.
On "Seriously Mysterious", Richie's groovy keys account for the song's far-out jive before THE SWORD rip and tear through another blaring jam instrumental, "Suffer No Fools". Here, Richie gets his say again on the keys and bass as much as J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt peel their riffs loud enough to blow listeners out of their headphones. As if THE SWORD haven't impressively noodled to this point, stand by for some brass knocks in the midst of the easy riding "Early Snow" and whoo-ooh background rustles breezing through the Seventies-kissed "The Dreamthieves".
Upon first listen to "High Country", even veteran fans of THE SWORD are going to hang speechless. This is hardly the album anyone could've expected following a massive outing like "Apocryphon". It's better, so much better. There's depth, there's verve and there's veritably no predictability to it. This is the sound of a determined if humble band that has perhaps dealt with a quiet envy of the mainstream success of THE BLACK KEYS and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, finding their own way of serving themselves and their listeners a groove-hungry fuzz feast with generous helpings of hot 'n globby synth fondue. THE SWORD have finessed their act, but even better, they've delivered the perfect top-to-bottom rock record. For vinyl buffs, the double LP version of "High Country" will be offered in multiple colors.
Let any naysayers at this point bite it.