The Sword - Warp Riders LP
Much was made of the Sword's decision to abandon Middle Earth, following two acclaimed albums steeped in fantasy metal, in order to rocket into outer space for their third full-length, 2010's Warp Riders; but the band's vintage metal sound suffered not one bit from its new alien surroundings. In fact, it hardly changed: retaining most of its thrash-infused metal classicism while shifting gears ever so slightly from a doom to stoner rock undercurrent, then capping it all off with an ambitious science fiction storyline (in two parts!). Yes, this is a concept album in the unadulterated (and dangerously indulgent) definition of the term, one that sets the stage for Warp Riders on the distant planet Acheron, where our banished hero, Ereth the archer, is locked in an epic struggle between good and evil and, well, you get the drift. More important is how the members of the Sword -- vocalist/guitarist John D. Cronise, guitaritst Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Trivett Wingo -- convincingly navigate this proverbial meteor belt. Whether revisiting familiar musical ground on instrumentally proficient metallic moshers like "Arrows in the Dark," the aptly named "The Chronomancer I: Hubris" and "(The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire," or pealing off more compact, surprisingly nimble time capsules back to the 1970s like "Tres Brujas," "Lawless Lands" and "Night City." Throughout all this -- both the old ways and new directions -- the ever-present weak link would have to be Cronise's emotionally deadpan vocals, but, as was the case with earlier Sword albums, they ultimately don't matter as much as the group's pulverizing twin guitar attack. And these still dominate the proceedings (never more so than on the instrumental "Astraea's Dream"), despite shedding some of their serrated dragon-toothed distortion to reflect the sleeker, more aerodynamic, but no less cyclopean spaceship hulls befitting Warp Riders' sci-fi setting, before powering the Sword to victory yet again. And they didn't even have to rename themselves the Lightsabers to make it work.