Despite their small-club roots, Austin-based doom metal quartet The Sword was destined to be an arena band. Nearly everything about them – their name, their chunky Sabbath-y riffs, the theatrical mythology-inspired lyrics – hints at arena-metal bombast, even though the band members themselves offer no trace of irony or even arrogance in their approach. Either way, it comes as no surprise that the band would be able to easily hold their own when opening for Metallica at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont last Monday and Tuesday.
Unlike co-headliners Machine Head, who have developed a sizable (if not mainstream) fanbase during their nearly two decades as a band, The Sword are relative newcomers to the scene - having formed in 2003 and with two albums under their belt. They have a little more to prove to notoriously hard-to-please metal fans.
For the most part, I think they succeeded in winning people over, with some of the general admission crowd on the main floor banging their heads and doing air guitar licks in agreement. It’s difficult to find fault with a band with such skilled musicians, whose licks are so heavy and melodic – they do what they do well. And they worked all sides of the huge stage (primarily set up for the Metallica show) with an abundance of energy; singer-guitarist J. D. Cronise is all flowing hair and faded jeans, like he’s right out of a 1978 issue of Circus magazine.
Here’s the thing, though. Even though they are oozing with the kind stage presence that many veteran bands would love to pull off, I can’t remember an individual song by The Sword to save my life.
Ok, that’s not quite true. I do know “How Heavy This Axe” and well, come on, how can you not remember a title/chorus like that? And I recognize “Freya” because it’s the first song by the band I ever heard. But in general, it’s difficult for me to distinguish one song of theirs from another, and it’s that element - songs that are heavy, but not really memorable – that may keep The Sword from acquiring the kind of dedicated fanbase that Metallica and even Machine Head enjoy.
I’ve always said that if you get a group of metalheads into one room, you’ll be hard pressed to find ten bands that everyone agrees on. It’s just the nature of the sub-genre happy world of metal, and The Sword appears to be one of those bands that divide fans, depending on what their musical preferences may be. But even so, while I can understand why their live performance likely won The Sword a number of converts that night, it still didn’t make me want to go home and give their latest album Gods of The Earth another chance.