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The Sword > Age of Winters > Reviews
The Sword - Age of Winters

The Battle Rages But They Fight in Vain - 95%

Twisted_Psychology, January 26th, 2023
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Kemado Records

In my opinion, Age of Winters is the most influential stoner-doom album to come out in the 21st century, more so than Dopethrone, Dopesmoker, or any other dope you could name. Much of that status could be attributed to the unprecedented levels of exposure that The Sword received compared to their peers; putting “Freya” in a Guitar Hero game invited accusations of being a doom equivalent to Dragonforce and mutterings of ‘hipster metal’ popped up quite a bit in certain circles. That sort of rhetoric may have kept me from checking it out back in 2006 but once I listened to it as a musician in the genre, suddenly all my friends’ bands made WAY more sense…

One thing that immediately stands out when listening to The Sword is the sheer power behind their musicianship. The guitars and drums are the strongest assets on display, the former showing off the slightest hints of fuzz with a jagged edge that lends itself well to biting grooves and choppy gallops while the latter opts for cymbal-heavy poundings and hard-hitting patterns more aligned with thrash or classic metal. It’s surprisingly up-tempo for stoner-doom, nowhere near the brooding of their eighties forebears and lacking the swinging swagger of a Kyuss or Sleep yet has the chunkiness that could only come from such a lineage. Comparisons could be made to what High on Fire was doing around the time, especially the drumming, but this is a considerably more accessible presentation.

However, such power is never echoed in the vocals which remain the band’s most divisive element. Consisting of a twerpy mid-range yelp completely devoid of charisma, the way that the lines are constructed often yields to the guitar work whether it be capping off a particular riff or attempting some back-and-forth when not being drowned out entirely. I’ve found myself wondering if a Dio-style belter would’ve elevated the material, but this sort of nerdy delivery comes out endearing in its own way. It’s ultimately not the sort of thing that’s a dealbreaker for me as a listener, even if it sometimes feels like the approach might’ve played a role in some subsequent stoner bands treating their singers like afterthoughts.

From there, the songwriting also serves up some interesting conundrums and seeming contradictions. The album has the feel of an especially fiery jam session with a relentless onslaught of riffs set to loose structures and surprisingly breezy pacing. It often feels like the songs are working more toward the greater whole, making it easy for individual pieces to get lost in the shuffle beyond the abrupt change in pace offered by tracks like “Winter’s Wolves” and “March of the Lor.” It’s the sort of approach that would fall flat on its face if the playing wasn’t this tight and the riffs weren’t so damned catchy. There’s a great deal of commitment behind the atmosphere and it always feels like you’re charging into a fantasy battle surrounded by two feet of snow.

Overall, Age of Winters is the sort of masterpiece that feels like it shouldn’t work as well as it does. The Sword certainly set themselves up for some bad habits between the unbalanced band dynamic and loose songwriting approach, yet their ear for infectious riffs and energetic playing on top of a potent fantasy aesthetic showed that there was more to them than dumb luck or alleged industry connections. It has a relatable quality that makes its influence easy to see yet comes with a prowess that only a handful of imitators could ever hope to match. There’s a lot to love and hate about it but at the end of the day, it’s a fun listen that’s still worth checking out or re-examining if you haven’t heard it in a while.

A curious relic of the late 2000s. - 65%

Biedrik, June 17th, 2021

Years ago I first ran into The Sword when I was but a young boy going to his first Metallica show, and they were announced as one of the opening acts. Always interested in finding more bands, and wanting to possibly enjoy the concert even more by being able to appreciate the opening acts, I gave this album a listen. What I heard utterly baffled me. I saw endless praise heaped upon this album, but I just could not get the appeal at all. The vocals annoyed me, the never ending CRASH CRASH CRASH of the cymbal aggravated me, and the riffs just did not interest me. To my teenage ears this music sucked. In a few places like Metal Archives I saw some pretty harsh criticism of The Sword that were similar to my opinion, but they had an undeniable degree of success. Clearly someone liked this.

After that, I completely forgot about The Sword, until years later some internet algorithm recommended me a more recent song of theirs. I gave it a listen, and thought it was at least better than how I remembered them. My taste has changed somewhat since the late 2000s, so maybe it was time to give this album another listen. There are many bands that I didn't really enjoy as a teenager that sounded better to me years later, so I was willing to give The Sword a chance. And well...it's better than I remember, but the success this band enjoyed in the late 2000s simultaneously makes less and more sense than it did for me back in the day.

The album is decent. It's stonerish doomish heavy metal. This is a style that I honestly quite love, so it should be right up my alley. Yet this album still leaves me kind of hollow. The cymbals are still as unnecessarily omnipresent as they were before, that sure hasn't gotten better with time. The vocalist, well, I think I've grown to enjoy these sorts of vocals. Most of the songs are enjoyable enough that I can bob my head to them, but I'd never think of this as something that really stands out in the world of doom metal. It certainly makes for a pleasant enough 43 minutes, I can definitely bob my head along to the riffs and have a decent time doing so. Yet this leaves me with no desire to revisit it. If you want something vaguely Sabbath-esque that is faster paced, you could do worse. If you're into doom metal though, you know that bands like this aren't hard to find. The only interesting thing I can really say about the album is that the riffs sometimes are rather more groovy than you might expect to hear from a doom band. I had a few moments where it felt like I was listening to some 90s groove metal band, but not enough where it really felt like a strong deviation from a fairly standard doom metal formula. More like a light groove seasoning.

So why did The Sword succeed? Back in the day I just thought they were some band that utterly sucked but achieved inexplicable popularity. Now I think they're just an alright band that for a brief moment was doing really well. I'm honestly more confused now that the late 2000s are an era solidly in the past, and I have greater knowledge and experience with which to contextualize this band. How did these guys get so much attention from more mainstream metal press at the time? This is the era in which metalcore and deathcore had risen as the metal genres (if you can even call them that) with the most mainstream attention. Nu metal and groove metal still loomed large from the 90s. After all, Machine Head was the other band opening for Metallic on that tour. Sure, to many of use fans of underground metal these genres were annoying trends, but most metal/metal-adjacent bands getting big enough to open for Metallica at the time would be in one of those genres. Maybe if you were melodeath you might be getting into that level of popularity.

Yet here we have this quasi-Sabbath throwback suddenly getting a flurry of attention at the time. There's really few other bands like them that pulled that off. Was there really a hunger for old school doom bands? I don't think so. Time has not been kind to The Sword either, making their surge in popularity all the more baffling. Over time they've waned more and more in popularity (though I actually think they've gotten better as a band). I suspect if you asked many younger metalheads today about The Sword, they might not have ever heard of them. If this album really was some kind of masterpiece I'd understand their success, but it's really just not that incredible. So what on earth happened?

I have two theories. For one, this was the very beginning of the era in which metal bands intentionally playing a retro style. There was still a whole lot more "wow, I can't believe such and such band sounds like they're right out of the 80s" and not yet as much "wow, I can't believe this unoriginal band that just copies 80s bands." This band hit at a weird moment where what they were doing might still have seemed cool, and for whatever reason they happened to get noticed.

Well, not whatever reason. The key to this all is Guitar Hero 2 of all things. They were featured in that game less than a year after this album came out. I don't know how much hype they had before that game came out, but it certainly must have helped them a lot. To the crowd that didn't know much about rock and metal aside from Guitar Hero, these guys certainly must have seemed pretty heavy, and possibly quite unique. The Guitar Hero games were HUGE back then, and these guys for sure benefited from that. Why did they get on Guitar Hero? I have no idea. There's other songs from 2006 on that game, but they're all from bands that were already established, or DLC. No one else had their freshly recorded debut work in that game. Did the devs just happen to have some guy that really liked The Sword? I don't know. But they ended up on Guitar Hero 2 one way or another, and this undeniably was great marketing for them.

So where does this leave us? The Sword is kind of fascinating from a historical perspective, because their success was truly weird and anomalous. Their out of place style along with the particular way they gained popularity makes them a relic that could only appear in the late 2000s, and really no other era. This album itself is just unremarkable. Not offensively bad as some at the time thought, nor something incredible either. If you've never listened to The Sword, you're honestly better off listening to their newer stuff. They've grown as a band, even if they are less successful than they once were. Maybe they'll never be on anyone's list of important doom bands, but their story is more interesting than most bands.

A Competent Piece of Stoner Metal That's Needlessly Loathed - 83%

Mercyful Trouble, May 31st, 2021
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Kemado Records

Most would agree with me when I make the general claim that there's plenty of institutions occupying any niche that come under some heavy fire for one reason or another, and then no one can shake the idea that they suck because of minor nitpicks someone pointed out that aren't truly a big deal. A hate bandwagon is a pretty common concept to bring up and in fact it's a cheap cop-out to accuse people of when you don't like that something you dig is getting some flak, potentially for valid reasons that you could be overlooking. As such, a lot of the same people who'd agree with my initial generalized claim that began this review might say that me implying the hate for The Sword's debut album is little more than a bandwagon is a hollow accusation. To be fair, they have numerous reasons to cite as to why The Sword are a notorious cancer to the metal community or are too hip or commercial to be relevant to deeper metal circles.

I don't get it, because even as a colossal fan of early doom records by Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus, Trouble, etc. I really think Age of Winters is an overall solid example of the stoner metal genre, and I don't think it matters tremendously that it's more commercialized or gives doom a bad name or whatever, because stoner doom in general is easier to digest than emotional sledgehammers laid down on trad doom albums like Born Too Late. Stoner doom is really just about enjoying the bass-heavy grooves of early metal more than it is packing the hardest emotional punch, despite there being exceptions obviously. The Sword delivers enjoyable and groovy stuff on their first album.

It's true that the lyrics are kind of uninspired but a LOT of classic metal has dreadfully worse and more uninspired lyrics than "slayer of the spider priests, spiller of the silver blood", or whatever that line is no one seems to shut up about. Folks, read the lyrics to "Fade to Black", they're as autopilot as it gets for writing sad lyrics. Iron Maiden has some bad and cheesy lines too, but that doesn't stop me from jamming them day in, day out. And this is stoner metal for fuck's sake, not prog. A little bit of strung together fantasy lyrics are fine, it's lighter hearted stuff like I said, it doesn't have to do Manilla Road justice per se. Also there's like some issue people have with the fact that JD from this band used to be an indie rock musician or something. All I can say to that is, how insecure about liking metal can you be that you need to gatekeep who can and can't play metal? Sure, maybe if he used to be in an indie rock group and sucked at playing metal music, then we'd have a bone to pick, but he doesn't. His band delivers competent stoner metal inspired by the likes of Sleep. So onto the music and why I think it's not half bad.

First of all, this music isn't really an approximation of "old-school metal" blended together into some strange mixture of heavy, thrash, doom, etc. as everyone tried to imply. It's simply a slightly more modern take on stoner metal in its pure form, which in and of itself, was often times a modernization of music like heavy psych and early doom metal. Make no mistake, The Sword knew they were playing in the stoner metal niche, perhaps knowing that they would be marketable in this style due to the metal climate at the time, but it's just not true that they decided to play traditional heavy metal and ended up playing stoner metal type stuff as some approximation. They listed Sleep, Melvins, and Black Sabbath as primary influences people, so we can forgive them for citing a few bands outside the doom-adjacent niche as influences too. It's ok to mix and match, that's the only reason metal subgenres exist anyway. Even if for commerciality's sake, a little experimentation isn't something to be scoffed at.

One thing that may confound listeners about the songs here is that they're approaching them as doom metal when they're actually stoner metal, plain and simple. Stoner doom, maybe, but again, that's far removed from (early) Trouble or what have you. The riffs are enticing enough and actually pretty catchy on "Freya" and "Iron Swan", with simple grooves being the focus. However, JD's guitar style goes above and beyond mere commerciality because it takes acceptable tutelage from the likes of Sleep and, on "Winter's Wolves", I would argue even Sabbath in their prime. Honestly, the guys just want you to sit back and enjoy the tunes, and you can't really hate them for it, even if it is a cash-in. I got news for you, plenty of new wave thrash and death metal bands are cashing in on trends or whatever, but who ducking cares if they make enjoyable music. There's plenty of bands with passion and integrity out there to counterbalance them anyway.

Umm, hmm what else can I say about the music. Oh yeah, JD's vocals are also a very neat touch for the less abrasive, more accessible side of stoner metal. A nice and loose feel to the tone of his delivery, the point of which, again, seems to be missed. People, if they were trying to merely cash in on the "retro" metal revival, JD would at least go for a typical Ozzy impression. But he doesn't, he takes influence from singers like Chris Cornell and the dude from Fu Manchu I would argue. Another point - the guitar tone and overall production "breathes" way too much to feel extremely contrived. It's not really overly artificial sounding, it actually has a naturally "big" sound, a bit fluffy, sure, but again, this is accessible stoner metal.

Other moments like the meandering grooves of "The Horned Goddess" or the entirety of "Lament for the Aurochs" (which is just too drawn out for this type of music, and recycles some riffs from previous songs) feel more "autopilot" but they can't really drag Age of Winters down to earning a mediocre score because the overall sound is that of enjoyable, above average stoner stuff. Hip or not, I don't really care, and this long after the album's release it'd be trivial at best to complain that this sort of thing was hip when it came out.

And that last comment really sums up my feelings toward The Sword. Someone sometime somewhere decided this band is a cancerous trend to metal music and just like the supposed trend they were sworn against, it became a trend to hate these guys. And Age of Winters is a decent candidate to direct all that flak towards because it's not as mature in terms of writing as The Sword's next couple albums. Whatever man. If these guys had signed to a cult doom/stoner record label like Rise Above you same doom-loving detractors would eat it up, because this album isn't really too far out of place alongside Orange Goblin, Electric Wizard, Witchskull, Witchcraft, or Beastmaker albums. Hell it's even got a similar feel to some of Cathedral's more upbeat albums like Carnival Bizarre. Honestly, even the cover art for Age of Winters has the same colorful and relatively classy stoner vibe to it, in the sense that you're getting enjoyable Sabbathian grooves.

Black winds fill their silver sails - 100%

goflotsam, January 28th, 2020

As what the previous reviewer said, Age of Winters by The Sword doesn't deserve the amount of hate its getting here. Are they a hipster band? Possibly, considering that the song "Freya" was featured in Guitar Hero II, although this is not as offensive as DragonForce in GH3. Personally, this album is still one of the best in the mid-2000s retro metal movement. In this case, The Sword played stoner metal, with the band's primary influence being Black Sabbath. You could say that The Sword are one of the "sons of Sabbath".

This statement is made clear on the main riff to album closer "Ebethron" as it has a vibe similar to "Children of the Grave", with the tempo changing mid-song. It's a perfect closing track and ultimately reminds the listener of how heavy the riffs are on Age of Winters. "Freya", being The Sword's signature song, is a standout track in its own right. The riffs have some wicked grooves and a cool guitar solo that give it a good reason as to why it's an essential stoner metal song. "Iron Swan" is also a rather popular track, that not only has a beautiful opening to it, but is also one of the faster numbers on Age of Winters. Bordering on thrash metal, it could best be described as if High on Fire had clean vocals.

Like most "retro metal" albums, Age of Winters contains some strong musicianship. Trivett Wingo's drumming is tight, with the frequent usage of the cymbals adding to the sheer heaviness of the album. This is especially on "Barael's Blade" which has excessive amounts of cymbals. The guitars are very dense even considering that there are two guitarists, J. D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt. The influence of Tony Iommi is highly prominent on "March of the Lor", with the Paranoid album being a big influence on these two lads. The large density of Age of Winters also adds bonus points to Bryan Richie, who not only takes inspiration from Geezer Butler, but has some really good bass lines. Very notable on the beginning and end of "Iron Swan", where Richie's bass takes front and center along with some acoustic guitars. Regarding Cronise's vocals, they're very much influenced by the likes of Sean Harris (ex-Diamond Head), who is another UK-based influence on The Sword.

The Sword made an immediate splash with Age of Winters, as the prominent Black Sabbath influence made them stand out compared to most of these garbage metalcore and groove metal bands that were ruining MTV around the same time. The Sword are so popular in fact, that they're actually blacklisted on Shreddit (the metal subreddit). Age of Winters is an album that's essential to any metalhead's collection, and also one of the best metal albums of the 2000s. Hopefully, The Sword will come out of hiatus sooner or later, but in the meantime listen to this slab of heavy stoner metal. This is 100% a masterpiece, and I'm not smoking weed while reviewing this.

Chill Out and Smoke Some Weed - 100%

Judencorpse, January 26th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Kemado Records

The amount of shit this album and band gets is undeserving, mostly stemming from the thought of them being hipster/money grabbing types. This album is a total banger from start to finish and I don't give a good Goddamn whatcha think. The riffs are fucking heavy and punishing, especially for Stoner Metal and there is an ever so lingering vibe of Black Sabbath, Flower Traveling Band, Deep Purple, High on Fire, Kyuss and early Monster Magnet. Of course the band isn't the most complex or most talented, they are young, full of energy and making heavy music they enjoy. The vocals are a tad cheesy but every crash of the drums, every heavy riff, every bassline enhances whatever feeling you're having in present time whether you be stoned or completely sober, this album deserves to be listened to.

Being that Age of Winters is their debut album, it isn't the greatest in their repertoire, but it is definitely a heavy album with a lot of solid riffs. The band puts in a lot of effort (maybe not around the lyrical department) but they are playing music for the sake of playing music because they love what they do. Does it matter that the vocalist was previously in an indie band? Absolutely fucking not, David Vincent has done country music. This album is a piece of art and deserves to be recognised as one. The riffs on this album are heavy, fuzz-ridden, hard rocking and will induce headbanging, if you think this album is really that bad, you've got issues and aren't stoned enough either.

The vast majority of the music on here is stoner metal/psychedelic hard rock oriented mixed with traditional doom metal and heavy Metal. The artwork is colorful and also fits the music very well while giving you an idea of how the band sounds even before playing it. As soon as you pop the bitch in, you're blasted with heavy riffage, psychedelic fuzz, and crashing drums. What a lot of people don't understand is some bands play underproduced to achieve a retro feel. I like raw production more, especially when playing this style because it does feel retro to me. It sounds like a young modern age Sabbath and I'm happy the style is staying.

Overall, this is one of my favorite albums of all time. It gets a verdict of 10/10 from me. I grew up with this album in middle school and it's close to my heart.

Why? - 25%

calm_sea, December 28th, 2010

I'm not going to spout off a line of jive about how this album (and band) are a plague upon the metal world, but I don't know what the purpose of this album (and band) is.

The structure of these songs is incredibly repetitive and weak, the vocals are bland, and the lyrics are contrived, rudimentary, and mind numbing.

Everything about the music pushed out here by The Sword seems pointless. There's no immediacy to any of the music or the lyrics. It seems so passionless. The lyrics are very basic given the topics they concern, and at the end of the record I'm left wondering why I've been listening to this thing and why I should care about any of this.

From a studio sound perspective, it's not that horrid. Though the cymbal use is confusing, that's more of a criticism on the playing, not the studio sound. I listen to music with a wide range of recording qualities, and I generally prefer records with a more organic and warm sound, even if the quality is harsh, compared to a streamlined and overly produced one. This record is somewhere in the middle and from a sound perspective it does not bother me.

I think I will theorize as to the reason for this record (and bands') existence. There has been a widespread rise in heavy bands in the doom/stoner and "traditional" metal genre in the last 10 years with varying degrees of success. I'm assuming these guys formed as a direct result of this in order to make some loot. There's no obvious passion here and from what I've gathered the band members have no other reason to carry the torch for heavy metal. When the metal scene members stop yelling about how The Sword is destroying metal they'll realize that none of the audience this music seems to have been made for will even remember their records. This music is disposable.

It's hip, it's happening, and I don't give a shit. - 15%

hells_unicorn, September 5th, 2008

There’s been an awful lot of discussion over the past year and a half regarding this whole notion of hipsters invading the metal scene within purist circles. Here they come with their fashionable sensibilities, capricious personalities, vapid tastes and banal humor, in some sort of Entryist style conspiratorial endeavor to subdue and ultimately culture the beast of metal in a manner that a virus would the cells of a host body. It sounds absurd enough, seeing as most of these types stick out like a sore thumb in a group of real metal fans, as they embody the mirror opposite of the concept through which a hipster exists. A lot of this alarmist energy is focused on this particular album, due in no small part to the flock of fans that it has attracted, most of who wouldn’t know what metal is if it gouged their eyes out with a plastic spork

Naturally it’s a little unfair to knock a band just because the majority of their audience make fun of most of the cultural make up of our favorite genre and it’s more extreme styles, and usually coming off as total numbskulls while doing so. The thing that really matters, at the end of the game, is the quality of the product itself, and it is here where even the most pretentious of the hipster archetype takes a backseat in the revulsion department as far as I’m concerned. Some might call this an either intentional or unintentional fit of musical self-parody, or perhaps a horribly botched attempt at marrying stoner/doom metal of a quasi-traditional manner to a halfwit’s mishmash of disorganized fantasy/mythological themes, but no matter what you call it the ultimate result is something that is utterly torturous to the ears and the mind.

I’m something of a newcomer to the doom sub-genre, so it’s kind of sad how easily I can pick out all of the recycled ideas guising as what some metal veterans are surprisingly calling a fresh take on metal. The annoying as hell substitution of the crash cymbal for the ride cymbal is right out of Sleep’s playbook, although The Sword thought it would be a good idea to turn the cymbal tracks up even more and bang on them as hard as possible, resulting in about 70% of this album sounding like nails on a chalk board, although being just short of overpowering so you can hear all of the other unpleasant aspects of the music. The riffs have some semblance of Sabbath worship, along with about a half dozen other older doom acts ranging from Trouble to Electric Wizard, all just thrown together like a random stew of half digested meat, none of them coming close to resulting in memory retention. The hipster band charge really starts to show some signs of accuracy here, as most of that sort may be able to identify a song, but can hardly be asked to recall it independent of hearing it at the time of being asked to do so.

Now if the band being completely indistinctive isn’t enough, the contents of this album don’t fully qualify as doom metal in the sense one would guess by the label, but instead some odd version of half-doom that also tries to employ various elements of post-black album 90s Metallica style alternative rock and some extremely sloppy imitations of early 80s pre-thrash speed metal. Although “Barael’s Blade” tries to act like an old style Sabbath emulation presented in a muddled Sleep sort of atmosphere, that redundant as hell principle riff sounds like something swiped off of one of the Load albums. “Freya” starts off with something that sounds closer to a Sabbath riff circa Vol. 4, though again it’s so indistinct that you’ll find yourself going back to that opening riff before all the meandering and stylistic confusion that follows to confirm this a few times because despite it’s simplicity, it doesn’t lend itself to immediate recall.

On and on this thing plods and goes through its disorganized yet ironically predictable motions, almost as if begging the listeners to either recoil in disgust or laugh their asses off. I have to admit that I did the latter upon first hearing “Iron Swan”, which I am guessing is regarded as some sort of innovative hybrid of doom and thrash metal by fans of this band. In truth, what is heard is an extremely bland set of speed riffs, sometimes sounding like Metallica’s famed almost return to thrash metal “Fuel”, at other times exhibiting a stew of recycled and slowed down Slayer fragments presented in a messy, “Dopesmoker” era Sleep meets “Load” era Metallica fashion. Now to be fair to both of those bands during that particular time period, those albums did have a level of merit despite being fairly lackluster, which is more than I can say for this.

One could go on about the obvious issues this album has and fill a small book without even touching the most fatal flaw of this beneficiary of the advent of hyped novelty, namely the vocals of J.D. Cronise. It’s fitting that this guy is the mastermind of this whole affair since aside from his meandering riff composing and colorless solos, not to mention the pedestrian and utterly random George R.R. Martin quote splicing at play here, the man has no vocal identity to speak of. Maybe it’s just my own status as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek and a lover of Norse mythology, but when I see even half assed lyrics paralleling these subjects in the album booklet, I at least expect a voice that has the eccentric qualities necessary to stand out in the crowded halls of heavy metal. Whether it’s Fabio Lione, ZP Theart, Erick Adams, Ronnie James Dio, Elise Martin or Jari Mäenpää; love them or hate them for their respective styles or the heroic lyrics they vocalize, you know who they are the minute the first note hits the microphone. The same thing goes for all of the best black, death, symphonic or straight up heavy metal singers that have ever sang about the stories conjured up in the heathen lands of Northern and Western Europe.

And what does Cronise bring to the table you might ask? The answer is one of blandest, driest, and most utterly plain of voices to ever be recorded in metal’s near 40 year history. Picture any guy that could have been in a high school choir and learned how to sing on pitch, well, mostly on pitch at least, but who never went beyond blending in with 70 to 80 other trained singers. Now take the rest of the choir away and put a guitar in his hands and you’ve got what’s on here. There’s no passion in these notes, not attitude, no attempt at sounding either wicked or stoic, there’s only low and high notes sung at a singular volume with a flat, mostly clean inflection. The Ozzy imitator allegations thrown at this are utterly baseless, regardless to whether he’s even attempting to do so or not, because there is no discernable similarity to be found. For all the flaws and limitations in his singing, you’d know Ozzy’s ugly, nasally, warlock-like bellows when you hear them, whereas with Cronise you could only identify it by recognizing it as that guy with the plain sounding voice who tries to sing fantasy oriented doom metal.

Other than maybe the warning label that comes in the form of opening track “Celestial Crown”, which sounds nothing like what the title implies and is so utterly boring and bare in it’s droning, change from the first chord to the second every 15 seconds beauty that you’d likely give up on this album before the 2 minute overture concludes, there’s little that can be described in a positive light. The only thing I can remember liking about this album was getting aroused by the half-clothed, hippie looking blonde that is supposed to be the goddess Freya on the album cover, for a little less than a minute of course, before remembering that it was a picture and not the real thing.

People seem to get bent out of shape over this music getting all this attention, but I don’t really see much point in dwelling on it now. So what if some of these songs made it onto Guitar Hero, some other video game and a few popular television shows? This isn’t the impending death of heavy metal, this is nothing more than a pseudo-metal version of Moby. Yes, that annoying pop artist who mass marketed his sonic dribble via television commercials because nobody would actually listen to his music without something else distracting them and pushing it into the background. I can guarantee you that 10 years from now very few people will care about “Age Of Winters” enough to pull it off the CD shelf, wipe the dust away and have some sort of perverse celebration commemorating the 10th anniversary of metal’s demise.

It’s annoying to have to deal with issues such as hipster culture, indie culture, the Seattle grunge scene, and all this other crap that is more about socio-political issues than music itself. But albums like this invite the sort of criticism it’s been getting from so-called metal elitists because it can’t be enjoyed for its musical attributes. It’s not merely derivative, it’s downright boring, so naturally when it gets what appears to be underserved praise the heavy metal conspiracy theorists are going to come out with computer keyboards blazing. I can’t join in the fray in that respect because I don’t feel threatened by this stuff. In 2 or 3 years these capricious hipster types will move on and project their inner sense of purposelessness onto some other art form, and you and I will still be here, loving metal for the expression of musical freedom that it truly is. I’ll admit that it’s occasionally fun to light up the torches and seek out the heretics, as any other good Catholic metal head would surely approve of, but this alleged threat to our church was over before it started.

Obviously opinions vary on the musical content of on here, so I’ll simply say that if you are a fan of butchered doom metal, you might like this. Personally, I’m not sure how any staunch fan of Black Sabbath, Trouble, Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard, or any other reputable doom or stoner metal band could find this enjoyable, but I am a new comer so I guess my tastes are a bit different. And for all of you bristling anti-hipsters out there, the best way to make this go away is to ignore it. I’ll admit that after the first listen, I was a little upset for having spent $12 on this, but you get over these things. Let the whorish mainstream enjoy their doom metal knockoff and instead, put all that energy into something useful like making money to pick up the new Heaven And Hell album when it comes out.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on September 5, 2008.

Raw and Unfocused - 75%

peacefrog36, July 1st, 2008

In their first release you see a band trying to capture the same essence and power of old sabbath while throwing in the occasional thrash riff. At times it works and results in a headbanging gem such as in Freya, Iron Swan, or Lament of the Aurochs. While in other songs the attempts to create some massive grandoise masterpiece just result in two minutes of wow and another four minutes of 'this songs still going'.

The guitar throughout the album sticks with heavy riffing with a few exceptions (Iron Swan, March of the Lor) While the riffs are acceptable few of them really standout and some sound like a variation of other doom or stoner bands work. The solos are actually pretty good but are few between and and only two are actually good the whole way through. You find that you'll enjoy snippets of the solos and not the whole thing most of the time.

The drums are complex and are constantly in bang your ass off mode. Trivett shows excellent timing and intracacies but The Sword sticks with a bashing plodding beat while trying to compose songs of monolithic porportion. As I said the drums are always 'on'. Their is one drum solo (Ebethron)

The bass usually follows the guitar with slight variations on the riffs but it also is lost in the maelstrom of noise that comes from the dual guitars and the bashing drums.

In a whole the band tries 'too' hard at times just causing songs to more and more overblown and ridiculous as there run time becomes longer and longer. The lyrics are cheesy at times and are just basic recalling of norse mythology.

The album overall is a decent first release with some very bright spots and some slow, overblown parts that just result in noise. The album has an almost jam like feel during many songs, it seems like the band just went in the studio without ever actually deciding how long their songs should be or how its format would be (their is no verse chorus verse styles here). The songs seem like they came out of jams with lyrics thrown in. Only a few songs escape this.

The band has almost all of its ingredients but it still hasn't figured out how much of each should go in.

Best tracks: Iron Swan, Freya, Celestial Crown/Baraels Blade,

Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth - 5%

kapitankraut, September 13th, 2007

The Sword's debut album "Age of Winters" nearly managed to put me off doom metal before I'd even started. Yes, dear reader, it is truly that bad.

Doom metal, as many of us presumably know, requires atmosphere. It requires sincerity. Most of the time, not to put too fine a point on it, it requires some element of what I call "doominess". "Doominess" is that glorious feeling you get listening to good doom metal when you suddenly realise that the ten-minute-long track is halfway over and the vocalist hasn't yet used his vocal cords in anger, or when you realise that the lyrics are so unspeakably pessimistic that you're not sure if you want the sun to come up tomorrow. "Age of Winters" has none of the above.

What "Age of Winters" does have, and has in spades, is what might be termed the outward form of doom metal. All those down-tuned guitar riffs propelling the song along and so on are here. The vocals, too, sometimes approach a suitably doomy style, but never really get there.

Lest it be thought that I'm simply comparing The Sword to the hypothetical "true doom metal" band and finding them sadly lacking, that isn't the case at all. I'm simply pointing out that a fan of other doom metal bands is highly unlikely to find much good in this album.

Neither is the fan of anything much else in terms of good music. The vocals here are pedestrian at best and pointless at worst. Far too often, they're simply indecipherable. To be fair, perhaps this is actually a good thing, since - as other reviewers here have pointed out - the lyrics are generally pretty dire anyway. I also get the sense that the band borrowed a series of works on mythology from their local library and selected words and phrases which sounded interesting. Musically, the guitar riffs are amateurish as well. Instead of being engaging and catchy, they're dull and boring. The effect is generally to make a short song sound like it's taking forever, which is never a good thing.

So why 5%? Well, sad to say it but I'm not sure this is the worst album out there. I haven't heard much worse, I'll grant you, but there'd have to be worse, surely. Maybe I'm just an optimist.

A conspiracy against us - 0%

Noktorn, April 11th, 2007

I've started and erased this review several times while trying to wrap my words around the statements I'm trying to make. It's not a difficult one to think about, but it is a bit harder to communicate in the written form. It is one of the utmost abstract, but understanding it would be utter simplicity. So, let me try once again to illustrate my feelings towards this album.

Heavy metal, as well all well know by now, is a commodity. Not necessarily a commodity to its dedicated practitioners, but most certainly a commodity to those would profit on the genre's aesthetic, regardless of the artistic implications of the music within. We see the signs all around: your local Hot Topic selling vintage Black Sabbath shirts for exorbitant prices, the denizens of a local high school animatedly discussing Dragonforce (pay no attention to the dyed-black hair swept artfully and mysteriously over one eye), or even the presence of Trivium opening for Iron Maiden (imagine such a thing just fifteen years ago; it would be met by rioting in the streets!). Obviously, despite how sacred people such as us might find the genre, it is just another style, another look for all those who are not versed in its mysticism.

To the outside listener, one cannot usually distinguish between subgenres of metal at first glance. Most of the time, it all sounds like differently pitched varieties of cacophonous noise that does nothing more than thrash about without rhyme or reason. Of course, such a view is understandable and typical and even excusable early on, when one is being slowly but surely weaned off of a steady diet of homogenous mainstream sound. But it is in this spirit of noise that the metal aesthetic has been cultivated, both within the (admittedly rather shaky as of late) walls of our community and without: metal often portrays itself as an esoteric musical porcupine while those who generate cash off such an image keep upping the relative bar of extremity.

But in the third way, the noise has become the very image of those scenesters who have suddenly picked up the 'true metal' flag as their own. Few of those kids who just began listening to back Maiden and Priest LPs could tell you much about the nature of the music, the history, the struggles, the combats and triumphs between genres; this much is common knowledge. All these misguided youths think is fast, heavy, loud, and most importantly, with a thin sheen of individuality mixing oxymoronically yet without perceived struggle with trendiness. To such people, there is no inherent difference between Manilla Road or Morbid Angel or Trivium: just that some are more appealing than others, but they are of course all metal.

It is in this spirit that a strange idea of 'traditional' metal has been created: the various mixing and merging of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and a handful of others, creating some strange perception of what 'traditional metal' is. A bizarre, artless melting pot of heavy, speed, thrash, stoner, doom, NWOBHM, and whatever else is at hand, served up with a helping of short hair and accessible melodies. But of course it must maintain the irony of the music, the fact that no 'cultured' kids would really listen to such music in a genuine fashion. Yes, you can wear your Killswitch Engage shirt, perhaps even buy an album (though more likely download it) or go to a show; but one must never identify fully with such music, lest they be swept into some godforsaken maelstrom of cultureless middle class that both sees Iron Maiden as spiritually fulfilling, but can't afford plasma screen televisions either! Oh, the humanity!

But what would be better than a band that could at once rejoice in and humiliate metal, comforting those who love the image but hate the community, and perhaps even sweep a few 'true metalheads' into the fold, like so many platypi in an Australian zoo. "Ah, yes, here we have a beautiful example of a mid-80's thrasher! Look at the gorgeous plumage of his denim vest and sour attitude!" Yes, a band was needed that would take the perverted image of 'traditional' metal and bend it to the will of those who wanted to destroy metal, remove all the fear and doubt and pure ferocity of the genre, and make it something safe to do on weekends. Perhaps they could even have short hair, and be cultivated from cultured rock bands, but always profess their allegiance to that which is metal.

If one hasn't gathered it yet, this band is The Sword. Ignore your Triviums, your Slipknots, your Linkin Parks and neo-Metallicas, THIS is the sort of thing that is genuinely killing metal. This is a parody of all that metal has stood for, and it pours out of every note that vaguely heralds some hobbled combination of genres that has no basis in anything that truly exists in metal. Despite attempting (and generally failing) to mimic the styles and feelings of 'old-school' heavy metal, one can so clearly hear the lack of sincerity in the music which makes this album such an odious listening experience. This is no tribute to tradition: this is a complete sham and mockery of all that we love in this music.

The music could be approximated as some breed of traditional doom metal. Sabbathisms and other such references abound, but never reach anywhere near the quality of such a band. There's a (very) crude approximation of 'stoner' riffing throughout, that while not overtly unpleasant, is obviously lacking in both style and form. They only sound 'stoner' in the most superficial sense: they have none of the drugged-out drone of 'Sweet Leaf' or, to be more modern, 'Dragonaut', resulting in riffs that sound like they WANT to be good, but somehow get lost along the way. Much like the riffs as well, the vocal performance is a very poor attempt to summon the spirit of Ozzy, but while his voice brought to mind a modern-day shaman, the strains of J.D. Cronise are a melodramatic parody of themselves. You can hear him nearly panting with self-indulgence when he croons 'Behold! The bastard blade!', as if his grasp of alliteration somehow elevates him as an artist. I suppose this reflects the music itself: precocious when it in no way deserves to be.

This brings me to a next point of contention: the lyrics here are utterly atrocious. Now, many bands have taken it upon themselves to write lyrics based on fantasy, but never in such an incompetent way as this. These aren't cohesive Tolkienisms; it's just strings of various monsters vaguely linked together as such: 'Bane of the demon lord/Slayer of the spider-priests/Spiller of the silver blood'. Or, even better, the deranged co-opting of Norse mythology on 'Freya' into some indie-rocker's viking wet dream: 'Freya weeps upon her golden throne/Upon her golden throne/I'll wait for her alone'. Ugh. The lyrics communicate no intensity, and neither does the music; so what makes this metal? Isn't SOME level of intensity a prerequisite for this style of music? Apparently not; I guess a vague sense of being 'heavy' (which is purely due to the overly clear, bass heavy production, not songwriting) is enough to qualify it as metal, sincerity and songwriting be damned.

Other reviewers have commented on how agonizingly long the songs feel. This is no lie; each song feels incredibly drawn out with excessive repetitions of riffs that serve no purpose but to artificially inflate the running time of each track, perhaps in some inane pursuit of 'being epic'. But there is nothing epic about this music, no sweeping grandeur, no particular atmosphere, nothing at all that would make the music deserving of such a term. For a band that claims to be 'doom metal', there's a complete lack of atmosphere in music where atmosphere is one of if not the most critical quality! Yes, all the pieces are in place; clever transfers between soft and hard passages, 'propulsive' drumming (note: slamming the crash cymbal as much as possible doesn't elevate the intensity of the music), some modicum of intensity. But it's all for naught, as the critical element of legitimacy is completely lacking.

The sounds themselves aren't particularly awful. Hell, there are even some pleasing parts distributed throughout the mostly aimless waffling among trite Sabbathism and stoner rock grooves. But even these few moments of pleasure are instantly extinguished by how very repulsive the feel of this band is. The Sword is a band that lacks any and all love of the genre. Not being able to judge a book by its cover is a complete lie: if it looks like an indie rocker and sounds like one, it's sure as hell not a heavy metal band, and to describe it as such is utterly ludicrous. This is completely devoid of metal's fire and spirit, leaving it with only a cold, calculating attempt to make money and sway listeners over to 'the light side': that of the normal and mundane culture that we so despise.

No, this album isn't completely terrible on a musical level. But on a philosophical level, in the dimension of caring remotely for the genre, the community, hell, even their own music? A travesty matched by few. 'Age Of Winters' stands tall as a monolithic attempt to crush metal beneath the white hoof of 'progress' and 'civilization'. This, my friends, is the sort of music that is a plague upon metal, a conspiracy to strip it of its pride and savagery. Express your devotion to metal by denying this music as part of the community that you hold dear. This is metal only in sonic replication; NOT in all the ways that count.

Death to The Sword.

A Great Beginning - 93%

goober, November 25th, 2006

Nowadays, finding an old school heavy metal band is comparable to searching for the Holy Grail: it's a (usually) fruitless search for a great treasure. However, The Sword has put out a great album here.

I like how the singer is very old school. Nice voice, none of that stupid high pitched bat-like screaming (no offense if you like that stuff). The guitar work is extraordinary, the riffs are awesome and the drumming is intense. The band brings all these good traits together in songs like "Freya" and "Winter's Wolves." However, not everything is positive about this album. The instruments at times drown out Cronise's voice at times, more or less because of imbalance between the volume of the instruments and the singing. The sound quality is also not top-notch. The instrumentals are also something not to brag about. Finally, the band seems like it is using the same rhythm for many of the songs, which makes it feel like they are playing the same thing over and over, even though they really aren't.

Most of the mistakes The Sword makes seem to be common for newcomers, which may be turnoffs to some people. However, they also prove that they clearly have potential, and are willing to use it. If you want to fucking rock out, and you are looking for something a bit different, then get this album.