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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.