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Metal Magic 

A heavy band for the indie crowd, the Sword turns its gaze to outer space.

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Let's call the Sword our happy medium. In a rapidly expanding independent metal scene, it can be hard to approach the silliness of heavy metal. Too often, the genre’s over-the-top nature hides bad songwriters behind overdone-ness and poorly timed humor.

“There are a lot of metal bands around that, to me, come across as exaggerated parodies of real bands,” says JD Cronise, guitarist and vocalist in Austin, Texas, metal band the Sword.

He’s got a point: Novelty metal acts like GWAR and Cannibal Corpse are famous for great live shows but have never been able to prove themselves with a strong recording. And then there’s a band like the Sword — a band who has a clear understanding of those extremes of heavy metal. They play to them but also know when they’ve gotten too close to parody.

And yet still, the Sword spins dark, pounding doom metal that tells fantastical tales that sound as if they were lifted straight from a grocery store science-fiction novel.

But Cronise says that he pulls inspiration from threads of the world around him. “The world is a pretty dark place and full of more mystery than people realize.”

The sound of the Sword is not a tough one to pinpoint in terms of influences: classic metal acts like Black Sabbath, the crushing lows of doom metal groups like the Melvins, the stoner sound of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age. Still, these references affect the Sword only on a very basic level. The magic of this band comes from the same approach to fantasy that Led Zeppelin mastered: toy with it, have some fun, but don’t lose yourself in the ridiculousness.

The Sword released their debut record, the awesomely titled Age of Winters, to acclaim in 2006. It played nicely with the metal heritage it paid homage to, remembering a time when heavy metal and rock and roll weren’t so different. Winters was anthemic and arena-ready, setting the blueprint for the band’s great sludge sound. Two years later, the band released the faster and thrashier Gods of the Earth. While initially seeming like a step backwards, it also saw the Sword slowly involving themselves with the exploratory progressive rock of bands like Rush.

But last year, the Sword returned with their ultimate statement, Warp Riders — a twisted, explosive concept album that shows the band turning its focus toward outer space.

But what inspires the Sword, says Cronise, is far less outrageous than faraway planets, alien beings and black magic.

“My biggest inspiration right now is my dog,” he admits.

The Sword has recently become a hit with all kinds of new “indie” crowds — not just heavy metal fans. But it has also earned them some strange labels (“hipster metal” and “retro metal,” for example) that would frustrate anybody else. Yet Cronise almost relishes the tags, even the ones that attempt to be insulting.

“I think as time goes on, most people care less and less about how music is labeled by obsessive nerds and just look for stuff they like,” he says.

The Sword, he says, is just thinking about the music.

“I think it’s hard for even the genre-fixated to accurately fit us into the correct slot. At the end of the day, we don’t care what they call us, as long as they keep on calling.”

The Sword plays with Ed Revel and the Butchers • Tuesday, June 21, at 7 pm • A Club • $15 • All-ages • aclubspokane.com • 624-3629

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