Sword – III Review

Cue reverb heavy 80’s cartoon voice:

I am Itchy, noob of the sump pump, defender of the secrets of hobo wine. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft Sword’s 2022 comeback album, III, and Steel said, “By the power of Jorn, don’t fuck this one up.” Dr. Grier became more cynical than ever, and I became A.M. Gee-Man, the most uncertain writer in the catacombs beneath the filter. No other wanted to share in this secret promo. Alone, I must defend the score counter against the evil 4.0’s of my hack coworkers. Will this album be a masterful return to the metal universe of yore? Or will it be endless skeletor-ment? Let’s sharpen our blades and cut to the chase.

For you angry metal toddlers out there who have never heard of them, Sword (not to be confused with Austin doom stoners The Sword) is a Canadian band that swung hard with their 1986 debut, Metalized. The album generated a decent amount of attention and even landed them opening slots for Motorhead, Alice Cooper and Metallica. Their 1989 follow up, Sweet Dreams, was another energized plate of trad metal but the band’s edge never penetrated very far beyond their Canadian homeland. It’s not clear why they broke up in the early 90s but according to their website, they’ve been happily playing in cover bands, raising families and working their 9-5 jobs. III seemingly picks up where the band left off 30 years ago. The riffs are still big, the production bigger and the sound heavy. Only the hair and maybe the band’s earnestness is a tad thinner.

The challenge, of course, with a band like Sword is: how do you stay relevant in 2022? If you don’t stick to your classic sound, you’ll alienate existing fans. If you fail to put a contemporary spin on things, you risk being dismissed as a novelty or nostalgia act. For the most part, Sword stays true to their roots. The band proves they have some fire left in their forge and the musicianship is top-tier. Whether intentional or not, two songs on III sound very similar to post 80s Metallica. The embarrassingly titled “(I am) in Kommand” borrows liberally from “Fuel” with its hammer-off groove. “Spread the Pain” sounds like an extra from Hardwired…to Self-Destruct and one can smell similar whiffs of desperation in trying to capture the band’s early thunder and prove their relevance.

The best tune on III is also the stupidest. “Dirty Pig” features fantastic guitar work, crushing riffery, a blazing guitar solo and juicy production. It’s the kind of song that could have been a breakthrough hit before 1990 and a total barn burner. That is until Rick Hughes starts singing. Unfortunately, the song has some of the dumbest lyrics of the year. Lines like “and then you will squeal for your mama” and “pride of your species rolling around in your feces” are cringy, even by olde metal guy standards. “Unleashing Hell” is another example of a banger that starts strong but quickly devolves into a self-serving autobiography. The lyrics about how much coke they did and how much hell they raised in 1986 leave the band sounding more insecure than nostalgic. The rest of the album is solid but not especially noteworthy. “Took My Chances” is the type of underrated medium-tempo B-side that would gracefully carry an album to the finish line in the olde days. You don’t hear its ilk very often and it was a welcome surprise.

As a whole, III is a compact and potent serving of traditional meat and potato metal tropes, (mostly) done right. The band feels most stagnant conceptually and lyrically. I’m not sure they’ve grown to their potential and at 35 minutes, one wonders if, after 30 years, they could have come up with one or two more decent tunes. I doubt most Sword fans come to this record with high expectations and, if you don’t, there’s enough here to enjoy without overthinking it. Sword is a band that deserves some props for their contribution to the scene. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t get to grow into something bigger, but it’s fun to see all the original members back in good form here. Their hands are a little shaky, but they can still wield the steel as well as most of their contemporaries.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Massacre Records
Website: sword.metalized.bandcamp.com| swordmetalized.com
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2022

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