The Sword: Apocryphon

The Sword's forward momentum hits the Earth running on Apocryphon, the follow up to the temporal exploration of their third album, Warp Riders.


US Release: 2012-10-22
Label: Razor & Tie
UK Release: 2012-11-05
Label website
Artist website

The guys that comprise Austin, Texas' warp riders', The Sword, have journeyed over criticism during their six year existence despite their notable success. Guitarist/vocalist J.D. Cronise (who founded the band and wrote all the music for their debut, Age of Winters), guitarist Kyle Shutt and bassist Bryan Richie have had to shield themselves from detractors who questioned their true motivations: accusations of being indie hipsters playing heavy riffs just for the sake of being ironic were bandied around, especially when the band played trendy festivals such as South By Southwest and allowed "Freya" to be included on an early installment of the video game series, "Guitar Hero". The band also faced scrutiny from hardened doom/sludge fans because of their first two records—Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth—both of which were tagged "retro" and deemed highly derivative of their influences: Sleep, High on Fire and their ilk, and therefore were classed not good enough. In direct contradiction to this, The Sword's popularity continued to rise: Gods of the Earth landed on the US Billboard 200 chart and a certain metal band by the name of Metallica took a shine to The Sword and brought them out on the road on their European Vacation Tour in 2008.

But as far as the music on The Sword's first two albums is concerned, the only criticism that actually hit the mark was the fact that the band noticeably lacked a true voice of its own. But being criticised for not having found an original sound is a flaw distinct from the derogatory declarations of being derivative that were aimed at The Sword. It has never been disputed (even by the band) that they more than thumbed the pages of the doom/sludge rule book according to bands like Sleep, yet being disregarded by doom/sludge fans for leaning on the well established tenets of the genre was harsh considering every riff heard in this style of metal is of direct lineal descent to the ominous sounds Tony Iommi wrenched from the bowels of hell during the '70s—it has been a case of steal from the king to feed the pauper ever since the genesis of doom/sludge was carved into legend on Sabbath's mercurial debut. Yet in spite of the criticism (as well as the praise), the guys in The Sword continued to keep their heads down and refused to fan the flames of skepticism or feast upon their achievements. Instead The Sword took every drop of condemnation on board and used it constructively when creating their third full length, Warp Riders: a science fiction concept album launched into space in 2010.

Warp Riders was the sound of the The Sword realising that in order to invert the opinions of the past they needed to alter their musical approach so that comparisons to bands at the heavier end of the sludge spectrum would no longer be applicable. To accomplish this transition they moved away from the molten sludge, Slayer riffs and huge grooves, and in their place pushed classic rock and melodic thrash metal to the fore while evidently focusing on reinforcing Cronise's vocal weaknesses—he always used a clean style but previous to Warp Riders he lacked personality and his melodies tended to drift aimlessly amongst the mighty riff formations. Warp Riders was a career turning point and The Sword's most successful release; the record where The Sword found that true voice. And because of this new found comfort in their own skin as well as the adventure of their fantastical album concept, even drummer problems (Trivett Wingo left the band after a number of years and was replaced by Kevin Fender to complete tours and then he gave way to current drummer, Santiago "Jimmy" Vela III) could not stop The Sword's onward momentum.

This momentum has continued through to 2012 and has hit terra firma on The Sword's fourth full length in six years--Apocryphon (their first for New York label, Razor & Tie). As expected Apocryphon does not venture far from the musical style of Warp Riders and this is the album's biggest strength: having musical stability has allowed The Sword to hone song-writing and further tighten both vocal and instrumental hooks. Apocryphon has been produced by former Jawbox guitarist/vocalist J. Robbins, and his admirable job of balancing the clarity and power of The Swords twin guitar attack can be heard from the first scorching riff of "Veil of Isis"—reminiscent of Red Album-era Baroness. "Veil of Isis" is an epic condensed into five and a half minutes and the earthy intensity of its riffs, its tempo variations, "foot on monitor"-style soloing and insistent vocal melodies as a whole are indicative of the individual ideas explored throughout Apocryphon.

"Cloak of Feathers" tightly grips the coattails of Warp Riders hitting the classic rock moves of ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy, with melodies that link the song to "Maiden, Mother & Crone" off Gods of the Earth and nimble bass-lines courtesy of Richie who shines through the pillars of riffs. The next three tracks: "Arcane Montane", "The Hidden Masters" and "Dying Earth"—all in typical The Sword fashion—lean lyrically on fantasy, but there is some apocalyptic tension in Cronise's words. On "Arcane Montane" Cronise begs for assistance from the mountains while they band shake the ground with some Clutch-style swagger. During the doom of "The Hidden Masters" he pleads and questions: "Look at yourselves / Look at your world/ What have you done? / What shall you become?", while on the devastating riff haven of "Dying Earth" he resigns himself to the fact that we are all doomed: "As the sun fades from the sky / This ancient earth prepares to die / Here at the end of all time / A slow demise so saturnine." These three tracks all mention Gods, Sorcerers and Masters but behind the imagery it is clearly fantasy steeped in reality.

As mentioned previously the vocal hooks and song-writing on Apocryphon is better than ever, shining the brightest during "Seven Sisters" and "Hawks & Serpents". The former taking the Ozzy approach of letting the vocal melody follow the memorable riff pattern; such is the catchiness of the riffs that Cronise and Shutt twist together—they are an underrated riff writing team. While the latter, "Hawks & Serpents", channels the '80s in sound and spirit; further confirming that you can't stop rock 'n' roll! Apocryphon ends with the title track and takes off through the cosmos with a more thrash centred blast, coming full circle from the journey that Warp Riders embarked on two years ago. This complete cycle is even acknowledged by the band, Cronise declaring in the final lines of his lyrics: "Everything comes around again / The serpent eats its tail". Whether this album signals the end of this particular musical journey is uncertain but one thing is for definite: The Sword is currently one of the best rock bands operating in this galaxy today. Not bad for a bunch of indie hipsters playing heavy riffs just for the sake of being ironic! 


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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