To these ears, Sword Heaven’s recorded output has always strived to match the power and intensity of the band’s live performances. Due to low fidelity and the ineffability of putting live energy to tape, the ardent Sword Heaven fan is left with vivid memories of intense performances, and a smattering of tapes, CD-Rs, and vinyl that are a fuzzy, diluted representation of what they saw and heard. It can be argued that any/all recordings will suffer the same fate when compared to a live show, but with Sword Heaven, the difference is unmistakable. Entrance, the Columbus duo’s full-length debut, makes a valiant effort, and just might be Sword Heaven’s best attempt yet to take their primal sounds into the American home.
When listening to Entrance, one can’t see (or smell) vocalist/percussionist Aaron Hibbs, shirtless, stalking the venue with a trail of damaged cymbals, or pounding his drums relentlessly while balancing menacingly on a drum throne with no legs. The visual element of Mark Van Fleet’s manipulation of mics and metal is missing, and the dizzying show of force that tends to mark a Sword Heaven performance simply can’t work its way through the speakers. But on this disc, Hibbs and Van Fleet, with the help of engineer Bryan Parker (and, on one track, the enigmatically monikered MVF) come satisfyingly close. The primordial thud of Hibbs’ floor tom, often augmented by electronic means, rings out clear and loud, co-opting the foreground of every track, the inertia of the beat leaving a noticeable negative space on either side of its craters. Van Fleet fills the gaps with tapes, the occasional bleat of a horn, and the sweet sounds of metal on metal. Hibbs’ strained shouts and snarls, though kept primarily in the background, are a near-constant presence in the music, and the most animalistic of its ingredients. The broken glass emissions of the group’s electronics, courtesy of Hibbs, are often arranged with the beat in an ominous call and response, the creaking seizure of the sound resembling an insect beaten into submission by the drums’ heavy thunder.
The fidelity of Entrance can sometimes be frustrating; “Sights Not Long Gone,” for one, is recorded with a distancing effect not best suited for such visceral music. But given Sword Heaven’s sound, something like tribal music gone industrial, one wouldn’t want a clean and immaculate recording, and often Entrance has just the right amount of grit. It’s still no comparison to seeing Hibbs and Van Fleet live, but, especially for the uninitiated, the album comes close enough to make it a listening experience that’ll leave one feeling nice and clobbered.