The Sword - "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians" (Gods of the Earth)
The Sword's debut was one of those albums that presented a vision so complete, finding an audience was merely the final component. When Age of Winters arrived in 2006, they were hardly the only band working on the sounds of early heavy metal. But it felt like the product of years of planning. From the art nouveau hesher Valkyrie on the cover to the tales of warriors told within, it all served to buttress the twin-guitar epics. They weren't rigidly retro a lot of the songs built into thrash whirlwinds. What stood out was a confidence that rock set in 900 A.D. could work in 2000 A.D. without sounding stuck in the past be it custom van 70s or stave church burning 90s.
So the sophomore challenge for a band like this isn't about getting sharper. It's about continuing the process that got them so sharp, without the luxury of long preparation. Gods of the Earth doesn't try to replicate the fairies-in-boots hallucinations of Winters, and it doesn't find it's groove right away. Leader J. D. Cronise still launches each song with a lick that could have come from the digits of Tony Iommi, but they pick up to a gallop pretty quick. This disc is more contemporary, but also draws from a wider range of metal's past. While first few numbers don't lack for inspiration, they do plod, even at faster tempos. The opener neatly demonstrates how they change things up: acoustic picking cuts to scorched slams, then cuts to fluid 80s leads. But it doesn't qualify as a cohesive song. It's odd to accuse doom purveyors of plodding (how else you gonna bring the weight?), but it seems like they stopped working the material as soon as riffs were tight ploughshares yet to be beaten into blades.
Then "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians" shows up, and with death metal kick drums and the menace of crashing gongs, the black gunk finally comes spilling out. From there, it's a solid run to the end of the album. "To Take the Black best illustrates the new fusion. While the meat of the song is thrash, there's a jig to the melodies. Its buried under a froth of overdrive, but they make the Celtic roots explicit by reprising the melody as an acoustic bonus track. Elsewhere, too, Sabbath gets pushed aside for something closer to Jethro Tull and their Joseph Cambpell approach to mythology. "Maiden, Mother and Crone" is an archetype survey choking on the same power chords that drive the songs on Aqualung. Gods climaxes with a multi-part instrumental, "White Sea, that's proggy without ever becoming effete, each change contributing to the images of tossing waves, stalled currents and distant icebergs.
Gods of the Earth is shaky in places, but once its longboats settle in the water, it's a force. As Cronise declares near the end of the record, the slabs of fuzz giving way to a rare moment of clear vocals, "We do what must be done."