More familiarly known for their ‘Doom/Stoner’ metal sound, Texas band The Swords’ latest instalment ‘Low Country’ may come as somewhat of a surprise for existing fans.
Having previously released ‘High Country’ in 2015, their 6th release as you may have guessed is an alternative take on ‘High Country’; stripped down acoustically.
The intro ‘Unicorn Farm’, a steel guitar driven, instrumental track opens the proceedings, reminiscent of the build up to two cowboys about to partake in a duel. While a good indication of the direction they’ve chosen for the forthcoming tracks, it’s too brief to make any substantial assumptions.
‘Empty Temples’, officially the first track, is the quintessential stoner track. It carries a dark atmospheric ambience, in conjunction with a powerful low vocal delivery by Cronise, adorned with layered harmonies and underlining occult lyrical content. Succeeding the intro track, this is further reassurance that the remainder of the album will continue with the same level of quality.
With ‘High Country’ we’re presented with percussion for the first time in addition to female backing vocals which both add a new dimension and depth to the foundation they started with in earlier tracks. The songs lyrical content takes on a focus of nature and all things outdoors, which sits well with the performance of the track, coming across more camp fire-esque.
There are certainly parts on the album that undeniably have a greater lean to southern rock/country than that of a stoner/doom one. ‘Mist & Shadow’ and ‘Seriously Mysterious’ form the mid section of the album, the latter of which was used to promote the release of the album; although a solid track I don’t feel it represents the overall sound of the album.
‘Buzzards’ demonstrates where perhaps an ‘acoustic’ rendition, if you can call it that, completely misses the mark. Many of the other tracks follow similar suit in the delivery and execution, so it’s difficult understanding the thought process behind the track and what exactly The Sword were trying to convey with the inclusion of a synthesiser and what sounds like an electronic drum loop; ultimately does them no favours and isn’t easy to digest.
The respective penultimate & finale tracks, ‘Ghost Eye’ & ‘The Bees Of Spring’ are perhaps the best examples where their acoustic renditions actually better the one recorded on the ‘High Country’ album. A perfect balance of easy listening acoustics with straight forward, clear delivered vocals. The sole drawback is they clock in at just over 2 minutes, brief but a necessity to bring the standard back up after the previous directionless track.
It’s a stimulating concept to purely re record a previously released album, to then repackage the material and strip it down to the acoustics; it’s a tried and tested method but isn’t always triumphant.
In many parts the tracks have been constructed cohesively and generally the formula does work in the stripped down format, there are only a few instances where they fall short. I can’t imagine this album represents a desire for The Sword to change stylistically, is merely an exploration into less familiar territory. From ‘Empty Temples’ “But there is a new path. Always has been. As we set foot upon it. Let us fear not the end” is a perfect way to summarize ‘Low Country’.
‘Low Country’ is out now on Razor & Tie Records.