Austin metal band the Sword has always had great riffs, but the execution was usually more about passion, not precision — until now. On their third album, the Sword tighten their game. The most immediate change involves frontman J.D. Cronise, who's learned how to sing. Warp Riders is a sci-fi concept record — at least that's what the group is claiming — so the music is more technically adept (guitar solos, ahoy!) and more progressive, with organ filling out several tracks. There's more boogie in the Sword's metal too: "Lawless Lands" sounds like a heavy ZZ Top, and "Night City" is a radio-friendly hard-rock anthem. Drummer Trivett Wingo remains the Sword's secret weapon, thumping out minimalist grooves that combine Thin Lizzy and Motörhead, while the guitarists play sludgy, head-banging riffs and screaming leads. But Warp Riders isn't retro — it's an instant classic. — Phil Freeman
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