Mighty Sword

Metallica's house band strikes out on its own

On their recently released third album, Warp Riders, the Austin quartet the Sword — one of the most acclaimed and headbanger-approved bands from hard rock's latest ass-kicking revival — expand their sonic onslaught in a couple of different and notable ways.

Lyrically, the group's themes have moved from stand-alone songs about kings, dragons, and, yes, swords toward a unified futuristic concept about wars in outer space. On the surface, Warp Riders may sound just as nerdy as its predecessors, but the Sword somehow manage to make the new songs more timely and relatable. It helps that for most of the tale, the album's heroes seem to be hanging out in a bad part of town, looking for weed and maybe a fight.

More important, the band has downshifted slightly from the traditional metal leanings of its earlier records to a more wide-ranging hard-rock crunch on Warp Riders — a sound that bears a distinct and appealing southern-rock swagger.

The Sword just got off the road opening for Metallica in Tokyo. In fact, they've pretty much been the veteran thrashers' opening band of choice for the past two years.

Drummer Trivett Wingo says he and his bandmates have learned a lot watching the metal monsters at work — onstage and behind the scenes. "I used to resent the traditional 'dumb drummer' jokes," he says. "But I've started to really appreciate being able to focus on my playing. I used to do more logistical things, but creativity, that's a job. It's hard. People give [Metallica] shit — 'They make millions, and all they do is play music.' People don't appreciate how tough that is. If you think Lars Ulrich has an easy job, you get up there and try to play that music for two hours."

While all four members of the Sword helped shape their latest project, there's no doubt in anyone's mind that singer and guitarist J.D. Cronise was the crew's fearless captain every step of the way. It was his idea to make Warp Riders a science-fiction concept album, and he was the one who wrote all of the lyrics and music.

"J.D. invented the Sword," says Wingo. "He walked into the practice space one day and said 'We're making a concept record.' Some of us make musical contributions, but no one besides J.D. contributes in the way of themes, lyrics, or concepts. If tomorrow he was like, 'It's time for one of you to come up with the lyrics or ideas,' we'd be stumped."

Wingo acknowledges the new album relies less on metal than the band's other two LPs, but he doesn't think the change is as drastic as many fans claim. "It's definitely our most rock & roll record," he says. "The first one [2006's Age of Winters] was almost strictly metal. The second [2008's Gods of the Earth) had more rock & roll. This one is predominantly rock & roll, and I'm OK with it. Our influences haven't changed. What's [come] through in our music has begun to change."

The band's new expanded musical direction hasn't really influenced the way Wingo or the rest of the band approach their instruments. "I don't have a double bass pedal or anything like that," he laughs. "I actually have one less piece and cymbal than John Bonham used. If I were in the Beatles, I could still use the kit that I play in the Sword. People always told me I should add more, but I never needed that."

And don't expect the Sword to bust out all of Warp Riders, in order, onstage. They haven't turned to Roger Waters territory yet. "We'll spare you," says Wingo. "I think that would be too predictable. Plus, we gotta play the hits." Yes, he's joking.

"Maybe years down the line," he continues, "if this becomes an epochal record for us or something, we'll do a reunion tour like that."

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