“Don’t Get Too Comfortable” is the title of a track appearing halfway through the Sword’s sixth full-length studio album, Used Future, and though the song itself is a hazy, riff-laden jam in which bandleader J.D. Cronise muses about the dystopian future of our increasingly less green planet, it could also be a warning to the group’s longtime fans that this record represents another step forward in the band’s march away from metal.
It’s been a dozen years since the Sword rode in on the doom-cold winds of Age of Winters, the debut album that landed their music in Guitar Hero, their faces on the covers of numerous metal magazines, and the band, eventually, in arenas, heating up the pit for thrash pioneers Metallica. Since then, the Sword have evolved from sci-fi-channeling metalians to hard’n’heavy rockers of the order that walked the earth nearly half a century ago—or, given the speed at which popular culture now metamorphoses, eons ago.
In short, the boys of the nameless decade are now the men of the bleak present, and they no longer have to look to Philip K. Dick to extract—for inspiration and for lyrical content—horrors of the kind now looming on our event horizon. Lyrically, their latest release touches on mortality, loneliness and earth’s expanding desertscape, all in language as colorful and evocative as that of their previous efforts. Musically, it marries blown-out analog synths worthy of John Carpenter or Tangerine Dream with massive Led Zeppelin riffs and scorching, ZZ Top–style licks to yield boulder-heavy hard rockers rich with flange and distortion, interspersed with dreamier, fuzz-toned explorations.
“We finally sound like ourselves,” enthuses guitarist Kyle Shutt, speaking with High Times on the phone from Austin, the band’s hometown, where they are about to kick off the first leg of a three-month US tour. “Like the best rock band!” He credits, in part, producer Tucker Martine, known largely for his work with indie darlings Decemberists and My Morning Jacket. With Martine, the band experimented with various instrumentation and forswore the digital whenever possible, in favor of the analog. This took time—Shutt recalls wrestling with an arpeggiator for hours—but it was worth it: The results are crackly and warm. “I swear I could literally hear the guitar sounds melting to tape,” Shutt says, laughing.
The band recorded in a Portland warehouse, stepping outside to toke, so as not to damage the delicate recording gear. All members of the Sword smoke weed. Shutt prefers to roll his own joints, old-school style. “Just flowers and papers,” he says, waving away the bells and whistles of modern technology. He draws the line at dabbing: “Seven grams of THC in one hit—no thanks. That’s a young man’s game!”
Though weed figures in both the band’s lyrics and its videos (check out the Nintendo-style vid for Used Future’s title track), the band had a unique opportunity to make their love of the plant public. “We played in Denver the night weed was legalized in Colorado,” Shutt recalls. “It was New Year’s Eve. We went offstage” and “came back on for the encore each smoking out of a glass bong. We held them up and got the biggest crowd response we’ve ever gotten!”
Bonus Track: Plain About the Strain
To date, the Sword have a beer, a hot sauce and a BMX bike named after them (drummer Jimmy Vela is a longtime rider); when High Times asks Shutt if the band would consider lending their moniker to a strain of weed, his reply is unequivocal. “Yes,” he says spiritedly. Fans who grow, take note!
This feature was published in the July 2018 issue of High Times magazine. Subscribe right here.
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