The Sword, Gods of the Earth

The Sword, Gods of the Earth

Synchronicity, when it happens, can be a truly beautiful thing. I’ve been stuck in House-Moving Hell for the past month or so, with all my crap boxed and bagged and sitting in one garage or another, and in the process of packing the ridiculous stacks of books in the back of the house, I stumbled across the much-loved copy of Conan of Cimmeria I bought used way back in college. So, here I am, reading Robert E. Howard’s pile of half-finished Conan stories, pieced together and finished out by pulp-fantasy cohorts L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, meandering giddily through blood-soaked temples, vicious double-crosses, gloomy marshes, and clashing battles.

Now, back to the synchronicity bit. While I’ve had to pack away most of the CDs sitting on my desk for a few weeks, I happened to keep out the latest from Austin retro-metal heroes The Sword, Gods of the Earth. And whether it can be chalked up to brilliant musical instinct or sheer dumb luck, I’m damned happy I grabbed this particular CD out of the pile before shoving it all in boxes.

Lyrics-wise, Gods of the Earth sounds like it might well have been conceived as some kind of post-Schwarzenegger soundtrack to a long-lost Conan flick. Guitarist/vocalist John Cronise bellows grimly about icy enchantresses, ancient WMDs, battle-weary warriors, and hideous beings “mere steel can’t kill,” weaving his own saga of some far-past realm. Which fits pretty much perfectly, considering that it’s metal we’re talking about here.

Metal bands don’t sing about chivalrous knights rescuing princesses, after all — nope, nuh-uh. They sing about barbarians, rough-around-the-edges rogues like the Cimmerian himself, guys who operate on their own specific code of honor but tend to smash things and slay beasts to survive. Hell, you could even argue that some metal bands take the barbarian thing beyond the music itself, living The Rock God Life of nonstop partying and women and breaking shit. Listening to this stuff while reading Howard, de Camp, and Carter’s stories just brings a smile to my face.

And then, three stories into Conan of Cimmeria, I glance at the title of the story: “The Frost Giant’s Daughter.” Whoa…now that’s spooky as shit. See, “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” also happens to be the title of the second track on Gods of the Earth, and both song and story revolve around a white-skinned snow witch who tries to seduce a brave warrior on a tundra battlefield. Which tells me two things: A) me and The Sword probably ought to start our own long-distance book club; and B) I should maybe try for my own psychic show on the SciFi Channel.

Alright, maybe not, but I still can’t help but think this is fate, me happening to pick up and read this book while listening to some of the most badass, roaring, doom-y metal this side of Sabbath. Because, hey, neat fantasy lyrics alone do not a killer metal album make (just ask Rush). The Sword have got both sides of the equation down, luckily — beneath Cronise’s sword-and-sorcery imagery, he and second guitarist Kyle Shutt trade razor-sharp leads and crushing thrash riffs Ride the Lightning-era Metallica would’ve been proud to claim.

Seriously, check out the excellent “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians” and try to tell me it wouldn’t fit nicely next to “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Ditto for “The Black River,” although it sounds like it was run through a Queens of the Stone Age filter. The guitars crunch and rumble, thick and menacing, and it’s freaking great. Bassist Bryan Richie and drummer Trivett Wingo thunder decently alongside Cronise and Shutt, but honestly, it’s the guitars who run the show (although I should note that on the “hidden” bonus track at the end, Wingo’s percussion makes my jaw drop). Gods of the Earth makes me want to grow my hair long again and spend all day tomorrow reading every damn fantasy novel I own, with the disc on infinite repeat and the stereo cranked loud enough to piss off the neighbors.

[The Sword is playing 5/29/08 at Rudyard's, with Torche & Stinking Lizaveta.]
(Kemado Records -- 601 West 26th Street, Suite 1175, New York, NY. 10001; http://www.kemado.com/; The Sword -- http://www.swordofdoom.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Thursday, May 29th, 2008. Filed under Reviews.

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