The Sword w/ Priestbird

Thursday, 22 March 2007

The past year has been quite interesting for The Sword. Ever since the release of their debut Age of Winters last year, they’ve toured the world, had a heavily rotated video on MTV, got a song on Guitar Hero II, became the poster boys for a short-lived genre known as Hipster Metal, then shed that same brand a few months later when said debut was listed #4 on’s top 26 of 2006 poll, just behind Mastodon and The Melvins. The guys dealt with backlash from Metal journalists, labels and fans, who felt they were another rip-off band trying to cash in on some sort of stoner rock revival. Not the case.

If you dig a little deeper into the band’s past, you’ll see they’ve been metal since day one. True, Sleep and Black Sabbath are in lead singer/guitarist JD Cronise’s soul, but he’s found a way to make The Sword’s music attain a classic, yet distinguishable sound. He’s been on this tip since 1997 or so, meaning the band’s beginnings are honest and true, unless there’s some 10-year bandwagon of which I’m not aware. They pushed hard, shooing away critics, and just did what felt right to them, and here they are, selling the hell out of the Troubadour on a Monday night.

So, after taking a long look around the venue, it looks like the bona fide, nasty, greasy metal heads scared all the hipsters away. There wasn’t a hint of irony in the place. There were a few dudes with trucker hats, but I think it’s because they were actually truckers. It felt like the good ol’ days—Iron Maiden at the Long Beach Arena in the late 80s—when loving metal wasn’t the thing to do.

The show was a mini Kemado Records showcase, with openers Priestbird, who are touting their debut album coming out in April called In Your Time. Danny Bensi (cello, violin, keys, vocals), Saunder Jurriaans (guitar, bass, vocals) and Gregory Rogove (drums, vocals) make up the threesome, who were once known as Tarantula A.D. Nothing has changed but their name. Same guys, same label, same clothes? Either way, they rocked the same and that’s all that mattered.

After a quick instrumental warm-up, they played “Smoke & Pain,” a super-baked, 70s-inspired jam, with Rogrove on lead vocals, a-la Phil Collins, only not exactly Phil Collins. The song ends and Jurriaans tunes down his guitar to what sounds like a key unheard by human ears, and Rogrove leans into the mic and says, “We are Priestbird from New York City,” like the audience didn’t already know. Then begins, “Season in the Sun,” perhaps the most solid track on the album. It’s slow and melodic with 3-part harmonies, and transports you into a friend’s basement circa 1973 when you first learn what the term “3-footer” means.

They played a few more tracks including “Jackyl,” which sounds like “Blackbird” if it was written by Jimmy Page. Cool jam for sure. Priestbird is one of those bands that are meant to be experienced live. The album is really good, but does not do the band justice. So, definitely try to catch them at a venue near you.

Lights rise. Head to the bar. Stage is cleared. Soundman Johnson does his thing. Now we wait…

The lights finally dim and the guys from The Sword head onstage, still looking like everyday dudes. The past year hasn’t changed them a bit, except Cronise felt it would be a good idea to grow a beard. This is my third time seeing them and it’s safe to say a crowd can either make or break a show. The last time I saw them was when they opened for one of the silliest metal bands I’ve ever encountered, Trivium. The crowd was filled with the Hot Topic youth of today and was just SO wrong for The Sword. But, they moved on, searching for their niche.

Out of nowhere, before a single note comes out of the beautiful Orange amp, some dude yells “C’mon motherfucker! Yeaaah!!!!” summing up verbally what a few hundred people were feeling inside. There was some serious anticipation for what appeared to be REAL fans and not a bunch of people who want to see what these guys were all about.

After the first song it was quite apparent that relentless touring has tightened this band up like a guy’s ass on his first day in prison. The changes were crisp, and the starts and stops were as sharp as Satan’s horns. “Iron Swan” pretty much caused a riot, sparking a mosh pit that never stopped until the end of the show. It was wonderful.

They played a grip of new material thankfully, which was confirmed by Sword-superfan #1 next to me who knew every single word to every single song—except the new ones. During one of the new songs, drummer Trivett Wingo had a snare fill so fast it would make an UZI’s dick go limp. He’s got such an unorthodox style—like all arms—but smacks the hell out of his kit like he caught it stealing his mom’s jewelry.

Getting through a solid hour of material, they split for what seemed to be 20 seconds before coming back for a 2-song encore (What does one do backstage for 20 seconds?). The first song was yet another new one, which was followed by the fan-favorite “Winter’s Wolves,” which stole the show and exhausted everyone enough to not even think about begging for another encore. They were perfect.

There’s really nothing that can be said about The Sword that hasn’t been said before, but the guy next to me, right in the middle of “Freya” yelled to anyone within earshot, “They need to hurry up and put out a new fucking record! They sound FUCKING GREAT!” Well-put mein freund.

More tour dates here.

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