If you know The Sword, you know they stand for hard hitting stoner rock but, over the last few years, they’ve been evolving their style to something more… relaxed, shall we say? 2015’s High Country eased up on the doom and gave us a nice thick slice of classic hard rock. Used Future carries on in this vein, with some considerable success.
After a slightly pointless intro of atmospheric synths (to any modern bands out there: stop doing this, I’m bored of it!) the band kick into a great pair of head nodding numbers: “Deadly Nightshade” and “Twilight Surprise”. Featuring a combination of Ozzy-like overdubbed vocals, singable choruses, fuzzy riffs and laid back southern grooves, these tracks set the scene for the rest of the album – a retro Lynyrd Skynyrd-style classic rock that will make you tap your foot.
The Sword were always a band that liked to experiment with sounds on the psychedelic side of life, and their curiosity is still alive and well. “The Wild Sky” and “Intermezzo” are both small, instrumental jams that sound a little post-rock at times, mixing the retro fuzz guitar with some synths, proving a good change of pace. One missed opportunity I felt was that the riffs and grooves of “The Wild Sky” were so powerful that they could have easily justified a ten minute jam!
After these interludes, the band then return to some more traditional rock songs. Many of the tracks on the album do feature a pretty standard pop song structure (verse, chorus, middle eight, solo etc..) which could start to get dull, for me at least. Luckily, the sheer quality of the melodies, lyrics and arrangements shine through. “Sea of Green”, for example, mixes in some retro synth bass sounds with a southern rock riff and a nice chunky chorus, evoking not only a ship of the sea, but a ship on an interstellar voyage. The title track is another great example of something super singable. It also focuses on some great dual guitar interplay, hammering home the authentic southern rock style in earnest.
AN ALBUM IS A JOURNEY
The band have been really clever about the track ordering on this release, and have treated it like a true album. This is a stroke of genius and helps elevate the album from good to great. The Long Play format is not dead and The Sword show how a collection of songs, well placed and correctly sequenced, can create a fantastic listening experience.
As so many of the songs follow fairly traditional structures, I could’ve lost interest quickly without more variation on offer (no matter how good the writing was). However they continue to offer new sounds and experiences throughout, piquing a listeners interest at just the right times. After you have finished a couple of toe-tapping numbers, you then journey into the land of the psychedelic with some instrumental interludes. These not only provide a change of mood, but introduce new sounds that are usually then included with the next selection of ‘commercial’ numbers. It’s easy for a band to divide an album up with some instrumental ‘off-cuts’, but this is not the case here. The quality of the instrumental interludes is top notch. “Noctures” is a cinematic masterpiece which wouldn’t be out of place on a John Carpenter album. “Brown Mountain” evokes a trip across the Texas desert with Hunter S. Thompson, combining the southern twang of guitar with a deep space mellotron. This album is a melting pot of influences, whilst still staying true to the unique sound of The Sword.
On top of this, the bands’ performances provide an enjoyable listening experience throughout. I have always loved the vocal style of John D. Cronise and found that the drawl-like Texan feel he gives works perfectly with both the band’s previous doom style and this more, stripped-down, classic rock. The drums and bass are as groovy as hell and the dueling lead guitars evoke the staple sound of southern rock perfectly.
It feels that the band set out to make a classic rock album by combining all of these elements together to make it greater than the sum of its parts. Apart form a couple of fillers here and there, I’m glad to say that they nailed it.
It’s missing the bludgeoning riffs and end-to-end quality that I traditionally associate with The Sword, but that is OK. If I want those, I’ll just stick on Warp Riders at full volume. However, if I want something more varied that shows the evolution of a band as they grow older, Used Future fits the bill nicely.
Notable Tracks: “Nocturne”; “Sea of Green”; “Used Future”; “Book of Thoth”
FFO: Kyuss, Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd