Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review: Warp Riders

Warp Riders is The Sword's third studio album, and their first concept album. While their first two albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth had more of an epic fantasy bend, Warp Riders is decidedly a Sci-fi album. The album is broken up into two parts, The Archer and the Orb, and The Android and the Sword. The album tells the story of Ereth, an archer who has been banished from the planet of Acheron. Acheron is a planet that is stuck, and while one side gets cooked by the three suns, the other side is shrouded in permanent darkness. While Banished, Ereth discovers an orb, and meets the Chronomancer, a magical dude who wants to help Ereth restore balance to his planet.

Ok, on to the music!

Part One: The Archer and the Orb.

Track 1: Acheron/Unearthing the Orb: This one is strictly a bad-ass crunchy guitar laden intro, and it is great. When I hear an opening track like this, I always think it is a sign of good things to come for the album.

Track 2: Tres Brujas: After my first few listens of this song, I wasn't a fan. It just feels really generic and follows a rather dull, yet time tested pattern of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, verse, chorus, outro. That's not a really bad thing, but mainstream metal bands milked this format to death in the 80's and 90's and I guess I'm a little sick of it. However, once I was able to get past my own little peeves, I realized this is a fucking sweet song, and I should just shut the hell up. Fantastic, though somewhat restrained, guitar work on this song.

Track 3: Arrows in the Dark: This is the first song that made me think, "Hey, these guys are heading in a slightly different direction here." This one is a bit more proggy at the start, but then, I'll be damned if they don't start sounding like the same old The Sword from their previous endeavors. There are some great elements to this song though. The drumming is improved from previous albums, where some have complained that there are too much cymbals...too bad the drummer quit just before they started touring for this album.

Track 4: The Chronomancer I: Hubris: Pretty great opening riff to this seven minute voyage. The whole two minute intro is fucking amazing. There's no use fighting it, this song will make you play air guitar. The Sword is pretty much sticking to their strengths on this track. Heavy, crunchy guitars, and riffs that make me thank the Gods of the Earth for Black Sabbath, and their influence on this band. If you love listening to fantastic, soaring guitars then this is pretty much your song.

Track 5: Lawless Lands: Lawless Lands sounds like a space-western. Somehow the guitars evoke images of both dust, and space. J.D. Cronise's vocals seem to fit this style of song quite well. Sometimes his voice seems a bit over-matched by all the instrumental power they create, but they seem to have found the sweet spot here. So far, the best song.

Part 2: The Android and the Sword.

Track 6: Astraea's Dream: Another instrumental track. Not a bad way to kick off the second half of the album. The previous instrumental was very reminiscent of the band's earlier material, but this track feels right at home here on their sci-fi concept album. Not sure how they do it, but the instruments sound spacey.

Track 7: The Warp Riders: I've always felt that the title track should be one of the strongest songs on an album, and this song is no slouch. The thing is, it isn't as special as it should be. For what this band is capable of, and for some of the greatness they've shown on this album, this song is just a bit too generic for me. For a song that is about traveling at warp speed and covering great distances, the pieces of the song don't really add up to its theme.

Track 8: Night City: The first thing that I thought of when I saw this song title is Gangland by Iron Maiden. Gangland. Night City. Somewhat similar. Which is funny that this song made me think of Maiden, because The Sword sort of channels Iron Maiden here. The lyrical content sort of hearkens back to some of Maiden's glory days. The bass doesn't rumble along at the speed of Steve Harris, but I don't think its too much of a stretch to say that this song could easily be a bit of an ode to Iron Maiden's musical styling.

Track 9: The Chronomancer II: Nemesis: A great Black Sabbath-esque gallop dominates the early proceedings of this guitar heavy, riff filled song. The lyrics are sung in two-part harmony, the second voice, (I'm not sure who it is) gives a raspy quality to the lyrics that makes for a pretty cool layering effect. This song also possesses the best solo of the album. This one is a great set up for the ending of the story.

Track 10: (The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire: I wont comment on the bad poetry that is the title of this track. Instead I will focus on the straight up amazingness that is this song. The two guitars work really well together on this final track. One lays down the thunderous riff, while the other adds little accents and flares that give the song a great sound. I really like how the first solo just sort of soars in from the ether and ushers in a great instrumental stretch. Musically this is the most unique track on the album. They sound less thrashy as they move towards more intricate and layered sound that makes this the hands down best song on the album.

All in all, this is a solid metal album. There a few stretches where I feel like they haven't evolved one bit as a band since their first album, but then there are songs like Lawless Lands and (The Night the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire that seem to be ushering in a new era of The Sword. One that is technically intricate and multi-layered. It will be interesting to see what direction they take in the future now that they are in need of a new drummer.

Grade: B-


Justin said...

I love the cover art but I'm just not a fan of this record. I'd still like to see them live though. You should really check out Kylesa's 'Static Tension' album. Stoner rock at its finest.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I feel like The Sword hasn't really evolved too much from their first album. Still, they are quite a bit better than most bands out there these days.

I took your advice and picked up Kylesa. I haven't had time to give it a full listen, but from what I've heard, they seem pretty awesome.