Few modern-day metal bands can match the muscular riffing of the Austin, Texas quartet the Sword. Comprised of J. D. Cronise (vocals, guitar), Kyle Shutt (guitar), Bryan Richie (bass) and Jimmy Vela (drums), the band has become a favorite of esteemed peers such as Metallica (who have invited the lads to open several tours for them), and the Sword's last album, 2010's Warp Riders, barely missed the U.S. Top 40.
On October 22nd, the band returns with Apocryphon, their first for the Razor & Tie label, an album produced by former Jawbox singer/guitarist J. Robbins. As evidenced by such standouts as the album's leadoff single, "Veil of Isis," the album further expands the band's musical vision.
"I think it's more diverse musically," Cronise tells Rolling Stone. "It's a little more a rock album than previous records – there's not really any kind of thrashy metal stuff on it. We're older dudes now, not quite as full of piss and vinegar as we once were. We dialed back the aggression to a degree, at least for a lot of it, in favor of trying to write good songs. And make it heavy. Basically, the main goal was to make good songs that people remember, not relying so much on a sound or a particular type of approach."
Another contributing factor to how Apocryphon turned out was the arrival of a new drummer, Vela, who replaced original member Trivett Wingo. "It's great having Jimmy in the band," says Cronise. "He's a spectacular drummer. He's really easy to work with . . . Kyle and I are the primary songwriters, and if we come in and we have an idea for a part for him to play, then he'll play it just like we imagined it. And if we don't have an idea, he'll come up with something awesome. He fits right in."
A popular rumor surrounding Apocryphon was that it was recorded entirely with analog gear. But Cronise was willing to set the record straight. "Not entirely. We used a combination of tape and Pro Tools. These days, pretty much the only people that are recording completely to tape are those crazy Swedish bands – those guys do it completely old-school. I can't even imagine doing it that way. I'm sure the other guys can pull it off. They're all excellent musicians. Myself, with the number of times I have to do guitar parts and vocal parts, it would probably wear out the tape."
Despite all the studio talk, the Sword is first and foremost a live band, and fans will be able to catch the group in concert when they launch a U.S. tour at the end of the month. The trek will stretch until December, with a planned European jaunt to follow in January. For the U.S. dates, main support will be provided by Gypsyhawk, while a couple of fellow Austin-based bands, Eagle Claw and American Sharks, will split time as the third band on the bill.
The curious album title "means 'hidden teachings' or 'hidden writings,'" Cronise explains. "It's a Greek word. It usually refers to books that were kind of discarded from the Bible – they're called apocrypha. It's books that the early church felt were either too complicated or contained concepts that were over the heads of the average people and their flocks. Or things that they felt they'd rather not have people know . . . That might cause too much free thought."