High Country, by The Sword
Suggested by Stuart Taylor
Apparently, The Sword are a metal band.
You’d not guess by listening to High Country, mind. It’s pure hard rock double denim heaven. I only discovered their metal pedigree when Googling the band after my initial listen, searching for interesting crumbs to scatter through my review, leading you like Hansel and Gretel through a copse of tortured metaphors and badly-worded puns.
The band name should have clued me in, of course. Swords are pretty metal, although they don’t make my Top 10 Metal Things list from my review of album 285. Nevertheless, swords are pointy, and can kill you, and that’s pretty metal. And they certainly make my Top 10 Bands Named After Things That Can Kill You list.
10: The Sword
6: The B-52s
4: The Police
2: Guns n Roses
1: The Killers
Honourable mentions to Nine Inch Nails, Howling Wolf, Fishbone, and The Fall. I’m sure there are a host of others, be sure to sound off with suggestions in the comments.
We’ve established that The Sword can be dangerous and deadly. Are they also rockin’? Do they play it to the hilt? Do their songs have a steely edge?
If I’m honest, they did little for me.
When I rock, I generally choose to rock hard, and I suppose thar High Country fits the bill, on paper at least. But in actuality, I found it all a little too fuzzy, a touch too mumbly, and a soupcon too generic to really whet my whistle. Fifteen songs, fifty minutes, all pleasant enough, but little that sticks in the throat and demands an aural Heimlich to shake off. Everything felt slightly over-egged, a rich and mealy Granny’s Pudding that you can digest a few spoonfuls before pushing aside. And, like that cloying stodge, it’ll sit on your stomach and bloat you for far too long.
There’s a clear retro and nostalgic feel to High County, exemplified in tracks like the driven and bouncing Tears Like Diamonds and the Thin Lizzy / Deep Purple infused Empty Temples. The Blackbird-inspired Silver Petals would be my standout track, but if I’m honest my true favourite song is the fifty second intro instrumental Unicorn Farm. It has a funky throbbing hum synth tone, and a mesmeric modulated sweep that’s intriguing and exciting. Of course, it’s a false prophet, as it’s an out-of-place precursor to the remainder of the album.
I think that’s my issue in a nutshell. As an opening salvo, Unicorn Farm promised far more than the band eventually supplied. Songs like Ghost Eye, Suffer No Fools, Buzzards and The Dreamthieves are perfectly adequate hard rock standards, but the opening track promised me steak when all I’m served is mincemeat. And some tracks, like the swirling instgrumental Agartha and the plodding Early Snow, are downright dull.
I can’t get past a 5/10 score for High Country. On balance, I think I’d have preferred one of the band’s more metallic offerings, or perhaps even Low Country, which is an acoustic version of this album. While it’s a no from me today, I can applaud their creativity, and I’m open to examining more.