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— by Chris Harris

Six weeks ago, the members of retro-metal four-piece the Sword spent more than 13 hours traipsing through the snow-blanketed woods that surround Wolfe's Pond Park on Staten Island, donning ominous, black hooded capes. The Austin, Texas, band was far from home, and braved record cold temperatures to belt out "Winter's Wolves," the shredding first single from its debut, Age of Winters.

It wasn't what you'd call a typical afternoon for the boys of the Sword, but the results of their hard work ended up being well worth the head colds they've been battling ever since. The video for "Winter's Wolves" is as foreboding as the Sword's aggressive, Black Sabbath-meets-Mastodon style: In it, a blood-soaked warrior schleps through the forest, fleeing dark unseen forces intent on exacting his certain doom.

Such imagery seems to permeate the Sword's entire LP, which hit shelves last week. But don't ask frontman J.D. Cronise to explain the inspiration behind his gloomy lyricism, or what those lyrics signify.

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"There's references and things in the album, in the lyrics that I will never ... I'll go to my grave before I reveal what certain things mean," the singer/guitarist said. "It's pretty personal, I guess. Not that it's about any weird issue or trauma in my life. Its just I like obscure references — inside references. Black Sabbath were more heavy in that sense. We don't have songs about sex or girlfriends or anything like that."

Conceived in 2003, the Sword is Cronise's brainchild: he came up with the name and wrote most of the material on the doom-chord-thick Age of Winters before even approaching the rest of the band — guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Trivett Wingo — to see if they wanted in. And they said, according to Shutt, "Hell yeah."

After those first songs were put to tape, Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton helped get the band signed to New York's Kemado Records. The next thing they knew, the Sword were logging miles with another Austin rock act, ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, whose Conrad Keely created the album art for Age of Winters.

Before Age of Winters could see the light of retail, though, there was the not-so-simple matter of the band's name. Cronise claims he researched the moniker before launching his foursome and remembers thinking it was unbelievable that the name hadn't already been taken. At least two bands later begged to differ. Turns out there's a band called Sword from Richmond, Virginia, as well as a bygone 1980s Canadian metal act named Sword. Cronise said the Sword narrowly escaped litigation hell. The big difference between his band and those others? There's a "the" before his Sword.

Drawing heavily on influences like Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Cronise said he feels the Sword hold true to the metal tag in a classic sense, but he doesn't quite see his band fitting in with the current metal crop.

"Black Sabbath was the first heavy metal band, and that's the torch we're carrying, I guess," he said. "These days, there's just so much out there. It's just a matter of finding what you're into. That's cool if there are bands that are doing things in a similar way, but we didn't start doing this because we wanted to be part of a movement or anything."

"We wanted to rock out and slay, and that's all we really set out to do," Wingo said.

"I don't know if we really fit in, but I think we're going to make a place for ourselves," Cronise continued. "There aren't a lot of bands that are heavier bands or hard rock or metal bands that are really big these days. That wasn't always the case."

The Sword, who're in the midst of a U.S. club tour with Early Man and Priestess, have attracted scads of critical praise for their raw, punishing sound. Ultimately, Cronise said he'd like to see the Sword release even more powerful music on their way to "absolute world domination." But the name game hasn't been the only bump along the path to global takeover.

"I broke a string two songs into our set recently when we opened for Danzig," bassist Richie recalled. "I didn't have a backup bass. We found out with 24 hours' notice that we were going to open for Danzig on [his] Blackest of the Black Tour last fall. We were going to play first out of like eight bands or something."

"We drove to Houston, and we get there and we have to play at like 5 o'clock," Cronise said. "There were like 10 kids there, because I think it was the same week as the World Series, and the Astros were playing, so everyone in Houston was watching baseball. We played like a song and a half, Brian broke a string, and that was pretty much the end of our set. We did get to see Danzig, though. That made up for it."


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   Photo: J. Hubbard