By Darryl Smyers
Formed in Austin nearly a decade ago, The Sword is one of the heaviest bands to emerge from that scene. Full of monstrous guitar riffs and typically bombastic sci-fi themes, the four Sword albums are intense, thought-provoking and filled with good humor. The band’s most recent effort, Apocryphon, is a diverse collection of doom metal that should expose the band to a bigger audience.
From his home in North Carolina and in anticipation of Sunday night’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, guitarist/vocalist John Cronise spoke with DC9 about leaving Austin, digging science fiction and not digging the new Black Sabbath album.
You live in North Carolina, but the rest of the band still resides in Austin. Does that make practicing difficult?
I’ve not lived in Austin for only two years now. We’ve been playing together for so long that regular practices are not really a requirement. We just need a little bit here and there.
Why the move to North Carolina?
I am from this region. My folks live here. I missed this sort of culture and terrain. It’s not really the same in Austin. I mean, I love Austin. I moved to Austin about 13 years ago and it’s gone through dramatic changes since then. It got to the point that it was almost unrecognizable. I needed a change of scenery.
When you think about Austin, you certainly don’t think about a heavy metal scene. Was it odd being a metal band in Austin?
At first, yes. There are a lot more heavier bands now; not that there are a great number. There are so many bands and musicians. It is so diverse. It’s not uncommon for someone to be in three or four different projects. I don’t know of a great concentration of any particular genre. There is so much going on there. When we first started, we were definitely an anomaly. Now, there are bands like Eagle Claw and Sharks and a little bit of a scene there for harder rock and heavy metal. I think that helped us stand out.
Why does metal have so many sub-genres? You guys are often grouped under Doom Metal and Stoner Metal. That seems offensive.
I agree. I attribute that to the fact that metal is a genre largely appreciated by white male nerds who love to categorize things. That’s just what they do. It is a little out of hand. A lot of what people relegate to these sub-genres is just hard rock. It is all just describing slight variations on the same sound. I think the only scene that has it worse is dance music. They have micro-genres where if one little element is different, then it is a totally different genre. It’s all just music. People are too obsessed with their categorizations.
Why do metal bands have this fascination with science fiction?
I think science fiction and fantasy, those genres of literature and movies, they appeal to heavy metal fans because metal is dramatic, over-the-top kind of music. It can be kind of cartoonish in a way. We are very epic in how we sound. Those two things seem to go hand in hand. There are more metal fans that would rather read Lord of the Rings or watch Game of Thrones than watch political debates. It is an escapist sort of genre.
I love your song “Tres Brujas.” Do you speak Spanish?
I speak about as much Spanish as your typical white Texan who absorbs it from it being around. I can understand some Spanish.
You’ve been playing music for a decade. How have you changed in that time?
Well, for the rest of the band, 10 years won’t be until next year, but we have changed a lot. My goal when I first started was to be more aggressive musically. I wanted to make a strong statement. I wanted to be powerful and make a statement. I think that over the years we have become more diverse and subtle in our songwriting. I am not trying to hit people over the head as much as when we began. I want it to be more interesting and thought provoking.
Each of your albums has been more popular than the last. Is that because you have diversified more?
There are always those people who only like your first record or your first couple of records. They don’t like the new stuff. There are a lot of bands who are successful just sticking to one particular sound. I think we have expanding our audience, but we have lost some fans here or there. It’s hard to say, but for me, there isn’t another way to do it. I am not the kind of person who doesn’t change. I absorb information all of the time and change all of the time. Change is kind of a natural thing for me.
You’ve toured with Metallica. Was the crowd receptive to you?
Generally, yes. Most of the shows were really good for us. When you see Metallica and The Sword at the same show, to me, it kind of made sense. Even though they are more of a thrash sort of band, we have a lot of those elements in our songs. It’s all just riffs and guitar solos. A lot of the things people like about Metallica are found in our music. We work well together.
Your sound is often compared to Black Sabbath. What do think about their new album?
I can’t say that I am a fan. One of the most important things to me is the lyrics. I know that a lot of metal bands don’t care about lyrics. To me, it is very important. The lyrics on the new Black Sabbath album are pretty disappointing. It seems that that is what they thought their fans would want to hear. It was almost a caricature of the band in the ’70s. Everything was gloom and doom and tomb. You could almost see them looking through the rhyming dictionary writing down all the words that rhyme with die and doom. I was disappointed.
The Sword play Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday, August 18th.