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Heavy metal can be fun. And in Austin, a metal band shredding its way not only through the city but also around the world is indeed having fun.
The Sword, led by vocalist and songwriter John "J.D." Cronise, have learned to use the fact that Austin's musical focus often lies in the realms of indie and roots-rock to their advantage, gaining more attention as a unique act in a city full of boundary-pushing units. And, though Cronise says he enjoyed the camaraderie of the "bunch of angry, young dudes," that comprised the hardcore and rock scenes of his past when he lived in Richmond, Virgina, the role of reigning Austin metal kings has seen the band enjoy some rather entertaining times as of late, even as a major departure clouded their sky, if only for a bit.
This past October, the Black Sabbath-influenced quartet was shaken with the announcement that their original drummer and longtime friend, Trivett Wingo, was leaving the band, resulting in a slew of canceled dates, including stops in Europe. While each party maintains that the split was an amicable one, it took this sea change for Cronise to realize how high their profile as a band had soared.
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"The transition has gone really well, but it was interesting because we had so many professional drummers with their own websites—that we hadn't ever known—contacting us, asking to be in the band," Cronise says from his home in Austin. "That was really new for us. Luckily, we found a guy here in town that has played in other bands and was a friend of a friend, and it was just a normal situation, like when any of the other bands I've been in would find a new member. It's worked out awesome for us, so far."
Of course, aside from sustaining the substantial loss and then enduring the search for a new mate, the group's members, who have recently opened shows for metal kings Metallica in Europe, know that at its core, metal is a game for boys of all ages. After all, can any other aesthetic provide a better vehicle for a wild, fantastical sci-fi concept record than The Sword's groove-laden brand of 1970s-flavored doom metal?
You'd be hard-pressed to say otherwise upon hearing the band's latest LP, the well-received Warp Riders, which peaked at a more-than-respectable No. 42 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart in August. It's a concept record of sorts, journeying into a sci-fi world inhabited by a protagonist named Ereth—all birthed from the mind of Cronise.
"The music itself is just kind of extreme and loud," Cronise says of metal as a whole. "It's either heavy or fast or a combination of both, and it's generally played by young men who have a lot of testosterone and are prone to flights of fancy, while really being into monster movies and tales of spaceships. So, that energy sort of permeates the youthful, masculine energy that heavy metal is based upon, and it lends itself to ridiculous subject matter."
Cronise laughs at how this description applies to himself, which, he admits, it still does, even though he's no longer a fresh-faced rookie.
These days, though, his music is, however, being used by rookies interested in the metal world. Two of The Sword's songs, "Freya" and "The Black River," have now appeared in versions of the Guitar Hero video game series.
"These games are great for musicians, because they keep people who aren't serious about playing out of the guitar store," Cronise says in a joking tone.
But can it be all that bad if the youths who play these games are simply having fun? Actually, yeah, or so Cronise says. And, as such, he offers a simple suggestion to gamers everywhere: "Leave the guitar playing to the professionals."