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Gods of the Earth 

Album by By The Sword.

Kemado Records.

When The Sword's Age of Winters dropped in 2006, the album was received with a great deal of enthusiasm, especially by those heralding the band as part of the retro-metal movement that has barreled its way through the indie underground in recent years. Paying equal homage to both Black Sabbath and the NWOBHM, the debut set the bar of expectation high for their sophomore effort, a bar that The Sword has not quite reached with Gods of the Earth.

The Sword opens this new release with "The Sundering," a two-minute instrumental that runs through lines of heavy riffing and pounding which develop into, well, nothing. And frankly, it's this lack of development that plagues a majority of the album and leaves me wondering if the band's busy tour schedule the past couple of years had an adverse effect on their song preparation. To be fair, the album is well written and well executed, and the band is clearly rehearsed, playing with a seamless machine-like precision usually only heard from seasoned veterans. But this, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely the problem with this album, for the lengths The Sword goes to in an effort to reach this perfection drains the music of its full potential. Gods of the Earth displays very little of the looseness and buzzing energy that defined the band on Age of Winters. Raging gallops have turned into mid-tempo plods, and moments of reckless abandon have become so carefully calculated that The Sword occasionally verges on predictability.

Gods of the Earth is not necessarily a bad album. I simply think it's unnecessary. The Sword's romp through metal's finest tropes is respectable, but the band does little to establish its own musical identity and thus leaves even less to be remembered after the music ends. Even with the album's stronger tracks, such as "How Heavy this Axe" and "To Take the Black," there exists a generic approach undermining the band's efforts. Had this album surfaced in 1997 it likely would have been ignored, and ironically may have caught some of my sympathetic attention. However, in this era of thrash metal and stoner rock revival, it just comes off as run of the mill, attracting a new school hipster contingent more interested in adding to their collection of overpriced vintage rock tees and trying to jam themselves in a pair of super skinnies. Perhaps I'm a bit regionally biased, but it seems that bands like Oakland's High on Fire and Saviours have already definitively claimed this corner of metaldom and are much more convincing in their efforts.

While I rail and bash, I hope it's clear my issue is not with revivalist movements within the music scene, as I have praised many bands in these pages for their success in doing just that. However, the artists most successful in paying homage to the sounds of yesteryear are the ones contributing a unique take on their selected genres, a crucial something that The Sword fails to do. With that said, if the current trend of metal rehashing mania is something that you find appealing, then you'll undoubtedly want to check out Gods of the Earth, for it is metal to which the head will bang and bob. For those of us seeking metal anew, our search will have to continue.

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Michael Mannix

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