The Sword

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 14, 2009

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Four horsemen of the a-rock-alypse: Austin's the Sword will press your primal buttons. (photo by jack thompson)

Singer/guitarist J.D. Cronise is a little tired of the notion that his band, the Sword, is a joke. I say a little, because he also gets it.

His lyrics are rife with fantastical imagery--dragons, frost giants, black rivers, white seas--Dungeons & Dragons-type shit over a pummeling soundtrack of blistering Black Sabbath-inspired guitar. It's a road heavily traveled, and he knows it's one that inspires cynicism from music fans who've been eating a steady diet of the insincere for years now.

But the Sword are, in fact, serious. Proof? Recently the gang were tapped for an opening slot on tour with Metallica, who are major fans. On the road since November, the show pulls into Philly this week. I caught up with Cronise from his home in Austin, Texas, to talk Lars, wizards and Spin magazine.

Give me your best Lars story.

"Lars is a pretty cool guy. We were playing in Omaha, and we had a show in Chicago the next day. Metallica didn't want to stay in Omaha all day so they asked us if we wanted to go to Chicago with them that night. So, you know, when Metallica asks you if you want to ride on the Metalli-jet you just say, 'What time are we leaving?' We flew with them to Chicago and hung out with Frank and Scott from Anthrax. So it was Kirk and Lars and Frank and Scott from Anthrax all in the same place at the same time, all in the same room."

Does Metallica still have their shrink?

[Laughs] "No, they are no longer with the shrink. They have a very well-run organization. No psychologist/psychiatrist around. It's a pretty tight ship."

In most articles written about the Sword there are a couple obvious mentions about Black Sabbath and the type of Tolkienesque imagery you guys use. But there's almost always a clarification somewhere that you guys are for real, that there's no irony here. You get that a lot?

"Yeah. And I get it. There are plenty of bands that do what they do with tongue firmly in cheek. I understand in this day and age, the way music is, it may be hard to tell the difference sometimes between people who are having a laugh and people who are not. We don't play metal because it's in vogue or for nostalgic purposes. We're not trying to be like some Iron Maiden clone to help people remember their youth in the '80s. And lyrically, when people read the word 'wizard' on a lyric sheet they immediately begin to assume things. But I use that sort of imagery because I don't like to speak in literal terms and I would never write ... like a political song, for example, or something that's overtly reverential to certain people or present-day issues. And I don't listen to music to be preached to. If there's a message there, great. But I don't want to be hit over the head with it. And I prefer to veil things in fantastic imagery rather than be so overt."

Would you say you use such imagery as a crutch?

"In a way, but it's meant to evoke certain emotions and feelings. Not everything has a hidden message."

Let me read you something from Spin magazine: "How scary/ridiculous the lyrics are is a matter of personal taste (or lack thereof), but it'd help if the production were more Scandinavian and less like, well, the Rocket from the Crypt rip-off band that singer/guitarist J.D. Cronise was in before he devoted his life to Paranoid . It's only their second album, so maybe their ears just aren't ruined enough yet."

"Let me tell you something about Spin magazine. Spin magazine--they love to hear something third-hand and print it and talk a bunch of shit, but they really don't know their asses from a hole in the ground when it comes to our band. They printed that I first heard Black Sabbath in 2004. I'm 32 years old. They've tried to help us out and put features about us in their magazine, but it always has some sort of insulting slant."

So you first heard Black Sabbath, when? In 2003?

[Laughs] "Yeah. Something like that."

You moved from Richmond, Va., to Austin, Texas, before forming the Sword. How are the two scenes different?

"In Richmond there were two places to play, both pretty shitty. And then we move here, and there are a million places to play, a bar on every block, or more. No competition really. Everyone has a band, everyone can get shows pretty easily. And that leads to a lukewarm music scene, in my opinion. There are a lot of bands, and they're all doing a lot of stuff, but very few of them really have any ambition or drive to rise above being in Austin because it's just so easy here. So I think coming from another scene that was punk and hardcore and metal based where there was competition to get shows and stuff, it made me look at things differently than people who are from here."

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