On the Austin, Texas, music scene, dominated as it is by rootsy singer-songwriter types, fantasy-fueled metal band The Sword stands out like the proverbial wizard at a square dance.
"There's not a lot of heavy rock bands coming out of Austin," says J.D. Cronise, lyricist/singer/guitarist for the quartet that headlines a show Friday at the Hi-Tone Café with fellow Lone Star headbangers Eagle Claw and California band Gypsyhawk. "We're kind of the torchbearers for hard rock and heavy metal in Austin. There's a few of us, but our little corner of the scene is not very densely populated."
That corner may get a lot more crowded on the heels of the successful release last month of The Sword's fourth studio album, Apocryphon. Produced by J. Robbins, the record is the band's first for major indie label Razor & Tie. With the company's backing, Apocryphon debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard album chart, the highest ranking of the band's career.
Besides promoting the album on their current U.S. tour, earlier this week The Sword released its first official music video for the song "Veil Of Isis."
"I don't know what all the numbers mean these days," Cronise says. "But it's good to see there's at least a little bit of room for rock music on the charts."
Cronise formed The Sword back in 2003 with guitarist Kyle Shutt as a vehicle for their shared love of '70s riff rock as practiced by the likes of Black Sabbath. The next year, bassist Bryan Richie joined the band.
In 2006, The Sword recorded its debut, Age of Winters, and over the course of two subsequent records, including the 2010 breakthrough Warp Riders, built a loyal fan base that included members of heavy metal giant Metallica, who have taken the band on tour several times.
With Apocryphon and Razor & Tie, however, The Sword has graduated to a new level. Consequently, it may appear as though the group is trying to broaden its appeal beyond the black-lit bong-smoke-filled garage apartments that have been its mainstay. Missing from the new album, for instance, are the indulgent instrumentals of earlier records as well as the sci-fi conceits of Warp Riders.
One deliberate change was the addition of new drummer Santiago "Jimmy" Vela III, who replaces original member Trivett Wingo and his temporary successor Kevin Fender.
"He's an Austin dude," says Cronise of Vela, who had previously played in the band Recover. "He's just an awesome rock drummer.
"He's familiar with our music. It's what he enjoys playing, which was important because he needed to be able to fill in immediately so we could continue down the path we'd already started."
Otherwise, Cronise insists Apocryphon is a natural evolution for the band. The focus on concise songwriting that elevated Warp Riders continues here.
And lest anyone think Cronise is dumbing down his Comic-Con lyrics, consider the title track, a references to secret writings that was inspired by a Philip K. Dick book, and the metaphysical musings that run through the record.
"We just approached it like any other record really," Cronise says. "We just tried to write good songs, songs that we would want to hear."