Debate Metallica's relevance all you want, but when the band decides to take you on tour, it's kind of a big deal.
The Sword, touring with the aforementioned thrash gods since earlier this month, had already spent the better part of three years under the "big deal" banner. Even so, when Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich approached the Austin band, "we were shocked," says Sword bassist Bryan Richie, who remembers once wearing out his ... And Justice for All cassette within the course of a year. "Now it's happening and it's an even bigger shock!"
Ulrich has compared The Sword to British heavy metal bands like Angel Witch and Judas Priest, and recently told Rolling Stone that its sophomore release Gods of the Earth was his favorite record of 2008. "They're not really a young Metallica," he gushed, "but that's because they're cooler than we were."
The band formed in 2003, and thanks to its appetizing brand of stoner-y sludgy metal -- along with its obvious desire to cram every song with as many intensely catchy riffs as humanly possible -- it didn't take long to garner a loyal following. After playing South By Southwest in 2005, the group signed to Kemado Records. The 2006 debut, Age of Winters, was met with an almost blush-worthy level of critical adoration, and the band was promptly given the double-edged title "saviors of metal."
Age of Winters caught the attention of Guitar Hero II developers, who wanted to include the single "Freya" alongside "Heart Shaped Box" and "Crazy on You." If you're looking for an excuse to play pretend guitar, "Freya" is a pretty good one: doomy enough for stoners, short and varied enough for attention-span-deficient gamers, and a good hybrid for those who are a bit of both. The Sword has a knack for song structure, and draws inspiration from all genres. (In fact, when it comes to listening to music together, Steely Dan is one of the few bands everyone can agree on.)
Of course, one drawback to being a big deal is the inevitable backlash, and The Sword has taken heat for Guitar Hero and received mixed reviews for Gods of the Earth. "There's always going to be someone sitting somewhere who thinks what you're doing is totally lame, and how dare you play stoner metal and be on a video game and be successful," says Richie. "Everyone wants to hold metal real tight to their chest. I totally respect that, but we're just trying to play some good songs that happen to have metal influences."
In any case, The Sword -- taking a break from Metallica to headline a Pittsburgh show on Fri., Jan. 23 -- isn't too concerned about its critics. "You never know when you're going to catch the wrong side of the pen," says Richie. "At the end of the day, I'm more concerned about the riffs."
The Sword with Year Long Disaster, Hollowpoint and Hyperion. 7 p.m. Fri., Jan. 23 (doors at 6 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $10. All ages. 421-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com