The Sword Is Heavy Prog-Rock for '70s Teens — in the Best Way Possible

Heads bobbed and hair flew in all directions Tuesday night at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale as the Sword absolutely crushed at its brand of high-decibel rock 'n' roll.

The Austin, Texas, four-piece is classified by some as metal, and I suppose the fact the band has toured several times with Metallica could pigeonhole it as such, but it doesn't play at such quick tempos. The group's musicianship, and the fact that both bassist and guitarist harmonize with lead singer, almost nudges it into prog-rock territory. There's Black Sabbath in the band's DNA for sure, King Crimson and Queens of the Stone Age too. Beyond categorization or comparison, though, the Sword's music is something like the soundtrack to a '70s-era teenaged boy's life, music for rolling the 16-sided dice during a weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons — in the best way possible, of course.

Disco music from the house speakers was cut short at 9:30 as the four members took the stage to loud approval from the crowd. Frontman John D. Cronise, with his beard and long face, looked reminiscent of a younger, no-frills Pete Townshend, his fingers hammering the frets of his axe with the dexterity of a millennial typing out a text message. He didn't speak to the audience until an hour into the set, when he thanked everyone for coming and said they had a few songs left. Rather, Cronise directed all his energy at narrating with his high-pitched vocals as guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Jimmy Vela took us on a sonic journey through the outer realms of the galaxy.

A couple songs, like "Mist & Shadow" and "Seriously Mysterious," showed off a bit of the group's Texan blues flair. But most of the set exemplified the kind of distinctive, cosmic prog-rock style found on albums whose cover art features barbarians and sorcerers — including the evening's two unlikely tribute songs. The first was blues classic "John the Revelator," which began with hand claps. And then, during the encore, came a surprising rendition of Prince's "Bambi." 

Along for the ride were a pair of openers. First up, From Beyond, another Texas quartet inspired by early Black Sabbath, was a bit slower and heavier than the night's headliners. Next came Purson, hailing from the U.K. and clearly channelling the psychedelic '60s, from the singer's velvet pants and bassist's shirtless vest to their utilization of a kazoo. An androgynous keyboardist at times set his instrument's effect to flute.

But, as it should be, it was the leads who left the night's biggest impact. The Sword cut through any pretension and gifted the fan-boying crowd with 90 minutes of pure rock spectacle at epic volume.

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