High Country (Razor & Tie)
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Aug. 14, 2015
Following four albums of traditional metal that tunneled every last nook and cranny of Black Sabbath, the Sword needed sharpening. Turning to local music gadfly Adrian Quesada as producer, the Austin quartet proves itself broader than retro headbanging on its fifth full-length. Clearly a transitional LP, High Country varies in success, the locals eagerly trying on new (for them) sounds: prog, psychedelia, folk. "Unicorn Farm" and "Seriously Mysterious" even buzz synth grooves, while Quesada adds horns to the crunching "Early Snow." Singer J.D. Cronise alternates his usual wail with a sedate croon, but the band hasn't abandoned its main fare; "Empty Temples" and the wordless "Suffer No Fools" paint with power chords. To the Sword's credit, variety pulls its sense of melody to the forefront, though die-hards may find the subsequent loss of energy an uneven trade. Yet "change or die" applies to the Sword as much as anyone, so if the tweaks of High Country act more as window dressing instead of a new structure, the additions enrich a manor in need of upkeep.