There’s no rest for the heavy. When Austin metalheads the Sword left the stage at Metallica’s Orion Music + More Festival in Atlantic City at the end of June, they headed straight to Magpie Cage Studios in Baltimore to record their fourth album, Apocryphon, due out this fall on Razor and Tie. Since setting foot in the studio, the band has been working 12-hour days, six days a week. “I think today is the 30th day [in the studio], so we’ve got about another week to go of mixing and then packing up and going home,” says guitarist Kyle Shutt. “Being stuck in Baltimore for five weeks kind of lit a fire under us.” No offense, Charm City.
On 2010’s Warp Riders, a sci-fi-influenced concept album, lyricist and vocalist JD Cronise told the story of space archer Ereth — a synopsis can be found under “Lore” on the band’s website. That was the first album they did not produce themselves, flying Matt Bayles (Cursive, Mastodon) to Austin to work with them. For Apocryphon, the quartet decided to work with producer J. Robbins, who helmed some of their favorite Clutch albums. “It’s real big sounding, real live and huge sounding,” says Shutt of the new music. “With Bayles it was more of a clinical approach, where we were going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. It’s a technically perfect album, completely in tune. We just wanted more of a live feel with this one. Especially because we had a new drummer, we just kind of wanted it to sound like four dudes playing songs in a room.”
Moving away from straight concept territory, the new album, says Shutt, is “more of a metaphorical reflection of everything we’ve gone through up until this point.” Which is a lot. After recording their 2006 debut, Age of Winters, in bassist Bryan Richie’s house, the band toured extensively to support their 2008 follow-up Gods of the Earth, both on their own headlining jaunts and as opening support for Metallica. “Metallica told us we could have that slot as long as we wanted it, and it got to a point where we had to stop or shit was just gonna explode,” says Shutt. More recently the band had to grapple with a “drummer shuffle,” replacing Trivett Wingo first with Kevin Fender and now Jimmy Vela. Specifics aside, “[Apocryphon] doesn’t really have a story, per se,” Shutt says. “Though there are some similar lyrical themes that weave in and out of the songs, it’s kind of just ten big-ass rock songs.”
Those headbangers do have a focus, though, explains Shutt. On Apocryphon, one can “hear the frustration of being away from home,” he says, noting that Baltimore’s “weird energy” has permeated the songs. “I’ll probably miss [the city] when I leave,” he says. “I’ll probably get a little tear in my eye every time I see something on TV about Baltimore, but it’s weird. I mean, John Waters is from here. That should tell you everything.”
But the band is well aware that there are some things about which one need not be aware. Indeed, says Shutt, the album’s title is a word meaning “secret writings or secret teachings about things that maybe shouldn’t be known. We’re using metaphors to mask what we’re really going through.”
More literally, cartoonist J.H. Williams III, who will soon be collaborating with Neil Gaiman on a Sandman prequel, is working on the album’s artwork. As always with the Sword, fans should expect something far-out, fantastical, and, of course, heavy.