Skip to content

Sabbath and Sci-Fi: Behind the Sword’s ‘Apocryphon’

The Sword / Photo by Sam Holden

Austin, Texas’ sci-fi metal masters the Sword stocked their October 22 album Apocryphon with fantastical lyrics and rollercoaster riffs, but it also evinces a new and exciting rawness. Credit this subtle shift to producer J. Robbins, post-punk hero of Government Issue and Jawbox, for scuffing the Sword. But there’s still plenty of deep thinking (and classic rock) to be found on the LP. Before embarking on a nationwide tour, singer-guitarist J.D Cronise talked us through the influences that shaped the album.

Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series:
“There’s a song on the record called ‘Dying Earth’ that was directly inspired by Jack Vance, the author and his works of the same name. He had a series, I don’t know if they were full-length novels or novellas, that were called the Dying Earth books. I really like his use of language and especially in those books, he uses a lot of vary baroque terms and flowery, over the top language that makes you kind of have to bust out the dictionary almost on every page. I tried to kind of mirror that in the lyrics for that song.”

Philip K. Dick’s VALIS:
“The title track, ‘Apocryphon,’ is inspired by a book by Philip K. Dick called VALIS. It was kind of an autobiographical work, semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional, is what I’m given to believe. It covers a lot of subjects, a lot of ground. Basically, it’s a lot to do with the nature of time and space and matter, and the true make-up of the universe that we live in, and things like that. It’s a story that he wrote based on the weird, semi-religious experience he had toward the end of his life. In it, he talks a lot about early Christians, Gnostics, and Gnostic texts, which is where the word apocryphon comes from — in reference to those texts that were excluded from the Bible.”

“Though I don’t know how much Baltimore’s weird energy really influenced the record from my perspective, it had more of an influence on [bandmate] Kyle [Shutt’s] guitar playing on the record. We recorded in Baltimore, where J. Robbins who recorded the album lives and where his studio is located. We stayed in a hotel in downtown Baltimore for a month doing it, which was an interesting experience. I hate to talk too much mess about Baltimore, but I think in any other major U.S. city staying in a hotel downtown would be ideal. However, in Baltimore it’s kind of a rough place. The nice areas are these little islands here and there that you have to drive to. We probably would have been better off in the suburbs. Luckily nobody got shot. It was definitely an experience. For [the rest of the band] coming from living in Austin, which is a relatively safe environment, it was more of a culture shock. I’m originally from Virginia. I lived in Richmond for a number of years. I’ve had guns pointed at me, I’ve been mugged a couple times, so that sort of environment wasn’t as alien to me as it was to the rest of my band.”

Classic Rock:
“I consciously try not to listen to too much rock music while writing because I don’t want to accidentally rip anybody off or have any one thing be too heavy of an influence. I try to make [the music] a little more pure and our own. A lot of people are saying this is our most Sabbath-y album to date, and I think that’s true in a lot of ways. But that’s just kind of how it happened. We just tried to make it a classic rock album. The influences are in there, but none were conscious.”

“I always write in metaphors. I don’t ever really write in specific terms, like explicitly describing anything from my life, real events or any of that. I’m more comfortable doing it that way. To me, the kind of music we do is the musical equivalent to science fiction, so I try to disguise all those themes and ideas within metaphors and imagery to paint a prettier picture, rather than explicitly talking about ex-girlfriends or politics.”

“There’s one song called ‘Execrator,’ which is maybe the only song we’ve ever written as a reaction to criticisms that we’ve received throughout the years. Haters, basically. I can’t speak for other bands, but we feel that while we’ve been really lucky, and have a lot of awesome fans and our records have done well with critics for the most part, we feel like there’s a certain element of the metal community that really have it in for us in a lot of ways, and really don’t care for us and are vocal about it, especially on the Internet where there’s no repercussions for anything. So that one song ‘Execrator’ was a reaction to that, a kind of ‘fuck you’ to our detractors.”