I remember Sword well. They arrived on the world's radar in 1986 with a killer debut album called Metalized that seemed to go against the trends of the time and that helped them stand out from the crowd. Glam metal ruled the roost then but the musicians who saw glam as a realm of posers weren fusing NWOBHM with speed metal during the heyday of thrash.
Enter Sword, who played heavy metal unapologetically with a nod to both those sides. They began as a Kiss tribute band, though their glam roots weren't particularly obvious on Metalized, only in odd phrasing here and there. And they played slower and heavier than thrash bands, except when they turned it up on songs like Outta Control. Sweet Dreams was a solid follow up but times were changing and, like so many eighties bands, they didn't survive the nineties.
Well, they've apparently been back since 2011 and they've finally got round to knocking out a third album, which hits as hard as Metalized and feels as elegant as Sweet Dreams. What's more, their line-up is exactly the same as it's always been. Nobody's ever left, which is rare. Usually, someone decides they want to jump on a musical bandwagon and takes their bat home when the rest of the band vote them down. Or, if they go along with it, people gradually tire of being hypocritical in the holy name of success and start to desert the sinking ship. None of that ever happened with Sword. They did their thing. Then they didn't do it any more. Now they're back doing it again.
This is a decent return, no fewer than thirty-four years after Sweet Dreams, but it's no Metalized. It gets close at points, (I am) In Kommand the early standpoint and Spread the Pain joining it late on the album. These songs are on point immediately and they stay there throughout, reminding a fan from the old days exactly why they were so good. Their best songs always feel complete, every member of the band doing exactly what they need to do and not a single beat or chord more. That doesn't happen often but Sword at their best are kind of like Bad Company at their best, stripped down to the purest essence of a song.
Metalized was so good because that description can be applied to pretty much every song on it. I'd say that this album is more like Sweet Dreams, where that description is appropriate at points but not throughout.
For instance, Bad Blood is too emphatic vocally, like a slower Exciter. If you want a song where Rick Hughes demonstrates that he still has incredible pipes, then check out Unleashing Hell, which is a statement of past and future by the band. He shows us what can be done if you can combine sheer power with excellent breath control. Mike Plant's guitar rocks on this one too and the back end of Mike Larock's bass and Dan Hughes's drums are just as beefy as I remember, aided by 21st century production.
Talking of beefy, Dirty Pig boasts some powerful riffs and Larock finds a neat groove with his bass. The chorus is bouncy too, but somehow it can't follow (I am) In Kommand, which has that je ne sais pas that's there on Sword's best songs. Took My Chances is another song too that promises much but falls just a little short, possibly because it feels more derivative than Sword tend to be. It's an interesting cross between Rainbow and Judas Priest with an Iron Maiden style midsection, but it's not the purest Sword.
And so this is a solid album, as we might expect from Sword, if we remember them—and I've found that those who heard them back in the day remember them, unlike so many other bands—but not the killer return we might have hoped for when we noticed their name listed with new releases. Is that the Sword? Holy crap, they're back? Gimme, gimme! At its best, it's up there with the best of Sweet Dreams, maybe with some of Metalized. As its worst... well, there isn't really a worst, if we ignore the pointless interlude called Surfacing because it's only ninety seconds long. Everything is good and some of it's great. Welcome back, folks. I look forward to more and I'll be keeping an eye on your tour dates.