If you are looking for a metal mentor, you could do a lot worse than J.D. Cronise, vocalist, guitarist and lead songwriter of heavy metal three-piece The Sword, and he’s got your very first lesson right here.
“When you start a band, you say, 'I want a band that sounds like,' then you fill in that blank,” Cronise said. “You start from there, write your first batch of songs and it's not actually going to sound like that. Then you take what you've got and go from there.
“And If you are a metal band, you always start with the intention of sounding like Black Sabbath. You just have to.”
The Sword has been one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the past 10 years, releasing three albums, landing tracks on the “Guitar Hero” games, opening for Metallica and finding an audience that goes beyond pure metal fans.
Coming up through the music hub of Austin, Texas, helped, but Cronise added that smart planning is what allowed them to move beyond central Texas.
“If you actually are smart and motivated, it's a good place to be. There are a lot of people who are one or the other or neither ... and they just end up spinning their wheels a lot,” he said. “They can get local shows, but can never take off from there. You need to have an idea, something to do.”
It’s a perfect storm of other elements that have helped them up to this point as well, starting with the pitch-perfect, surprisingly (sort of) unclaimed name of the group.
“I was a little surprised, but it kind of had been taken,” Cronise admitted. “There was a band just called Sword that released a few albums, but I thought that was a rather primitive take on it, just calling your band Sword. No offense to them, but it sounds a little caveman-ish ... even though cavemen didn't have swords. To me, the 'the' is just as important as the sword. We aren't Sword; we're The Sword.”
The name suited the act’s purist form of heavy metal, and the vintage — but innovative — style has endeared it to more than Motörhead diehards. The Sword is as revered in indie circles as hard-rock ones, and Cronise thinks he knows why.
“If you look at the bands that have a crossover appeal and then look at the ones that don't, you can see a difference there,” he said. “There's a difference in attitude and approach. They seem to be a lot more anger-driven, in-your-face screaming and growling. I'd like to think we are a little more cerebral version of heavy metal.”
That came out even clearer with The Sword’s latest release, “Warp Riders,” centered on a full, original, science-fiction narrative conceived by Cronise, who claimed that it was a natural fit with the trio’s musical roots.
“Metal appeals to the same audience: people who like to fantasize about unreal things and want to play loud guitars,” he said. “You could write an essay, even a thesis, on the relationship between comic books, science fiction and heavy metal.”
“Warp Riders” has been almost universally praised for its originality and gripping score; it also helped The Sword land a personal-best spot on the Billboard charts.
The band — which performed at last year’s Norman Music Festival — is now touring in support of the disc, and Cronise is still savoring the praise.
“I was a little apprehensive at first,” he said. “I could have seen people deciding this whole idea was really stupid and never giving it a chance, but it’s been really well-received. It’s validating.” —Joshua Boydston | photo/Joshua Boydston