The concept album, when done well (The Who’s “Tommy,” for example), can raise a band’s artistry to a new level, attracting new listeners and garnering the respect of critics. When done poorly (KISS’ “The Elder”), it can serve as a permanent source of embarrassment for not only the band, but fans as well.
After two well-received albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, Austin’s The Sword opted for the concept album. Centered around the struggles on a far-off planet that’s half-light and half-dark, it’s a twisting, forever-changing 45-minute trip best experienced through some quality headphones.
But according to bassist Bryan Richie, listeners shouldn’t spend too much time digging for deep meaning or metaphysical secrets.“[Vocalist and guitarist] JD created the universe so he'd have some new lyrical fodder,” Richie simply said in an email interview.
It’s a logical progression for the band, whose songs have focused on science fiction and fantasy elements as opposed to the well-tread path of death, destruction, disease and bad stuff in general. The Sword’s music also swings, something lost on many of their contemporaries. Rarely does the band return to the riff or theme that opens the song; the music evolves as the song progresses, making it a natural fit for the storytelling aspect that’s a hallmark of concept albums.
All was going well for the band until the first leg of their North American Warp Riders tour. Founding member and drummer Trivett Wingo left the band five shows into the tour, citing an inability to continue traveling. “My level of anxiety pertaining to being on tour got to the point where medication was not the answer,” he told Blabbermouth.net. “You can crunch valiums all the time, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself if you should just be staying at home. I had been medicating myself to be on tour, and I realized that psychiatric help wasn't the answer. I was very deeply unhappy. I didn't want to sedate myself and do something that I wasn't enjoying.”
That put the band in a tight spot. Not only was Wingo a founding member, finding a new drummer for The Sword isn’t exactly like finding a new drummer for the White Stripes. “It just sucked,” Richie said. “Having to cancel as many dates as we did - total bummer. Having to hold auditions was no picnic either.”
Still, the band persevered, and will be at Lincoln’s Bourbon Theater this Thursday, June 30th.
In addition to the stellar show, fans can expect some funky Sword-related items as well. As sales of physical music, primarily in the form of CDs, continues to dwindle, bands are being forced to get more creative. The Sword is no exception. The band’s offering a hexagonal picture disc version of Warp Riders (“I can take credit for that one - when I saw that artwork it was the first thing I thought, other than - this is awesome!! It turned out better than expected,” Richie said) as well as “Tears of Fire,” the band’s hot sauce, in addition to the usual CDs and T shirts at the merch table.
“We wanted to have some real awesome promotional 'thing' to go along with the release of Warp Riders and that seemed like the ultimate piece,” Richie said of the sauce. “Tears of Joy in Austin made the sauce with a mash of the ghost pepper. It's a very intense heat that, if dosed incorrectly, can leave you in great pain. In small doses you can't stop eating it.” Whether you leave with your ears ringing or mouth stinging, this promises to be a show you won’t want to miss. The Sword with Dead Meadow Bourbon Theatre 1415 O Street Lincoln 7pm $15