The Sword's intro for "The Hidden Masters" has bass and clean guitar walking out paired together. They shadow each other's notes unhurried as drums fall in. A screaming riff is next, burrowing in an additional layer. When vocalist/guitar player J.D. Cronise enters the darkened realm, you are ready. His delivery is a foreboding monotone à la Ozzy Osbourne. Cronise moans a warning: "Your gilded houses will give no shelter when the heavens fall/Your sacred tomes will give no answers when the masters call." It's a step away from the Sword's usual gallop and fire metal. Besides Sabbath, the song's hesitation echoes Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" (which is actually Jake Holmes's song) and Golden Earring's "Radar Love." Some have condemned the Sword for sounding too much like Sabbath and other bands. But at some point, isn't all rock derivative? Does Cronise sound too similar to Ozzy? Have fun debating that. If you don't like the Sword, don't listen to them, and don't go to the show. The Sword will miss you from the bottom of their hearts. Guitarist Kyle Shutt spoke, from somewhere near Albany, New York.
I love when people scientifically hypothesize that "the guitar is an extension of the phallus." You're goddamn right it's an extension of the phallus. It can be a vagina, too. You play a Verellen Skyhammer amp, and your cock is the size of Caracas. Or the guitar is the cock and the amp is the balls. That's why I have two cabinets.
In "Arcane Montane," J.D. is singing to a mountain. How do you sing to a mountain? I mean, you gotta have respect for a mountain. It's a fucking mountain. Well, we're up there singing as best we can. I'd say it's more like we're yelling at a mountain [laughs]. It's a song where you spend a lot of time in a van looking out the window at mountains, and you start thinking about 'em. J.D.'s lyrics have a poetic slant to them. When you talk about them too much, it starts to sound stupid.
The title of the album, Apocryphon, means secret writings, or secret teachings, about things that maybe shouldn't be known. How did y'all land on that word? I don't know, it looks nice, one word as an album title. It works with the songs. We didn't put a track listing on the back—each song has a symbol. We kinda think the era of mystery has vanished from rock and roll, with Facebook and Twitter and all that. I'm guilty of it, too. But we try to keep some sense of mystique about what we do.
So tell me a secret, as long as we're talking about secrets. You want a secret? I'm talking to you from a bathroom right now in Clifton Park, New York.
Are you taking a crap? Because that would be an amazing secret. No, sadly [laughs]. If I needed to, I guess I would have. We're near Albany, it's freezing outside, so I found a bathroom to talk from.
Ben Verellen is a Seattle lord. How did your Skyhammer happen? Bryan, our bass player, bought a Meatsmoke from him, and it's just the sickest bass amp ever. From range of tones, to what it can do—even the way it looks. You open the back of it up, and it looks like a piece of art in there. Funny story about that Meatsmoke—something ended up going haywire with it, not through any faulty engineering, but because we put our gear through the ringer. We were rolling through Seattle, and Ben came out and took a look at it. He wasn't able to fix it on the spot, but he replaced it with another amp—top-notch customer service right there. He took the amp that needed work, fixed it, and Scott Shriner from Weezer ended up buying it. I just love that the amp ended up with Weezer [laughs]. I bought the Skyhammer about six months ago. It's a wall of power, a total beast.
What does a Verellen do to your tone? Describe its beastness. We tune so low, and the amp is geared toward bands that tune a little less than standard. The Sword, we're down two whole steps, so we need amps that can handle a lot of low end. But we also need a lot of high end, 'cause we do a lot of solos and shit. With that Skyhammer, when you're low, it really opens up, and as you climb the fretboard, it becomes more searing. It's an extremely dynamic amp for as loud and as overdriven as it is. I'm looking forward to using it in the studio for rhythm tracks. Live, I've also been playing this Big Crunch. It's a 50-watt amp with one knob on it. That's it, one knob. It looks like a washing machine. I love it.
The Sword has worked with producers Matt Bayles and J. Robbins. How do they differ? They're both great, and very different. Bayles is meticulous with mic placement and mixing. He'll pound you into the dirt getting takes. And he's like a complete MIDI genius. He wrote a lot of the textural stuff on our album Warp Riders. He's got a synthesizer credit. Some people would come in and play a keyboard, and he would take it via MIDI into Pro Tools and paint these textures with it perfectly. People don't know how hard that is to do. Matt is a mathematical genius. With J. Robbins, we all knew what we wanted to do. He's really good at making you sound as good as possible. We spent more time with him getting the sounds we wanted, where Bayles was augmenting a lot of what we were doing. With J., we were achieving the sounds we had in our head. We wanted to do all this weird orchestral instrumentation we hadn't done before. J. is a fantastic engineer, everything sounds clear and clean. And we did the two records differently—with Bayles, it's on the computer, with J., we bounced more between tape and computer.
Fans of metal music can be some of the harshest, most opinionated fans. They can be these gnarly dudes, but they're totally sensitive. Yeah, if their Diet Coke isn't cold enough, they whine and get bitchy [laughs].
You all have some haters. I love haters. Me, too. Haters are the best free publicity.
So I want to read you a review from a Sword hater and have you respond. He says: "The Sword have gained a massive mainstream fan base by shamelessly cribbing High on Fire, Sleep, Kyuss, Orange Goblin, Pentagram, Electric Wizard, Saint Vitus, Acid King. Nothing in their half-assed pastiche resembles an original thought or riff. There has been a near-constant output of stoner/doom metal for the last 40 years, but aside from genre godfathers Black Sabbath, the Sword are singular in their popularity. Why?" Why? [Laughs] Fuck, I'm sorry some people like us, dude. We've never done anything we didn't want to do, or were uncomfortable with, or sold out, or whatever you wanna call it. If someone's going to take the time to write an entire fucking thing saying how bad we are, props to them. I don't know if you can really say we're more popular than those other bands he listed, though. But we're all taking from Black Sabbath and bands like Zeppelin and shit. There's always going to be stoner dudes who want to write songs and be in bands, and just because a new one comes along, it's not the end of the world.
None of the bands he lists sound like Black Sabbath at all. He's saying you all shamelessly take from it though. And he uses the word pastiche. Pastiche sounds like a cologne to me. Pastiche. I haven't heard that one too many times. He must be smart [laughs]. What does he say again?
He says nothing in your half-assed pastiche resembles an original riff. And that your cologne smells sophisticated. If I ever meet this guy, I'm going to tell him, "I heard what you said about my fucking cologne."
Who's the artist that did your "Arcane Montane" lyric video? That's Becky Cloonan. We're going to see her tomorrow actually, she's in Montreal. She's an amazing comic-book artist. JH Williams did the cover art for our album, which I think it great, too.
JH Williams's work with Batwoman is so good. We liked that as well, especially the Hydrology stuff. He can combine so many styles of art in a single frame. We reached out to him, and it turned out he was a Sword fan and got back to us immediately and said yes. We pay a lot of attention to merchandise and keep it close to the core of what we do. It's very much a reflection of what we want. We've found that good T-shirt artists are hard to come by. We asked JH if he knew anybody that was good, and he put us in touch with a guy named Mark Irwin who is in charge of a group of artists called Creative Militia out of San Diego. That's where we got to know Becky. We like to get to know the artists and let them have input, and strike a balance. Design is such a process, and we take it very seriously.
Who's going to produce your next album? Not sure. We've been throwing around the name of Tim Green. He produced the Fucking Champs, and the last two Howlin' Rain albums. So we might head out to California to make the next album, I don't know.