I became a fan of The Sword (a metal band out of Austin, Texas) by accident. During the summer of 2015 I was cruising the New Releases on Google Play Music and came across High Country - the then latest release by a band I’d never heard of. Of course I had to give a listen, because The Sword, and by about halfway thought the record I was a fan.
I enjoyed High Country enough that I went back and listened to their back catalog, and loved all of it. In fact, I went out and bought their entire catalog on vinyl, and even managed to find a copy of Apocryphon, which is out of print even though it’s High Country’s immediate predecessor. I also went out to see them the two times they came though San Francisco over the last year, and they’re a great time live.
Reviews of High Country were mixed, though panned mostly by longtime fans of The Sword for being too “mellow” compared to previous works. I’ll never understand people who get upset when a band they like tries something different, and act as though the band is obligated to only put out material that they like, everyone else be damned.
Well, The Sword went in a very different direction with the follow-up to High Country, releasing Low Country - a record that contains most of the tracks from High Country, but reworked as acoustic tunes. I gave it two passes through last night, and it’s definitely got its highs and lows.
Highs: It’s well engineered and sounds excellent. Considering the content, the songs are ripe for acoustic interpretation, and it all works very well for a collection of originally metal-ish tunes.
Lows: For some reason they chose to leave Jimmy (drums) out of most of the recordings, so the lack of rhythm is very distinct; they really should have let him play a couple djembes or congas. The other issue, and this is a big one, is that they re-purposed the existing vocal tracks from High Country, and for me that was a terrible decision. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just obvious that John originally laid down these vocals against metal backing tracks, so the feeling is a bit awkward and doesn’t match the acoustic treatment. Anyone not familiar with High Country won’t notice, but if you are, Low Country won’t sound quite right. If I was the producer I would have had John record new vocals to match the acoustic tone and feel.
Overall it’s a good record, and a nice alternative for when you want to listen to something familiar, but not in the mood for heavy music. Having said that, I feel like they missed a couple great production opportunities that would have elevated this to an outstanding acoustic recording.