ARTIST : THE SWORD
ALBUM : CONQUEST OF KINGDOMS
LABEL : CRAFT RECORDINGS
RATING : 7/10
WORDS : MATTHEW WILSON
It feels strange to release Conquest Of Kingdoms – a 3-LP spanning collection of B-sides, live recordings and covers by Austin metal maestros The Sword – in the midst of a pandemic, with the majority of the world still in lockdown, but that’s the case for, well, pretty much everything right now. In some strange way, now is perhaps the best time for a rarities collection like this to emerge. The Sword never broke through into the metal consciousness the same way that other contemporary sludge or stoner metal bands like Baroness or Cult Of Luna did, and have been on hiatus since their last album failed to chart.
Nevertheless, they’ve still carved out for themselves a 17 year long career, with a solid and respectable back catalogue that’s worthy of your attention Conquest Of Kingdoms reveals a playful, experimental and even vulnerable side to a band that sounds like they’re happiest taking a sledgehammer to your ear drums.
Conquest Of Kingdoms makes for a really fun record to dip in and out of. Like a musical equivalent of pick and mix, it’s got a little bit of everything
Let’s get the biggest barriers out of the way first – Conquest Of Kingdoms is half live album, half B-sides and covers, so there’s a lot of “buy-in”. These songs are usually long, averaging around 5 to 6 minutes each, and this record spans 3 LPs. If you’ve listened to them before and aren’t too keen on them, then it’s doubtful this record won’t change your mind; maybe give the 3-CD career spanning ‘Chronology’ a spin instead. This isn’t The Sword at their best or most refined, it’s pretty much the opposite of that – scrappy, messy and lacking in polish.
And it’s precisely because it’s The Sword not sounding so polished up that Conquest Of Kingdoms makes for a really fun record to dip in and out of. Like a musical equivalent of pick and mix, it’s got a little bit of everything, having been curated in a way where every facet of the band’s character shines through. An alternative take on monstrous stoner anthem ‘Freya’ sits next to a Black Keys-esque remix of ‘Seriously Mysterious’, before delving into a cover of KISS’s ‘She’. It’s playful, it’s experimental, and it’s fun.
The highlight of this album is the excellent live material. Raw, punchy and scrappy, wild and unpredictable
The highlight of this album is the excellent live material. Raw, punchy and scrappy, wild and unpredictable, The Sword are an ear drum-bursting battering ram. The recordings have been cleaned up a bit in the mix, but are still characterised by all the intricacies of playing live. Fan favourites “Barael’s Blade”, “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians”, and “Sea of Spears” are crushingly heavy, whilst progressive instrumentals like “The White Sea” twist and turn with devilish improvisation. All these songs come from different live performances, so The Sword have curated what they think are their greatest hits from a selection of performances and made a live set out of them for you to listen to.
There are a few drawbacks to opening the vaults in this manner – lowering your quality control does put you at risk of publishing some material that really should have stayed unpublished. The covers in particular show a dip in quality, with a bizarre version of the Immigrant Song in particular feeling like a misstep artistically – a stoner rock band speeding up a Led Zeppelin song and dropping it down a few keys just doesn’t sound right. But if you’ve bought into this record, you’ll be fine skipping the songs that don’t land for you. There’s so much on offer here that both old and new fans alike will have fun just dipping in and out, with the quality of the live material being worth the cost of admission alone. If you’re missing live music, give Conquest Of Kingdoms a spin.
Conquest Of Kingdoms is out now via CRAFT RECORDINGS