The Sword guitarist Kyle Shutt vividly remembers the first time the Austin-based doom group played here in Grand Rapids.
The heavy-as-hell band had just released its 2006 debut LP, Age of Winters, and was playing for a packed house at the legendary Jukes Bar when a fan in the front split his hand open on the stage, spewing blood everywhere.
“It was a hallmark of live shows,” Shutt told Revue. “It was like, ‘Wow, how are we going to top that one?’”
About as metal as it gets, that blood-drenched evening proved to be only the beginning for The Sword, who quickly ascended into metal music’s esteemed echelon.
Initially signed based on the recommendation of Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, its ‘70s-inspired sound drew early comparisons to icons like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Soon after, its song “Freya” became a fan favorite on Guitar Hero II and soon after Metallica handpicked them to open their 2008-09 world tour.
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Since then, The Sword has played close to a thousand shows and cranked out three more albums: 2008’s Gods of Earth, 2010’s Warp Riders and 2012’s Apocryphon.
This past summer the band released its fifth studio LP, High Country, which many critics praised for its shift in musical direction.
“I never really felt we were going in one particular direction before,” Shutt said, commenting on those who’ve said the band has switched from playing doom metal to a more conventional form of classic hard rock. “We’re just dudes that jam and the more songs we write the more diverse our catalog gets.”
Nearly burnt out on playing live after spending five years on the road, the band took almost a year off to reassemble their home lives before finishing High Country.
“When we started the Warp Riders tour I was 27 years old and at the end of the Apocryphon cycle I was 31 and I needed to take some time to reflect on everything that we’d done,” Shutt said. “I think that really came through in the music that we started to write. We were literally different people than we were when we started this band when I was 20.”
Returning to Austin after so much time away from the city made for even more culture shock as the thriving area had undergone a dramatic change of its own.
“Austin is just a different place from what it used to be,” Shutt said. “All the old buildings have been bulldozed and it’s literally a different looking and feeling city than when I moved there when I was 17. I feel like I just don’t even belong there anymore. I tried to reconnect with it, but it just wasn’t having me.”
While in Austin, Shutt and the rest of the band did reconnect with long-time friend and producer Adrian Quesada, formerly of Grammy-award-winning Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma – who are perhaps best-known for backing Prince on a few occasions.
“There were only a few heavy bands like us in Austin before we started playing and Texas itself was just all nu-metal,” Shutt said. “We wiped the state clean of that shit … Now I’m not saying we’re the best band in the world in that regard, but we definitely gave Texas a kick in the ass and Grupo [Fantasma] did the same thing.”
Working with Quesada on High Country, The Sword wanted to explore the depth of its sound and they found just that by losing the Low C tuning they’d leaned on so much before, letting loose their inner stoner-rock instincts and embracing Quesada’s suggestion that they even bring in some horns.
“We just didn’t want to write another f***ing Sword album,” Shutt said. “We wanted to bust that door down and see what was on the other side.”
On the road, the band members will switch guitars onstage to play some of their older songs in their original tuning, but don’t be surprised to hear some past tracks played in a completely new way.
“Some of the songs we honestly think sound better in E flat,” Shutt said. “If anybody has any complaints about ‘Freya’ being played in E flat than they can just deal with it, because we’ve played that song a jillion times live. In a way it’s like a fresh perspective on it and it makes it exciting for us to play it again... What I want people to take away from The Sword is there are no rules.”