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By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, November 21, 2022 @ 8:12 AM

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Massacre Records

It’s become something of a cliché these days for bands to reunite after 10, 15 even 20-some years apart for shows, festivals, tours and whatnot,and then take a whack at releasing new music. Sometimes it truly is by popular demand, as was the case with AT THE GATES and CARCASS, with inspired, triumphant results. All too often, though, it seems more obligatory, even unnecessary, and either ends up sounding woefully dated or a pale imitation of what is current.

And the gaps have grown to ridiculous lengths. In 2020, ALCATRAZZ set the bar at a new high, issuing its first new studio album in 34 years with Born Innocent. Now, thanks to the pandemic, Canada’s SWORD has come along to equal that mark – only to be eclipsed in the interim by TALAS, whose recently released 1985 arrived 37 years after its predecessor. Sheesh!

Originally set for release in early 2020, just as COVID was shutting down the planet, SWORD opted to hold onto its third album – not so imaginatively titled III – until the dust settled. So that meant two-plus more years of waiting, which seems like chump change in retrospect given the 30-plus years that preceded it.

But I don’t really recall people exactly clamoring for new SWORD music, anyway – no disrespect intended. The band really didn’t rise above obscurity in most quarters during the brief run in mid-80s when it released its two previous albums, 1986’s Metalized and 1988’s Sweet Dreams. The Montreal-based quartet did, umm, stick it out into the mid-’90s, though with waning activity, and regrouped again with the original members in 2011, if only to play the odd show from time to time.

Don’t rightly know what transpired after Sweet Dreams that kept the band at bay for so long. The bio accompanying the new album was cryptic, to say the least. And SWORD’s website wasn’t much help either, other than to note “All hell broke loose and a parting of ways ensued”. Anyway, short story really long, here we are now with III.

Metalized and Sweet Dreams worked off early template of what would now be considered “groove metal”. They married catchy hooks, anthemic swells and rousing choruses with occasional bursts of speed metal giddy up for a more muscular approach than the band’s contemporaries, for example, countrymen HELIX or CONEY HATCH or such American acts as Y&T and W.A.S.P.

Indeed, SWORD definitely seemed to be onto something at the time. Whether that would have eventually morphed into PANTERA-like heaviosity, we’ll never know – though the more polished, arena-ready feel of Sweet Dreams, thanks to its big name production team that included Garth Richardson and George Marino, might indicate otherwise.

Regardless, the forward-thinking sonic approach of old translates to the fairly modern, natural feel on III. And working with longtime ANNIHILATOR/VOIVOD producer Glen Robinson, SWORD manages to find a middle ground between crunch and polish over the course of the album.

The band largely follows the songwriting script of the two prior albums, delivers the material with plenty of heft and thunder, but keeps the sound reasonably clean to maximize catchiness and take full advantage of frontman Rick Hughes’ still sterling vocals – which recall TRIUMPH’s Rik Emmett for comparison, not bad company. And that’s probably for the better, since opting for more of a MACHINE HEAD, LAMB OF GOD or, god forbid, FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH approach probably would have ended up sounding desperate and ridiculous.

Instead, SWORD stays in its lane and lets the relatively timelessness of its sound work in its favor. Mike Plant’s forceful, beefy guitaring – with frisky hooks that at times echo EXODUS - and the propulsive rhythms of bassist Mike LaRock and drummer Dan Hughes hit hard, but are built around a solid melodic core that gives even the more bruising “I Am In Kommand”, “Spread The Pain” or “Not Me, No Way” an inherent accessibility. The autobiographical “Unleashing Hell” reminisces about the band’s short “heyday” with its “1986 in Montreal …” story line, which is told over a feisty chug.

A few tracks, notably the opener “Bad Blood” and “Took My Chances”, do retain a distinctly ‘80s vibe in their structure and composition and seem like they may have been leftovers from back in the day, even with their modern punch. But I suppose that’s to be expected, and the fact that the entire album doesn’t come across as a slog down memory lane says something about SWORD’s intentions here.

At only eight songs – one of them a short instrumental segue – and 35 minutes, III might seem rather skimpy, offering roughly one new minute of music for each year that has passed since Sweet Dreams. But better to have a small batch of solid material than stuff a longer album full of filler just because. Hopefully, now that III is upon us, it will provide an opportunity for a IV or more in the coming years as SWORD makes up for lost time. And if the band does yet another disappearing act, at least it will have gone back out with a bang.

3.5 Out Of 5.0

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