Live Review: The Sword – Manchester Academy

As if crafted to push the lungs of an audience to their limit, Apocryphon seems like the perfect album to appease a baying crowd. As the lights dim and band’s intro music begins, soon we’ll know if this is true.

Suddenly the lights flare and the unmistakable synthesised intro of ‘Apocryphon’ begins. Apocryphon means “secret writing”. It quickly becomes clear there is nothing secretive about tonight’s performance. The riffs are brutal and apparent. The Sword aren’t holding back.

The Sword

Following the burly thrash of ‘Freya’, lead guitarist Kyle Shutt guides the audience into the casual grooves of ‘Hammer of Heaven’. It’s not casual for long, the song builds and builds, always threatening to explode before finally erupting beneath the voice of frontman J.D. Cronise.

Cronise, on record, has a voice that could cut glass, a galactic croon that sets him apart from his peers. But tonight he’s struggling, and with songs as sturdy and hedonic as his, it shows. Thankfully it doesn’t deter the crowd. They sway and mosh to ‘Tres Brujas’. The gig goes on.

Content with looking at his ever-travelling left hand throughout, Cronise cuts a modest figure. It’s left to Shutt to goad the crowd. Snarling and swaying across the stage, gazing through squinted eyes and with gritted teeth, Shutt exudes real presence, especially throughout show highlight ‘How Heavy This Axe’. The crowd respond in kind.

With mature songwriting united under the sovereign rule of the mighty riff, Apocryphon is a collection of omnipotent tones and assailing choruses. Though Cronise’s voice falters throughout the choruses of ‘Cloak of Feathers’, ‘The Hidden Masters’ and ‘Dying Earth’, the bellows from the flailing crowd pull him through.

After ‘Maiden, Mother & Crone’, and throughout the show, the band bow and raise their beers in thanks. To quote one of the band’s influences, The Sword are very ‘umble, and very ‘eavy. As is ‘To Take The Black’, an epic assault also from the band’s second album Gods of the Earth.

After the anthemic and alliterative ‘Seven Sisters’, a guy puts his arm around me and asks: “Do you love The Sword?” I tell him I do. He pauses, seemingly dazed, staring into his beer, before finally replying just as the band begin ‘The Horned Goddess’. “I love The Sword too”. This much is clear; he throws his body into the crowd.

After drummer Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III’s rolling intro to the massive ‘Arrows in the Dark’, one of the finest cuts from the band’s third album Warp Riders, Cronise, Shutt and bassist Bryan Ritchie’s vocals combine during its menacing and forewarning chorus.

The band thank the crowd again, and after closing with ‘Veil of Isis’, the opening track of Apocryphon, The Sword leave the stage. Nobody moves. We know they’re coming back.

The band return to a still thirsty crowd, and provide a satiating encore from their first album Age of Winters. The crowd bark along to the blistering ‘Barael’s Blade’, and the scorching finale, ‘Winter’s Wolves’. After thanking the crowd for coming out. The Sword drag their axes off stage like wounded but conquering warriors. Having witnessed a formidable battle between dueling guitars, crashing cymbals and thundering bass, the crowd leave too, as weary and spent as the band they’ve seen.

Even if Cronise’s voice wasn’t perfect tonight, the song selection was a triumphant journey through the band’s ten year career, and the latest songs go some way to suggesting that Apocryphon, as it turns out, is the perfect album to appease a baying crowd.