The late seventies and early eighties gifted us with a few unique visions of what the human conquest of space might really look like. Instead of garish Technicolor cities, polished chrome servants and gleaming spacecraft interiors, movies like Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner reminded us that people are people, entropy is an incurable truth, and when none of the characters onscreen lifts a finger to wipe a counter top or dust a dejarik board, shit’s gonna get grimy fast. Called the used future by some genius (I don’t have the time or inclination to actually look up who), such beaten-up battleships and hygienically-challenged marketplaces anchored those stories in settings that were less bourgeois fantasy than a projection of the working class as inevitable and eternal and always on the front lines. They helped us remember that, from an eighteenth century perspective, we very much live in a technological wonderland that we don’t care for nearly as well as we could.
And since 2017 saw updates in the lore of each of the abovementioned worlds (with results of admittedly varying quality), maybe there’s no better time for Austin, TX retro space groove collective The Sword to drop their bluesy, mustachioed, off-world road hog Used Future. Quick catch-up for anyone who’s slept on The Sword until now: Their 2006 debut, Age of Winters, rose through the underground like a graboid on amphetamines. Heads turned – specifically the heads of the mainstream’s heaviest hitters, Metallica – and when it came time for sophomore slugger Gods of the Earth to make landfall in 2008, The Sword found themselves opening several legs of the Death Magnetic tour. Two years later, Warp Riders broadened the band’s stylistic territory, the beginning of a shift that the band rode through their following pair of offerings.
Used Future arrives this year to prove that panoramic, high-concept hard rock isn’t dead… or, if it is dead at our point in time-space, it at least maintains a vivacious existence in a universe right next door, or in a galaxy far, far away. In all the best ways, The Sword’s sixth full-length feels like a transmission from a techno-mystical cult who only communicate in frayed-denim guitar licks from forty-plus years ago. The album takes wing on the strength of a few heavy hitters – “Deadly Nightshade” recalls all the seductive muscle of “Mississippi Queen,” “Twilight Sunrise” pumps up both the fuzz and the intensity, and “The Wild Sky” lulls with a long and stormy percussive intro before the clouds erupt into a positively thunderous midsection – but Used Future really starts to shine after “Intermezzo,” when it opens into its more cinematically oriented posterior section (actually encompassing all but the record’s first ten minutes).
“Intermezzo” itself is a brief, throbbing oddball break, not unlike Gojira’s “The Wild Healer” from L’Enfant Sauvage, but instead of lurching back into puffed-chest rock at track’s close, “Sea of Green” washes onto shore with breezy exotica before slinking toward a chill groove that builds into a rollicking central riff. The piano/synth melody of “Nocturne” would be the core theme of any lesser band’s entire album (hell, the single gem in another band’s entire discography), but The Sword only give it its space and then return to sunbathing on some imagined lunar beach with “Don’t Get Too Comfortable,” a song that kicks it deeper than anything that came before (and most of what comes next). The title track is a catchy-as-hell ZZ Top twist ‘n’ sway, and then we finally hear the track that birthed the album’s “Prelude” and “Reprise,” the high-as-fuck cloud castle called “Come and Gone.” “Book of Thoth” rekindles the rock ‘n’ roll spirit, but by the time “Brown Mountain” marches toward the album’s conclusion, coming down from the record’s hypoxic heights.
The Sword are equally at home jamming the shit out of some instrumental rock ‘n’ roll attitude or trotting out John D. Cronise’s stonerrific vocal melodies. The dude’s lyrics are often goofy, smirking slyly in some hazy nexus of profound storytelling and vague spiritual rambling. It’s easy to imagine the band’s live show leaving attendees with killer memories and posi-vibes that last for years. Used Future is music for a relaxed road trip down endless highways toward dusty horizons. Just don’t be surprised if your destination looks a hell of a lot like your point of departure; the tech might have advanced, but it’ll break down twenty miles from Weyland-Yutani headquarters all the same.
This post was last modified on March 1, 2018, 2:34 pm