"Apocryphon" is the 4th studio album by American heavy metal band, The Sword. It was released in 2012 on the Razor & Tie label and produced by J. Robbins. The line-up for the album was J.D. Cronise (vocals/guitar), Kyle Shutt (guitar), Bryan Richie (bass) and Santiago Vela (Drums).
The album was the follow-up to 2010's "Warp Riders" and was the first to feature Santiago Vela on the drums who replaced Trivett Wingo, after the latter had to depart due to mental health problems with anxiety and stress. Kyle Shutt says the album title is about "secret writings or secret teachings that maybe shouldn't be known." The artwork for the album was designed by J.H. Williams, a comic book artist. This is the first album to be released by the band on the Razor & Tie label. Is it any good? Let's find out!
We begin with "The Veil of Isis", which starts out fresh and fruity but once the power chords hit, you know you're in for a good ride. It's instantly clear that the band has got a more than capable drummer to replace Trivett Wingo but it's also notable that Santiago Vela hasn't brought his own style to the recording studio, and it's difficult, at first, to distinguish any difference between the two. There are a lot of Black Sabbath influences with this song, and that's always a good thing. The song doesn't have a chorus as such but what it does have is some rocking lines and I can't get enough of the main riff, and the wailing solo at the end is excellent. This is a very good start and a very promising one, too.
"Cloak of Feathers" is one of those songs that doesn't really grab my attention at first, but the more I listen to it the more I like it. One thing of note is that the bass has some groovy lines on the track and not only compliments the guitars but is more than capable to go a level higher to be noticed on its own. There are heavy tones on the song which I like a lot, but now I've heard it a few times I keep coming back to Black Sabbath, especially in the bridge where it almost, for a few seconds, sounds exactly like a part in "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath". It's one thing to be influenced, but another to copy.
As soon as "Arcane Montane" begins, I am immediately drawn towards the sound of Metallica's "Death Magnetic" album in both guitar and drums. That soon changes as the vocals kick in but it's a little short-lived, as Cronise's singing is labored and not full-bodied as in the previous tracks. I do love the bridge though with some wonderful riffing and a great solo. It's a fantasy song about a mythical mountain and the secrets it might hold. The narrator is asking if it contains hidden treasures and if any man has ever tried to find them out before, has the mountain been cruel or kind to them. It's not a brilliant song by any means, but it has its moments that stand out.
"The Hidden Masters" starts in slowly and quietly - almost inaudible, in fact - and it's an intro that fails to grab my attention and I'm drawn away from actually listening. Then the main part of the song hits and I'm not sure what to make of it. There is (once again) a lot of Black Sabbath melody and I like the doom metal aspect of the song, but I've been put off by the intro and while you can't judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes, if a song doesn't catch your attention during the first minute, it probably never will. There is a very brief bridge which has a pretty annoying solo of sorts before the song continues along the not-so-merry way towards its end. This is, for me, the worst track on the album by far.
"Dying Earth" is next, and that is more like it! This is a great song that's packed full of riffs and I especially like the Iron Maiden-like chugging of the guitars during the verses. This is the best song on the album, and I've not even listened to the last 5 tracks yet. It's a song about the end of days, when the sun becomes a red giant after exhausting all its fuel. We know this will eventually happen, and after scientists have studied red giants, we know the sun will grow in size and engulf Mercury, Venus and eventually, the Earth, before carrying on towards the outer edges of our galaxy. Just when I had doubts because of the previous track, the band hits me with this one. Top quality stuff, at that.
"Execrator" is the shortest song on the album, but one of the most intriguing and most certainly one of the heaviest. It has a fast drum beat on the verses with the guitars in the background, but when the chorus comes in, all hell breaks loose and we're treated to a really good riff. The song has a long outro which could either be a closing bridge or they ran out of ideas, but I'd have liked to hear more of that riffing which is still going around in my head, even after the song is over. It's a refreshing song which flows on nicely from the previously brilliant track, and offers new hope in that the album might just be the real deal after all.
"Seven Sisters" is not a song about the London Underground station of the same name, but is in regards to the Pleiades of Greek mythology, in which Maia, Electra, Taygete, Alcyone, Celeano, Sterope and Merope are prominent figures. The vocal harmony wraps around the guitar chords at the start, but the song is really just mismatched in time changes, in my opinion. It has a slow part which doesn't really belong there and it's right after the first verse that makes you think "Hang on a minute, why?" This isn't the best song on the album and it's not the worst either, but it isn't one that would give me the urge to listen to it again.
"Hawks & Serpents" is one of those songs right out of the 1980s hard rock drawer, and that's a good thing. Retro rock was probably first done by The Darkness, especially on "I Believe in a Thing Called Love". There is a riff thrown in there which sounds a lot like a Motörhead song, but I can't quite remember which one it is at the moment. The vocal harmony sounds like Metallica's James Hetfield post 1991 and there's an excellent guitar solo about halfway through which reminds me of something Kiss would do. All in all, it's a song that takes influences from many bands of the 1980s and it's a fresh and fruity track which definitely works.
"Eyes of the Stormwitch" is a strange song. It's one of those tracks that ambles along without much vigour but I do like the guitar sound here, especially on the main riff. However, it's another stolen riff, and I definitely hear Ozzy Osbourne's "The Ultimate Sin" there. I'm not sure why bands constantly think people won't notice copied riffs but most fans of The Sword must surely be fans of Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, and they would most certainly know that riff anywhere. It's not even like it's hidden in there, either, and that's such a shame, because I was starting to enjoy it again. The only thing I can say is that the drumming is brilliant.
The title song is the album closer which begins with a funky electro introduction, but once the guitars begin their frantic riffing it's actually a very good song. I really like how the snare drums echo the guitar strums in certain parts, but what gives me the most joy is the togetherness of the band on the record. If you don't have chemistry in the band, you're not going to make explosive music. It's a fitting end to the album and while it's not the best track here, it can certainly hold its weight above the water. The lyrics, which are seemingly pointing towards the universe, give the track more power, more darkness and pushes it over the line instead of crawling like some bands tend to do on final songs.
In summary, you get what you want with this album. If you want to hear heavy riffs then that's what you'll hear. If you want doom metal that heavily borrows from Black Sabbath, you get that as well, and if you don't want to like it, you won't like it. Personally, I think it's a very good record but it's not a great one. There are a few loose cannons included on the album but fortunately, the good far outweigh them. Santiago Vela fits in well as the new drummer and it's never easy to replace any band member, especially one with a certain style that can't really change. It's not an album that's as good as the band's previous offerings, but I will still play it again without a doubt.
1. The Veil of Isis
2. Cloak of Feathers
3. Arcane Montane
4. The Hidden Masters
5. Dying Earth
7. Seven Sisters
8. Hawks & Serpents
9. Eyes of the Stormwitch
My rating: 7/10