I didn’t get the hype surrounding The Sword when they released Age of Winters. In fact, I largely tried to ignore it. The flood of similar bands during that time had soured me on their chosen sub-genre. Unfortunately, the makers of Guitar Hero II decided to include “Freya,” which meant at some point I was forced or otherwise compelled to hear it there. OK, not so bad, but I still didn’t get it. They won a few more points with Gods of the Earth thanks to the crushing “How Heavy This Axe,” to the point where I was actually looking forward to the next album.
Label: Razor & Tie.
Surprisingly, I found myself excited once again when Used Future landed in my inbox. Well, intrigued might be a better word. Could they bounce back from two largely forgettable albums, or at least reignite the fire inside to bring some light and warmth into what has been a cold, dark year?
Yes, and in a most unexpected way.
I didn’t feel like going back to those albums to verify anything I’m about to say, but maybe that’s for the better. See, I’m not sure that Used Future is all that different from them. I do know that my tastes and tendencies do shift over time. It wasn’t that long ago that I spent over half of my days listening to old country playlists; now, hardly ever – though I don’t love it any less. Maybe it was just time for me to have my own “rock revolution.” With this and new albums from The Watchers, Fu Manchu, and others, it seems my timing is good.
Anyway, onto The Sword. They’ve gotten comfortable and confident enough to basically do whatever they want and not worry about pleasing folks who only loved their first three (or two) albums. The first half of the album is all over the place, with four instrumentals (an intro, an intermission, the blazing “The Wild Sky,” and the piano-driven “Nocturne”), the awkwardly catchy “Deadly Nightshade” (who may or may not be a villain from season two of The Tick), straight rocker “Twilight Sunrise,” and the breezy, Masters of Reality-esque “Sea of Green” (“Masters of Reality-esque” could easily apply to a good portion of this album, at least the Sunrise on the Sufferbus era). That’s the sort of diversity that the fans seem to love: varied tempos and moods with random drops of quirkiness. I remember an old interview with Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers where he explained the band’s approach as such: “Everyone loves compilation albums, so we try to make every album sound like a compilation.” Or something like that. I read it over 20 years ago, give me a break. Same principle here.
As if on cue, “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” brings in a healthy dose of psychedelic fuzz, a vibe that carries over into the otherwise mellow flow of the title track. “Come and Gone” channels a healthy Pink Floyd influence, even pushing the vocals a layer or two behind the music. “Book of Thoth” sounds like a polite stomper (what does that even mean?!) on disc but I’ll bet it crumbles walls in a live setting, with a groove so wide even the most ample-sized fan could lay down and take a nap comfortably in it (just beware of those stompers, though – they may be polite but they’re still unforgiving). Two more instrumentals close this one out, with “Brown Mountain” bringing every non-vocal element of this album together into one heaping denouement before the “Come and Gone Reprise” provides a momentary chill before…well before the album ends and you get to chill anyways (willingly or unwillingly).
After one spin through Used Future it already stuck with me more than anything since Warp Riders, which is a good sign. It’s listenable all the way through – I’m not being distracted to skip any tracks – which is also good. Some people make too big a deal about needing to be engaged, sucked in, or challenged by an album to enjoy it. That stuff certainly has its place, but sometimes you just want to sit back and hear a good album. Used Future is that kind of album. Treat yourself to a listen sometime.