It took a recent Rolling Stone article sympathetic to the Aqua-Net era of metal to remind me just how much I hate hair bands. The article, an analysis of the Rocklahoma festival, was trying to explore the nuances of pop-metal cock rock in the mid to late 80s, playing up the philosophical potential for the whiskey and tits hedonism of bands like Motley Crue, Poison, and Ratt. But the fact is that the whole genre was exactly as shallow as Brett Michaels’ eye shadow and deserved its abrupt ending and its embarrassing comeback attempts. The trend was annoying in its day and hilarious now, but perhaps more seriously, hair metal was an abomination to real metal.
Real metal is made by unpopular kids, the kids with patchy mustaches and skinny arms. The kids who got picked on, who developed morbid tastes in movies and t-shirt art. Basically me. I was, as a teenager, enamored with metal of the Black Sabbath and Cliff Burton Metallica variety, a disciple of the minor scale, a worshipper of twin guitar solos. Real heavy metal was darker and more aggressive than its glitzier counterpart. I felt like it made up for my lack of aggression and power in daily life. The experience was too morose to be called escapism and a little more grounded than fantasy, but there was certainly a cathartic element at work. I could agree with and participate in the power expressed in large, chunky notes even if it didn’t manifest itself in any practical way. It’s the same odd metaphysic that draws any kind of fan to any kind of music. Likewise, real metal was made for people who needed a cathartic. Hair metal was made for preppies. Some people might think Austin’s The Sword are something like a monument to that darker era of metal, a newly dusted album of yellowed photos from the past, but I believe in The Sword‘s present utilization, even if it is augmented by nostalgia.
The Sword are, in every respect, old time metal. Tag-teaming on Friday night with fellow Austinians, The High Cost of Living, The Sword turned Ft. Worth venue Lola’s into a big riff paradise. Like their musical predecessors, there was no pretense with The Sword. With barely a murmur of introduction, the quartet pitched themselves into the popular “Freya,” stopping only for an occasional word of gratitude for the rest of the set. The sight was bewitching: undulating mops of hair, rhythmically agreeing with the heavy footfalls of the music. Occasionally, things would halt and either of the guitars would cleave the noise with a nimble arpeggio. I jumped and threw myself around like a true moron, clutching my newly-purchased t-shirt in my left hand, throwing up devil horns while whooping my praise. The abandon was glorious. I left the venue with a headache and hoarse of voice, beaming with childish renewal.
The next day my neck hurt and still does. It’s been nearly a decade since my neck hurt the day after a show. But the question remains: are The Sword a legitimate band making art people can use or are they just good ol’ throwback fun? It’s a circular question, because nostalgia is useful all by itself. It’s a matter whether or not a band like The Sword makes music that affects you in any way beyond helping you recall Dukes of Hazzard or your high score on pinball. The better way to phrase the question would be: are there still pimply malcontented teenagers with no fashion sense who can’t bench press their own weight? I think there are, and I hope they discover The Sword.