The Sword - Used Future (Cover Artwork)

The Sword

Used Future (2018)

Razor and TIe

The Sword return for their sixth album Used Future and continue their evolution from fantasy metal lords to futuristic ZZ Top acolytes. The band tapped Tucker Martine to produce this new set of songs, recording at his studio in Portland, Oregon. Martine is an interesting choice as his most recent credits include Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell and My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall with past experiences with Mudhoney and significant involvement in the Decemberists most recent output. The band consists of the post-Warp Riders lineup with JD Cronise leading the charge on guitar and vocals, Bryan Richie on bass, Kyle Schutt on guitar, and Jimmy Vela on drums.

The album begins with the one-two-three punch of “Deadly Nightshade,” “Twilight Sunrise,” and “The Wild Sky.” Sonically, the band continues to slowly metamorph into their Texas forebears ZZ Top with more bluesy than sludgy riffs that evoke long stretches of cacti and tumbleweeds as opposed to the fantasia style of Middle Earth. The album cover even mirrors their southwest contemporaries Quaker City Night Hawks’ El Astronauta (a great album in its own right), and if it doesn’t match it particularly sonically, it definitely shares a similar wide-open-sky aesthetic. “Deadly Nightshade” accentuates its bluesy licks with some fuzzy phased out bass guitar burping, and “Sea of Green” coasts on a staccato synth line while the guitars have a playful roadhouse duel.

The album is a departure in subject matter for a band that in the past has been concerned with space witches and ladies of the realm. “Twilight Sunrise” lyrically seems to take a cynical look forward as Cronise laments that “the world you wanted is a fantasy” and the powers that be “see exactly what [they] want to see.” Cronise is no longer singing odes to elvish fatales as on 2012’s Apocryphon who “wore a cloak of feathers / and rode a mare of purest white" (a hilariously awesome line that is then followed by a cowbell). Song titles like “Don’t Get Comfortable” and “Used Future” hint at the imminent dread The Sword are reading in the tarot cards of the nation’s future. “Used Future” imagines a wasteland where “robots are withered in rust” and signals the band seem to have exhausted their explorations of deep space and the Seven Kingdoms in favor of this album’s metaphorical Mad Max themed dystopia.

Used Future otherwise is another stock album for the band but does augment their Dio-riffage with more synthesizers. The only complaints are a flabby midsection mired by midtempo instrumentals that extinguish the momentum of the first three tracks. The album is also heavy on the instrumental tracks as the album is bookended by “The Wild Sky” and “Brown Mountain” that trade in monster shredding for more relaxed grooving. JD Cronise doesn’t quite have the vocal range to elevate the slower tempo cuts but his courage to venture outside the stock 70s metal vibe is admirable at least. The ZZ Top album Used Future most recalls is the blues-synth fusion of Eliminator, and Cronise summarizes the entire affair when he ruminates that it “feels like we’ve been here before.”

Used Future is ultimately a solid album that continues to smooth out the band’s sound and has plenty of enjoyable cuts but falls a little short of riding the lightning.