Its been 3 years since The Sword graced us with High Country, their fifth studio album. The record spurred a division between fans. Some enjoyed the departure from the fast-tempo, driven sound of their previous albums, while others disliked their new, easier going, jam-centric vibe. Used Future, The Sword's sixth studio album, lands sonically closer to High Country in most areas while offering a moodier confidence and a spray of explorative, instrumental grooves. If High Country feels like having a bonfire at sunset, then Used Future is hiking up a mountain to lay back and watch the clouds roll on by.
These examples of imagery are likely actual inspirations for of the current atmosphere of The Sword's music. Frontman/songwriter John D. Cronise relocated from Austin, Texas to the wild, deep mountains of North Carolina to find inspiration for new music. This in mind, its pretty easy to visualize a time lapse of the day's blue skies fading into dusk's burning, vivid hues while listening to Used Future.
The atmosphere in Used Future presents as not merely just a set of random set of songs. Tucker Martine produced the album and does a thoughtful job of weaving songs together to create a sonic journey that feels cohesive and thematic. Departures from lyric-laden, traditional song structures demonstrated in tracks like "Come and Gone" are brilliant, emotional, and introspective. In fact, the best parts of this album are far and away the instrumental interludes. From solid more familiar jams like "Twilight Sunrise," Used Future transitions smoothly into slower, more focused and reflective tracks like "Book of Thoth" and "Brown Mountain."
Used Future is certainly a step forward in the overall evolution of The Sword. They're taking greater cues from early classic rock, embracing storytelling through instrumentation, and further distancing themselves from stoner metal. While The Sword's new sound hones in towards modern timelessness, it's not landing as successfully as I feel they're capable of. It seems that Used Future is another transition album. Tracks like "Deadly Nightshade" feel out of place. It's as if they have one foot in their new direction and the other lingering in what they think they should sound like.
If you've never heard The Sword before, Used Future will make you into a fan. They execute a new, unfettered, and free vibe extremely well. They're all astute and talented musicians. If you're a fan expecting a return to their early form, you will, unfortunately, be disappointed. If, however, you enjoyed High Country, and the subsequent acoustic re-release Low Country, definitely check this album out. Overall, The Sword is still one of my personal modern favorites. Of course Used Future is still a great release, but in comparison to their earlier releases and musical capabilities, it falls a little flat.