If you go:
What: The Sword, in concert.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
Where: Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 S.E. 39th Ave., Portland.
Cost: $16-$20, through Cascade Tickets, 800-514-3849 or http://cascadetickets.com
Information: 503-233-7100 or http://hawthornetheatre.com
J.D. Cronise, singer and guitarist of The Sword, has no problem with people who consider his band retro — even though in the music world being called retro has traditionally been a bit of a veiled dig.
"I was born in the '70s and that's where a large part of my influences lie basically because the music was great," he said in a late-November phone interview. "Those bands — Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath — to me that's the greatest rock music that's ever been made."
And ironically enough, having a 1970s influence might be a good thing these days, as a retro metal trend seems to be bubbling up, especially in Europe. Such talk has Cronise curious.
"I've done a lot of interviews with European magazines and websites and things lately, and that's something they pretty much have universally said … in Europe now, there is some sort of big trend toward retro rock," he said. "So I'm very anxious to get over there and see if now we're some huge band over there that we weren't a couple of years ago."
Things are looking up for the band. Its new CD, "Apocryphon," debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard charts upon its release in late October — significantly higher than the band's previous album, "Warp Riders," which landed at No. 47.
That's a great sign for the band, considering the transitions that the Sword has gone through since the 2009 release of "Warp Riders."
Formed by Cronise in 2003 in Austin, Texas — with guitarist Kyle Shutt and drummer Trivett Wingo — The Sword enjoyed steady growth with the release of its first two CDs — 2006's "Age of Winters" and 2008's "Gods of the Earth."
But five dates into The Sword's first tour in support of "Warp Riders," Wingo quit the band. The tour had to be postponed while the band (which includes bassist Bryan Richie) scrambled to find a new drummer.
"That was a big deal to deal with that and regroup," Cronise said.
The band brought on Kevin Fender for touring and then Santiago "Jimmy" Valla III, who, like Fender, had auditioned to replace Trivett in 2009. His first audition, though, came with some flaws.
"(Villa) and Brian, our bass player, had been friends for a long time. I had known him for quite awhile," Cronise said. "I think he was probably really nervous on his first audition. He came in and he played well, but he played all of the songs like double speed."
When Villa got a second chance, he nailed his audition.
Next came other big issues: finding a new record deal and new management. The band settled on indie label Razor & Tie Records and veteran manager Larry Mazer — two changes Cronise said have been good for The Sword.
With its house back in order, the Sword was ready to move forward with the fourth album.
"Warp Riders" was a concept album based around a science-fiction story Cronise wrote. The band didn't want to follow that path on "Apocryphon."
"We just wanted to write some good songs and just concentrate on the songs themselves and not have to worry about the overall structure of the album," Cronise said. "Making 'Warp Riders' was fun and a challenge, but it was not something that I personally was looking to repeat immediately. It was kind of an experiment, and I didn't want people to start labeling us as some sort of concept album band or something."
This time, Cronise wrote lyrics based on real-life subjects. Musically, the band went for a simpler, grittier sound built around the kind of big, catchy riffs and thundering beats that drive songs such as "Veil Of Isis," "Arcane Montane" and "Seven Sisters."
"It's just more of a rock album overall, I think," Cronise said. "It's more of just a hard rock album rather than a metal album, really, to me. We get labeled as this kind of metal or that kind of metal … To me, we're a hard-rock band with metal influences. To me, metal is Slayer and Lamb Of God. That's metal, and we don't sound anything like those bands. There's a level of aggression that has kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit in more recent years with us. We're not the angry young men we were, and we're not really looking to beat people over the head with our guitars anymore. We just want to write good songs and play good songs."