The Sword was long ago stamped with the epithet “hipster metal,” and that isn’t going to change with the release of Warp Riders. The purity police weren’t happy when J.D. Cronise and crew were doing straight-up head-cracking heavy metal, and they aren’t going to be any happier now that The Sword has strayed further into psychedelic and hard-rock territory. That’s fine, though; it just leaves more for those who are more interested in the music than the label. The concept of Warp Riders, as is the case with most metal-tinged pseudo-rock operas, is a bit impenetrable, but that shouldn’t make a bit of difference, as the music is gripping, intense, and unimpeachably heavy from the psyched-out mania of “Acheron” to the end. There isn’t a bad song on the record, and it delivers solid stand-outs (“Tres Brujas,” the first single, is a monster) while remaining a surprisingly unified whole.
Beyond that, it’s simply much more accomplished than anything The Sword has done before. Trivett Wingo has grown into one of the best hard-rock drummers around, and Matt Bayles’ production is just slick enough to provide the band with real crossover appeal without compromising its sound. This is one of the best metal albums of the year, and no amount of sneering can change that.