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High Country is more than a stylistic step forward for the band, which has in the past been commonly compared to heritage metal heroes Black Sabbath. “I definitely hear the differences,” John says, “but as far as trying to describe exactly what it is, I’ll leave that to others.” Those others have gone as far as to describe the album as melodic southern rock and heavy rock as opposed to metal, which John says is a fair description. ‘’It’s much more of a rock and roll album. It has a little moodiness here and there; it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Overall it’s meant to be mellow. It has its moments of intensity and heaviness, but it’s not just beating your brains out from start to finish.’


Now almost a decade into their career, the band is feeling more comfortable and confident in their capabilities, which has resulted in a more dynamic and variable album. At 15 songs in total, the album is not overly long due to the general brevity of the individual tracks. “The longest song on the record is barely five minutes,” John says, acknowledging the change in length. “People seem to be into writing really long songs these days. Maybe my attention span is getting shorter as I’m getting older.”


“I was listening to some Tom Petty records the other day and some of his classic hits are less than three minutes long. You realise you don’t need to play a riff a million times to make a song.”


Drawing on a wide range of influences, from blues to funk, might have led to the album’s unique sound, which is overall surprisingly lacking in darkness. “To me it’s just fun music to play; that’s really the whole point. A lot of the songs on the album are pretty straightforward and to the point. Some of the songs are more dynamic and go from really subtle to really heavy, but then there are songs like the first track ‘Unicorn Farm’. That one we just made up in the studio. Our producer thought it would be really cool if the album started with a track that made people wonder if they were even listening to the right album.”


With the band planning to tour the album in Australia early next year, the variance in the album’s tracks has led to a situation where some of the songs might be left off the live playlist. “Some of the songs on the record are not really even rock and roll songs. There’s a synthesiser instrumental, an acoustic instrumental, a ballad. There might come a time and place where it would be cool to play those, but when we first hit the road it will be the full band numbers.”


“My live rig is pretty simple. Just a couple of pedals for overdrive and distortion, and the MXR Phase 90 and a Carbon Copy delay pedal. Because I sing and play guitar live I don’t like there being too many buttons and knobs and lights to confuse me while I’m playing.”


In comparison, they used a range of equipment in the studio to create the dynamic and interesting sound of the album. “For each song we really tried to get a tone that worked for that song, rather than just dial it in and have the whole album sound the same.”


“We used various amps, mostly small stuff – a lot of little combos and old tube amps. We would just play with stuff in the studio and see what sounded cool and appropriate for each song. Distortion-wise I used various fuzzes and overdrives; I went for a dirtier tone rather than the super-saturated, creamy, thick distortion I always used in the past. In a lot of ways I always used that tone to hide mistakes in my playing. On this album I just tried to play better so I didn’t have to do that!”


High Country represents a stylistic expansion for The Sword, but also a growing confidence in their abilities and a maturity in their goals. “I would say we have better control now; I feel evolved,” John says. “What we’re trying to do as songwriters now is not what we were trying to do initially. Back then we were trying to make a much louder noise sonically; it was more about the riffs and the driving assault of the thing.”


Still, he’s quick to clarify that they’re still metal heads at heart. “We still like stuff heavy, but it’s not heaviness for heaviness’ sake.”



High Country is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia.