Warp Riders (Kemado)
After lumbering through Dungeons & Dragons-style sword-and-sorcery kingdoms for two albums, Texas quartet the Sword shoots off into outer space on Warp Riders, its third disc—which also just so happens to be an old-fashioned sc-fi-themed concept album. The music gets appropriately sleeker, too, shifting from a burly, downtuned morass into hyperdrive—thrashier, speedier, and leaner. It's still steeped in the '70s, but this time the reference points are the heavier side of classic rock (think Thin Lizzy, UFO, and the early Scorpions) instead of metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep. Warp Riders won't help the band shake its reputation among some headbangers as tourists in the realm of true metal, but there's no joking around here—the band plays it straight, even as the disc follows a space-archer named Ereth on a quest to save his home planet Atheron, which has been crippled by an ecological disaster. It's altogether silly, but it's also oddly captivating, in part because of the band's earnest delivery. You can link the narrative to concerns about global climate change or to classic '70s concept albums like Rush's Hemispheres or—probably your best bet—just slip on some headphones and enjoy the ride.