The Sword

Gods of the Earth (Kemado)

Putatively based in Austin, Tex., The Sword actually hail from a realm that would make Tolkien's Aragorn soil his chain-mail breeches in abject terror, fearful of frost giants and demon wizards and shadow prophets whispering Apocalypse and damnation. Their second full-length album ups the dark fantasy quotient of their first record, 2006's Age of Winters, with a collection that ranges from blood-soaked war cries ("How Heavy This Axe") to black fables ("Maiden, Mother and Crone") to epics of the end times ("Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians").

But musically speaking, Gods of the Earth offers more than the relatively static stoner metal of Age of Winters. Gods is a more vital, diverse record; its steely rhythms pulse and quake and move, rather than hanging in the air like so much ambient black ether. And while singer J.D. Cronise still isn't much to listen to—his choked vocals don't shock so much as they simply fail to please—his performance is at least serviceable this time out, providing The Sword's potent ensemble an adequate (and marginally more decipherable) vocal/lyrical foil.