THE SWORD with TRIVIUM, PROTEST THE HERO and CELLADOOR at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Monday (October 9), 7 pm. $17.50 advance. All ages. 416-323-1251, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Metal bands in Austin are about as common as garden salads at BBQ joints, but being one of the city's few well-amped groups blasting out Sabbathy riffs has probably worked to the Sword's advantage. Even Austinites need some pummelling low-end thud along with their twang now and again.
But while the Austin scene's always had its share of mystifying anomalies - like the brilliantly Beatlesesque Cotton Mather, for example - you still have to wonder how something like the Sword's majestically pounding Age Of Winters (Kemado) came to be.
Things start making more sense when, under interrogation, Grand Theft Auto-obsessed Sword singer/guitarist J. D. Cronise finally confesses that neither he nor fabulously named drummer Trivett Wingo actually grew up in Austin - or Texas, for that matter.
"We were both in a punk band called Ultimate Dragons when we were living in Richmond, Virginia," says Cronise over a cellphone, "and I guess we had a Sabbath kind of sound back then. I was always into Metallica and Slayer, but it was listening to the Melvins' Houdini on headphones in the back of a van while on tour that made me think, 'Wow, I need be doing something that sounds more like this.' The vocals, drumming, guitar sounds - the Melvins had it all working for them."
Just because a band member found inspiration in an archetypal hipster metal group like the Melvins doesn't necessarily make the Sword charter members in the hipster metal club themselves.
However, if they'd wanted to avoid the somewhat derogatory tag often applied to bands like Wolfmother, the Answer, Early Man, Pelican and J. Mascis's Witch, all of whom are revisiting the 70s-style pounding of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer and Cactus, then perhaps they should have hooked up with a label other than NYC's Kemado Records, which featured a number of the aforementioned groups on Invaders, its state-of-the-hipster-metal-scene compilation.
"That disc was the brainchild of Kemado's A&R dude, Keith Abrahamsson," Cronise explains. "I think he modelled it after the Metal Massacre comp that introduced a lot of people to Metallica, but it was really just supposed to be a collection of great songs by a bunch of bands he was into. At least that's how it was presented to me.
"As far as the hipster metal thing goes, I think that term was invented by people who aren't very hip. When someone uses the term 'hipster,' it's typically done in a snarky way because they don't like the way somebody dresses or the music they listen to, and they think that person gets laid more than they do.
"I don't think the term as it applies to metal really means anything," he insists. "It's just a bullshit catchphrase being thrown around at the moment. I don't think anyone who came to one of our shows and saw our diverse audience - it's a very wide range of ages and social groups - would call what we do hipster metal."
The fact that the Sword can't pass the Cookie Monster voice test - something upon which some people rely as a means to separate real metal bands from the pretenders - doesn't worry Cronise, who isn't planning to gargle with Drano before shows to impress anyone.
However, he hasn't yet ruled out the possibility of a concept album based on fantasy literature.
"Lately, I've been reading the recent reprints of Robert E. Howard's Conan The Barbarian series. They've added a lot of extra material that's pretty interesting, but I'm more into the hard fantasy of George R.R. Martin's A Feast For Crows. It's a fictional medieval setting, but there's not so much supernatural stuff going on. It's more gritty and realistic in its portrayal of violence and court intrigue, which I find appealing."