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Like every other metal band out there that disbanded and retreated back into its shell, Montreal, Canada-based Sword returned - in this case in 2011 - for yet another kick at the can. The difference is that, despite taking many years, Sword at least is productive and has new material. Well, it took 10 years for a new record so “productive” is not the correct word. Still, and more importantly, the new material is good! Album number III is rated somewhere between 70 (good) and 80 (very good), which is 30 to 40 points higher than the average returnee band. Let’s find out why.
The cover artwork looks cheap, but the concept is a clever tie-in with the name of the CD and the band’s history. The album’s intro sounds like a mix of the intro for that Saint Vitus debut and Rush’s 2112 played simultaneously. Amazingly, the band has awarded itself a sharp sound. The guitars mean business and the drum sound is superlative. Most drums nowadays sound weak and triggered rat-tat-tat puny. Here the drums have an oomph to them and the snare stays away from many a band’s pots and pan-ish tone. Well done, guys. Every country has that one worthwhile true heavy metal band that has assembled that entire package of undiluted heaviness, good songwriting and equally good to sublime production. Think Anthem in Japan and Primal Fear in Germany. Canada has Sword. So many years have drifted by and Sword’s music has not skipped a beat. The singer Rick Hughes can mostly hit all the notes and, despite struggling on Spread The Pain, still got it. Album opener Bad Blood is a good start. There is a warm bass sound, metal vocals and above all a barbed wire rhythm guitar.
It is unfortunate that the band and its album are on Massacre Records. The band was on a no-good Canadian label in its earlier incarnation and has not been around for years, but having signed with Massacre will certainly see its profile become more obscure and turn more unknown. I Am (In Kommand) has its catchy snippet and a commercial refrain despite being hard and fast. It really covers all the bases for Sword. Kudos for the rapid-fire soloing. Dirty Pig sports some angry lyrics. The quartet is not about to mellow seemingly. Sings the band, “You will have to deal with your karma dirty pig/Then you will squeal for your mama” before continuing, “You'll be the pride of your species dirty pig/Rollin' around in your feces.” Unleashing Hell is autobiographical and sings of Montreal of 1986, which is six years after the act was founded. In this story the band sings of drugs (yikes!) and prostitutes. Spread The Pain contains impressive bellowing from the vocalist and a fine lead, but the main riff is cliched and has been done before. Took My Chances offers a touch of Dio vocally and musically and a mid-section a la Iron Maiden. It is not the album's best track despite the obvious energy and the singer screaming his guts out. Not Me No Way offers up more piercing defiance and as the closing cut reminds one that these guys are ageing, but are not any calmer evidently. This cut has a cool bass sound too.
The better songs are on Side A, but the rest are no slouches. Too bad Massacre Records has as much publicity as Trump has real hair. Fans should notice III and check it out regardless. - Ali “The Metallian”

Sword Interview
Sword is back. Well, the Montreal, Canada-based heavy metal band Sword has been back from its forced sabbatical for a while, but the quartet of singer Rick Hughes, guitarist Mike Plant, bassist Mike Larock and drummer Dan Hughes is back with an album now. The full-length follow-up to Metallized of 1986 and Sweet Dreams of 1988 is called III and available through Massacre Records. Singer Rick and Ali “The Metallian” sat down for an interview on the occasion, but not before Rick showed off his garage-turned-man cave, which houses a Motörhead banner on one side, his Harley motorcycle against a backdrop of his guitars on another and a piano by the door. The affable frontman talked about the returned band, the songs and his views on life and the times. - 29.12.2022

RICK: This is a nice garage and man-cave. I have my guitars right here and right here is my Harley Chopper. I love it. Music has been good to me.

METALLIAN: Mike must be jealous. Why do you have the guitars? Although I knew you played guitar as well.
RICK: No, no. Mike is not jealous. Mike's got his own guitars. He doesn't have the Harley chopper though. I am the one in the band who rides the motorcycle. I have ridden Harley motorcycles since I was sixteen years old. I was the guy who was riding around with the bad boys, you know? Then when I started being good on the guitar and started to sing properly that's when I said ‘OK no longer a bad boy. I am an artist.’

METALLIAN: You can do both, right?
RICK: Well, no you can't in my book. You cannot if you're an artist and you are a pacifist. As an artist you are somebody that's not judgemental, that lets everybody be the way they want to be, do you know what I am saying? I am the least judgemental person I know. I can proudly say that.

METALLIAN: Then I have to ask you, What do you think of religion?
RICK: Well, that's a very broad question. One thing is for sure, as you age as a man in my position, being North American, surrounded by chaos, surrounded by ambiguity you have to find a place within that brings you peace because without peace there is no happiness; there's no creation, there is no artist. To me as an artist I need peace. The only way I find peace is through meditation. Some call it praying. I do both. I have lost loved ones. People that I cared the most about I have lost. The only way to communicate with them is through prayers. Say what you will. I am not a born-again Christian, but I was raised by an Italian mom who was a Christian so it rubbed on me to be good to others, don't do to others what I don't want done to me, all the good parts I kept and all the bad I disregard.

METALLIAN: And were you born in Saint-Bruno?
RICK: I was born in Montreal.

METALLIAN: In the city…
RICK: I was a city boy. My father was a musician and my mother was a backup singer in his band. He died very young. My brother and I had to become him.

METALLIAN: This could be a good segueway for us, but, first what is current with the band?
RICK: We have been rehearsing real real hard these days. We go to bed late so we sleep more in the morning. I am going back to meet the boys at the rehearsal hall right after this interview because we have a tour in January.

METALLIAN: My review of III suggested you may be the Dorian Gray of heavy metal. The band still got it (Rick begins jokingly running his fingers through his hair) and the music does not betray a sign of the group becoming old and slow.
RICK: First and foremost, thank you I don't know, man. My brother and I and the two Mikes have been friends since high school. We are like family. Add to that our manager whom we went to high school with and we are a family. We are a close-knit family and love music. We love every kind of music, jazz, blues, rock, hard rock and Classical. We love music. When it's time to write a record, we have different tastes, but they are similar, yet it's not a pair of ears that listens to make sure everything is in the right place. it's all the guys sitting down and being thoughtful with each other. If I am doing something wrong then somebody's going to tell me and we have to find the right words because we are artists and we are not bullies. We are there for the music. We are there for Sword. With the two albums back then we took it seriously and when it was time to record another one we had the same attitude. Nothing had changed. so I guess the right answer is that if you take your craft seriously it's always going to be good and you are going to stay young.

METALLIAN: By the way does that mean all four of you including your manager went to the same school?
RICK: Kinda, we were all from the same town. We moved there as I said earlier when we had to. I went to school with Mike the guitar player and the other Mike. Dan went to a high school that we went to after because Dan's a little older than the rest of us - by 14 months, but one year makes a difference when you are at school.

METALLIAN: So speaking of that and the Dorian Gray metaphor the music is hard and heavy. Where does that energy or zeal come from?
RICK: It comes from Mike Plant, our main songwriter and guitar player who incidentally is left-handed like Tony Iommi and Paul McCartney. There aren't many left-handed guitar players out there who play hard rock or heavy metal music. It's the riff. A good song, a good metal or hard rock song depends on the riff.
I agree with you! I love to listen to our album especially when I ride my bike. That being said, if you listen to a song like (I Am) In Kommand you can feel the energy and high pace, like you said, but if you listen to a song like Took My Chances it is crawling (begins making a sound akin to the song) so the album’s got a bit of both. We pride ourselves on being a metal band but, our main source of inspiration, well talking for myself but it applies to other members too, are Zeppelin, Purple, Maiden, AC/DC… these are my influences, music that doesn't age. This is classic rock. It's classic. When it's time to do my melodies, to write my lyrics, to do my performance, these are the guys that drive me, Robert Plant at his prime, Ian Gillan at his prime, that's what makes Sword: Mike Plant and our personal influences

METALLIAN: I heard everything you said about being friends and the team. With that said, was there ever a possibility that you would come back with a new member or three or two of the original numbers or was it always all of you because it's exceptional that all the original members remain and regroup.
RICK: No, I don't think we would come back otherwise. The reason that we recorded the album is that the demand was there, that we are all friends and we all kept in touch. We always kept jamming here and there. My brother played on all my solo albums and all my side-projects that I had throughout the years. The same goes with Mike Plant. He played guitar on all my solo projects and the same with the bass player. We have always been together. We had a break of sorts for a couple of years and that's it. We would have a rehearsal with the four of us and we jammed some Black Sabbath, some AC/DC and played our own songs. If any of us would have said ‘I call it quits. I am not doing an album if you are doing an album’ that would have been a big problem. We would have maybe done an album, but under a different name.

METALLIAN: Something you said was interesting because, as far as I know, Sword went away sometime in the early ‘90s and then came back in 2011, but the way you describe it Sword was away only a couple of years. So, which is the fact?
RICK: OK, so we went away during the grunge era. When grunge appeared like in ‘93 and ‘94 everybody fell. I mean some stayed, but those were the ones that had a big fan base for life. There are a few lucky ones that have that. The rest of us have to constantly work on the fan base. By 1994 there was no metal, no hard rock. The four of us are very alike. For me, the most important part of my life is being a father. I am the man of the house. My kids are grown and everything, but I will always be the man of the house. The man of the house has to pay the bills. The man of the house has to have a life that means something so by the start of the ‘90s we all had kids. Grunge cleaned the table with everything. We all went our separate ways and got ourselves some real jobs because grunge was taking the oxygen out. There was no way for a band like us to survive and to pay for a house and to pay for the kids’ education. That's what happened to many bands. My brother found a job as a camera operator. The bass player got a job doing sales all over the world. Myself, I never stopped singing. I was a hired gun here in Montreal for TV shows, for jingles, for radio shows and Broadway-type musicals. I did ten. I never stopped singing. I raised my family on the salary of a singer.
It's like a clock. Metal was on top between 1986 and 1994. Then it was at the bottom. It really came back in 2000. It took a while, but that's when we started to receive offers to go play in Germany, to go play in heavy MTL. That's when we pulled the Sword from the stone and said ‘let's go.’

METALLIAN: Sword officially came back in 2011 and played at Keep It True and Heavy MTL festivals. It is 2022 now and it took eleven years for an album to show up, which is a long time. The record was due three or four years ago. What happened in the intervening years?
RICK: It's a very good question and it doesn't bother me at all (that you ask). OK, let's see… So we started doing some shows, and you clearly have done your homework, which takes us to 2013 and by 2014 we said ‘We should record an album.’ At that point it took us from 2014 to 2018 - a good four years - to get everybody in the same room once in a while just to be able to work on the stuff because, like I said, I had other work. I always do work a solo artist and as a performer. I have shows every weekend. That's the way I earn my living. The same goes with the other guys. They have side jobs that are important to their way of life and their sanity. The album was ready by 2018 and in 2019 everything was finalized and we were about to release the album. Then we heard a rumour that something was going to happen for us in 2020 and we said ‘OK then, let's wait’ because the album was supposed to come out in the summer of 2020. Now imagine if it would have, if it had come out then! Some people say, ‘well in 2020 everyone was confined. it was maybe a good time because people are at home and it's a good time as they will listen to the album’ and I said, ‘for myself, if you ask my opinion, no I don't agree. It's not a good time. If we are going to release a Sword album it has to be at a joyous time and we have to be able to see the fans and the fans can see us.’ It's all about the music and when you are in a rock band it's not just a recording. It's the recordings and the live shows. One cannot separate them because when you record an album, if the album is good and people like it, then they want to see you live because they want to make sure that it's you that recorded that album and that you are able to play it live. It's a philosophy that says humans need interaction and if you don't have that interaction it's not a good time to sell a pony or a car or music. So when they asked my opinion I said, ‘No. We have to wait. Pull the plug on everything. Let's wait for everything… or at least some kind of normalcy.’ We released the album in November and we have shows scheduled in January so sky's the limit right now. We are waiting for offers to go to your neck of the woods so you can see Sword live.

METALLIAN: The news several years ago, however, was that Sword is back and the band has signed to Combat Records.
RICK: Erm, Combat Records came back and, as a company, were ready for a band like Sword. With our comeback we needed a good company so Combat, at that time, seemed to be the right choice, but then Combat fell apart. They gracefully came back to us and said, ‘listen guys, we are closing shop. We cannot continue with the confinement and everything. We have a big warehouse full of albums…’ Anyway, we said, ‘OK just send us a letter telling us that everything that we have signed with you is no longer good because you guys are closing shop’ and that's what they did. Nothing happens without a reason because now we are with Massacre from Germany and we are very very happy with what they are doing with the band. I think it's a turn for the better.

METALLIAN: How did you find Massacre Records?
RICK: We have a friend here who is our consultant. He's the old Sword manager. Like I said, we are a family. His name is Pierre Paradis. I told Pierre we have a problem and he said, ‘OK let me check out who would be interested in working with Sword’ and Massacre was one of the first to raise its hand. We checked them out and went with them. We are very happy that we've done so.

METALLIAN: Sword has an album now and the question is how much of it is comprised of music that has been composed after the reformation and how much of it is riffs that have been kept from the old days. I ask this partly because of the quality of the material and its similarities to the old style.
RICK: Again, a very good question. As you've noticed by now, I have long explanations. I am a very friendly guy and I like to talk and I like to interact with humans - especially since you like our work. So this is the icing on the cake. This is how everything started: Once we did our shows here and there I had kept a box of recordings that Sword had done during the ‘90s for the record company that we were with at that time.

METALLIAN: Aquarius.
RICK: Aquarius.When we were completing Metallized, we were doing songs and then the record company would listen to them and would go (begins pointing fingers), ‘this one, this one and this one.’ They would not say, ‘not this one, not this one’ meaning that everything was good, it's just that they were looking for a specific sound. So we stopped working on all the other songs. The same thing applied to Sweet Dreams. I had a box of cassettes (points to a box under his desk). I said to myself, ‘this doesn't belong to me. This belongs to Mike because he's the riff maker!’ When we were writing those songs I was just (makes sounds into a pretend microphone) and I would invent a melody. I would say to myself, ‘this is the perfect melody and I will write the lyrics for them later.’ We, therefore, had some lyrics and some titles, but not all of them did and the same applied to the music. We had a few riffs we didn't finish. I took that box and called Mike and said, ‘Can I come to your house today or tomorrow? I have something to give you.’ He said, ‘come over today.’ I went to his house and asked Mike to check the tapes that were made for the record company. There was a lot of stuff in there that's very, very good. I asked him to let me know what he thinks. That's the way we started working. We went through all of it. We made copies for everyone on CDs and voted which song should be finished and decided on the songs that are on the album.
With each song we only took the best part. So we changed things here and there. That's why you hear the sound from back in the day. There is an element that comes from there. There is a time capsule on that album, but keep in mind the only thing that's old is from the old tapes. Everything else is new. We have redone everything, even a good riff that Mike had done back then has been changed. Mike found a better way to do it. The same with the vocals. I had working titles that I kept, like Bad Blood, (screams ‘bad bloooood) but all the rest I changed.

METALLIAN: Something else that is good is the sound. One of my complaints with modern albums is that the sound is thin. The drum doesn't have an oomph. It often sounds like a pen hitting the desk. III is thick and one can hear everything. Modern bands seem to be going for a thin sound without impact. It sounds like a computer.
RICK: (Noddingly), thanks again. I agree with you. Like I said, I love our album. I listen to it a lot on my motorcycle. I have a playlist with Maiden, Sword and Motörhead and our album comes out really really nicely. Credit goes to Glen Robinson, award-winning music producer. He's worked with you name it.

METALLIAN: He has worked with Voivod, hasn’t he?
RICK: Queensrÿche. Credit also goes to Mike Plant. Like I said, he's the main songwriter. It's all about the music to me. If a song sounds good it's not only the engineer. It's the song itself that makes it sound good because it breathes at the right place. It lets you listen at the right space. The vocal for a really good song doesn't follow what the music is doing. It can do the complete opposite and it makes the vocal come out and the music come out better, but if the vocal does the same thing as the music you lose the vocal. When I write the vocals or a melody I make sure the vocals come in at the right place and are not eaten by the drums or the guitar. It comes out on its own. To answer your question, this album sounds the way it does because of the music, Glen Robinson and Mike Plant.

METALLIAN: Let's talk about a couple of specific songs. The album starts with Bad Blood.
RICK: Well, Bad Blood is a great opener. The intro is Mike Plant again. I came into the studio one day and they were recording the intro and asked what they were doing (mimics the sound of the intro). As a songwriter, I was already trying to get my head wrapped around what I was going to do for the vocals (starts singing Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog)... I am kidding… I look at Mike and he says. ‘Oh don't worry. It's just an intro’ and I went phew (wipes his forehead laughingly). What I mean by that is that it is so strong musically that maybe I would have found something for the vocals to fit in there, but honestly it stands by itself. If you check out the lyrics to Bad Blood it is a song about excess. It is about people who go into excess and ruin their lives and ruin their families. There is a reason for a subject like that on a rock album. It is to let people know that if they are going through a rough time they are not alone. Somebody is putting it on paper. If somebody is going through a rough time and he hears that he says, ‘hey there's an artist who's telling me I'm not alone then I'm gonna pick myself up.’ That's Bad Blood. When you drink too much, when you smoke too much and you eat bad food you got ‘bad blood.’ You wake up in the morning and you don't feel good. Do you light up a cigarette? What's next? Eggs and bacon? Then drink as soon as possible because it will stop the shaking then your blood is not the way it should be if you are in that situation.

METALLIAN: Rick, you gave me two cues and I don't know which one I should take first, the excess or the bacon. Let's try excess first. You talk about Unleashing Hell on the album, drugs, women, groupies and more. Is that song autobiographical?
RICK: It is. If you had not asked that I would have said it to you so thank-you. It's us in the 1980s. That's the way life was back then. It wasn’t better. It wasn’t worse. It was just different. There was some freedom. Everyone was doing what they wanted. It was a free-for-all smoking chicks free for all (laughs).

METALLIAN: (Laughingly) my other cue was about pigs because you said “bacon.” What do you have against pigs since you are insulting them on Dirty Pig?
RICK: That song is very significant. First and foremost, the music is amazing. Mike Plant and the guys did an amazing job so I had to come up with something that was catchy. That's why you hear (starts singing the song). It's a song about when you went to high school and there were those guys that didn't have kindness.It just wasn't in them when you think about it. It's not even their fault. It's their parents’ fault. It's the way they were raised. They treat other people like they are disposable like they can walk all over other people and get ahead in life. These are the dirty pigs I am talking about in the song. Here in Quebec if someone is doing something wrong we call him a dirty dog or if a guy is not behaving correctly towards women we call him a pig. So we combined these things and called it Dirty Pig. Those people are real-life villains, but usually the spotlight is not on them. The spotlight is usually on invented villains when real villains are around us.
I was asked in many interviews if I was talking about someone in particular. Well, the answer is think about somebody that has done you wrong for no reason, perhaps just so he looks better at school or when you are working, and that's the dirty pig I am talking about. You have your dirty pig and I have mine, but I wrote that song for others so they can exorcise the harm that was done by the dirty pig in question. Because one day, or the other, when you're bad to others it will get you. That's the karma I am talking about.

METALLIAN: Good point about invented and real-life villains. Let's talk about the last song, namely Not Me No Way.
RICK: I love that song.

METALLIAN: It has a defiance to it.
RICK: I love that song. It took me many runs before I got the vocals right because I wanted it to be very very catchy. It's like a microscope on society in general so no not me no way! I am part of the society, but as an artist I don't have to agree with everything that has been settled. I am an artist and as an artist I have a role to play and my role is to define what is acceptable. I will not play nice. Do you wanna tell me what's wrong and what's right? I have been in hell and I have been in hell so I know what's wrong and what's right. I don't need anybody to tell me!

METALLIAN: In that case, what's next for Sword?
RICK: We are going to come to Toronto pretty soon. We are going to play Toronto in 2023. There was an offer on the table that we kinda refused. We came close to playing, but we will wait for now. The plan for the future is just to keep the Sword sharp and ready for the world. Like I said earlier. I am going to meet the boys and we will be rehearsing. The band is good. We are tight. I am nailing the vocals. Everything's there and we keep rehearsing.

METALLIAN: I am assuming the next album is not going to be released in eleven years, namely 2033.
RICK: No, it cannot be, but right now we are focusing on this album and the shows with which we will support the album. Keep in mind that all the songs from the album are in the show. I mean I could tell you that there would be another album, but I would be speculating because right now we're so much into what we are doing in the present moment that we are not there yet. We just want to do shows right now because we are a live band.

METALLIAN: Rick, we have come to the end and I have to ask you why you believe that Metallian is the best website in the universe.
RICK: Because you say so and I know you wouldn't lie to me! Thank-you so much for the support. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

The band’s website is at https://www.swordmetalized.com

If you enjoyed this, read Anthem