PREVIEW For Austin, Texas, rockers the Sword, the cumbersome descriptor "epic fantasy metal" ain't no joke; it really is the story of their lives. Check out the lyrics to "How Heavy This Axe," from their second full-length, Gods of the Earth (Kemado): "So many men have fallen / So many more must die ... How heavy this axe / Burden carried from birth / Wrought in Stygian visions / By the gods of the earth." The album's got it all: frost giants, witches, warriors, lords, vassals, "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians," exile, maidens, serpents, and of course, wizards. It's essentially the transcription of a Ronnie James Dio fever dream. At the same time, the lyric sheet translates as the classic American odyssey of pubescent, pimple-faced Dungeons and Dragons geek to um, axe-wielding metal god.
On a sonic level, the disc is unassailable. Guitarists Kyle Shutt and John Cronise have the magical combination of both riffs and licks, never becoming confused and faltering in the hoary mists of the Moors of Eternal Noodling. Nonetheless, I'm forced to pose the question, Is heavy enough? Not being an avid player of World of Warcraft, I wonder: is a whole album of sword and sorcery motifs satisfying on a level beyond bowel-shaking instrumental thunder? When I try to dig past the fantasy veneer of Sword songs, I hit the frozen tundra of metal cliché. There's not enough lyrical flux to let the listener hear between the lines.
Don't get me wrong I'll be at the show, banging my head like crazy. But the question remains: Why can't metal be about something? It's been suggested that the Sword is playing with the lingua franca of metal, that they're being tongue in cheek. But irony is a lame gag, especially when you can't tell it's ironic. And if it's not ironic, and it doesn't allow deeper interpretation, it's just riffs albeit excellent riffs and the Sword is an instrumental band with a vocalist. Again: is heavy enough?
THE SWORD With Slough Feg and Children. Sat/19, 9 p.m., $14. Slim's, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 522-0333, www.slims-sf.com