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The Sword at a packed TLA

Texas quartet harks back to the days when metal was metal.

When heavy metal moved from the '80s of slick-hair pop into the 21st century of retro stoner, doom, and thrash sounds, hard rock's minions breathed a sigh of relief. Gone was the sugar, and in came the twitches of metal's yore - the hammering of heroes like Iron Maiden and the gloomy sludge of Black Sabbath.

Sure the non-ironic mustaches, the squeal of twin guitars, the gratuitous rendering of epic codas, and dippy, pretentious lyrics pertaining to things of Middle Earth, Beelzebub, and Other Worldliness reentered the nu-metal lexicon. Those old cliches were better for metal than "Cherry Pie" any day.

Then there's the Sword, the Austin, Texas, outfit that packed the Theatre of the Living Arts on Friday. Since 2006's Age of Winters, this cutting metal quartet has made good on the promise of going boldly backward without sounding trite or too silly.

At the Sword's TLA gig, contradicting factors still made for a dazzling presentation.

Dense, pulsating bass and tech-thudding drums were in play for rigid rhythms in repetitive jackhammering fashion. Also on the retro-phonic tip were racing riff-heavy melodies and dueling chilly guitars. Occasionally, that bitter chill made the Sword's interplay overly hermetic and cold.

For a band whose pummeling 2006 debut - represented Friday by the crunching, cymbal riding "Freya" - was a modern sludge classic, the clinical nature of the Sword's live sound was a bit off-putting, even faceless at times. But that scrubbed chunkiness allowed picturesque lyrics like "Falcon's feathers soaring overhead / Choosing warriors among the dead" to stick out without musty metal distraction.

Cronise's voice and lyrics should have stuck out more. Though effective, he sounded like a youthful zombie Ozzy singing through a paper towel roll, and his fantastical lyrics occasionally got lost in the brash instrumentation. Then again, the Sword's lean, crunching arrangements worked a treat on material from 2010's galactic Warp Riders, and Cronise was loud and clear.

Space was the place for this sinister new material with the band's Maiden-like thrash-'n-shred perfect for "The Chronomancer, Pt. 1: Hubris." Warp Riders' twilight-zone overtones seem to have provoked the Sword to make more contagious melodies as songs like "Night City" were catchy without giving way to hair metal's slippery dumbness.