Having been formed in 1997 as initially a studio project, Doomsword as a band was aimed at the idea of playing traditional metal in the style of the old American greats. Warlord is their biggest influence, first and foremost – the pseudonym of Deathmaster, the main songwriter of the band, is from the cover painting of the Deliver Us EP, as was the drummers on this album – as well as a strong hint of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and viking-era Bathory mixed in. Lots of bands nowadays are influenced by those first three bands, but in the late 90s, bands playing that style did not really have a ton of traction in either the US or Europe. It obviously wasn’t a huge movement back then.
Still though, distilling Doomsword down to just those influences does them a disservice. They are a great band in their own right, one that wears their influences proudly on their sleeves, but also forge it into their own unique, distinct style without even descending into hapless mimicry for its own sake. This album, their debut, is a fair bit different from their later work, however. Whereas those albums have a rather heavy dose of doom influence (and of course, that of Manowar and Viking-era Bathory), this album altogether is a fair bit faster and a lot spryer than the hammer-meets-anvil pounding of their later work. There’s nothing wrong with that in my mind; first off it helps give this album a pretty distinct personality in the context of their discography to start with, and more importantly: it’s a fantastic album in its own right anyway.
Doomsword are one of the few bands that “get” into the same sort of headspace that Manilla Road did. Which is the idea that the music itself emerges from the pure desire of expression and from intuition, following things to where it might lead. Sometimes that results in awkward, fumbling moments (as much as it did with Road themselves, much as I love); it also results into some genuinely sublime, brilliantly powerful moments – in doing so it transcends what flaws it has, far more so than a band who has to constantly overthink and over-schematized everything about their music to the point of sterility. There’s a refreshingly naturalist quality to this album, from the way the songs can suddenly shift from riff to sudden acoustic passage and back as a measure of pure instinct, to the folk influence that dots the album to even the production (drum sound being a little clicky aside, it sonically holds up FAR better than most albums recorded in the late 90s and 2000s to my ears). It is a little messy at points – moreso than the albums after for my money – and yet it underlines the band’s passion and sincerity toward crafting this kind of heavy metal. This shit comes from the gut.
One of the things Doomsword does best is their sense of harmony – which is where the folk influence, as mentioned above comes into focus. Their style isn’t quite as lead/harmony focused as Warlord or Iron Maiden, but what they do is that they’re oftentimes brilliantly used to either introduce a song or used as something that connects two leaden, more low-slung riffs together. Their application is, when taken in context of the album, incredibly tasteful – they’re present but they’re never used as corny asides nor are they paired up with overly bouncy drums in search of a desperate hook. The intro to “Swords of Doom” really kind of highlights the album’s use of harmony in a nutshell – it’s this grainy yet almost seafaring little riff, bringing to mind a ship returning to a port on the Italian coast more than a shitty renaissance fair. Their use of folk influence and harmony is pretty understated for how much it informs the album; it is akin to just knowing you have it instead of flaunting it in your face constantly and they underline the leaden riffing that really drives the bulk of the record.
There are some seriously brilliant riffs throughout – most of the songs on this album never quite go further than a mid-fast tempo and yet they’re still innately memorable and just well crafted throughout. Whether it’s that pounding, ominous opening to “Sacred Metal”, that low-key riff that gradually swells into something grand and cinematic at “Helm’s Deep”, or that fast, finely-honed-like-a-sword riff that underpins the refrain to “One Eyed God”, there’s an abundance of memorable riffs on this record. The lead guitar parts are played by a few people on this record (they didn’t have a dedicated one at the time, to my understand; I’m sure someone can correct me if I’m wrong here) and a couple of them are a little flash. However, for the most part they’re solid, tasteful, and work as well executed moments of climax or as a drastic counterpoint to the powerful rhythm guitar work and vocals.
As for the vocals, this is the one album that main band leader Deathmaster didn’t handle the vocals for, as he was one of the guitarists on this album and he was told that he “wasn’t ready” vocally. So “Nightcomer” ended up handing the vocals on here and does a damn fine job on this record. He isn’t the clearest singer nor the highest in range, but he delivers nonetheless a gripping, dramatic performance with a sense of gravitas and naturalistic charm that suits the songs as well as Deathmaster himself would on later works. It’s more important to have a fitting performance than anything and he has it in spades on this record.
Almost all of the songs on this record are excellent, really – there’s a couple slightly awkward moments (the narration over the middle of “Helm’s Deep” is kind of excessive, mostly by dint of it being too long in the context of the song) but ultimately it’s grand, pounding heavy metal in the finest of its line. Almost everything here is super memorable, with at least a few riffs or vocal melodies that get stuck in one’s head easily. I’ve always been really fond of “One Eyed God” and the sudden little switch it pulls between the acoustics in the first verse, the vocal melody tradeoff between lines before it comes roaring back into full force. As mentioned, it has one of those choruses you’ll never scrub out of your head once you hear it a few times. “Swords of Doom” does a masterful job alternating between having a little bit of a swinging cadence to its verse rhythm and the guitars underneath and then pulling out a more pounding, deliberate chorus. The subtle little choral effect underlines the rest of it really well and strikes me as a reinterpretation of a technique Warlord use to do (namely being the keyboards in during the chorus, but do it in a way where it mirrors the guitar/vocals instead of it just being ear candy for its own sake). The band even throws in a killer Cirith Ungol cover in the middle of the record – “Nadsokor” is one of that band’s most underrated tunes, and you can tell that way the pounding, tom-heavy drums foreshadowing the main riff coming in, during the whole intro passage, was something that influenced them quite a lot.
I make no bones about the fact that I’m rather fond of this band in general. This is a killer album, full of spirit, memorable songs, more riffs than you can shake a sword at and a clear sense of passion and drive pushing everything along. It might not be the band’s absolute finest hour – you could make a strong argument for either of the next two or even The Eternal Battle (my intro to the band and my favorite trad metal album of the entire 2010s, incidentally). That being said, it’s really hard to fuck with this album – everything this band has ever done is great, and this album sure as hell isn’t an exception to the rule. Killer record and essential listening.