With the devastating losses of pioneering vocalist Ronnie James Dio and legendary illustrator Frank Frazetta, it's valid to wonder how fantasy metal will possibly cope. Fortunately for every lonely stoner with a wizard painted on his or her van, the Sword's third album, Warp Riders, has arrived to somewhat soothe the ache. A science-fiction concept album complete with all the outer-space fixings, Warp Riders nonetheless manages to avoid the sometimes-intimidating trappings of similarly monolithic albums. In fact, it hews closely to burly '70s hard-rock conventions, never resorting to highbrow prog naval-gazing or unnec-essary side trips. Stylistically, it's more meat and potatoes than mushrooms and acid. But the visceral rush of musclebound rock like the rolling title track and the bludgeoning "Arrows in the Dark" certainly feel like something epic. It's as direct and effective as, say, a sword cutting the Gordian knot.
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