The Sword and Zebulon Pike at The Triple Rock: The universe, abridged.
First off, bully for Year Long Disaster, who, despite an intensely predictable sound, has landed a coast to coast tour with metal behemoths The Sword. As the openers, they represented that dense, inert singularity from which every planet and comet is to be spawned. All the parts are there, but the energy is all potential, not kinetic. The Los Angeles three-piece put on an elemental and formulaic approach to hard rock, a paint-by-numbers portrait of Lemmy Kilmeister. Strict four-four, a few noodly solos, and much chug-chug-chug from the guitar amps entertained a meager audience, still filling out the floor. They struck an oddly stiff and inanimate onstage presence, with singer and guitarist Daniel Davies only occasionally lapsing from a well-honed rock stance to lurch around the stage. Bassist Rich Mullins, on the other hand, seemed a strange anomaly. With a skeletal jaw and Ray-Ban shades propped on the brim of his ball cap, he seemed aged and wizened, the kind of leathery boozehound you might see loitering outside a metal club rather than on its stage. Their sound sustained a thirty minute set, even if you could see every chord coming from a light year away.
Enter proggy local mind-blowers Zebulon Pike. If Year Long Disaster was the prenatal universe, Zebulon Pike was the very anarchy of galactic creation. In time signatures so complex they could only be executed by rote memorization, Zebulon Pike embarked on a lengthy set so multi-chambered that it was nearly impossible to decide when one song ended and the next began. As in the limitless expansion of supernova, Zebulon Pike spent all of their 45 minutes onstage defying the brain’s appetite for prediction. Nary a melody repeated, hardly a note doubled, they roamed through signatures increasingly daunting and unknown, crafting chord progressions just barely faster than they could discard them for something more challenging. The set was nine parts buildup to one part release, and occasionally, their power chords overstayed their welcome, seeming to drone on and on in increasingly unknowable complexity. At a point, the mind disengages in the face of such structural finery. But it was still a taut display of musical exactitude and visceral performance that left an increasing crowd with slack jaws and ringing ears.
From the stasis of Year Long Disaster, through the violent creation of Zebulon Pike, we arrive at The Sword, the final act of this galaxy in miniature. As if the Hubble Telescope snapped a headshot just as the galaxy was snapping back to its initial nucleic state, The Sword seemed frozen in a middle passage, at once an elaboration of Disaster’s fundamentals and a simplification of Zebulon Pike’s long division, a cosmic place where Pantera and Black Sabbath are flung together by the force of space and time compacting. Unerringly exact, they charged effortlessly through their set, harkening loudly to Sabbath and Down (with whom The Sword recently toured, along with Metallica). Their surprises were just frequent enough to make the protracted outros a daring place to linger. Their head banging was synchronized, though not so carefully as to suggest choreography. And while they expertly brought off the visceral drop-D presence that has brought them global infamy, the set was little more than a pixel-perfect reproduction of their recorded material. While Zebulon Pike may have been every bit as scripted and unwavering in their delivery, they executed with a show of exploration. By comparison, The Sword’s hour long set seemed as carefully rehearsed as a piano recital. There’s no sense in slighting a band for delivering their product unbroken. But every so often, a keepsake is made all the more precious by the scrapes it accrues over time. The memento offered by The Sword, for better or worse, seems only to increase its factory shine as time wears on. It didn’t take much from the force of their set (which was augmented, incidentally, by outstanding sound, as provided by their touring sound man). But watching an entire solar system hurtling back to its beginnings can be a little bit of a let-down, no matter how thrilling the noise of it is.