Living by the sword

LIVE BY THE SWORD: Exploring Soldiers Rise

Release year: 2021
Label: Rebellion Records

US-Dutch Live By The Sword have been at it for a few years already, releasing a few 7″‘s and one 12″ MLP as well as partaking on a few compilations. As such Exploring Soldiers Rise, their debut full-length album, virtually doubles the songs they’ve published so far. But, quality before quantity is a good code to live by – and one that Live By The Sword have adhered to admiringly.

Featuring on guitar Wouter Davids who previously handled guitar and vocal duties for Dutch hardcore oi! powerhouse Razorblade, Live By The Sword’s sound on the first few releases was a distinct departure from any kind of hardcore sound – and the guitar tone was a major factor in this. Instead, the band took a very old school, stripped down approach to their nitty and gritty oi!. Exploring Soldiers Rise sees a change in that, but not necessarily in a way that is a throwback to how Razorblade sounded.

Live By The Sword are in many ways an oi! band of a new breed. Their lyrics don’t focus on the typical beer, football, street fighting, working hard & partying hard sentiment prevalent in your run-of-the-mill oi! band – but they don’t mix dabble in politics, either. Instead, the lyrics deal with almost introspective themes of being at conflict with the world at large, swathed in the guise of decidedly belligerent turns of phrase which evoke imagery of warriors and ancient mythology. The cover image, which looks more like some atmospheric black metal cover, is a fit: like the lyrical approach, it is quite atypical to the genre, but complements the lyrical approach that rejects the trappings of modernity.

Where earlier Live By The Sword material used a rather lightly distorted guitar tone, resulting in a sound that reminded me of The Templars and older Skrewdriver, here the band have turned the knobs up a bit on many songs, resulting in a far heavier, more powerful and driving sound. This is complemented with some more aggressive riffing – those riffs on The Great Mountain and The Inevitable Fall are basically black metal! Add to that vocalist Erick Barnes’ vicious, aggressive snarl – here too I am reminded of Skrewdriver (but musically only; no whiff of their odious politics) – and you’ve got an oi! album that’s armed to the teeth with aggression and violence. But there’s also a majestic atmosphere on the album, a soaring epic feel of time-weathered majesty, as of the echoes of ancient warriors coming from some lost past.

It took me a while to get my head wrapped around the evolved sound; luckily a track like Into A New Dark Age is a throwback to the earlier releases, making it easier to find one’s bearings. However, after getting adjusted, it quickly became obvious that the band have upped their game to the next level. The self-titled 12″ was strong, but Exploring Soldiers Rise is beyond even that. It’s still early in the year, but I am quite ready to wager that this’ll be one of the best oi! albums of 2021.

Boldly blazing their own trail in oi!, Live By The Sword prove that there is still unexplored territory in the genre, which is so often accused of horizonless imitation and lack of ambition. When faced with naysayers and deriders of the genre, pop in this little baby and prove them wrong.

4.5/5

Visit Live By The Sword on their Facebook page

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