Text and interview: Andy Fenwick
Images and Video Courtesy of Magic Sword and Terrorbird Media
Let’s take a trip. Around 1981, synthwave and pop-metal had a one-night-stand. Nine months later, synthmetal was born. To wit: The soundtrack for the film “Heavy Metal.” Ronnie James Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.” Journey’s “Frontiers.” Or, if you professionally crate dig: Neal Schon and Jan Hammer’s “Untold Passion” album.
Magic Sword may have materialized momentarily to witness synthmetal’s earliest incarnation, but they aren’t content to only update with touches of Kavinsky-esque synthesizer and modern-pedal guitar shred. For one thing, they’re uniformly vocals-free. They’re also a full experience – a 360 degree roundhouse of live spectacle, fictional identities, and illustrated accompaniment on the page. Enlisting Boise, Idaho based artist Shay Plummer, Magic Sword’s mythology lands with intriguing comic book installments, in which a ‘magic sword’ figures prominently and plotlines feature band member slash characters like the Keeper of the Magic Sword, the Seer of All Truths, and The Weaver of all Hearts and Souls.
Those pseudonyms are all that’s easily known about Magic Sword’s personnel. In performance, they remain masked and cloaked. A little mystery never hurts a band. Gwar has long disguised their marketing degrees behind alien costumes; Nation of Ulysses entertainingly remained in political character during interviews. Magic Sword’s strategy is similar, and no less fun. For a promo video in 2014, a hyperbolic screed aligned with Magic Sword’s comic book plotlines was delivered by Britain’s John Doyle, aka Mr. Zoom, notorious for a 2013 viral video featuring him literally popping his eyes out of their sockets (a condition known as proptosis) in time to Daft Punk.
Daft Punk is certainly an inspirational touchstone for Magic Sword, although Magic Sword don’t completely share Daft Punk’s booty-shaking beat fetish. Nonetheless, around as long as current teenagers have been alive, Daft Punk isn’t playing at anyone’s house much anymore, and to fill that void, Magic Sword’s live show goes large with lights and beats, replicating their studio constructions with whammy-bar guitar and in-your-grill drumming. Like Daft Punk, they’re successful everywhere, from outdoor raves to small rock clubs.
On Magic Sword’s re-released full length, “Volume 1,” via Tender Loving Empire, tracks announced themselves with weaving keyboard figures or ominous, oscillating basslines. “The Way Home” was snapped up by Hotline Miami 2, so prepare to hear their music all over video games in the future. An elegiac “In the Face of Evil” runs on heroic guitars, while “Journey’s End,” the final track on “Volume 1,” renders a wistful tone with minor key Moog-ish melodies and go-large kettle drums, not unlike Enya covering the theme to Stranger Things. Cue airborne footage of the mountains surrounding Loch Ness.
In just three tracks, Magic Sword’s recent “Legend” EP, on Size Records, heralds a new dedication to fully digested influences and dramatic timing wielded like … well, a magic sword. “The Curse” sports the type of wailing electric guitar lines plaguing Neil Schon’s dreams; “Uprising” manages to remain head-nodding and complex in equal measure. All you need to know about the 8-bit, skyscraping epic “Legend of the Keeper” can be found in Magic Sword’s GoPro Done In One session. If you click that, prepare for face melt.
Currently honoring our plane of existence with their Awakening Tour, meanwhile continuing their battle to prevent the Great Shadow from consuming all life, Magic Sword answered some questions for us, albeit in laser-etched stone, still smoking from their touch.
What’s your most memorable live show, so far, and what made it special?
Treefort 2016. We were scheduled to play the main stage area. While audience attention was on the main stage, we slowly pulled out on a double decker mobile stage off to the side of the crowd. The taste of shock and surprise was sweet. The Keeper and Seer playing on top, 15 feet in the air and the Weaver on the lower level surrounded by lights and effects. We introduced new visual elements with each new song throughout the set. There was even a 15 foot, LED spider that walked out on top of the crowd as the set came to a close.
Which came first, comic or the band?
When the muse first spoke to us we had a spark of what could be done musically. After creating a song or two, fate quickly bound us to Shay Plummer, and then the lore and world of Magic Sword was soon being explored as well.
How did you get involved with Hotline Miami 2?
At that time, we had a few demos on Soundcloud. Jonatan Söderström was introduced to us by a friend. He contacted us through Facebook and talked about using some of the songs he had heard in the game. We altered them a bit to fit the game better. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it. We’d been fans since the first game.
How did you get together with Size Records in Stockholm?
I guess Size had been keeping an eye on us for a while after releasing “Volume 1.” We honestly thought it was a bit odd that they wanted to work with us. The label up until that point was predominantly dance music. After talking with them for a while, it felt like a really good fit. Their vision for the future of the label coincided with our goals. It has been a pleasure to work with them so far.
How are you/are you linked to The Duck Club? Can you describe it?
Duck Club is responsible for Tree Fort Music Fest and hundreds more shows a year. They also manage Magic Sword and book all our live shows. They are an incredible group of people. They are key to our unusual approach to marketing and promotions. We owe much to them.
Was it easy to get Mr. Zoom? Is he a fan?
It was quite easy. Mortals are often swayed by money… so we gave him five bucks.
Is there a particular piece of electronic equipment you use more often than others?
The two that are currently the most signature are:
Wampler Plextorion Pedal
Facebook lists three members: The Keeper of the Magic Sword; The Seer of All Truths; and The Weaver of all Hearts and Souls. But only two members appear in photos, sometimes three onstage. Are you three or two? Is someone not photographed?
The Weaver has always been an integral part of the saga, but as the live performances grew, the need for drums being live made more sense. The Weaver has finally agreed to step into the mortal realm and onto the drum throne for the sake of the cause.
What’s planned after the EP and tour?
We are currently wrapping up the second EP with Size Records. A third will follow next year. Whispers are currently bubbling about a potential European tour if the powers that be approve …