The Sword takes a lot of stick in certain quarters of the metal community, mostly for having committed that cardinal indie sin of getting too big, too fast. The Austin, TX band was an overnight sensation thanks to debut LP Age of Winters, which blazed onto the scene full of fuzzy Orange amps, epic, martial lyrics, and titanic, bong-water-rippling riffs. A plum deal with hipper-than-thou NYC label Kemado was the first detail that rankled the ranks of forum-trolling purists, and press photos depicting four fresh-faced youths fresh from Texas’ hippest municipality were ripe for the metal grist mill, which preferred its retro battle-Sabbath performed by grizzled road warriors with paunches and ugly tattoos.

The band was a perspicacious early adopter of Guitar Hero (with “Freya” appearing in Guitar Hero II), and they were quickly able to reach a broader audience, abetted by a high profile tour in support of Metallica, whose drummer, the diminutive Dane Lars Ulrich, declared them his favorite metal band in existence. Nothing gets a close-minded headbanger’s goat like a dilettante at the mall sporting his one and only heavy metal t-shirt – nothing except for Lars Ulrich running his big mouth, that is.

Thankfully, the music cut through all the chattering and posturing. The Sword have never seemed particularly concerned with their lot in the metal life, instead focusing on crafting thunderous anthems of medieval combat and blood-soaked fantasy. 2008’s Gods of the Earth picked up where their first album left off, charging out of the gates with furious aplomb and gratuitous references to George R.R. Martin’s cult series A Song of Ice and Fire. The disc charted at #102 on the Billboard chart, and their star rose even higher.

This summer, the band will release their hotly anticipated third album. While it may not silence their critics, it will likely expand their audience even further; a recently-circulated press release spoke ominously of new-found “hard-rock” leanings. This phrase will surely send chills down the spine of many a metal purist, and indeed many a Sword fan, but the band is surely worthy of our trust at this late date.

The album’s subject matter is a good deal more heartening. Though they cut their teeth on the steel-and-sorcery fare that comes standard, Warp Riders is succinctly described as a sci-fi concept album; a collection of songs that act as the soundtrack for a story of men garbed not in chain mail, but in space suits. Singer J.D. Cronise has spoken intriguingly in interviews about something called “tidal locking” and a planet that is perpetually half-day, half-night. San Francisco’s Slough Feg have long been masters of this sort of futuristic theme, and it’s exciting to see another band throw their hat into their ring, especially one as talented as the Sword.

Due out August 24th, Warp Riders features production by Matt Bayles (Pearl Jam, Mastodon, Isis) — the first outside producer the band has employed. New songs are already leaking out in dribs and drabs from the band’s tireless array of live performances, and anticipation is likely to build to a fever pitch as the summer continues. Keep your ears peeled.