Where Xhin's previous work for the label was often doled out in lengthy expanses of brushed metal, on his third album—and first for SA—Sword he's allowed to stretch out, or rather, pull closer inward. Conventional techno structures (the kind of his first two albums) are abandoned in favour of a neurotic IDM clutter—the blistering opening stretch of "Fox and Wolves" and "Teeth" pairs a pounding skitter with fluid countermelodies. The polished chrome means everything feels like it's constantly slipping off of something else, such a frantic and constant state of unstoppable motion it's a wonder it doesn't simply catch fire and explode—though the thrilling little bits of glitch and distortion on a track like "Medium" come pretty damn close.
While tracks like "You Against Yourself"—with its burning streaks of cyber-acid—are beyond dense and ripe for deconstruction, any record with fifty minutes of intense sensory overload is bound to be, well, overload. Xhin breaks up the monotony with gentle interludes that sacrifice none of the album's textural richness—"Insides" and "Wood" have the same blinding surfaces as the album's heaviest moments—moves that also serve to show how eerily unsettling the spare parts of Xhin's slamming concoctions really are when they aren't being attacked by frenzied percussion. Any relent is dissipated in the album's closing stretch, however, with the nine-minute workout "Vent"—recalling Xhin's earlier SA work—and the penultimate "Foreshadowed," which caresses an elephantine lumber with strokes of synth that come the closest to warmth on a record composed almost purely out of cold metal.
If there's one quality that carries itself across the entire length of Sword, it's the ability to shock, awe, and impress: whether he's doing it through a lullaby or jackhammering your skull. It might be difficult to parse at first, but the gentle sequencing helps, and even then the album is only around fifty minutes long. It just feels longer because Xhin has put a lifetime's worth of intense experience into Sword. In a world where numbingly brooding techno is rapidly becoming the standard, the reflections of light that Xhin's Sword catches in its lightspeed moves are simply brilliant.