Despite third album Paradise Gallows (Relapse Records) establishing Virginian quintet Inter Arma as one of the World’s premier exponents of Harsh Progressive Metal, it’s nevertheless arguable as to whether or not the band remains in the shadow of 2014’s staggering opus The Cavern (Relapse Records). Fourth full-length Sulphur English (also Relapse), surely their most brutal yet, will lay such doubts to rest.
Eerie opener ‘Bumgardner’ is undoubtedly a tribute to the late Indian and Lord Mantis drummer, with TJ Childers doing him proud in the brief track’s effusion. The Blackened filth of the ensuing ‘A Waxen Sea’ is layered with Doomy passages which only serve to enhance the effect of Mike Paparo‘s evil roar and the ominous chime of the guitars. It’s all surrounded by the band’s trademark monolithic weight, dominated by Childers’ thunderous stickwork.
The amazing trick here is that time changes are deft, intricate, despite the outrageous power. ‘Citadel’ switches between Death, Doom, and Black passages so effortlessly it’s scarcely recognisable. The spectral backing vocals are unnerving yet add atmosphere which is increased by a howling mid-section, only slightly less chaotic than a King-Hanneman duel, while there’s a semblance of Groove in the swinging riff and rhythm bluster that still destroys with every crunch.
It’s a darker album than …Gallows and in many ways better for it. Paparo’s phenomenal range and clarity is shown to the full during the terrifying ‘Howling Lands’: his slicing scream dropping immediately to a chant of incredible depth, while the surrounding resonance is slow, pummelling and atmospheric. The swell is enough to make muscles twitch involuntarily as Childers’ tribal massacre and new addition Andrew Lacour‘s growling bass underpin a wailing yet euphoric coda. There’s a mellow segue into the monumental ‘Stillness’, Paparo’s low croon layered over gentle chords and oscillating organ. Initially, there’s a Dark Country feel, a desolation which is hauntingly yet mightily delivered, growing gradually into a wealth of bitter, cacophonous beauty which echoes to the heavens.
The huge ‘The Atavist’s Meridian’, despite some bewildering rhythms, has a fluid structure that gives the raining blows a blurred mesmerism. It’s assisted by Paparo’s scream which shatters into a million glittering shards, the whole a mind-melting distillation of fury. The Phibeian horror feel is maintained by the penultimate ‘Blood On The Lupines’: some wonderful leadwork breaking the portentous ghostliness of a low croak and wafting synth, The resulting explosion changes the scene but, remarkably, not the crawling pace, which is maintained until the last drop of fear is squeezed from the gibbering listener.
The closing title track returns to a heavy chaos, the deathly fulminations flying through limbo in an Aevangelist-inspired state. Despite the occasionally blistering pace, the pulverising weight is not compromised: it’s this ability to stamp their mark on any genre that marks out Inter Arma as masters of their craft, and of any extreme genre you can shake your stick at. Quite frankly they are magnificent, one of the greatest bands of their generation. The monstrous, exhilarating Sulphur English finally confirms the fact.
9 / 10