It’s possible to believe that the boys of Virginian powerhouse Inter Arma gave themselves an impossible mountain to climb, given the superlative-exhausting greatness of 2014’s single-track opus The Cavern (Relapse Records). The hubbub generated in anticipation of new album Paradise Gallows (Relapse Records) shows the rapidly gained reputation the band’s output has gathered, and it’s an excitement that proves well-founded.
From the mournful acoustic beauty of opener ‘Nomini’, expanding to some incredibly affecting dual lead soloing which reappears alongside heartbreaking piano to devastating effect in the molten melodies of ‘Potomac’, it’s obvious that the unit’s collective desire to elicit emotion with powerful statements is still impossible to contain. TJ Childers’ gargantuan drumming is also to the fore and it is this, combined with growling riffs and Mike Paparo’s spacey, resonant roars, that governs the monstrous first shot in earnest ‘An Archer in the Emptiness’.
The echoing might carry into the following ‘Transfiguration’ and the chaotic, punishing Prog of the aptly named ‘Violent Constellations’: the quickened passages still implosive, the coruscating roars rebounding across the ages. Indeed, it seems the band now has more in common with the so-called ‘Caveman Doom’ of Conan than their Blackened roots, yet there’s a sense of grandeur and invention that the Liverpudlians can only dream of; a storytelling wonder which makes its lengthy tracks breeze by. The opening riffs of the future classic ‘Primordial Wound’, staccato yet oscillating and crushing, create a wall of sound, whilst Paparo’s fearful chants dwarf those of Charlton Heston’s Moses, hollering from atop Mount Sinai. ‘The Summer Drones’, meanwhile, still trampled by the footsteps of a colossus, sees a Jim Morrison-esque clean vocal soar through the skies on the back of monolithic, pregnant rhythms which grow with a fulminating tension, the middle section a dream of rampant Doors-like atmospheres yet crashing with the brutal euphoria of the Gods at war.
The title track begins with lazy Lounge airs, the undeniably sinister feel coated in a relaxed warmth. So the explosion is unexpected when it should be anything but, whilst still retaining torch-song sensibilities and more of that exquisite, Floydesque solo work easing the path of the pummeling body. Closer ‘Where the Earth Meets the Sky’ returns to the ethereal yet powerful beauty, a tragic Country lament given magnificence by echoing harmonies and that mesmerising strength, here sparing yet marvellously effective.
It’s evident that The Cavern set the template for Inter Arma’s future. Their Black elements almost gone, save the frequent obsidian rasps, the band nevertheless stand apart in making such epic-sounding, ferocious yet moving music; in turn reaffirming their status as one of the Metal scene’s most important outfits. That impossible mountain? Scaled, and some.