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. Continue reading
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.
The epic single-track issue isn’t quite unique, but an uncommon level of creativity and musicianship is required to make the product entertaining and involving. Virginian quintet Inter Arma possesses an outrageous level of inventiveness and aptitude, and 45-minute opus The Cavern (Relapse) is certainly not shy of it.
The sheer gravity and fulminating power of much of the music here is oppressive yet it carries the weight easily, positively gambolling through more intricate moments whilst retaining intensity. A journey through the galaxies begins with eerie then soothing atmospherics, sparing acoustic and strings before the titanic, savage yet occasionally complex riff fires home and gradually introduces the plaintive hollers of Mike Paparo, delivered from atop Kilimanjaro. It’s a powerful flexing of muscle, the soundtrack to Atlas stirring after a deep sleep. That riff deals crushing blows, aided by TJ Childers’ mammoth drums, his sticks pulverising with the power of Thor’s hammer.
It would be simple to dismiss the early stages as the product of adventurous Conan wannabes but the magic of unfettered imagination shines through, not least with some staggering lead guitar play. Some fabulous intricacies at seventeen minutes lift the track to the heavens with the assistance of some SubRosa-like mournful strings, while Thin Lizzy-esque dual leads introduce the final third; a mournful howling pattern accompanying lush orchestration, the soaring beauty of Paparo’s clean vocals aided by Windhand‘s Dorthia Cottrell, all the while retaining the tracks unearthly power and superiority. It’s this blend of raw animal force, aching melody and immeasurable creativity which marks out this fantastic band. More duels bring a gloriously overblown 70s heavy prog passage to a pounding, crushing coda, a gradually slowing yet swelling reprise of the opening structures which is close to orgasmic.
This is an ambitious effort but Inter Arma haven’t merely managed to navigate it, they’ve ridden it into the skies upon Apollo’s chariot. Euphoric, moving and gut-wrenching, quite simply this is a piece of monumental greatness, a game-changer, and essential for all fans of low-end prog.
We should all pack up and go home now. Anything else will seem average after this.