PICK OF THE WEEK: Inter Arma’s amalgamation of styles helps make ‘Paradise Gallows’ a killer

DSC_4114We have a lot of metal bands. I think that’s statement on which we all can agree. Because of that, the really special ones seem spread out even further than normal, with you having to search long and hard to find the ones whose career trajectories are worth attaching yourself to for the duration of their journey.

Virginia’s Inter Arma happen to be one of those bands. They’re virtually indescribable (doom black death with some Americana?) to the point where the only way to get your point across about their music is to just put some on and let uninitiated ears soak it in and try to process. Over the course of a couple of LPs (their 2010 debut “Sundown” and 2013’s stunning “Sky Burial”), EPs, and other smaller releases, the band has been growing its reach and sound organically and frighteningly. As many new twists and turns as they take on, they never lose their savagery, and that’s abundantly clear on their incredible third record “Paradise Gallows.” This is album-of-the-year material, one of those much anticipated follow-up releases that destroys the living shit out of hopes and expectations. It’s loud, punchy, really weird, bursting with life and death, and easily their best record to date.

GD30OB2-N.cdrArmed with nearly 71 minutes of material draped over nine songs, Inter Arma continue to reach into the sky for their ceiling. They still likely haven’t found it, which is terrifying. For all the atmospherics and out-there sounds they smoosh into these songs, this band also is at their scariest and heaviest. There is a meatier death metal influence on this record, something that reveals itself to you early on, and as this opus goes on, new doors open, and the color of the skies change, not unlike the shades you see on the album art. Inter Arma—Mike Paparo (vocals), T.J. Childers (drums, guitars, acoustics, lap steel, keyboards, etc.), Trey Dalton (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Joe Kerkes (bass), and Steven Russel (guitars)—are nearing where bands such as Metallica and Maiden were in the ’80s—rare ground where they’re carving their own sound and making metal that matters as much as anything else out there.

“Nomini” is a quick opener, almost a tease (or so it seems before navigating the rest of the record), that has tastefully layered twin guitars playing a melody that could warm your heart. But it suddenly drains out, and pummeling “An Archer in the Emptiness” rises up with hammering playing, death-style vocals from Paparo, and a pace that trucks hard through the body of the song, bashing and mauling along the way. Filthy trudging is up later, as the track really breaks apart, the playing devastates, and lurching vocals sound pained and urgent. Soloing erupts toward the end, reminding of Florida swamp death metal at its finest, before it echoes out at the end. “Transfiguration” has guitars cutting in (its primary riff is utterly infectious) and swollen shouts, with the vocals later getting more guttural. Doomy winds then arrive, bringing with it added darkness. Shrieks belt you, while muddy chaos bubbles to the surface, and the main riff returns to bash all the way to its finish. “Primordial Wound” is particularly interesting as the whole 10-minute song follows the same slow-driving, chugging riffs that stretches through the whole piece. The vocals are warbled and strange at times, with the pace staying impossibly heavy and the paint-peeling shrieks falling later on. All the while, the tempo remains, drubbing away all the way to its final seconds and bleeding into “The Summer Drones.” There, the bass plods as Paparo takes on a more deranged Jim Morrison vibe, speaking and crooning while a psychedelic vibe makes its presence felt. The title is wailed over and over during the chorus, with sounds picking up steam, the dizziness taking hold, and this really strange but ultimately satisfying cut coming to the finish line.

Remember when we talked about the premature ending to “Nomini”? Well, it was a joke on us as those same melodies fade back in and build the front end of instrumental “Potomac,” a track that flows along that path until it halts and piano drips in. From there, the elements slowly are added to the mix, with the guitar melodies folding back in, the pace stretching, and everything coming to a glorious end. The title track follows, with guitars bouncing off the walls and a massive psyche edge pushing in. The bottom then drops out, as the howled vocals strike and push toward the chorus, a slow-slithering approach keeps things brutal and forceful, and the soloing glimmers, ripping into the stratosphere. “Laughing all the way to my grave,” Paparo first wails and then calls, as blistering drums apply the finishing touches. “Violent Constellations” lives up to its name, with drums rupturing, guitars jolting, and the cut splitting out of its seams. The band thrashes in a calculated manner, bringing down the sledgehammer as Paparo rhythmically shouts along, “We will/tear them/from their/strongholds!” The back end gets thunderous but then proggy, with the music getting fuzzy, the vocals taking on a nastiness, and everything coming to an abrupt end. Closer “Where the Earth Meets the Sky” ends the record on a surprising note, with synth mixing with lonely acoustics, as Paparo sings with a vulnerability, noting, “She’s been set free.” Vocal harmonies blend together, and the song hits a solemnity that stretches until the sun sets on the record.

Inter Arma’s “Paradise Gallows” is a major marker in metal in 2016, a new record from one of the genre’s most vital acts that stands as a pillar on which everything can rest. This is a stunning display of force, an album that you’ll want to fold yourself into for hours at a time and explore every crease. It’s not every day, or even every month, we get a release of this magnitude, and our appreciation of such a record never could be measured. This record is that powerful.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/INTERARMA/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords