Inter Arma continue adding fuel to death metal’s sprawling fire with punishing ‘Sulphur English’

Photo by Joey Wharton

It’s safe to argue that death metal really doesn’t have set boundaries anymore. It’s like a gelatinous blob that’s constantly stretching and forming into new shapes, always canvassing more land than the last time you checked. That infuriates some who would rather see the style stay in the guttural swamps, but there are too many possibilities to satiate those people.

Richmond, Va., death unit Inter Arma are one of the bands that have taken a torch to the castle walls and expanded the kingdom far beyond the eye can see. Over the course of four full-length records, the band has added sludge, psychedelic smear, and even strains of Americana (for lack of a better term) into their music, making them an animal not very easy to predict. That carries over to their fourth record “Sulphur English” that delivers much of what you expect from an Inter Arma record—incredible sprawl, death metal that fucks with your mind, colors you haven’t seen before—but also amplifies the psyche elements and plasters you with a relentless nine tracks in nearly 67 minutes that no other band on earth could duplicate. Like their other records, it takes some time to fully get into what the band—vocalist Mike Paparo, guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton, bassist Andrew Lacour, drummer TJ Childers—delivers on this shifting, shaping beast. You need to spend time before the music transforms from a punishing array of sounds to something that takes full form and pushes your imagination. That time spent will be worthwhile.

“Bumgardner” starts the album first as an eerie, horror-film style opener before unloading the bricks in the second half and plowing into “A Waxen Sea” that starts mauling and chewing. Growls carve through muddy death, always keeping you off balance as they do so well with weird playing and wrenching shrieks. The track gets trippy even while pummeling as the main section returns, crushing souls and punching out in a fiery burst. “Citadel” also spins its wheels in the thickened earth as growls gorge and souls are crushed. Paparo wails about “a stone in the eye of mankind” as his shrieks echo against cave walls before a slow menace crawls through. Guitars go off and create color bursts, and the track seemingly pulls shut before leaking back under the door and ending in a grisly sprawl. “Howling Lands” starts with drums rumbling and a goddamn gong before shrieks are drenched in psychedelics, and your brain is clubbed. Strange sounds well up before an airy ambiance arrives, with melody looping under the building fire, tribal rhythms enrapturing, and the track ending in a bed of acoustics. “Stillness” chills the vibe at the halfway point, as the band turns into western-style noir, Paparo’s singing is hearty, and slide guitars cement the sunburnt vibe. The track burns and quivers before bursting about 6 minutes in, with the drums pacing, the leads going off and soaring, and the chaos is swept up into serenity.

“Observances of the Path” is a quick instrumental piece with guitars howling, pianos dripping, and a post-Apocalyptic feel lurching, meeting up with “The Atavist’s Meridian” that burns up in a pit of bashing drums and unhinged vocals. The track punishes and keeps unleashing strange visions, slipping into calm, mesmerizing playing that melts your mind. Guitars echo while the sounds warble, feeling like a dream state before you’re shaken awake and the ground quakes with fury. Guitars launch and race toward the cosmos, opening space for “Blood on the Lupines” that has synth glimmer and warped singing. Floydian psyche-scapes are built around you, bursting through the sky before the heaviness captures and delivers torture. That lets up to allow singing to re-emerge as the band pounds slowly but steadily, lulling you back into a coma. The title track finishes this monster, opening in strange waters before growls bring things to a boil, and a dizzying assault is unleashed. The tempo crawls monstrously, sometimes going at warped speeds when you least expect it, at others making your head spin with confusion. The bizarre atmosphere brings with it dark growls, blazes raging then subsiding, and everything being swallowed into a black hole.

Inter Arma definitely have a sound to which they adhere, but every time out, they add stranger elements and deface what you know about them so that they’re just oddly recognizable. “Sulphur English” is another monster helping of mind-bending death metal that sounds like nothing else out there and cannot even be challenged. This band has taken death past where anyone ever thought it could go, and the journey is nowhere near being over.

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