I’ve mentioned before that my general area of the country doesn’t tend to bring in a lot of shows (or good ones, at least), but now that summer is close, that seems to be changing pretty quickly. Tour schedules are rolling out for some great spring and summer bills, and fortunately for me, there will be several Cincinnati and Lexington stops. Inter Arma‘s recently completed spring tour was more or less the inauguration for Dustin’s Summer of Sweet Shows®, and it took no amount of convincing for me to go to their show at MOTR Pub in Cincinnati with local doomsters Grey Host opening. I went in to this event sort of ambivalent toward Inter Arma’s studio material –– having never really had proper time to dive in –– and came out a fan.
The hosting venue was an interesting choice for sure: MOTR is a tiny (but charming and awesome) bar with a tiny stage and has earned its reputation as a “dive” in the truest sense. Located in the heart of Cincy’s Over-the-Rhine, it attracts a set of regulars as varied as the city itself, and while there were plenty of back-patched metal folk, there was also a surprising amount of young professionals, college students (due to proximity to UC and Xavier Uni), and older locals. The night brought some interesting entertainment in the form of the people next to me at the bar who were definitely there to get crunk and had no clue what to do with two massively heavy bands providing the night’s music. For all nights to MOTR to bring metal bands on stage, a Friday night was somewhat ironic, especially since MOTR doesn’t bring a ton of metal acts to begin with. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at how clear and distinct the sound was in the venue, considering its size and setup. The stage is more or less a slightly raised platform in the corner of the main bar, barely able to hold the massive full stacks and members of both bands, and the mains are hoisted above, projecting out toward the bar area. This was a late show –– the opening act didn’t start until 10:30 –– but I was able to enjoy the atmosphere of MOTR and the local beer on tap.
Cincinnati’s own Grey Host opened the night with their potent, sludgy brand of doom metal that reveled in its Conan-like ferocity as much as more melodic and spacey material akin to Pallbearer and Warning and rattled the whole bar with waves of low-end drones. Their inclusion of a keys/synth player was what made their set particularly memorable, though, as washes of modulated synths and psychedelic feedback freakouts overlaid the pummeling rhythms. This was my first experience with Grey Host, so I can’t vouch for what composed most of their setlist, but their (roughly) 45-minute set was an excellent primer for Inter Arma and certainly put them on my radar to keep on the lookout. The vocals were slightly buried in the mix, but considering the girth of the rest of the mix, that’s a minor complaint. Major shout out to Grey Host for being the first doom band I’ve ever seen to use a KORG Khaos Pad on stage –– always a cool thing, if risky.
There was little downtime in between the two sets since shows in residential areas of Cincinnati have to be over by no later than 12:15-12:30 A.M. With nary a word other than “We are Inter Arma from Richmond, Virginia –– thanks for coming out,” the band started out deceitfully tranquil with “The Long Road Home” from Sky Burial. It was immediately clear that Inter Arma are seasoned road warriors at this point in their career, as they propelled through the song’s extended prog sections with ease and launched into its blasting, earth-scorching second half as if it were second nature. (I guess if you’ve been touring an album for three years, it is easy enough to do in your sleep.) Immediately after the last note of “The Long Road Home,” though, they started the stark, monolithic rhythm featured on the recently released track “Transfiguration” from the forthcoming Paradise Gallows. I was blown away by the power of the recording to begin with, but in a live environment, it is an absolute monster of a song. Vocalist Mike Paparo’s voice was soaked in reverb and delay, adding another layer to his already terrific stage dynamic and anthemic vocal phrasing. It was drummer T.J. Childers who attracted the most attention, though –– his frenzied and hard-hitting fills on “Destroyer” and “‘sblood” were a wall of sound in themselves. Already impressive on recorded output, his drumming shines even more in a live environment, even moreso when locked in with the gargantuan guitar tone of three full stacks from the guitarists and bassist.
Inter Arma’s set was one uninterrupted piece that left no room for audience interaction until the end, and as the last notes of “‘sblood” echoed out, there was a hush before an enthusiastic response from those in attendance. The band seemed entirely in their own world during their set, and their dynamics of performance are more clearly articulated in a live setting. Once their set was over, it was like a very palpable atmosphere had lifted; that’s when you know you’ve experienced a band to its fullest. If Inter Arma’s studio work hasn’t convinced you, trust me –– they’re a band you need to see live to understand what it’s about. I’m really hoping they’ll swing back this way once the touring cycle starts for the upcoming album, and I’m also hoping that a larger venue is in spot, since their massive sound can hardly be contained and is due justice in a larger space.
Note: Due to the venue’s lighting and my own inability to take halfway decent pictures with my phone, I had to cop these photos from Facebook. #sorrynotsorry