Paradise Gallows, Inter Arma‘s third full length, finds this five piece from Virginia in the finest form of their 10 year career. Crushing, soaring, scathing, and emotive are all applicable adjective. But inventive song craft and staying power also applies as the runtime here just edges out Sky Burial. This is notable as both of these, and additionally their debut, keep the listener thoroughly entertained and completely engaged from start to finish. This is no small feat for a band that straddles doom, death, sludge, and black metal but Inter Arma make this smorgasbord look easy, yet again.
There’s something to be said for the kind of albums that have incredibly long runtimes, yet don’t listen that way. Even their most recent release, The Cavern, an EP as they called it, was 45 minutes long. All of the band’s efforts are huge investments on your time but are all equally worth it. They’ve come a long way in a short amount of time though. From being just a little disjointed but nonetheless destructive on their debut to their heavily laden doom approach on Sky Burial, they make a quick study in caustic and deep songwriting. And on this album the songwriting has never been better.
As many of you have seen and no doubt heard, comparisons to heavyweights Neurosis and YOB come by the truck load but in this band’s case the comparisons are well warranted. Take “Transfiguration” for example, the intricate guitar riffs and brutish percussive gallop are as ground shaking as YOB’s Atma and the cavernous howls from Mike Paparo are as demanding as Scott Kelly’s in the early days. But Inter Arma are never satisfied with simply residing by any influences as they turn this track on its head with blast beats and shrieking black metal. Later, on “Summer Drones” stoner metal meets psychedelia and the outcome is something mostly resembling the wide open expanse of desert rock. A curious sound for sure, and a bit of an odd choice, but amongst the amalgam of genres found throughout this is a calculated risk that pays off.
“An Archer In the Emptiness” showcases a side of the band unwilling to let their bombastic past go — and lucky for us. Thrashing black metal cuts the air in quick boiling waves before yielding to a snails pace of sludge with hypnotic drums and razor sharp guitars. The band switches gears between these sounds multiple times and do so effortlessly. This flipping back and forth between genres and tempos really shows what creative songwriting can do in the right hands and stands as the best example of how Inter Arma keeps the epic novel size of this album from ever going stale.
As destructive and dark as the heaviest tracks here can be, “Potomac” is quite the opposite. More to the point, it’s six minutes of pure uplifting bliss. Slower and lighter, this track features a gradual build with endearing piano work before the eventual release of exceptional twin guitar leads and searing melody work towards the end. This is pure grace and beauty, no other words can define it accurately so be prepared to be taken aback. Then, once again with the final surprise of the album, are the acoustic and (gasp) clean vocals of “Where the Earth Meets the Sky”. That gasp part was a joke for those of you that are ‘harder than thou’. Relax, you’re not likely to hear another track of this ilk nor one done this well for the rest of the year. The echoed vocal harmonies in the background and the ever so light strum on the guitar feels like sitting in front of a blood red sunset peacefully greeting the end of another day. The hushed elegance and near spiritual atmosphere recall Steve Von Till’s excellent A Life Unto Itself.
With the grandiosity of Paradise Gallows, Inter Arma have crafted an absolutely essential album that spans many genres and will undoubtedly ride high on the end of year lists far and wide. In addition, they stretch their legs quite a bit more here than ever before and find even more success in the quiet and reflective moments. These moments, at least for me, are some of the best offered and showcase a band unafraid to wear their emotions on their sleeves and experiment outside the lines of just brute force.