How do you measure heaviness? You can down-tune your guitars to the bowels of Hell, play at the speed of light with the gain turned up to 11, and mimic the sick wailing of a terrified pig in your vocals, but is it heavy? If it’s anything, heaviness is a state of being, and Inter Arma have been mining that state since their debut. But their latest slab of concrete Sulphur English just might be their purest expression of what it means to be heavy to date.
Since 2013’s Sky Burial there’s been a subtle shift of tectonic (sonic) plates, as the band’s deep progressive sludge moved into howling death metal territory. The reflective anomaly of The Cavern EP notwithstanding, this shift to darker waters feels like it’s reached its apex on Sulphur English. The album takes the churn and turmoil of Paradise Gallows and finds new corners to explore, often with punishing intent. And “punishing” is the best way to describe the incredible rhythm on display courtesy of T.J. Childers on drums. Amidst the maelstrom of guitars and howling vocals it’s his drumming that consistently comes to the forefront, leading the band through the torrent of riffs the album throws at you over the course of its hour plus run-time.
But there are plenty of dynamics afoot too. After the bludgeoning of intro “Bumgardner” and opener “A Waxen Sea” things really move into an interesting place with “Citadel.” The song proudly carries the Neurosis flag with its doom crunch, marching forward to a hazed half-time stomp anchored to the filthy ground with Mike Paparo’s roar before shattering into frenzied solos. It’s a devastating track, emphasizing just how fluent Inter Arma can be in a compact six and a half minutes.
I say “compact” because segues aside that’s the shortest track on Sulphur English. When the band spread their wings on longer epics like the closing title track and late album highlight “The Atavist’s Meridian” things take on mythic proportions. Again grounded and highlighted by Childers’s drumming, the song rolls along on an oceanic current, allowing the guitars to carry over the various movements the songs go through.
I’m sure we can differ in what constitutes heaviness in music. But there’s no contention when it comes to the weight Inter Arma brings to bear on Sulphur English. This is deep, dark, heavy music made with passion and fury, echoing the pain and anguish that comes with the truly heavy. As such it stands as the band’s best output to date, and a high bar to meet for anyone else trying take the crown in 2019.