A band’s right to change should not be questioned, even if the results of the alterations are not quality. That’s happened so many times, it is impossible to document all of it here, and in the past we have tried. But the point remains that a band unsatisfied with their own status quo has the right to change that if they see fit.
That cryptic opening is my way of preparing you for what you’ll hear when tackling “Sky Burial,” the second full-length from Inter Arma, and their first release for Relapse. If you’ve heavily immersed yourself in their first record “Sundown,” their EP “Destroyer,” or any of their split releases, you might not be totally prepared for what greets you on the sophomore album. The band has changed, and their sound has been stretched and shaded with different colors, so the all-out aggression and punishment you might have anticipated isn’t what you’re going to get. Now, is that a good thing? Depends on where you’re sitting, and if you don’t like it, it’s not like you’re wrong. If you do enjoy what you hear on “Sky Burial,” then you’re likely to take many return trips with this mind eraser and visit all its dark corners.
There is an increased attention to atmospherics and psychedelic wash outs on these eight songs, and while they still drop the hammer many, many times, meaning their penchant for auditory violence remains, you’re bound to end up staring and gazing more often than not, getting caught up in the glorious smog and fog emanating from this record. Personally, I love what they do here, and the changes have made Inter Arma an even more interesting band to me. I’m a big fan of their earlier catalog as well, don’t get me wrong, but this metamorphosis into the band’s current headspace is something that connects with me and makes me wonder just how far these guys can go exploring the outer reaches of space. I’m pretty damn curious to find out.
The Richmond, Va., quintet was the latest Forcefield Records band to sign on with Relapse until the label smartly picked up Windhand (of which drummer T.J. Childers is a live member), and the bulk of the group is comprised of members of black metal horde Bastard Sapling, including vocalist Mike Paparo and guitarists Trey Daulton and Steven Russell. Bass player Joe Kerkes rounds out a lineup (Miley Allred contributes standup bass and Theremin) that sounds like it is getting a better sense of what they want to be, what they want to sound like, and how to accomplish it. “Sky Burial” isn’t a perfect record by any means (the sequencing is really weird) and certainly there is more room for exploration, but it’s also a stunning document that is one of the most adventurous and surprising releases of a year not even a quarter over. The album has been on constant rotation in my house, in my car, and on my iPod, so there certainly is plenty to examine and digest before achieving full understanding. I’m not even there yet.
“The Survival Fires” gives you a taste of what’s ahead, and while the song is aggressive and pulverizing, there also are cosmic flourishes and weirdness, especially with the trippy manner of the vocals. Alongside the tyranny come watery, smeary tones that give the song an aura of weirdness. Next comes the 14-minute, two-part “The Long Road Home” (expanded from the “Destroyer” EP) that takes things in an entirely different direction. The first portion is largely acoustic based and syrupy, with some Western-style slide guitar, and that melody builds on the second part, bit by bit, level by level until the thing overflows with psychedelic wonder that might make some think of classic Pink Floyd mixed with Allman Bros. It’s an emotional caterwaul, with excellent instrumental interplay, and just when you think you can slip into dreamland, the thing ignites into black metal terror in the final three minutes, ripping things to shreds.
“Destroyer” also is a carryover from their 2012 EP of the same name, though it’s expanded and intellectually fucked up, with slow pounding, echoey vocals, monstrous drubbing, and doom scorching in a smoking pit. It’s a totally new way of approaching the track. “’sblood” is the most direct cut on here and one of the shortest that’s not an instrumental. Echo-laded, affected drums kick the song into high gear, and really, Childers’ work is the standpoint element of this song. He hits hard, also finds a groove, and acts as the blood and bones of this track. “Westward” is treated with a long introduction before the song hits a punchy sludge pocket, dissolves into noise-drenched screams, and a sense of evil blues as the track reaches its conclusion. It’s also the one example of where some trimming could have been done to make this song a little meaner. “Love Absolute” is another instrumental that’s delicate yet spooky, and it sets the way for the monstrous 13-minute title track closer that revisits many of the same musical themes from earlier in the album and sets it all ablaze.
It’ll be interesting to hear the reaction to “Sky Burial” and if the band is embraced by metal scribes like I think they will. This album feels like the dawning of one of the future’s more important metal bands, and the more Inter Arma shape and shift, the more intriguing I think their music will become. This feels like an album that might take some time to settle in for some people, but once it does, the fervor should grow by the minute.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/INTERARMA
To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html
For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/