REVIEW: INTER ARMA – “Paradise Gallows”
Richmond, VA’s Inter Arma are back after a two year break following the release of 2014’s EP ‘The Cavern’ with a new full length album eloquently titled ‘Paradise Gallows’. Inter Arma have made a reputation for themselves over their fairly brief existence as one of the most consistent, and forward thinking members of the sludge/doom metal community, and this new album will only serve to cement their place as among the best. The band has broadened their scope, sound, and ambition with each release, and ‘Paradise’ is no exception, bringing more progressive elements and clean singing into their already dense sound. The result is a highly satisfactory, though at times slightly disjointed, listen.
The album starts with a brief acoustic instrumental before the crushing opening riffs of ‘An Archer In the Emptiness’ begins, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album quite well. Through the thick morass of guitar, bass, and drums the almost hollow sounding growls of vocalist Mike Paparo can be heard, the vocal style along with the epic direction of the music (four of the nine songs are nine minutes plus) brings Germany’s Ahab to mind, which, being one of my favorite doom bands, is never a bad thing. Paparo’s vocals for most of the album are of the typical growled variety, but in ‘Transfiguration’ he unleashes several minutes of fiercely distorted black metal screams as well which swirl chaotically through the music. The effect is truly menacing and is an early highlight of the album. He shows off his clean vocals as well for the first time in band history, they are often in an almost spoken word style, the closing number is entirely clean and mellow throughout.
The work between guitarists Steven Russell , Trey Dalton, and the rhythm section of drummer T.J. Childers and bassist Joe Kerkes is tight and formidable throughout, the instrumental ‘Potomac’ shows off their considerable chops, and solos, and is the only time the album, or the band really speed up, and let themselves go. Most of the album they are content to provide their signature style of glacially heavy and nearly as slow doom sound to cover the listener like a comforting blanket, with subtle intricacies exposing themselves during each listen. They also show they can find a meditative groove and let it carry a song. The fairly short ‘The Summer Drones’ begins and carries with a drum and bass duet that immediately brings to mind the work of bass/drum duo Om, and this piece is especially reminiscent of Om’s ‘Pilgrimage’ album. The bass and drums dance together in a vibe that is almost contemplative and spiritually focused. This is done several times during the song in between the heaviness. And as the best music of this style does, the music and the vocals merge into one; the two are inseparable, and the entire highly formidable atmosphere this album extrudes is the result of merger of the entire band.
The album is not perfect, however. The addition of more progressive elements, the mellowness and clean vocals are all work quite well, but the merger and flow has not yet been perfected between the sludgy doom elements and the others and are a bit disjointed. At times, the album doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be, but such moments were fleeting and soon overcome. My main complaint about this album is the production. It’s not raw, like an old black metal album, but it is very muddy. This type of problem is not uncommon in sludge or doom metal, perhaps some think it adds “atmosphere,” but the murky sound takes away from the enjoyment of the album. I listened to this album with a set of good headphones, my stereo, and in the car, and even when turned up to a high volume the album never sounds as heavy and crushing as the music should. The vocals especially are mixed in such a way that they sound distant, such as if your sound system is several rooms away, and the same holds true for the music itself. The music is heavy, very heavy in fact, but the heaviness is never felt intimately, but only at a distance. It’s a shame because the music certainly deserves to be heard.
‘Paradise Gallows’ is a solid and highly mature and engrossing example of sludge/doom metal. Despite minor problems, Inter Arma have created an excellent example of progressive doom metal. Granted the last thing the metal world needs is yet another sub genre, but I can think of nothing more accurate to call this album. The depressive mood, and atmosphere is palatable throughout, and the end result quite satisfying. So if you’re a fan of intelligent, progressive, forward thinking metal, or you simply want to find some of the year’s heaviest, and moodiest riffs, you would do well to pick it up.