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Inter Arma - Sky Burial

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Artist: Inter Arma

Album: Sky Burial

Label: Relapse

Review date: Apr. 18, 2013

Sometimes what makes a band is the way it assembles and develops on its influences. Richmond’s Inter Arma play doom, but not straight up and not simply. And while that’s become an increasingly crowded sub-section of metal these last few years, the five-piece give it some real distinctiveness by combining it with black metal abjection (and rhythmic languages), the occasional crust flourish, and a liberal injection of Southern rock grooves and leads.

These elements are front and center from the first minutes of the opening “The Survival Fires,” which evokes the death/black balance of The Wake and the swirling psychedelics of Rwake.

What’s evident is that, for all the band’s concern with heaviness, Inter Arma is focused on dynamism and suite-length development of ideas. To this end, they layer in all kinds of fantastic high lonesome moments (not least the groaning arco bass that, among the many details here, sounds like a lesson cribbed from recent Sunn O))) records) that compel by way of contrast. Yet, the details seem to add up to not simply a series of accents but something substantive in the band’s melancholic sound-world. The versatility of drummer T.J. Childers (who plays with a light touch on the ride cymbal, and a focus on complex, changing snare patterns) and vocalist Mike Paparo (able to croon, to rumble, and to shriek with real musicality) can’t be overstated, though it’s understandable enough to focus on the twinned guitars, good as they are.

They range between acoustic guitar interludes (long, reflective journeys via arpeggio) and scuzzy riffs, shifting and lurching between elements like the aforementioned Rwake or U.S. Christmas. It’s a compelling combination, as when the acoustic guitar and reverb’d slide of “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)” (which reminds me of Across Tundras a little bit) submits its sizzling feedback to the organ-drenched, slow plod of “The Long Road Home.” As the band ranges between sub-genres – from the YOB-influenced doom of “Destroyer” to the wire-wound sludge of “’sblood,” which recalls Black Tusk and early Kylesa – there’s consistently great guitar work, searing and warm, slowly stoking the dynamics, which are as likely to erupt into black metal churn as to break down into baked riffs.

Yet, even when they’re deep into endlessly pounded drums and unwavering chug, Inter Arma manages somehow to conjure atmosphere and melancholy. The towering “Westward” contains so many overtones and singing feedback layers that it sounds, as it marches forward, as if it’s casting off metal filings, leaving a core of continual bright resonance of the sort the band often buries amid the otherwise misanthropic sound. Through Hessian stomp, Southern licks, and acoustic reveries (like “Love Absolute”), Inter Arma at times (as on the concluding title track) come across like a backporch Neurosis. But, as with almost every track on the fresh-sounding Sky Burial, it’s not long before a changeup slaps you to attention (on “Sky Burial” a crisp, Mastodonian double-time), never perfunctory and almost always organic. While Sky Burial is a bit overlong, and meanders a bit in some of its textural climes, it’s a fascinating statement from a young band to watch.

By Jason Bivins

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