Learning a lot about the inner workings of any art form can be a double-edged sword. Knowledge of the arcana that let creative people work their magic can provide a point of access for fans to interpret the emotions and influences that lurk beneath the surface — the how often reflects the why, to the point that the two are virtually inextricable in many cases. But once you see this stuff, you can’t unsee it. If you spend enough time delving into the machinery of any spectacle, demystifying it one detail at a time, you’ll eventually start focusing on the strings and pulleys more than on the show itself. So it goes for cinephiles who ponder gaffing mechanisms in their theater seats; so it goes for art historians who see the restoration techniques before the painting. This holds especially true for music, in my opinion — an art form whose means of creative production are typically invisible to its audience, secluded as the artists are in studios and rehearsal rooms. But there is hope even for this species of obsessive, of which I’m very much an example: the rare talent that makes you forget about all that nerd crap and actually start feeling feelings again.
Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma have this kind of power. Are you a huge metal dweeb who thinks of music mostly in terms of microgenres and exotic blastbeat techniques? Doesn’t matter — they are good enough to drive those details from your head and remind you of the first time you heard Through Silver In Blood. This constitutes a substantial irony, as they’re also one of the more technically fascinating young metal acts out there today. Led by drummer and composer T.J. Childers, Inter Arma are a true live band in the old mode — their records are an attempt to capture the sound and energy of their performances, rather than vice versa. Each performance is an interpretation of the material, rather than a replication of it. Few metal bands are capable of making music this way, and Inter Arma’s capabilities in this regard imbue even their most brutal extreme-metal moments with a thrumming liveliness.
Over the course of three LPs, including the upcoming Paradise Gallows, they have developed a thoroughly unique and organic songwriting idiom that has far too many moving parts to conveniently summarize. The influence-obsessed mind scrambles: It hears the band slouch into an appalling Neurosis brown-note riff and wants to say “post-metal”; it notes washed-out auras around a melancholy guitar solo and reaches for Pink Floyd; a greasy galloping chug dredges up Tucker-era Morbid Angel; distorted shrieking over a slow-burn blast summons the ghost of Leviathan. And then that song ends. Eventually the brain gives up, because this is real-deal original shit, immune to this kind of categorization, and engaging with it on emotional terms is far more rewarding than trying to gut it and read its entrails for an origin story.
Part of the reason Inter Arma are so difficult to pin down: Unlike so many contemporary metal bands, their songs vary dramatically in mood and style from one to the next. The first single from Paradise Gallows, “Transfiguration”, is an incredibly fierce extreme metal workout that will leave your soul in need of a shower afterwards. By contrast, the title track — which we’re premiering today — is a cruelly beautiful Cormac McCarthy landscape of a metal tune, spacious and sere even at its climax. What kindness it contains flows mostly from vocalist Mike Paparo’s restrained singing in its first half — a new trick for him, and one that he repeats to strong effect elsewhere on the album. The rest is all open sky and enervating heat. A great song in itself, it’s an even more impressive in the context of Paradise Gallows’ constantly shifting moods. This emotional versatility — on top of the incredible individual performances and RIFFS RIFFS RIFFS — help make it one of the year’s best metal albums. But, better not to think about any of that. Just let the magic happen.
Paradise Gallows will be out 7/8 via Relapse. Inter Arma will be hitting the road this summer with Withered, who also have a fantastic new record coming out soon. I strongly recommend catching this tour, as both acts deserve their reputation as live powerhouses. (Full disclosure: My band has played a couple of shows with Inter Arma over the years and will be on the bill in New York.)
07/05 Washington, DC @ DC9
07/06 Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
07/08 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
07/09 Boston, MA @ Great Scott
07/10 Buffalo, NY @ Waiting Room
07/11 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
07/12 Detroit, MI @ Pike Room
07/13 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
07/14 Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
07/15 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
07/16 Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium
07/19 Seattle, WA @ Barboza
07/20 Portland, OR @ Dour Fir
07/22 San Francisco, CA @ Thee Parkside
07/23 Glendale, CA @ Complex
07/24 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
07/25 Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
07/28 San Antonio, TX @ Limelight
07/29 Austin, TX @ Sidewinder
07/30 Dallas, TX @ Three Links
07/31 New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
08/01 Birmingham, AL @ Spring Street Firehouse
08/02 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
08/03 Asheville, NC @ Mothlight