Reviewers the world over can agree; compartmentalizing bands into neat little genre labels can make life easier, but don’t necessarily do bands justice. Case in point: Virginia’s Inter Arma are equal parts Southern rock, sludge, doom metal, 70’s prog rock, and cavernous death metal. Even then, describing the band as such doesn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of what the band sounds like, nor can rattling off a whole list of bands to compare their sound to. 2013’s Sky Burial saw the band’s stock rise considerably, despite (or maybe because of) the genre-skipping gymnastics. With Paradise Gallows, the band is determined to strike gold with their heady mix of sounds and influences.
Make no mistake, at just over 70 minutes, there’s a lot to digest, but things start off peacefully with “Nomine,” incorporating acoustic guitar melodies before launching into a 70’s Southern twinge, with beautiful twin-guitar harmonies and a simple driving drum pattern. Said peace and tranquility are quickly dashed when “An Archer in the Emptiness” rolls forth, sounding like a cross between Covenant-era Morbid Angel and Neurosis after a really bad day at work. The riffs by Trey Dalton and Steven Russell are smothering and thick, but played with enough sharpness to cut when necessary. Meanwhile, T.J. Childers builds such an imposing aura behind his drumkit, exhibiting necessary flashes of cymbals when needed, but also blasting and pummeling like a steroidal yeti out of fresh kill. Further enhancing the feeling of dread is vocalist Mike Paparo’s cavernous growls and hisses, taking great care to utilize his repertoire at the right times for maximum effect, so when the song slows down to a near crawl before he lets out a howl from the depths of Hell at 4:38, you will be making that Holy FUCK face in disbelief and awe. Easy Song o’ the Year candidate if there ever was one!
Thankfully, the rest of the album holds up to the lofty promise of the first two songs. Mid-album instrumental “Potomac” picks up literally where “Nomini” left off, but unravels the song further with dreary piano melodies and soaring lead guitar trade-offs between Russell and Dalton. “The Paradise Gallows,” one of the slowest, longest numbers on here at over 11 minutes, builds layer upon layer of atmosphere thanks to some rather deliberate pacing and absolutely stunning leads. “The Summer Drones” – one of the shortest songs at a hair under seven minutes, lives up to its name with a lumbering bassline by Joe Kerkes, and another stellar Kirk-Windstein-meets-dog-from-Hell performance by Papero on the choruses. The album closes off with “Where the Earth Meets the Sky,” a somber acoustic ballad that showcases Paparo’s strong clean vocals, and does a great job closing out the album like a sun setting on a brutally hot summer day.
There are a few issues with Paradise Gallows. The pacing of the album could use a bit of a shuffle, as once “Potomac” closes, you’re hit with two back-to-back 11-minute monsters in “The Paradise Gallows” and “Violent Constellations,” with the latter feeling too long. Also, “Primordial Wound” could cut out the part with the distorted talking in the second half, as it detracts from the overall song. Finally, this is not the easiest album to sit through in one go-’round at 70 minutes, well-crafted as it is. That said though, Inter Arma did a fantastic job marrying so many influences together to make their own sound. The last time something like this was done in the realm of doom and prog metal was Mastodon, which should tell you just how revered these guys will be soon, if not with this album. Mikey Allred’s mix also adds to the power of Paradise Gallows, infusing Southern-fried warmth and depth without sacrificing clarity or dynamics.
It takes skill to add this many influences to your music and still make it sound distinctly like yourself. Inter Arma performed this difficult task almost flawlessly, and they’ve crafted an incredible album in Paradise Gallows. This will be on my Top Ten(ish) come year’s end. Whereas Sky Burial had legs, Paradise Gallows has wings. Get on this.