A few weeks ago, I caught sight of a fall tour that I was pretty sure I wanted to catch. The tour is Carcass, Deafheaven, and Inter Arma. I have a very different opinion of each of these bands: Carcass has always been a huge favorite of mine, Deafheaven I would prefer to refrain from commenting on, and I had somehow never had any real exposure to Inter Arma. I remembered many times before when I had seen their name on other tours and I even remembered getting really solid recommendations for them from friends on more than one occasion, so I’m not really sure why I never gave them the attention they deserved. I needed another good reason to go to this show, and I hoped that Inter Arma would be that reason; my local date in Cleveland is the night before Thanksgiving (I’m hosting), and I was torn between not wanting to stand through an entire set of Deafheaven and my oftentimes fanatical love of Carass. If I could just find a little bit more justification to go to this show, I would bite the bullet and suffer through hours of cooking and baking slightly hungover, if need be. Hell, I would even endure a Deafheaven set.
I remembered that Inter Arma had just released a new album sometime last summer. I found that album—Paradise Gallows—and then I spent the next several days listening to it. And I mean I fucking listened to it. I listened to it at work. I listened to it at home. I listened to it over…and over…and over. I had to if I wanted to say anything intelligible about it besides, “Wow,” simply because it was so much to digest. I know I’m a little late to the party on this release, but man, let me tell you—it became an immediate favorite and I now consider it a personal contender for album of the year.
This album was fascinating to me and like a total chameleon, changing stride with whatever kind of emotion the band is forcing into your headspace at any given moment. You find yourself constantly speculating over where, exactly, it’s taking you, and looking back in surprise at where it brought you from. Throughout my first listen, it demanded nearly all of my attention, but I still knew that I had missed most of it. The album is fairly esoteric and challenging to listen to, and that’s what I dig about it; it’s a puzzle for my ears to solve. There’s a lot going on during Paradise Gallows. It’s all different, but it’s all good, and when you put it all together you get quite an impressive and complex piece of work.
The album begins with a short instrumental track, Nomini. Some unassuming acoustic guitar work quickly bursts open into nice, dreamy guitar harmonies (perfect for a Carcass tour!). At this point I kind of felt like I was getting prepped for something along the lines of a newer Baroness song, but what came next was more like getting gored to death by a mammoth. Track two, An Archer in the Emptiness, slams you into a solid wall of guitar that is utterly crushing. It comes out of nowhere and instantly begins pounding you into dust. This sound is certainly for fans of early Mastodon and Neurosis. An Archer in the Emptiness wastes no time getting to the meat of things; it is long and brutal, alternating between blasting and super slow, doomy parts sure to leave your neck aching, racing up and down like a rollercoaster. Most of the vocals are lows, which also delights my inner death metal dork.
After the long beating suffered through An Archer in the Emptiness, the band rushes you right along into Transfiguration, one of my ties for favorite track on the album. Transfiguration opens with a driving drum beat and bass line, steadily winding you back into a sling that you know you’re inevitably going to be launched out of. When the song finally does erupt, it drags you along for a whopping nine minutes, bludgeoning the hell out of you the entire way. The arrangement and continual evolution of the song, however, made its length virtually unnoticeable to me upon first listening. It’s quite a trip. The lyrics close out this heady song with the declaration of, “Man has transfigured the Earth, now we must transfigure ourselves.”
From here, the album cools off some, offering a nice refresher after such an intense first 20 minutes (spread between three tracks, no less). This is where more risks start to be taken regarding the style of the music. The album develops a bigger atmosphere from the beginning of track four, Primordial Wound, which is very slow and more sludge-like compared to the earlier tracks, straying from a path that we may have thought was already set. It flows well into track five, appropriately named The Summer Drones, now incorporating a significant drone quality. Around the half-way mark of the album, another instrumental track, Potomac, brings more surprises. (This is my other tie for favorite track on the album.) Potomac begins with those wonderful guitar harmonies we heard at the very beginning of the album, but a piano quickly takes the lead of the track. The song swells into an intricate and emotional composition, complete with obligatory sexy guitar solos, that I could barely even believe was produced by the same band I was listening to 15 minutes prior. But you don’t just subtle upon this song all of a sudden; Inter Arma guided the album to this point with such skill and finesse that it felt totally natural to be listening to something like Potomac. The fact that this track fit so well into the album even though it was wildly different from where we started at—it’s tied with Transfiguration for my favorite track, a song that really is nothing like it—is quite noteworthy. Potomac is certainly a grand flex of musicianship muscle.
Finally, as we near the end of the album, the enormous title track, Paradise Gallows, sweeps us away with prominent post-metal elements. This nearly twelve minute long track seems to summarize everything that we’ve experienced since we started listening to the album. Paradise Gallows (the track) revisits all kinds of sounds and emotions that we felt earlier on and seems to weave them all together into an epilogue of sorts, giving us something profound to reflect on. There is more ahead of us still on the album, but this title track was where the surprises seemed to finally end. It feels a lot like saying goodbye. Maybe not so ironically, the last words that we hear on the title track are a clean whisper of, “Laughing all the way to my grave”. The song left me in such a comfortable haze that it was hard to get shaken back up for the next track, Violent Constellations, which picks up and seems to be trying to give us back some of the aggressive energy that we first heard on the album. The closing track, Where the Earth Meets the Sky, was a gentle and appropriate end track (with all clean vocals), but the arrangement of these last three tracks always leaves me feeling a bit perplexed. I appreciate Violent Constellations and Where the Earth Meets the Sky individually, but I find when I’m listening to the entire album through that it’s hard for me to really get my stamina back after something like the title track. It almost makes me wish that Paradise Gallows would have been the closing track, even though Where the Earth Meets the Sky did such a good job closing the album. Regardless, it's a very small criticism and not something that substantially influences my opinion of the album. Maybe I’ll get to see them end a set sometime (soon?!) with Paradise Gallows, and I’ll feel satisfied.
As a whole, the album Paradise Gallows is pretty extraordinary. Inter Arma took some big risks on this piece by incorporating so many different styles, but they pulled it all off with such precision that it worked—and that really demands some respect. There aren’t a whole lot of bands in the world that can be so multi-dimensional, especially on the same album. (ESPECIALLY without sounding super abrupt and/or tacky.) I still haven’t listened to any more of Inter Arma’s releases (don’t worry, I’ll catch up and properly educate myself before Thanksgiving), but I’ve heard enough on this one album that I’ll gladly pay money to go see them throw down live. In fact, I am looking forward to seeing them for the first time now just as much as I’m looking forward to getting my Carcass fix. Everybody celebrates the holidays in a different way; my plan is to have my mind blown by Inter Arma, go to the bar and have a sip during Deafheaven, and drunkenly thrash my brains out for Carcass. I guess there will be turkey in there somewhere.
Amanda is a stereotypical cat lady with a penchant for death metal. Her idea of a perfect Sunday morning includes coffee, fur, egg sandwiches, and some really loud records. When she isn't tending to her urban farm, she can occasionally be sighted around the east coast traveling for shows and festivals. Her quest for enlightenment and good metal never ends.