As a full-time industry scientist and part-time music critic, a review of Inter Arma’s Paradise Gallows proved to be rife with challenge. Given that their particular interpretation of the art form involves so many variables and moving parts, stemming from myriad origins, how does one begin to break it down in order to arrive at even a semi-objective conclusion? The band’s last full-length LP, Sky Burial, saw them reaching for melodic motifs from 70s prog and even 60s blues-rock and skillfully incorporating those elements with the rest of their sonic palette, which itself draws from many disciplines and sub-genres of their chosen craft. Is it sludge, post-metal, progressive, or avant-garde? The issue here becomes apparent right away. Trying to describe the 71 minutes of material on Paradise Gallows in terms of finite divisions is an exercise in futility.
What we have here then is a chance to sit back, sum the parts together, and take it in as a whole; and what a whole it is. The sense of scale here is really something to behold, and it is omnipresent, permeating the compositions. It features front and center in the album’s highly evocative cover artwork. This is a BIG record, comprising nine tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at just over 5 minutes (excluding the short instrumental intro, “Nomini”). A record of this scale will naturally take some time to digest properly, but every minute spent unlocking its secrets will yield greater results with time, which is key to great record longevity. Think about the first time you heard Neurosis’ Through Silver in Blood, then think about the 20th time you heard it, still good right? I rest my case.
The guitars here sound huge, from the opening melodic motif of “Nomini” to the rhythmic riffing on lead single “Transfiguration” to the apocalyptic chording that finishes off “The Summer Drones,” this is analog guitar tone at its absolute finest when it comes to modern metal. The same goes for the other recorded instruments and vocals as well, which tend to be awash in reverb and delay, as if the band were actually recording the record at the foot of the cliffs featured prominently on the album’s cover. Tone junkies should love what’s on offer here, especially those who chase that really big, wide, analog sound. The recording can definitely reach critical mass when it comes to tasteful reverb application, but the mix still retains the nuance of the technical instrumentation when it’s required.
The performances here are nothing short of fantastic. Drummer T.J. Childers steals the show with his thunderous, pummelling rhythms driving the songs relentlessly forward and giving the riffs context. Look to the opening minute of “Violent Constellations” to get a good idea of this. The rhythms start and stop on a razor’s edge throughout this track and others, shifting the balance of the tracks and the context of the progressions constantly back and forth, making for a frantic listen. Inter Arma provides respite however, with “Potomac” occupying the role of mandatory mid-album instrumental breather. Here the band shows their love of 70s prog and hard rock prominently, bringing in keys and extended guitar solo bliss–or wankery, depending on your perspective–to replace the vocal. It’s an aboslute joy to hear musicians on record who are so obviously in tune with their instruments and each other, and should make for a fantastic set of shows for those who are able to catch them on tour.
There’s a few points about the vocal performance that should be mentioned. First, this record features Inter Arma’s first foray into the realm of infinite vulnerability that is clean vox, and luckily, they do it pretty well. The clean parts feature heavily on the first part of the record’s climactic title track, as well as low-key album closer “Where the Earth Meets the Sky,” and were a necessary step in securing the listeners attention during such a subdued passages of extended instrumentals. One passage I’m not particularly crazy about is during the second half of “Primordial Wound” where Mike Paparo’s vocal seems overly bit-crushed or distorted to a point where it becomes irritating to hear. This also happens during an extended passage when the rest of the instrumentals are relatively stagnant, so it becomes quite noticeable. It’s a minor complaint when placed in context with the remainder of the material here, but it bears mentioning.
In summation, it would be easy to get lost in the minutiae of Inter Arma’s compositions and the breadth of the material on offer here. As stated previously, this a big record with a lot to digest, but there is also a lot to love. Plenty of interesting melodies, savagely complex grooves, and nuanced instrumentals await those who take the time to immerse themselves in Inter Arma’s masterpiece of modern metal. A fundamentally great heavy record with a sense of scale unlike any I have heard in recent years. One of the best of 2016 thus far.