Inter Arma - “Paradise Gallows”
Buy on iTunes or through their Bandcamp
Every so often, I will pick up and listen to an album for no reason other than the fact it’s cover art catches my eye. I’ve stumbled into plenty of excellent music this way, and this is no different, but I have to say: nothing about Inter Arma’s Paradise Gallows hints at the dense, old-school flavored death metal that is the album’s actual content. Not the band’s innocuous name, the light-and-dark contrast of its title, and certainly not its vivid, black-free cover art. When rippers like “Transfiguration” and crushing doom epics like “Primordial Wound” sit side-by-side on a tracklist like this, we’ve been conditioned to expect some blasphemous, NSFW stuff up front. Kudos to Inter Arma for doing the unexpected, both in terms of artwork and songwriting: like the suicide-at-sea that is the face of Paradise Gallows, their approach to death-doom is ominous, elegant, and macabre, placing them closer to the top of the heap of likeminded albums from Inverloch and Graves At Sea this year.
Part of it is simply skill - there’s a synergy between these musicians that’s quite rare for the genre and easy to recognize when it’s present, giving the album purpose and momentum even at its most reduced tempos - but there’s also a spirit of creativity hanging over the album that, for lack of a better term, makes it fun. It’s most obvious on “The Summer Drones,” which is the first song I’ve heard in ages that makes use of spoken-word passages in a way that creates drama without succumbing to the inherent cheesiness of the technique (it also totally rips off the main riff of Tool’s “Lateralus” in the first minute, but that’s neither here nor there). Even as early as “An Archer in the Emptiness,” the band’s ability to shuffle through tones and tempos is remarkable, and the way the track ramps up from a turgid grind to a midtempo charge for its finale leaves an impression. There’s even a recurring motif to tie the album’s genre wanderings together, a bright little melody that opens the album (“Nomini”) and crops back up as the driving theme of “Potomac,” accompanied by a piano and what sounds like an organ. By all accounts, this track should be the corniest goddamn thing with its slow, anthemic progression and shreddy, squealy solo, but it somehow skirts right around that to deliver an instrumental ballad that loses nothing for its lack of vocals.
You’d have to really squint to find anything wrong with Paradise Gallows, but we could point to the excessive reverb first, although it’s likely a stylistic choice intended to evoke the low production values of old-school death metal (and besides: every instrument is surprisingly clear and balanced in the mix, with breathable, natural tones and timbres. The loudness war leaves no mark on Paradise Gallows). Virtually every track has a couple of great performances that are either drawn out past the point of enjoyability or sandwiched between the band’s penchant for slowing things down to a deathly throb, but perhaps those great moments wouldn’t stand out so strongly in the first place without those droning interludes. Neurosis have built a career off that mentality, and while Inter Arma may not be nearly on that band’s level, they’ve got the chops and the vision to steer a similar path if they stick to the muses that led them here.