01. The Survival Fires
02. The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)
03. The Long Road Home
07. Love Absolute
08. Sky Burial
In their sophomore release Sky Burial, Virginia’s Inter Arma look to channel the mystic realm of the dead through a wall of sound. Formed in 2006, Inter Arma came on the scene, bringing with them a mixed repertoire of doom, black, and psychedelic sludge elements. After their 2010 debut album Sundown they caught a break and landed with Relapse Records. Looking to make a mark on the ever expanding metal scene, they pulled out all their guns for their big label debut.
In the process of preparing for a new album, the band became enamored with the concept of sky burials. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a sky burial is a funerary ritual performed primarily in Tibet wherein a corpse is ritually given to the elements and placed on a mountainside. The body is then left to be scavenged by carrion birds, and is seen as a natural method for ritual earthly departure.
Musically, the album is certainly heavy on the sludge and doom elements. Half of the songs on the album extend beyond the ten minute mark, making listening to the complete piece quite an ordeal. The album starts off with the song “The Survival Fires”, which stumbles out of the gate with a confusing blur of blast beats, distorted screams, and thick sludgy guitar bends. It then breaks into a bleak, down-tempo passage which is accompanied by slow clean, resonating guitars which quickly breaks down into a tumult of heavy riffs. The lead vocals from Mike Paparo are reminiscent of Neurosis‘ Scott Kelly and late Celtic Frost-era Tom G. Warrior.
This opening song certainly sets the precedent for the rest of the album, with the subsequent songs seeming to align themselves with certain passages from the first song. For example, the second track “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)” is a near four-minute instrumental track which apes the resonating down-tempo sequence from the first track and is very reminiscent of Earth‘s slow, minimalist guitar passages.
The middle tracks of the album are certainly its strength. The subsequent fourth track, and continuation of the third, aptly titled “The Long Road Home” is one of the highlights of the album. The first seven minutes follow in the vein of the previous track; a down-tempo twangy guitar accompanied by a simmering organ effect. Around the mid-song the guitars open up into a bluesy solo which is matched by a solid drum accompaniment. After the seven minute mark the song slows down only to be broken by a flurry of blast beats, tremolo riffs and near unintelligible screeching vocals. The track “‘sblood” is also noteworthy because the whole track teases this big crescendo that never happens. Much of the song is full of palm-muted chugging which reminded me of Gojira‘s track “Art of Dying”. Just as the song peaks at the four minute mark, the guitars revert back to their rhythmic chugging. While this might seem boring to some, it is important to mention the drumming of T.J Childers, who throughout the album keeps a solid pace which keeps much of the sludgy chaos in check. On the sixth track “Westward”, the drums set the tone off the bat with a staccato drum beat. When accompanied by a simple, matching guitar riff this simple beat conjures this feeling of being in a ritual drum circle.
Despite these strengths, I feel the true weaknesses of this album is the fact that it does feel a bit stretched. As I mentioned before, half of the tracks on the album do peak over the ten minute mark. I first listened to this album while I was relaxing one night with headphones on. On first listen I thought that the album evokes this feeling of being trapped in an acid-western; the instrumental portions of the album would be right at home in Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man or the fevered sequences during the climax of the new True Grit. However, after subsequent listens, the same sort of feelings of psychedelic dread was lost when trying to listen on my computer or in my car. Needless to say, this isn’t the sort of album you can simply just pick a track from and enjoy. You really do need a good portion of time to listen to the full thing, or the context will be lost.
Key/Favorite Tracks: 3. “Long Road Home“, 5. “‘sblood“, 6. “Westward”