Spin - "[T]he quintet's latest Relapse effort PARADISE GALLOWS is a bit of a shift, the sound of what happens once you've gone fast enough to clear the stratosphere -- where everything's a little darker, a little weirder, a little more weightless..."
Personnel: TJ Childers (vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, drums); Trey Dalton (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Mike Paparo (vocals); Steven Russell (guitar).
Audio Mixer: Mikey Allred.
Recording information: Dark Art Audio, Madison, TN (09/19/2015-10/02/2015).
Since releasing 2010's Sundown, Virginia's Inter Arma have thwarted all attempts at pigeonholing their mercurial sound. Given the mind-melting ambition and expansiveness of Paradise Gallows, the word "heavy" should suffice from here on. While they've always referenced sources from obvious to obscure, Inter Arma have courted an otherness that reaches outside metal's confines. This quintet has created a labyrinthian 71-minute behemoth here. The brief "Nomini" commences with a lone fingerpicked acoustic guitar before Trey Dalton and Steven Russell's twinned Southern psychedelic guitar leads pierce through amid rattling kick drums and floor toms. What follows is the crushing, slow-churning grind of "An Archer in the Emptiness." Post-metal, avant rock, and bleak, sludgy death metal balance on a tightrope. Drummer T.J. Childers alternates between processional cymbals, kick drums, and blastbeat snare mayhem, shuttling various time and riff changes as vocalist Mike Paparo narrates in an unrighteously filthy growl. "Transfiguration" channels thrash and black metal in one of the most intense songs Inter Arma have ever delivered. Paparo's shrieks amid the blistering guitar and bass dissonance are chilling (especially near the five-minute mark). The even longer "Primordial Wound" is a portrait of 21st century Sabbathian funeral doom that's nearly glacial in its pace. The only relief is a complete bass dropout in the second half, with Paparo's nearly inhuman squawking that warps the groove into something unrecognizable. The nearly blissed-out heaviness of "The Summer Drones" is haunted by feedback, incessant cymbals, and Joe Kerkes' inventive bassline behind alternating clean and dirty vocals. The hyper-strummed guitar crescendos shapeshift between crushing sludge and prog changes. The tense melodicism of the opener returns on "Potomac" (as if it were actually a literal extension of the opener) with the addition of swelling acoustic piano and shimmering cymbals before those glorious twin leads move it to the horizon. At nearly 12 minutes, the title track possesses a spoken word passage that hovers above a breezy psychedelic vamp that directly references Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd -- though it reaches into far darker, more damaging territory -- with great guitar solos to boot. The breakneck drum kit chug in "Violent Constellations" is off the rails, but it's ultimately too long for the two-chord Swans-like riff to hold for the duration. "When the Earth Meets the Sky" is dark Gothic Western ethereal Americana. Paparo sings clean and melodic as slide acoustic guitars, reverbed atmospherics, and layered harmony vocals frame his lyrics. It's the only way Paradise Gallows -- with its seemingly endless combination and blur of influences -- could end. There's a lot to take in, but Inter Arma are one of the few bands who could deliver a work of such punishing excess, expansive musicality, and devastating beauty. ~ Thom Jurek