Inter Arma are one of the latest additions to the Relapse Records camp and are about to release their first album for the label March 19th, Sky Burial. The band is comprised of Virginia based musicians T.J. Childers (drums, guitars, synthesizer, lap steel, noise), Trey Dalton (guitars, vocals), Steven Russell (guitars), Joe Kerkes (bass, vocals), Mike Paparo (vocals) and Mikey Allred (stand-up bass, theremin, organ and noise). From Virginia, the five piece Inter Arma coalesce a wide range of genres into a sound that stretches to the heavens and the lowest depths of sonic possibilities. Doom, sludge, psychedelia, black metal and much more, every song has a defining relationship of different worlds that makes it all its own. The engineering on Sky Burial goes far beyond anything they have achieved, showering in a dominance of rhythmic insanity and melodic infirmary over a lengthy course through eight songs. Releasing materials with Forcefield Records, Toxic Assetts and Mirror Universe since 2009, the group has signed with one of the best metal labels in Relapse Records. Sky Burial is of course their first offering with Relapse and is a crowning achievement in modern doom metal and progressive forms of heavy music. Instead of naming bands or genres they tap into for every song, we want to dive into what really inspires us about Sky Burial.
The density and intensity of Sky Burial is felt immediately with the opening track “The Survival Fires”. The music is melted together as guitar moves from both sides of the mix over a very experimental sense of blast beats and thick hammer hitting bass. The guitars are soaked in a very dark shade, rising out of trails of fog and dust with clarity once they come out of this dreary state. The music takes a very dynamic shift into a much more mellow and transfixing mood where the guitars glisten instead of tower over and the drums play into the softest of areas around the pocket. You can feel the delicate nature of this form right away and the records identity completely alters because of it. It’s beautiful to feel points of counter reaction to what you perceived as there or what it was about. The angular harmonies and rhythms come back alive for another reprisal of massive and energetic shock-waves. Clocking in at a little over ten minutes, it’s a demanding listen that really takes from you just as much as it is giving in nature. The drums are mind blowing, guitar riffs have that very dark but dreamy vibe and the overall sense of the environment is one of the most chaotically beautiful yet controlled things I have experienced. The amount of atmosphere and energy is staggering in proportion and is an incredible foundation to Sky Burial.
The album takes a very different turn with the second song “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)”, which is an alternate version to the one that graced 2012′s Destroyer EP. With the original showing the band in full step, the version prepared for Sky Burial is more minimal in design and features acoustic and electric guitar over one another. It’s the most gorgeous piece of music the group has created to date and sets the tone for a film set in the deep mountain ranges of the Americas, not a world of chaos and dark tones that most of their music stands for. This is a sonic leap forward for the album that removes a lot of the saturation for an ethereal and spiritual type of heaviness. The newly created full band recording of “The Long Road Home” is then placed after this acoustic piece for a track that reflects mid 70′s Pink Floyd for many moments. Sparkling guitar and synth over cosmic swirls of tones and steady rhythms creates a body of sound that is very special. By the middle section the intensity of the track transforms in full and the mix is fully alive and pulls the listen into some very dark states again. Incredible solo and layering is achieved in this energy reprisal section for one of the most detailed, dynamic and beautiful moments on the record. By the ending portion, the band is in full blast beat mode while still retaining the rich texture that separates this album from many others.
“Destroyer” continues Sky Burial‘s story, reveling in more sonically dark worlds where expansion and clever turns are a norm. Even when the music is very expansive and experimental, there is a very defined set of controls behind it. Primitive in its raw emotional impact, you can hear worlds of many past and present ages in “Destroyer”. The music stays very saturated from the guitars tones and constant swelling with the drums and bass keeping the tracks anchor in place. With the amount of angular guitar lines present and dreary atmospheric parts, the drums and bass play a very crucial role in this track. The band really hammers away with this song and the energy it takes to present this live must be unreal.
The second half of the record begins with the track “sblood”, an energetic song that is the thickest and most overpowering track of the album. Steeped into a very dense center of mass that relies on heavy and intense rhythms, you can feel every part of the lower end of the track as if it were outside of your house and about to crush it. The bass and drums are given a section entirely to themselves, something you don’t hear on a lot of metal albums. This really opens up how deep and dark the drums and bass are and adds yet another dimension to this album that you can’t find anywhere else. Once the guitar is introduced again, the music is pulled back under for more exploration into darkness. “Westward” is another cyclone of energy that rides over slow tempo rhythms and huge sounding guitar riffs. The ending guitar solo is a very beautiful compliment to the crushing state of control most of the song has. You can really hear the guitar go off and the highest level of musicianship is shown. Just hearing the solo once, you feel how technical and advanced this band is when letting it all out.
“Love Absolute” is another acoustic driven song on the album that is just as beautiful and remarkable as “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)”. The song writing of the group is refreshing for metal and this song highlights their gifts in a clear lens. The dark minor scales they run through with the deep sense of atmosphere over this is stunning, showing where they take their electric melodies but in the acoustic domain. The ending section has some other worldly overtones that really heighten the music and take it to another world. It’s mind blowing to realize how far the dynamics have changed since the beginning of the album and up to this point. This seamlessly leads into the albums closer and title track of the record, “Sky Burial”. There is an open sense of space over the intricate drum work and thick state of guitars that rests in the rhythm and overall aura of the track. It rises up instead of downward, capping the album off with ethereal and surreal tones masked inside of formal riffs. It’s as if the band is collectively reaching into the outer stretches of the atmosphere and prying open a hole to leave this planet. As the energy begins to climax more and more, the guitars change tones for a more clear atmosphere and the openness under everything from the beginning reveals itself. This is shortly lived as the energy brought right back to extremes and sheets of guitar spreads over everything. As the longest track on the album – clocking in at 2 seconds over 13 minutes – the shifting exchange between soft, subdued and textural along with dark, heavy and chaotic takes in a constant back and forth motion. The very ending section fades out of the chaos of the band and showcases a hauntingly beautiful solo acoustic section that caps off the record in sublime form.
Sky Burial is a beautiful creation and something that I feel will shock the metal world. It’s hard to say what will exactly become of this band but this is one of the most promising creations for a group newly signed to a label like Relapse Records. One of the best metal albums in years.
Coming from Baroness, this is a very strange, powerful and ultimately beautiful step. Baroness has always maintained a strong, melodic root but the melody is usually brutal, psychedelic and sludgy with punk progressions. It is the Baroness I knew, the Baroness I was attracted to. “Yellow & Green” is different.
I must admit that the first time I stumbled upon Baroness was because of “Red Album’s” artwork (done, like all the other album covers, by member John Baizley). “Red Album” lunged itself out as a metal punk album that oozed as well as ripped apart with its anthem-like melodies. “Blue Album” took further steps at making the music more epic and harmonic. Baroness is usually infiltrated with screams and whale-power moans. “Yellow & Green” takes Baroness to new places.
The vocals aren’t focused so much on screams as on power and howls. The Southern Sludge has taken in a sort of Pink Floyd Country feel with very danceable rhythm sections that even feature shakers (Take the song, “Cocainium”). The power and epic collision of sound is still very present, but the melodies wash over where punk infused math progressions used to be. Harmonies with heart-filled singing swim across fuzzed out bass lines and keys instead of screams. John Baizley has constructed epic qualities without screams in a way that doesn’t take but gives more to Baroness and their progression as a band. Emotions run thick and the colors yellow and green are present within every song. Perhaps Baroness is indeed where it belongs. It is incredibly adventurous, menacing and enjoyable.
Take “Mastodon’s” newest release, “The Hunter”. It is similar in its approach to expand from complex to simplistic, from exploring synth structures and dark obscurities with analog melodies. It is a texture driven release that is surprisingly poppy, yes poppy.
Baroness has made a pop record, and one that is incredibly successful in its effort. “Sea Lungs”, for example, is driven by dance drums and shake-your-shit guitar rhythms that could easily reserve a spot on the radio. The mad scientist alchemist synths take you into the depths of murky, warm swamps where all sorts of mysterious reside. “Yellow & Green” is one of these mysteries that has floated to the surface, carrying along its past but with a fresh start to a brand new, green and yellow world.
I highly recommend “Yellow & Green” as well as all Baroness records. A very strong release and one that grasps at the same time. “Yellow & Green” comes out June 17th, 2012 on Relapse Records, don’t miss it!