Trying to categorize Richmond, VA’s Inter Arma into a neat and tidy genre for the purposes of giving the band a home would do the music of Sky Burial, the band’s second full-length, a total disservice. It would also prove to be nigh on impossible, as this quintet incorporates a multitude of musical influences which touch upon various sonic signifiers, including—but not limited to—doom, sludge, black metal, psychedelia, progressive metal and Americana, to create, what is ultimately, an expansive metal record.
Sky Burial isn’t welcoming by any stretch of the imagination, as its cross-colonization of genres would suggest. It doesn’t speak upon first listen, and in order to admire the scope of Sky Burial, attentiveness is crucial to the listeners understanding. Beginning with a 10-minute passage titled “The Survival Fires”, Inter Arma separate those who enjoy metal for its immediacy from those who are willing to sacrifice their time for a slow-burning, but no less satisfying, reward.
Sonically, “The Survival Fires” hauls slabs of sludge across the razor-sharp black metal, and does so without jarring the two dominate genres together. With members bred from the same stable as USBM proponents Bastard Sapling, who released the excellent Dragged From Our Restless Trance last year, it comes as no surprise that black metal is a used as a weapon, particularly the elusive screech of vocalist Mike Paparo. Paparo’s vocals echo beneath vast chasms of pitch black doom, and the timeliness and variation of his interjections adds significant weight to the likes of “Destroyer”. It’s a slow building song that, along with the martial tempest “’sblood”, really pounds you into submission.
There’s also an interesting contrast at play here between the austere atmosphere created by these suffocating songs when compared to the acoustic warmth of Americana that saddles up on “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)” and “Love Absolute”, wherein the use of a wailing theremin appends real authenticity to the latter. The inclusion of these two tracks in the overall dynamic sequencing of Sky Burial increases the cinematic value of this record. And the importance of these songs in setting up their respective companion pieces, “The Long Road Home” and “Sky Burial”, must not be undervalued.
“The Long Road Home”, which appears earlier in the record, is a dazzling display of instrumental ebb and flow. The drums and organ together with the twang of the guitars introduce a somnambulant pace at the beginning, which flows nicely from the meditative mood set by “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)”. The drums then turn orchestral, enhancing the crashing crescendos and the staggering guitar solo worthy of David Gilmour or Gary Moore, before black metal reigns down across the prairie nearing the song’s end.
“Sky Burial”, which finishes the LP, happens to be just as engaging as its earlier counterpart: an encapsulation of each of the ideas explored during the songs that preceded it, with the inclusion of progressive metal flashes that recall the classiness of latter day Mastodon.
Both “The Long Road Home” and “Sky Burial” stand as two conspicuous highlights on this record, as well as being two of the lengthier more varied compositions. But, as mentioned previously, the positioning of the other songs are just as essential to the depth of Sky Burial. Each song moves into the next to establish a sense of completeness: a totality.
If ever a record matched the meaning of the title bestowed upon it, this is it. Sky Burial leaves your earthly remains flayed for the carrion to feast and frees your soul.