Richmond metal lords, Inter Arma, continue to ride the crest as one of the last few saving graces who continue to reconfigure the genre of metal and what it has the potential to offer. While their sophomore LP, Sky Burial proved their skillset to incorporate a span of genres from mathy-prog assaults, to psych-rock sojourns, and harrowing themes of decay and dread, Inter Arma continue to manifest these ideas carefully and thoughtfully with their fourth album, Sulphur English. Serving as somewhat of an extension from 2016’s Paradise Gallows, Inter Arma have somehow managed to reach an even grander peak – a group possessed by something fantastically nightmarish and divine all at once.
Sulphur English begins like a horror flick. With a silvery, wavering tone that quietly hangs in space, Inter Arma immediately create a foreboding presence that conjures images of vulnerability and despair; you can’t help but anticipate the worst. But while the outfit can transfix their listeners, they, too, can immediately break that aura and pummel them with their cinematic and jarring take on experimental metal. But to put your personal stamp on anything isn’t always seamless. The few who manage to surpass the forgotten have an innate quality to mix the solution and offer their interpretation. Inter Arma continue to be one of the selected few who persevere as a group quickly living up to prodigy status.
Sulphur English isn’t necessarily a surprise – that’s not a jab on any level, either. Considering their discography, Inter Arma have proven themselves quite some time ago. What makes their new LP such a success is their continued dedication to reconfigure and elevate their already grand efforts. From production quality to simple vocal manipulation, and the variety that encapsulates these new songs, it’s these types of small touchstones that position the group in a realm all their own. Our first taste was “Citadel”, a quintessential reintroduction to Inter Arma since Paradise Gallows – a confident track that gradually blooms with slow builds and vocalist, Mike Paparo’s unwavering, guttural howls.
But while we can rely on Inter Arma to produce near-perfect metal tracks, they can shift direction, offering something entirely different. “Stillness”, the LP’s centerpiece gem is a scaled-back, psych odyssey, showing the group at their most pensive. Albeit the track eventually manifests with more ferocity and fervent, Inter Arma produce it quietly and with conviction, a feat they’ve been perfecting more and more over time.
Songs like “Blood on the Lupines” follow this trend. It could easily be mistaken for a Swans track. In all its cryptic glory, Inter Arma paint images of pure apprehension while “The Atavist’s Meridian” pushes past traditional metal structure and opts for mathy passages that are highlighted by Paparo’s devilish, vile spew. But despite Inter Arma’s ability to harness different styles and genres, their efforts never come off as desperation, in fact, the fluidity which flows through not just Sulphur English, but their previous efforts is wildly impressive. They possess the quality of the underdog, pushing past labels by establishing new ones for themselves.
While its running time that manages to break an hour, Sulphur English has the potential to be one of the most talked-about metal LPs of the year. Inter Arma achieve this prospect quite easily. Songs like “Howling Lands” bustle with cannonade drum strikes while Paparo utilizes vocal variations throughout. “Sulphur English” calls to mind Mastodon’s technical precision with black metal potency lingering in its core. Inter Arma’s blueprint is intoxicating, but while Sulphur English throws advancements throughout its tracks, the group never find themselves in limbo despite its slight predictability. They’ve created another stunning collection. From its all-encompassing reverie to the LP’s themes of the arcane, Inter Arma are most certainly in their wheelhouse, continuing to redefine what it means to be a modern-day metal band.