Inter Arma- Sky Burial

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Richmond music scene has had some incredible talent over the years, and one of the bands that stood out to me was Inter Arma. Formed in 2006, the group released their debut full length Sundown on Forcefield Records and immediately stood out to me thanks to their combination of sludge and black metal with some hints of southern groove. Three years later Inter Arma has returned with Sky Burial, and they have expanded their sound further outward to incorporate additional styles. It’s a lengthy release that will take multiple listens to fully explore, but should help to put this group on a lot of people’s radar and remain one of the standout albums of 2013.

Sky Burial spans over an hour in length, and the instrumentals head in all sorts of different directions during that period of time. Four of the eight tracks are ten minutes or longer, and Inter Arma has emphasized arrangements that build up slowly and incorporate a wide variety of styles in the course of one song. Black metal and sludge still make up the base of many of the band’s arrangements, but there are lots of subtle nuances that make this material sound different from other acts that pull from these same styles. Sometimes the heavier assault subsides and Inter Arma lets waves of sound ebb and flow in a way that is reminiscent of post rock, while other times they let some southern roots take over and offer mellow acoustic bits. The first time through it is all a bit overwhelming, as despite the fact that the songs are stretched out it’s hard to focus on all of the different elements. What impresses me the most is how Sky Burial is able to hit every end of the spectrum, as one minute it might lull the listener into a tranquil state with laid back, shimmering melodies before hitting them with a full-on distorted assault. Despite the hour plus running time I didn’t find the material becoming repetitive, and the amount of complexity and variation far surpassed what I was initially expecting.

The vocals alternate between high and low pitches, but remain consistently harsh for the entirety of Sky Burial. This combination works extremely well, and helps to give Inter Arma a more versatile feel as there is a bit of unpredictability when it comes to whether a passage will use shrieks or growls. Stylistically the performance reminds me of the higher shrieks of black metal mixed with the type of shouting/growling of post metal and sludge, but the way that the group utilizes these two styles prevents them from completely falling into either genre. However, despite the sheer amount of power that the vocals bring to the table they were mixed relatively low and a result tend to get lost in the wall of sound. I found myself wishing that the harsher pitches were a little more prominent, but this is ultimately a minor issue and doesn’t take away that much from the overall arrangements.

Inter Arma has taken the sludge and black metal elements from Sundown and added additional metal styles as well as a hint of Southern blues and rock, giving them a sound that’s truly their own and hard to pin down into one particular category. Sky Burial is an ambitious effort that fully realizes its ideas and although some of these tracks take time to reveal all of their details, once it all sinks in listeners will be hooked. While I certainly enjoyed what these guys had to offer previously, they have taken their material to a whole other level this time around and created something truly special.

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