Like their fellow Richmond-dwellers in Cough, the Richmond five-piece Inter Arma have managed to find a niche for themselves within the well-explored grounds of Southern sludge. Where Cough – and since Cough made their debut, as Inter Arma does now, on Forcefield Records, it doesn’t seem like an unfair comparison – brought an Electric Wizard-style ritualism to the Virginian tradition for abrasive riffing and screaming, Inter Arma’s first full-length, Sundown, finds them adopting some of the sonic temperament and aesthetics of blackened and other extreme metals, so that the double-guitar riff-based groove is only a portion of their attack, and by no means the sole focus stylistically. Inter Arma’s Sundown – available on vinyl or CD/download with different tracklistings – is consistent in its meanness of attitude and visceral anger, but also presents some sonic turns that followers of traditional sludge might not see coming.
And they don’t waste any time in doing so either. The short piano intro “Prolegomenon” leads into the seven-minute “All Time Low,” which starts with guitar feedback and punkish snare taps from drummer T.J. Childers (Lord by Fire). Inter Arma slam through tempo changes with aggression and ease, landing on a cowbell (yes, they broke out the cowbell on the first track) groove that accompanies a riff-fest from guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton. Vocalist Mike Paparo’s throaty rasp is responsible for much of Sundown’s extremity; it’s entirely possible that with, for example, someone who did more clean singing, Inter Arma would be a totally different band. His approach works for the massive slowdown at the end of “All Time Low” however, the tortured screams only adding to the feedbacking atmosphere of viciousness. “2000 Years,” which follows, picks the pace back up and affirms the course “All Time Low” set, ranging in tempo and offering a more memorable chorus before a break brings in one of Sundown’s several standout solos. If nothing else, “2000 Years” acts as a bridge for the CD/download-only cut “Hallucinatorium,” which is shorter by almost half at 3:41 and almost purely black metal in style, Paparo giving a Fenriz-style gurgle over Childers’ blasting and the squibbling fury of Russell and Dalton. Bassist Tommy Brewer still has a ways to go before his standout performance on the closer, but he does well enough with the breakdown beat that closes “Hallucinatorium” as well.
As the centerpiece (intro aside) of the CD version of Sundown, “Epicenter” finds Inter Arma moving through more sludgy progressions. The riff is more groove than twist, and Childers’ toms sound massive leading with a thud into a slowdown from a mid-paced beginning. They play with a back and forth until the guitars drop out and leave Childers and Brewer to back Paparo for a brief moment, perhaps hinting at some minimalist leaning that might show itself on future releases, but at least for now giving some variety to Sundown right where it needs it. By now, Inter Arma are well-established as having more than simple Weedeater-isms on offer, but “Epicenter” – another killer solo section towards its end – shows they can work from that base as well and still bring something of their own to it. And to add to the complexity, the longer “Reclamation” (9:50) sounds like it couldn’t be less concerned with genre or fitting in one scene or the other. A semi-melodic guitar/snare break acts as the foundation for an encompassing build, Paparo’s screams taking a step back to let the music hold sway for just long enough so it really has an effect when he comes back. I don’t know if I’d call Sundown overly dynamic – they’re not doing Opeth-style forest worship interlaced with their sub-core sludge – but the turns they make on a song like “Reclamation” are appreciated and bode well for future output.
Childers has no problem keeping up with Russell and Dalton toward the ultra-grooving end of “Reclamation,” and with the CD/download-only interlude “Prognosticate” being all that stands between it and the closing title-track, the breadth of Sundown is well set and far-ranging. Toying with genre play, the acoustic breather leads into the album’s most plodding cut, and if Inter Arma are stoner anywhere on their debut, it’s on the 12:19 “Sundown.” Elements of Down’s “Bury Me in Smoke” show in the verse riff, but of course Inter Arma are headed someplace completely different stylistically, Brewer adding Geezer-style flourishes under the central riff that absolutely make the song. The approach is simple enough, but the song still has a couple surprises in store, Dan Mills of defunct Richmond metallers Monarch (not to be confused with the French band of the same name) joining Paparo on vocals before a break at the four-minute mark leads to a build that will carry the rest of the song and the album to its adrenaline-fueled finish, fading and dropping to just piano notes to echo the opening of “Prolegomenon” in satisfying full-circle fashion.
With doom groove enough to satisfy the fickle backpatch crowd leery of anyone who might be imposing on their territory and enough of the extreme in their sound to appeal to even the most ADD of younger heads, Inter Arma have struck a lethal balance on Sundown that should carry them well into whatever they do next. The gorgeous LP cover by Eliza Childress is only the beginning of the brutal ambience this five-piece creates, and the more one is willing to dig through the aural rasp they emit, the more there is to get out of doing so. It’s going to be too abrasive for laid back doomers who just want to put something on to chill out with (I wouldn’t recommend the title Relaxing with Inter Arma for a sophomore outing, although…), but for those days where nothing feels heavy enough, Inter Arma might actually be.Forcefield Records, Inter Arma, Richmond, Virginia