Inter Arma stand perched at the height of their career. From the early days of Sky Burial (and the EP which came before it) and the underground prestige that release bought them, through increasing interest in their music, stoked by The Cavern and Paradise Gallows, the band have been steadily gaining in traction. Sulphur English is thus an arguably monumental release for them; the public eye of the metal community is already fixed firmly on them, set there by their previous album and their long road towards it. So what comes next for a band in this situation, known for their heaviness, willingness to experiment, and unrelenting, exacting music?
Happily for us, what happens is that Inter Arma decide to double down, plunging back into a lot of what made their earlier releases so powerful while still keeping just enough of the newer flavors to make things stick. The result is that Sulphur English is way heavier than Paradise Gallows. Don’t get me wrong, that album had plenty of heavy on it. But it also dove deeper into the psychedelic rock side of things, channeling more emotive and chromatic sounds. For the most part, Sulphur English communicates more with Sky Burial, channeling Inter Arma’s ability to create aggression on a dime and bury (get it) their listeners in riff after furious riff.
However, Sulphur English is its own album in two important ways. First, its heaviness is way deeper and more “rumbling” than Inter Arma’s material to date. The crushing, self-titled closing track is a great example of this; something about how the bass roils beneath the guitars, whose tone is also deeper and more pronounced, creates a more muscular sound and aesthetic. Where Sky Burial was crushing and The Cavern mystical and ethereal, Sulphur English is all-encompassing and overwhelming. To suit, the composition itself has shifted a bit. You’ll find that the album is generally slower, taking its time more often with riffs rather than moving blazingly fast between them. “A Waxen Sea” is an example of the end result: the main riff, in its slow, ponder-some heaviness, just reeks of a certain sinister mood that infects the entire album.
This is where the other unique attribute of Sulphur English comes in. This can be heard on what is arguably the linchpin of the album, “Stillness”, smack dab in its middle. Aptly titled, this track harks back to Inter Arma’s softer side, conjuring The Cavern or “Where the Earth Meets the Sky” from Paradise Gallows. Thus, it is a moody track, fueled mostly by an acoustic guitar, deep, sonorous vocals, and a hauntingly vintage synth track which fills in the blank spots. The second half of the track builds up on these emotions and timbres by exploding into classic doom metal glory, replete with a beautiful solo and outro. The placement of this track, right after the churning build up of “Howling Lands” and right before “The Atavist’s Meridian” (with the addition of a short interlude), frames it perfectly, both letting us shed some of the tension from the first half of the album while also allowing us to prepare for one of the band’s heaviest tracks to date, where the vocals make a triumphant return to their blackened styled screams.
The last surprise Inter Arma have in store for us is “Blood on the Lupines”, a cavernous (get it) throwback to the heavier, darker moments on The Cavern. It’s truly a bottomless track, possessed by one of the slower and more drawn out riffs of the band’s career which follows on the heels of a quieter but inherently unsettling passage. This in turn sets us up beautifully for the closing track, with which this review itself comes full circle and arrives at its end. Sulphur English ends as it began, with a more tellurian, musky, sinister version of Inter Arma’s basic components. It continues the band’s exploration of their own sound and the limits of their unique blend of doom, psychedelic rock, black metal and a successful one at that.
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Inter Arma’s Sulphur English sees release this Friday, April 12th. You can head on over to the band’s Bandcamp link above to pre-order it.