Some albums are just too daunting to review. The sheer scope of their canvas, the impossible to capture immediacy of their power or just plain abrasiveness and hate, create a larger than life aura that is enough to cow even the most veteran of reviewers. However, keeping in mind the hungry readers, one must take courage and attempt to make sense of these monumental creations. Inter Arma’s latest “EP,” clocking in at over 45 minutes and therefore betraying its own classification, is one of these creations. The Cavern is true to its namesake in the most profound and important ways: it channels the open bounds of a huge, underground demesne and the suffocating tendrils of constricting tunnels with equal prowess.
At its core lies an absolute dedication to its main theme, verbalized via a heady mix of doom metal, lush with insanely varied synths and guest spots aplenty, including the brilliant violinist Meg Mulhearn of Divine Circles, the enchanting voice of Dorthia Cottrell from Windhand and Shibby Poole from Yautja on the aforementioned synthesizers. The genius of these features is that they’re interspersed prudently throughout the album: a touch of violin at beginning, middle and end, a vocal guest spot from Cottrell to twist the knife right into your heart and a smattering of synths throughout to vary the aural landscape. The center stage is still very much Inter Arma’s and with these names on board, that’s no easy task. The trick to maintaining cohesion here is in the immaculate execution of the main theme.
From the very first notes of the album, we are introduced to the leitmotif that will be our guide in the darkness of this cavern. Emotional, composed to invoke an epic sense of wonder and an unmistakable sorrow that comes with it, this theme is the bleeding heart of the piece. All three movements conform, regulate and breathe in relation to it. The first movement, starting at the beginning and ending around the 13 minute mark, explores it to its depth, with the emotionally laden doom that can be easily likened to Pallbearer. The excellent production, one of the finest aspects of this release, allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the vocals while the theme plays over again and again, driving home its musical message.
The death of the first movement, marked by quicker, writhing riffs that echo back to Mastodon’s Leviathan, quickly ushers in the second movement. The second movement is characterized by two main features: those same quick riffs, that are its main theme, and amazingly accurate drumming. The cymbal work here is some of the best on display in modern metal, accentuating all the peaks and dips of the lightning riffs with masterful precision. A brief respite for violins in the middle reminds us exactly where we are and what we’re listening to but at the end of the day, the second movement is a slight departure from the doom classification in favor of the sludge n’ rock we’ve grown to miss from Mastodon’s earlier career.
The termination of the second movement is a much more complicated thing. Slowly fading away into the third, it seems as if the second part expires painfully, void of all of the energy it once held. In its stead, Inter Arma perfectly position Cottrell for emotional impact: the third movement opens with her unique voice over a slowed down, feedback-laden, version of the original theme. The Black Sabbath influences thrive among the several solos that reside here, only further amplified by Cottrell’s singing. This movement is perhaps the most accomplished of the three, setting us up for the crushing outro that we are soon to stumble upon. It encapsulates what is great about this album: even when exploring varied and intricate styles, the theme is kept true.
And lastly, we come to the outro. This is where The Cavern breaks apart, crashing on top of our heads. Gone are the somewhat soothing bass lines of the past movement, forgotten are the soft violins and synths. What we have here is Inter Arma unveiled: an impossibly heavy denial and meltdown of all that came before. The theme returns, slower than ever, reaching depths delved only by bands like Yob. The feedback is sent through the roof and the drums become cataclysmic. Most of all, the vocals are abrasive and down right painful, screaming their rage at what is ultimately a failure to escape.
Indeed, the very end is just noise, the riffs having swallowed everything down their mighty, fanged gullet. The Cavern comes to a close the same way it started: brightly heralding its own theme while courageously exploring all the broad chasms that doom metal can offer. It’s been said before that we score things too high too often to the point of them losing meaning, but don’t let that fool you; this is a possibly classic album and an almost certain album of the year for me. The Cavern is evocative, earnest and is executed perfectly.
Inter Arma’s The Cavern gets…