|Artwork by Orion Landau|
One Thanksgiving years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to get out of the house and go see the Russell Crowe Napoleonic naval epic Master and Commander. Unfortunately, everyone else in town had the same idea, and the only two seats available in the theatre were at the very front and off to the side. We spent the next two hours feeling like we were strapped to the bow of that ship as it heaved through a stormy sea at the bottom of the world. Crew members lost their minds and were cast overboard as the captain desperately chased a bigger and faster enemy. We left the theater feeling overwhelmed and slightly seasick, but ended up talking about that movie all weekend.
That’s the same feeling I got from Inter Arma’s astounding new album, Paradise Gallows, their first full-length since their groundbreaking 2013 release Sky Burial. Lurching through nine songs, Paradise Gallows is a harrowing epic with lyrical peaks and valleys that tosses in everything from blackened discordant guitars to elegiac piano melodies. The cover artwork even includes a sinking ship -- complete with a corpse dangling from the mast -- crashing against a garishly colored sky.
|Trey Dalton. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.|
The album’s opener, "Nomini," is a fairly short instrumental number that begins with a somber and lulling acoustic guitar, then segues into a melody that recalls Sky Burial’s Pink Floydian "The Long Road Home." But lest you get too comfortable, the next song, "An Archer in the Emptiness," stomps in like a giant, propelled by T.J. Childers’ frenetic drumming, and Joe Kerkes’ steady low end. The song crashes and soars, buoyed by Mike Paparo’s trademark angry bellow.
One of the album’s finest moments happens on “Transfiguration,” the album’s frenetic third song, which begins with another discordant crash, with Childers and Kerkes propelling the song as guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton play a repetitive, hypnotic riff, and Paparo shrieks through the chaos.
|Mike Paparo, T.J. Childers, Steven Russell. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.|
Lyrically, Paradise Gallows is equally intense and unexpected, channeling Existential and Romantic themes of despair, spiritual upheaval, and the relentlessness of nature. On the title song, Paparo sounds like a ghost mournfully echoing from a watery grave:
When I was young, I inflicted a heartless sin. I mocked my fate and ran wild until chance led me here, Where I grew drunk on the trace of a fermenting sun, And buried my failures beneath the ebb and flow of the tides.
Time, have you forgotten my sullied name? Time, have you forgotten the shameful wounds? Time, have you forgotten the boundless grief, I so callously wrought?
|Joe Kerkes. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.|
Much has been made -- with good reason -- of the fact that Paparo branches out into clean vocals on this album. Comparisons to Nick Cave are pretty spot-on, particularly on "The Summer Drones," a languid, shimmering song in which the singer alternately intones and bellows the lyrics to masterful effect. Paparo also shines on the final song, "Where the Earth Meets the Sky," where he’s accompanied by haunting backing vocals and a gentle, regretful melody.
With each successive album, Inter Arma has defied genres and gotten away with boundary acrobatics that other bands couldn’t, simply because their ideas are so fearlessly radical and confidently executed. They’ve set a new standard with Paradise Gallows, leaving the listener feeling ravaged, doomed and strangely hopeful.