Inter Arma - Sky Burial
There are few more exciting and rewarding experiences than hearing a band realise their full potential. It is a joy to behold a group of musicians take that step forward from being a great band to being a fully fledged creative force, from exciting trailblazers to titans and whilst only time will tell just how high Virginia’s Inter Arma will climb, Sky Burial certainly sees them with all hands grasping the mountain side and all pulling in the same direction.
Sky Burial is Inter Arma’s first release for Relapse Records after a string of demos splits and EPs beginning in 2008 and each building upon the last with unwavering progression. Now, progression and progressiveness sit firmly planted at the centre of Inter Armas sound; extended track times, meter shifts, instrumental passages and swirling guitar riffs have always been present in their work but not until Sky Burial has their heady mix of doom, prog, sludge and blackened metal felt so well married and whilst simultaneous comparisons to Neurosis, Baroness and at times Pink Floyd are inevitable it would be unfair to describe what unfolds across Sky Burials nearly hour long run by way of other bands.
With so much going on on one album, the combination of melodically sublime and the viscerally sharp displayed on Sky Burial could easily come across as contrived, as pompous, as ‘over reaching’ but there is a wholly evident sense that each passage of each song has been created with the utmost care and placed precisely where it needs to be. The way in which pummeling album opener ‘The Survival Files’; a track laden with sludge riffs, blast beats and tortured voals waxes and wanes into the soaring double track ‘The Long Road Home’ is a prime example of a band having been given enough time and almost more importantly enough space to carefully map out such a hulking movement of music and flex it’s creative muscles.
It would be rude not to give guitarists Trey Dalton and Steve Russell a mention of their own as it is their evidently thorough understanding of how to both engage and transport the listener that really helps bring the album to life. Guitar fireworks are certainly not in short supply with the albums title track showcasing their highly developed twin guitar styles but it is ‘Sblood’, a song built entirely on dynamic variations of one single note - ONE - underpinned by a throbbing bed of ritualistic drums and shrieking vocals that really stands out and embodies Inter Arma’s ever forward way of thinking.
Intelligence is abundant throughout Sky Burial but never feels cold or calculated, moreso instinctive and it is this that serves best to create an almost ritualistic immersion in sound and a sense that this album was supposed to be made. It is, quite simply sublime. Sky Burial paints a portrait of band that has not so much matured as grown - physically grown into a living, breathing behemoth replete with multiple heads and arms, the power to breathe fire and the ability to utterly steal you away.
Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat
The Man Who Died In His Boat is the latest offering from Grouper’s Liz Harris, an artist who, at times, exists in an echo chamber all of her own; cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of tape hiss, droning guitars and hushed vocals. It is a collection of songs recorded alongside what is often considered to be her finest work, 2008’s achingly beautiful Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, yet whilst these tracks carry all the hallmarks of those found on their ‘mother’ album, The Man Who Died In His Boat plays out gracefully across it’s running time, living a life of it’s own and never once falling in to the category of ‘b side’ album.
The eleven tracks presented here are a mixture of those which could quite happily sit amongst those found on ‘Dragging…’. Characterised by Harris’ gently strummed guitars and low fi tape rumblings, these songs form the basis of what is less so of an ‘album’ proper and more a peek behind the curtain, an almost voyeuristic look in to the recording sessions of ‘Dragging…’ complete with clicks of equipment switches and shuffling footsteps.
Dotted across this welcoming and familiar landscape are other sketches, songs that never were. Moments such as Vanishing Point, with it’s lonesome piano motif, gently build and then quietly disappear no sooner than arriving. Instead of jarring any sense of movement or progression, these rough tracks as it were, simply decline to materialise; offering a break between those more ‘traditional’ tracks which could quite easily blend in to each other if it weren’t for these meditative pauses.
It goes without saying that there are many truly beautiful pieces throughout The Man Who Died In His Boat, but not until the album’s closing tracks does it offer up it’s finest moments. STS slowly builds for it’s 6 minutes with the sound of low guitar hum and a muted rhythmical thud both topped with a vocal line positively dripping with tape echo and buried deep within the mix until album closer Living Room presents you with Harris, alone with her guitar now letting her lyrics do the work.
"…getting harder to fake, acting like everything’s in it’s place".
It is a rare moment of sonic clarity and one that peels back the otherworldly realm of echoes and hiss that Grouper’s records exist in to reveal a very real, very human and very earthly soul.
Abyssal - Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius
This is the second album from UK progressive death metal outfit Abyssal, following one year on from their January 2012 release Denoument. Where Denoument was more of a straight forward death metal affair laced with experimental aspects, ‘Novit…’ is quite clearly a more intentionally atmospheric effort, incorporating longer track times, ambient/noise interludes and a particularly intriguing set of production choices.
Upon hitting play, Abyssal present the first of three atmospheric, instrumental tracks that occur throughout the album before launching in to ‘The Tongue of the Demagogue’ an eight minute unrelenting hulk of a track. A production style positively soaked in reverb is revealed with the guitar tracks melting together on top of the drums to cause a swarm like effect that characterises the rest of the almost one hour long run time.
Now, it must be stated that this decision to coat nearly every sound on the album in reverb yields both positive and negative results. There are moments when it works perfectly, such as on the track ‘Under the Wretched Sun of Hattin’ — the guitars causing an almost sea sick sensation as they rise and fall out of the chasm of noise, however there are a few moments when you are calling out for a sound to punch out through the wall of echoes and it just never comes. This isn’t to say that this damages the album as a listening experience, far from it, what can be more fitting for a death metal album to actually cause a feeling of oppression, helplessness and doom?
With regards to the aforementioned ‘atmospheric interlude’ tracks, their effectiveness is somewhat questionable. They have a tendency to distract from proceeding, somewhat jarring the flow of the album. This is reinforced by what is one of the key moments and highlights of the listen. Tracks five and six have no gap between them whatsoever, with their two distinct flavours and feels crashing together at their meeting point, effortlessly moving from a dense crush through to a searing noise peppered with tortured shrill vocals. It is this ease with which Abyssal move between these two tracks that casts a doubt over not necessarily the existence of the interlude tracks, but moreso their placement/marking out as actual tracks.
The oppression and darkness peak on the ten minute mammoth ‘Created Sick; Commanded to be Well’. This is Abyssal’s best realisation of the atmospherics and death metal blend they’ve striven for throughout the album. The track groans under the weight of the material being played out on top of it, with disorienting rhythmical shifts and a stunning drum performance leaving you challenged, exhausted but never tired.
On Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius, Abyssal achieve precisely what they intend; a forward thinking yet firmly rooted experimental death metal album that instead of delivering the kind of blunt trauma injury you would expect, slowly smothers it’s listener.
Krallice - Years Past Matter
As far as American Black Metal goes, Krallice really hit the nail on the head with Years Past Matter.
It is, on the surface, an incredible exhibition of musical prowess and aggression, pushing all the right ‘black metal’ buttons. Yet lurking further beneath is a prog behemoth (not unlike the boiling, bubbling magma depicted in it’s artwork) and this is what really causes this album to leap from out of the speakers and leave a mark.
Listing track names is a somewhat foolish endeavour, not simply because of the way in which they are written out, but also because of how well each track flows in to eachother. This an LP in it’s truest sense; a ‘long play’ record, a commitment, a journey and with each track clocking in around and past the 10 minute mark, utterly immersive. Impressively, nothing about these songs seems flabby or protracted, with the guitar parts (courtesy of Mick Barr and Colin Marston) ebbing and flowing through rhythmical shifts that are both creations of meticulous thought and second nature ease.
There is an air of bombast within the dense layers of Years Past Matter yet the album never falters under the weight of such seeming audacity. The level of cohesion and cooperation between the members of the band leaves no sense of coasting from anyone involved, this is music written by people who are totally immersed in their work — watching and listening to their designs wreak utter havoc with razor precision.
It is an album that twists, turns, rises and falls yet never meanders or deviates from what is a very clear, concise and envelope pushing artistic vision.