Inter Arma – New Heaven

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Inter Arma New Heaven review

Inter Arma have never had much use for editing themselves. The Richmond, Virginia metal group are masterful with a long runway and a majestic takeoff, the greatest moments in their catalog often comprising those that seek nothing less than grandeur and triumph. They often open their live sets with “The Long Road Home” from 2013’s Sky Burial, a mournful country-folk dirge that gradually finds its way toward scorching black metal. And the title track of 2016’s Paradise Gallows progresses as if in a state of perpetual ascent, otherworldly in its presence, and skyward in its trajectory. If there’s a constant in Inter Arma’s works as a whole, it’s that they’re always reaching for something just beyond the horizon.

That’s still very much the case on New Heaven, an album whose title indicates the kind of transcendence they’re often in search of. Their fourth album to be released through Relapse—not counting their 2020 covers album Garbers Days Revisited, an enjoyably low-stakes and fun set of reinterpretations of punk and rock classics—New Heaven bypasses the stretch of road ahead of them in favor of a more cosmic kind of metal psychedelia. To call an album like New Heaven “epic” is to risk redundancy—which of their albums isn’t? But Inter Arma’s expansion continues ever outward, this latest batch of songs grounded less by the hints of roots music that occasionally revealed itself within their music than wilder, unfamiliar pursuits.

As huge as New Heaven feels in its scope, in practice it’s remarkably compact. Their shortest album of original material, it presents the most focused and direct application of mesmerizingly thorny, shape-shifting metal. It’s far from their most straightforward, however, despite the band’s own characterization of “Desolation’s Harp” as an attempt to do just that. An early highlight on the album, it roars with classic black metal darkness and urgency, Mike Paparo delivering his most inhuman growls. But even within that forward march there are swirling, hallucinatory flourishes and fascinating harmonic layers.

On New Heaven, Inter Arma use the more limited real estate at their disposal to embark upon some of their most exploratory sonic forays, from the intricate and dissonant arpeggios of the opening title track to the swirling, Oranssi Pazuzu-like extraterrestrial psych-metal of “Violet Seizures,” one of the most thrilling songs they’ve ever recorded. On the album’s second half, they retain that psychedelic sensibility, as filtered through the prism of progressive rock. The Floydian grandeur and scale of “Gardens in the Dark” and “Concrete Cliffs” suits the group’s genre-agnostic sensibilities and tendency toward bigger creations rife with contrast, as well as their haunting juxtaposition between hope and the bleak reality that surrounds us. Paparo doesn’t attempt to reconcile the two so much as present them as inextricable, unavoidable and necessary counterparts; “Were you attempting to calm/A storm that wouldn’t subside?” he asks in the former, “You told me/to always/stay alive,” he growls in the latter.

The group have cited what they call the “Inter Arma curse” in reference to the misfortunes that have followed them for nearly two decades, including stolen passports and various members having come and gone. But they also cite a paradox that’s probably familiar to more than a few bands: They’re either not metal enough for some listeners, or too metal for others. It’s hard to imagine anyone finding the first half of New Heaven not metal enough, the second half less so, but that’s immaterial in context of a singular band in the landscape of heavy music. Compact through it may be, New Heaven presents some of the most ambitious and awesome ideas the group have ever undertaken. Let them cook.

Label: Relapse

Year: 2024

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Inter Arma New Heaven review

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