Metal informed by the lore of dragons, wizards and vikings tends to rely on a traditional songwriting formula and lyrical themes, and unless performed convincingly there often isn’t much sense of adventure or engaging story–telling about it. Yeah, Amon Amarth are OK, but anyone’s favourite band? (Go on, prove me wrong). Although Inter Arma ostensibly are not that kind of metal, the scope of and variation between styles within Paradise Gallows makes it one of those albums that tells a story, in the same manner of Oceanic or even School’s Out. In this case it’s a sprawling, solemn adventure story, standing at 70 minutes, more Southern Gothic than fantasy and lyrically concerned with the hubris and futility of humanity (just look at the artwork). The move between styles, from melancholic country to death metal to doom and onward and back again, makes a listen to Paradise Gallows an undertaking of the best kind.
The plucked, singled acoustic notes of Nomini turn on a penny into a big, twin guitar solo that David Gilmour would love. One and a half minutes later An Archer Into The Emptiness clatters in with blast beats, pinging ride hits, blocky chugged chords and cavernous death growls, with a pinch harmonic snuck in here and there. Transfiguration is a neat demonstration of Inter Arma’s ability to draw on a mix of styles to create something distinctive; with the drums pummelling away it isn’t a slow track, but the amount of space in the guitars and the echoing quality of the vocals means it’s not a heads–down thrasher. A strange but effective combination. And when the high–pitched black metal shriek comes in it’s freaky music to be listening to in the growing dark. The slow blocky chugging of next track Primordial Wound turns from echoing and clean–sung vocals into cries, with the guitars bursting into a tumbling doom lurch. The Summer Drones, despite the imperative feel of the loudspeaker FX on the intro vocals, brings a slightly stoner, and, suitably, droning feel to the mix. Potomac goes full–on wig out during the guitar solo, which is most of the song; I’d be very surprised if guitarists Trey Dalton and Steve Russell didn’t name David Gilmour as a major influence. Eponymous track The Paradise Gallows slides from post–rock into doom, but even then the melodies suggest a dark country music. Violent Constellations shifts between death and black metal before dooming out seven and a half minutes in, then plays a skronky melody replete with whammy bar squeals. And then it’s back to that sparse acoustic guitar, this time with dusty baritone vocals and a harmonium (a type of organ, it turns out) for closing track Where The Earth Meets The Sky, a dark country ode to an unnamed, guiding but ever–distant force of nature. The point of all this is that each song feels more like a chapter rather tracks #1–9 of generic doom album.
Mixing styles can be effective, but isn’t an end in itself (Hayseed Dixie’s best material is not their bluegrass covers of classic rock numbers, but their originals). Rather, it’s a case of the opposite; Inter Arma have the songwriting ability to push their songs into different areas whilst keeping their songs cohesive.
One of my lasting impressions of this album, despite the strong doom influence, is one of space. Bookending the album with plaintive, yearning country, a sound associated with rootlessness, renders upon a scope unfathomable a world of a breadth and nature that leaves those upon its surface scattered bearers of isolation. The best albums create their own worlds whilst coming to shape a listener’s view of this one, and the more I listen to Paradise Gallows the bigger the world becomes.