I really, really love atmospheric sludge metal. Even though I don’t have a massive amount of experience with it, it’s definitely in my top 5 metal genres, maybe top 3 when done well. I also really, really hate post-metal. Now this is a bit of a strange opinion, as the general consensus is that post-metal and atmospheric sludge metal mean essentially the same thing. I would argue however, that they absolutely do not. In my mind, atmospheric sludge metal is something more in the vain of Neurosis. Sludge metal that uses atmosphere and older post-rock elements to create massive, momentous atmospheres, and often utilize other genres while still keeping very much in the realm of sludge metal. Post-metal on the other hand, is essentially just really heavy 3rd wave post-rock. Now, despite my distaste for one and like for the other, this is not to say that all atmospheric sludge metal acts are amazing, and all post-metal acts are steaming piles of cat vomit and old condoms, mixed together with the same 3 types of chord progressions over and over again. However I will say that when a band really takes what atmospheric sludge metal means to me at heart, it’s something I can greatly appreciate.
I love creative music, music that pushes boundaries. I also like metal, which is only known for being very creative in a more modern sense. Most of the old out there bands did that by a bit of an accident (or so it seemed that way much of the time). When they did, they became cult classics (i.e, Written in Waters, Nespithe, Drawing Down the Moon, etc.). Inter Arma is a modern band, with a modern sense of how atmospheric sludge metal should work, however they maintain that bit of creativity and stay at least somewhat true to the foundations that Neurosis laid upon the world. In such they create an epic adventure of an album, filled with variety in emotional expression, and one that I certainly won’t forget any time soon.
That being said, I do feel like the album doesn’t really “start” until track 4. The intro is pretty much an afterthought, and to me seems honestly a bit pointless, especially since it doesn’t have much in common with the rest of the album. Tracks 2 and 3 are basically the same track, stated in slightly different ways. That’s not to say they’re bad, quite the opposite. The first introduction you get to the album are these brutal, sludgy atmospheres, which are done well here. However I can hear that on any old album. Lots of bands do really awesome, super heavy, doomy sludge metal, even atmo sludge bands. What makes this album special is what comes after.
Primordial Wound takes a new angle, moving away from sludge and into straight up doom metal. It’s a hypnotic, almost ritual like track, which is backed up by the distant, ancient sounding ritual vocals, almost like some kind of Gregorian chant. This is the first demonstration of how Inter Arma can change styles from track to track without sounding schizophrenic. And they prove me correct in the next two tracks which I think are the highlights of the album.
The Summer Drones and Potomac are the two shortest tracks on the album sans the intro, but both are the biggest statements that Paradise Gallows makes. Summer Drones is structured almost like a modern Swans track, starting off with some low-key, yet ominous bass riff that evolves into these soaring, driving guitars that keep droning their riffs louder and louder until you can’t take it anymore. Then they keep going anyway. It climaxes in a way that doesn’t give a resolution, so it feels like you just took at that pounding for no reason, and yet despite feeling no sanctification, you enjoyed every moment of it. There’s a sexual joke in there somewhere, but I feel like there’s no way I could make without sounding overly explicit, even for me. Use your imagination. Anyway, it segues into Potomac, which, in a bizarre yet not unwelcome turn of events, is this epic, heavy metal-esque ballad that puts the entire album on it’s head. God fucking damn, that main riff is going to be stuck in my head for a while, that’s legendary shit right there. If you were tasked with creating the most epic and memorable sludge metal track possible, you would be hard pressed to do better than this. I feel like it’s the best track on the album, which is no disrespect to the rest of the tracks (except maybe the intro). This just feels like something I haven’t heard much before, if ever. You don’t typically hear riffs that sound like they came from if Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was released in 2010 in a sludge metal album. And now that I heard it, I fucking want more, which sucks, because there’s no way to google “heavy metal riffs in sludge metal albums” and find good results. I tried, fucking Godflesh came up. It kinda sucks now, because this band has set a president of shit I want that I can never find by any other way than sheer luck.
And by sheer luck (or stupidity, probably stupidity) Potomac managed to end the worst possible fashion possible. It’s a fucking fade out. Like what the mother fuck? I was actually thinking to myself “you know, if this does anything but fade out, this is gonna be one of my tracks of the year”, AND IT FUCKING FADES OUT LIKE ARE YOU SHITTING ME? This is literally KD going to the Warriors, nigga chose the one solution out of every conceivable solution that no one wanted, how do you fuck up that bad? KD could’ve literally hung up his cleats and joined the Westboro Baptist Church and everyone would’ve been like “ok KD, you do you man, you do you”. But no, he wanted to be the evil empire. This is the evil empire of track endings. Ok yeah, maybe as an album closer that would’ve been ok, but fuck there’s still 3 more tracks to go, jesus. If there is one actual fault of this album, it’s the transitions. The track transitions are in these awkward states where they flow from one to the other, but not directly. So like one track will end, then fade out slightly and there new track will begin. It makes it seem like the tracks are trying to be related to each other, but they really aren’t in any way. It’s not really terrible, just really awkward.
The final 3 tracks aren’t quite as good as the two middle ones, but still of high quality, as expected. The title track continues on the theme of Potomac, while giving it a much more sludgy vibe, and trading epic solo material with more questioning, and sometimes even a bit bluesy sludge riffs. It leads right into Violent Constellations, which as the title implies, is pretty fucking violent. It harkens back much towards the earlier tracks, however nothing is held back as it acts as a rhythmic assault on the ears. This track is also where the black metal influences are the most pronounced, in both guitar tone and blast beats. I feel like the black metal aspects are played up a bit too much by other people, but I will agree that they are there. It’s probably a good thing they aren’t a played up, I feel like there’s just enough to keep things spicy without detracting from the fact that this is a sludge album. Kinda like a cherry on top, except people would actually eat it. If someone actually eats the cherry on top, don’t trust them, that’s the kind of dude who’s going to say yes to absolutely everything and his computer will crash because he clicked on too many popups that said “CONGRATULATIONS, YOU WON!!!!” and “WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU PAY FOR DICK PILLS??!!”. As a closer, I feel like it would’ve been fine, definitely better than what actually closed the album.
In a way, aside from the intro and outro, the album kind of goes full circle. Starts off raw, gets more progressive towards the middle, then ends really raw. I would’ve like that as a possible intentional detail if tracks 2-8 had been the whole album. Unfortunately this is not the case. The final track, Where the Earth Meets the Sky, is essentially a whimper, focusing on acoustic (this actually said “autistic” for like 10 minutes until I realized what I wrote, wow) guitar and the promise of an epic secret track. Full disclosure: I fucking HATE secret tracks. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them. There has never been a good secret track in the history of music. They’re supposed to be rewards for those who stayed around after the credits so to speak, and instead act as ways to mock the listener, saying “Haha holy shit, you actually just sat through 20 minutes of silence for this? What a fucking loser! What would your mom think of you if she saw you now? Hey, let’s take his lunch money…” etc. This album is no different. After 5:30 of actual music, you get 20 minutes of silence until your finally greeted with basically that shit you get that takes like 20 minutes to actually get out of your asshole, and then when it is it’s like the size of a quarter. You’re massively disappointed and you feel like nature itself just conspired to rip you the fuck off.
That said, aside from the transitions between tracks, none of the negative things I said about this album are really faults, just disappointments that prevented it from being better than it already was. I can shit talk that fade all I want, but let’s be real, it’s a fade that literally lasted like 10 seconds of the 70 minute album. As whole, this is absolutely my sludge metal AOTY so far, and I’m really curious to see what tops this, both in terms of heaviness, and sheer creativity in atmosphere.