Review Summary: The precursor to THE release of 2013.
I will admit, going into this review I'm fairly biased towards Inter Arma. I love, I mean REALLY love what they were able to accomplish with "Sky Burial". From start to finish, that album is genius. A perfect blend of genres, moods, and atmosphere to create a truly monolithic listening experience... All that being said, listening to "Sundown" was more to see where Inter Arma came from, than to discover a completely unique experience.
In that regard, I was fairly surprised by how different "Sundown" was than "Sky Burial". Despite similarities lying in the vocal style, density of sound, and a frequent nature of shifting between genres, dynamics, and even tempos. The band even incorporated some piano and acoustic guitar (an indicator of the stand-up bass, theremin, lap steel, and organ to come on their sophomore effort).
(Now I will stop talking about "Sky Burial" for a while)
Throughout "Sundown", Inter Arma employ a couple of distinct musical techniques. First, there are a lot of changes from loud to soft, slow to fast, sludge to black (metal that is). This does draw in the listener, and keep them on their toes, adding some excitement to the experience. The positive effects of this fall mainly on the changes in dynamics. However, this shifting does feel heavy-handed more often than it should, and the lack of subtlety with these changes causes some of these tracks to feel choppy. Second is the borrowing of ideas from many different genres. The vocals range from low-pitched shouting, to black metal and even death metal growls (high/low respectively). The percussion is peppered with double-bass pedals and blast-beats, and, interestingly enough, some cow-bell... taking a predominately black metal tone. The guitars and bass in general are voiced in the style of stoner/doom akin to Black Sabbath, and the melodies from these instruments range from black metal, to classic rock, and heavy Sabbath-worship. This blending of multiple styles at once makes most of this album feel very fresh, even if the parts are of constructed of familiar ideas. There also is a frequent use of soloing, with both guitarists finding room in the spotlight. Most of these come during the conclusion of their respective songs, and serve as a nice icing on the proverbial cake of some of them. And while a lot of the solos are really emotional and expressive, hearing them placed in similar spots in these songs and portraying similar moods does feel a bit forced, even though they are well played, and sometimes quite memorable.
But if I had to pick just one major detractor to this album, it would be the production value. It is obvious that these tracks are meant to be very meaty, dense, and punishing. But this being not a pure black metal release, means it can't get away with low quality production. That isn't to say the production is ***ty, it just feels as if it was made on a very tight budget. Everything together sounds quite muddy, and at a certain point, that begins to take away from the heaviness of sound, and this album is sort of dancing between punishingly heavy, and as heavy as a demo-release can be.
All of that being said, with this album Inter Arma have put together a bevy of really good musical ideas, and served them up in a very pleasing way, however rough some of them may be. This is a very emotive album, that sort of forces the listener to move with the music, it just has that effect. And it does take you down some very somber passages, pairing them right next to brutal heaviness, pairing them very well.
(Back to "Sky Burial" comparisons)
"Sundown" is overall, much faster, more brash in delivery, and feels more like it's jumping all over the place than "Sky Burial". Then, looking at "Sky Burial", you realize just how much fat was cut away, while also adding many other elements. The transitions are seamless, the production is much clearer (the highs higher, the lows lower), soloing is used with more tact, a wider range of instruments are used to create texture, and the ideas are much more focused.
Taking all factors into consideration, "Sundown" serves as a promising stepping stone to one of the great musical achievements in recent memory.