Review Summary: They did it again.
Since the release of 2013’s Sky Burial, Inter Arma have made more than a name for themselves in heavy metal. These Virginia natives have pooled doom, sludge, psych, prog, and black metal into a seamless and balanced stew of heaviness that truly is one of the most unique sounds in music today.
The Cavern (as per exposition in the liner notes) is a staggering composition that has been performed live by the band since about 2008, and only recently was discovered by the guys at Relapse Records. The knowledge of this piece alone was enough for the label to invest in its creation, and now we have a 40+ minute Inter Arma epic to enjoy.
Right off the bat, the band announce themselves by interrupting a melancholic introduction with a monolithic riff, which despite the simplicity, might be one of the best Inter Arma have recorded to date. As for the rest of side 1, another powerful riff, followed by a southern-tinged section of guitar noodling, and alternating sections of the first and second riff. There’s even a wizard stick (look it up) feature at the end of the first 18 minutes, which I applaud T.J. Childers for using with such gusto. The next 22 minutes are much more emotive (not to say the first half wasn’t), with more pronounced orchestral strings (hats off to Mikey Allread and Mug Mulhearn), quieter moments of reflection, and a damn good guest vocal from Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell. Another thing about side 2, the balance of sheer technicality and expression is brilliant. The instrumental section from minute 27-34 is an other-worldly ride. Then things end nicely with a reprise of the theme riffs, and some white noise to bookend everything.
Inter Arma’s playing just seems to be at an all-time high on The Cavern. The soloing is the best it’s ever been, the percussion is still rumbly and precise and hectic and inventive (the snare work is superb here), Mike Paparo’s vocals are getting well refined, and the band is playing off one another with great ease. The Cavern covers a wide scope of musical ground in its run time, and displays musicians in the renaissance of their careers. Inter Arma yet again have released one of the best pieces of music of the year, and the release of this behemoth only makes whatever they come up with next that much more exciting.