No worries if you haven’t tapped into latent knowledge of the elemental table since your last chemistry class; we’ve got you covered. Sulphur is (ironically, here) a non-metallic element among the most abundant in the world. It’s still usually associated with a pungent rotten-egg smell. In the Bible, there are at least 15 references to the stench of sulphur or its synonym, brimstone. It’s what rains down during the Book of Revelation, and left Sodom and Gomorrah as smoldering rubble. The miasma of sulphur is a harbinger of doom; the stink of (un)holy destruction.
Sulphur English—the newest odyssey from Virginian quintet Inter Arma—shares much in common with its direct predecessor (2016’s Paradise Gallows). While Inter Arma have always been difficult to categorize, both albums eclipse 66 minutes and feature elements of cosmic doom-death, dissonant black metal and Neurosis’ Souls at Zero post-whatever heaviness. Just listen to the churning chords and entrancing tom rhythms of “Howling Lands” for all of the above.
For Inter Arma, transcendence is earned in several ways. They’ve tirelessly toured the country and the globe, and their music is shaped by the highs and lows of those experiences. They explore both the sweaty déjà vu of a cramped van on a familiar Great Plains highway and lightning strikes of electric profundity. Inter Arma are rarely interested in linearity during their musical journey. As described in “Wailing Moon” from 2012’s Destroyer EP: “The path that I roam ends in a maze of stars.”
By its completion, Sulphur English feels like Paradise Gallows conceived through a dark mirror. “A Waxen Sea” is like the discordant doppelganger of “An Archer in the Emptiness,” where drummer T.J. Childers propels riffs heavier than a dying sun. Vocalist Mike Paparo’s reverberating space sermons are once again joined by a goth drone on “Stillness” and “Blood on the Lupines.” With engineer Mikey Allred returning to the helm, Inter Arma sound like they’re somewhere between our planet and the next galaxy, between their own bodies and their astral projections.
But the details and embellishments feel bleaker on Sulphur English. This time there’s no sky-lighting comet tail to cling to, like the recurring harmonized guitar motif that bookends Paradise Gallows and anchors “Potomac.” While Gallows had an undercurrent of tie-dye psychedelia, Sulphur English feels like a mythic storm approaching. The solos in “Citadel” are grim and muted, tucked into the folds of the song’s mortuary drape. Even “Observances of the Path” feels less like a piano interlude and more like it’s haunting the silence between epics.
Inter Arma see beauty in destruction. Whether it’s the flame-swallowed tree on the album cover or a sky burial, devastation and decay continue to inspire creation. Debut LP Sundown pictured a world where, like Revelations, humanity atones for its collective indiscretions. Sulphur English makes you wonder if flowers later sprouted from Gomorrah’s ashes.
Inter Arma will perform at the Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Pre-Fest on April 12 with Integrity, Full of Hell, Cloak and Devil Master.