Band: Inter Arma
Album: Sulphur English
Label: Relapse Records
Genre: Sludge Metal
Release Date: April 12th, 2019
When creating a successful narrative fiction you want to follow a three-act structure. The first act is what sets the stage, and takes us all the way to the “inciting incident” which propels the audience into the second act. The second act then flips the entire story onto its head, changing everything for our story. And the third act is reached by our last developmental plot point leading to the climax. Everything that has been established will reach its payoff and when done right brings the whole thing together. On Sulphur English, Inter Arma have taken this same approach in the structure of their record.
I’ve always wanted to love Inter Arma. The first time I saw the cover for Paradise Gallows I was awe-struck by the colors in the sky and the intense scene depicted of the boat on roaring waters below. However, the over ninety minute run-time was extremely daunting. It took me awhile to finally explore the album. Once I did I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but I still think 90+ minutes is a lot to ask of a listener and not every minute was earned. It has been nearly three years since Paradise Gallows, and Inter Arma have returned to us with Sulphur English. With a much more palatable runtime of 67 minutes and a more simplistic album cover. Although the cover is more restrained I find it equally as captivating. It conveys a similar power to Burzum’s Aske, but without the ill intentions behind it.
The narrative begins with Bumgardner which starts very quietly, but still conveying a sense or urgency with the high pitched feedback. At the one-minute mark you’re met with an ominously heavy wall of sound. The kick drum sound that graces this record is absolutely incredible. It sounds like the worlds largest petrified tree stump was hollowed out and made into a bass drum. The next track A Waxen Sea sounds similar to An Archer in the Emptiness, but only at first. As the song progresses you discover that Inter Arma has really honed in their talents and influences on this record. The inhuman growls that appear near the end of the track are some of the most impressive I’ve heard this year. Citadel was the first single released, and while it was good on its own it sounds even better flowing with the entire album. I adore the guitar solo in the middle of the track that sounds straight out of Florida’s death metal glory days.
The Howling Winds is the song on the album that I would identify as the “inciting incident.” This song is a complete change of pace from what we’ve experienced. The primal drums throughout the song remind me of Informal Gluttony by BTBAM, it makes you feel like you’re deep within the jungle and unsure of your safety. These feelings are only exacerbated by Mike Paparo’s haunting chants and demonic shrieks. The song ends with the drums getting more intense and urgent, getting to the point that you feel suffocated. The light at the end of the tunnel emerges in the form of the best transition on the entire album.
Stillness begins and gives you a hand that save you from the crushing primal drums of the Howling Winds. The dire feeling that has permeated throughout the record is replaced by utter beauty and introspection. This is the second act of Sulphur English. Halfway through the song the Pink FLoyd influence is undeniable. The guitar solo sounds straight out of David Gilmour’s fingers. Some heavy guitars come back on the latter half of Stillness that followed the smoke toward the riff-filled lands. If you “have” to hear a song before exploring the entire album, make it this one.
The Atavist’s Meridian is my personal favorite song on the album and the moment that takes Sulphur English into its third act. The main riff throughout this song is extremely dizzying and sounds like it could’ve come from Portal’s bag of tricks. The drumming follows a very loose and free jazz structure that compliments the dissonance of the song. The track is a 13 minute epic that is worth experiencing.
The third and final act of Sulphur English is a two-piece act that wraps the album up perfectly. Blood on the Lupines is an atmospheric slow burn of a track that gently leads you through the forest before exploding and dragging you through the swamp. The melancholic crooning on this song really reminded me of the brooding tracks that Cult Leader does. The final track Sulphur English is a titan. The intro of the song would give Meshuggah a hard time finding the time signature. This is the heaviest and most blackened death metal leaning track on the album and is the perfect way to conclude this monolith.
This is usually where I’d find something negative to say about the album whether it be the production, lack of bass, or vocal range. However, none of those things are present. The only thing that I can really say negatively about this album is that Nomini, the intro on Pradise Gallows is more beautiful than Bumgardner. But Sulphur English is rarely a beautiful album. It is a tenaciously crushing and evil record.
My personal favorite movies tend to get better with multiple viewings. You’ll catch little nuances that expound the story and help you to appreciate the final product. Sulphur English is no different. I definitely liked the album a lot on my first listen, but it has gotten better every single time I have put it on. The three distinct sections of the album really add to the experience. Inter Arma have taken a myriad of influences and ideas in when creating this album and still created something unique and unmistakably them. Sulphur English is an aural experience that cannot be missed. You can take my word for it now, or try to justify why it’s not on your year end list later.
2. A Waxen Sea
4. Howling Lands
6. Observance of the Path
7. The Atavist’s Meridian
8. Blood on the Lupines
9. Sulphur English
I’m pretty great. Just ask me, I’ll tell ya.