It's been some time lately since I got hooked into a metal song right away after clicking το one of these bandcamp play buttons (thanks to the cool guys at metalbandcamp.com, as usual). Inter Arma's "The Cavern" starts off with a wondrous and threatening wall of noise and feedback, like some indian ayahuaska-infused psychedelic ritual, to melt into a lyrical, emotive clean guitar passage, thereafter eloquently harmonized by violin and more guitars. Pause. Outburst of electric guitar and heavy drumming, monolithic palm muted riff, whose second part rises in fierce, vigorous dual heavy metal leads. That's a little bit of everything that is good, in just three and a half minutes. A good way to start an album.
What also somewhat excited me after briefly googling the band, is that Inter Arma are obviously lumped into the post-metal category, Mastodon/Baroness references, Relapse contract and all, however seem to contain an essence that is not usually found in the said style, or at least is more vibrant to the context of my personal preferences. "The Cavern" is a release that is comprised of the 45 minute same-titled song, with a lyrical theme that concerns the survival of an exiled man in the hostile desert, a theme that very typically shares spiritual extensions (for example, as a rite of passage for the individual) in various cultures that it is found, from the Aborigines, to ancient Spartans, to the manner by which such survival stories are presented in modern documentaries. In short, we have a presentation that hints over something "deeper" than what your typical metal band goes for, but does such a thing indeed exist in the contents?
It doesn't take long for the enthusiasm to somewhat curb, after hearing the band repeating the (awesome) after-intro riff for about well.. more minutes than it should have. Ah, I am reminded that this comes from "sludge", the sole sub-genre in metal that I cannot get myself to listen to, as the extreme, hardcore-infused version of doom without the lyricism and melody. Much repetition, less variation, less trance-like quality comparing to drone music (good drone music, not that one coming solely from guitar feedback, please). And god-damn boring vocals. Of all these, Inter Arma are indeed guilty concerning the vocal part (the signer's polite, pitched shout doing almost nothing for me) but only partly on the others. This is obviously a very talented and musically competent band, not at all shy to create complex, soloist-style, dual guitar riffing in-between all the groovy, slow parts. The part between the introduction and the 20th minute wavers in-between these two styles, sometimes being quite awesome, sometimes leaving me struggling to keep my attention. The melancholic clean guitar and violin fortunately show up again around then, deepening the mood with an added epic twist in one of the best sections of the song, until an ambient break happens that creates a evident bridge between a first and a second part of the song.
Lyrically, from 20 to 26 minutes, this part represents the protagonist seeing a light that guides him/her to a descent (judging by the cover) to the cavern you might have expected from the title. There, although the hero finds water, his/her certainty of dying and consequent magical transportation to a mountain peak, greeted by an "ethereal woman" points that all these might be probably the illusory thoughts that the brain produces at the last stage before death. The music seems to point towards that direction too, as after some needlessly excessive soloing around the end of the "Americana" section (a bloated part generally) it begins to take a turn for the darker. And it ends in quite an agonized way, using a consecutively slower played variation of the beginning riff, atop increasingly reverbed screaming and feedback. No happy ending I suppose here.
The long-form composition is a bet generally taken at odds against. Although demands might be lowered given to them being conceived as experimental works, the payback isn't big either, as not a lot of people have the patience to sit through a 45 minute song, or remember where they left it off anytime they had to go. Taking this into consideration, I will applaud the band for the boldness, even though they did not avoid completely the usual pitfalls, such as hit and miss riffing and overlong parts. But undoubtedly, the composition flows just fine and features many strong moments throughout. Although I am still kind of distant to the style of the band, their adventurous approach certainly will succeed in being able to connect them with a wider audience, such as that of prog or atmospheric metal. The label seems to have grasped that and rather deceptively also uses the label black metal in describing them. While there might be atmospheric echoes of the Cascadian style of bm present in Inter Arma (mostly in the acoustic, droning parts) this is like saying one plays heavy metal for using a Malmsteen-like scale. The band doesn't need such cheap marketing. It's also worth noting that this is in fact a 2009 composition, recorded by the band as written in the BC page in-between tours. This creates some justified expectations for their contemporary and future work.