The long-form, one-track EP always seemed like a requisite step for Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma. Nominally a metal act, they’ve anchored both of their full-length albums to itinerant bristling guitars and doubled-down drums, with sections that plunged alternately into doom’s lurch and death’s leaps. At their best, though, Inter Arma function more as a gyre of genres than a unilateral machine; on last year’s standout Sky Burial, they integrated electric psych sprawl and acoustic pastoral interludes, working as five surly dudes not ashamed to admit that Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were more lifelines than mere gateways. Inter Arma, however, have never been all-inclusive. They plucked from the musical multiverse with an unapologetic ear for the grand, where valleys implied multiple peaks and any sense of quiet only served to amplify the power to come. Despite its more staid moments, Sky Burial aimed for overall ascent. On that eight-piece album, where themes dissolved only to reappear, the divisions between tracks sometimes felt like commercial concessions for the group’s big Relapse Records debut. It’s not hard to imagine its hour-plus runtime moving uninterrupted, a direct line toward the heavens.
They finally do that on The Cavern, Inter Arma’s first single-song EP. Though the track lasts for 46 minutes, it feels like a condensed and uncompromising version of the quintet’s prevailing vision. The band climbs a slope of increasing momentum, where every step seems to find the action growing bigger and bolder. Though these kind of hour-long escapades can often suggest stunts by an act eager for a convenient concept and quick adulation, The Cavern feels like what Inter Arma should have done all along—fade into a piece, rip through an idea without hesitation, fade out of the piece, repeat. Written in 2009, The Cavern predates both Inter Arma LPs, but it was discarded until an employee at Relapse learned of its existence and urged the band to revisit it. After refining the composition, they finally captured it during a long session last year in Tennessee before gilding it with violin from former U.S. Christmas member Meg Mulhearn and vocals from Windhand singer Dorthia Cottrell. It’s the kind of commanding performance that both Inter Arma albums have implied, delivered now without hesitation or penance.
The Cavern centers around a story of epic death: The protagonist wakes in a desert and lingers at the precipice of mortality until, when the sun sets, a light emerges from a cave tucked inside a solitary mountain peak. He crawls toward the luminescent oasis, climbs inside and, as he falls asleep, realizes this will become his final resting place. As the song ends, he gives over to darkness, which takes the shape of a Persephone-like beauty “whose long hair veils her face.” Cottrell supplies the god voice during a gorgeous, kaleidoscope-sky midsection, her echoing vocals stretched between a nightmare and a daydream.
The narrative prevents the ever-fluid Cavern from becoming too formless, from shifting between moods or motifs without warning or reason. Sure, parts emerge wholly unexpected, such as an electrifying and Allman-like guitar turnaround that the band likes to revisit, or Cottrell’s sudden and august arrival. But even those aberrations fit into the meticulously framed whole, part of a comprehensive system. During the first 15 minutes, for instance, the band volleys between two sections—a slow, swollen trudge and a quickened, belligerent half-thrash; that’s when the subject first realizes he’s in peril, stranded in an inhospitable clime. The same surroundings return for the finale, when the hero realizes what he hoped was his salvation actually will be his downfall. The drums press harder, and the once-sharp riffs of the guitar fray at their ends, adding death’s door urgency. It’s a musical inclusio, the signposts pointing to how things have gone from pragmatically bad to existentially black.
The timing of The Cavern is fortuitous. Had Inter Arma released it ahead of both of their albums, especially before the Relapse deal, it’s easy to imagine the audacity being overlooked as a gimmick from a young, anonymous act. But Sundown and Sky Burial broadcasted the range of Inter Arma, or the limits to which they were willing to go to conjure an air of triumph. This reconfigured take on The Cavern, which arrives after the band has had a chance to mature on the road and in the studio, condenses and cements those elements, never allowing for any sign of an easy exit. It’s their most riveting release to date, a simple story charged by a complicated sound.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1thSdOX