Roughly one year after Sulphur English sent shockwaves through the scene, the band that refuses classification delivers a massive tribute to their idols.
Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):
Covers. In the rock and metal world, it’s a mixed bag. In my opinion there are three kinds of covers: ones that crash and burn, ones that seem to just bandy about and then there are the ones that take the sonic blueprint of the original and utilize the covering band’s style to create something wholly unique. Most usually fall into the first category; don’t argue with me. Garage Inc. has a few good songs (The Prince, Am I Evil, Crash Course in Brain Surgery & Turn the Page being notable examples), but the cover of Whiskey in the Jar is a disgrace to the legacy of PHIL LYNOTT and an affront to God. Some have fallen into the middle category (see some of MAIDEN’s b-sides), but only a few have achieved the latter category. Obvious examples include WHITNEY HOUSTON’s cover of DOLLY PARTON’s I Will Always Love You, JUDAS PRIEST’s take on the SPOOKY TOOTH number Better By You, Better Than Me and more recently, PALLBEARER’s heavenly reinterpretation of Type O Negative’s Love You to Death.
Enter INTER ARMA, one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the last decade. Their fusion of sludge, post metal, doom, death metal, black metal, prog, southern rock, heavy psych and folk has left them in a category all their own. They are the kind of band that can shift from GRATEFUL DEAD and PINK FLOYD-inspired soaring leads to the crushing chaos of NEUROSIS mingling with DARKTHRONE. In their brief but storied history, they have released four studio albums and two EPs that leave you wondering what on earth you’ve just experienced. But it is here on Garbers Days Revisited where INTER ARMA show how truly varied their influences are by covering songs from industrial music’s titans (MINISTRY and NINE INCH NAILS), one of the greatest musicians of the 70’s (NEIL YOUNG), the defining hardcore band of the 80’s (CRO-MAGS), a cult alternative band (HÜSKER DÜ), the band that helped pioneer black metal (VENOM), the Midwest rock and roll hero (TOM PETTY) and finally, the 80’s cultural icon that still shapes the sound of modern music (PRINCE). And where on the covers scale do INTER ARMA fall with this wide collection of tunes? I can already tell you now that the band's near perfect streak isn’t halted here.
To lead off this affair is the band covering MINISTRY’s Scarecrow from the band’s 1992 LP Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed & the Way to Suck Eggs. The MINISTRY track is an eight minute slow burn of pure industrial rage that follows on the heels of one of their most popular songs in the album’s track listing. INTER ARMA trim a minute or so off the original and begin the record with a signature vocal attack from Mike Paparo, the sledge hammer riffing of Trey Dalton and Steven Russell, the ham fisted bass of Andrew LaCour and the GODLY drumming of T.J. Childers. In keeping with the track’s aesthetic, it stays at a mid paced chug throughout as Russell and Dalton keep everything anchored. Paparo brings his wickedly vile vocal cords out to play and makes Uncle Al seem quaint in comparison. Lacour and Childers keep the rhythm section tight as the proceedings play out like the sandcrawler that took R2-D2 and C-3PO at the beginning of A New Hope. Pure, mechanical bliss for all those who want to hear a take that will flatten you from the get go. In my opinion, this would’ve been a worthy bonus track to counterpoint the psychedelic Pollacking of the eardrums that is Paradise Gallows (2016). While most of these were recorded between tours, I wouldn’t be surprised if this cover idea had it’s origin during that time period. All in all, a wondrous take on an industrial band’s track from one of their most heralded releases.
When the first single announced for Garbers Days was INTER ARMA tackling NEIL YOUNG’s Southern Man, I knew they would do it justice. But man was I completely unprepared for how UTTERLY DEVASTATING they would spin it. Eschewing the original arrangement’s introduction of a honky tonk piano and simplistic riff pattern, INTER ARMA decided it’s much more effective to start this little giant by giving you goose flesh. Beginning with a choral vocal not too dissimilar from the elegiac Stillness from Sulphur English (2019), the group take YOUNG’s original and give it a haunting aura, especially considering the song’s content and current world situation, proceeding to drag it into the very depths of hell. A squall of feedback gives way to the titanic rendition of the main riff and Childers’ drumming raining down like double decker buses. Pretty soon, Mike Paparo unleashes a purely vitriolic and rage filled black metal tinged take on YOUNG’s original croon that decried the racism of the Antebellum South. And while not wanting to dive too heavily into political discourse, this track does come at a very poignant time in our culture. After the main two verses, Russell and Dalton begin their signature tagteam move of wailing southern rock inspired guitar soloing that sounds as if DUANE ALLMAN and JIMI HENDRIX were possessing their very souls. I’m not going to lie to you, the very first time I heard this after the track was released, I let out an audible “holy shit“ and instantly hit replay. I would really hope that this becomes a staple in their live set. Much like the MINISTRY cover, they are able to take Southern Man’s original formula and add their own unique spin to an iconic song.
What we have next are two absolute crushers. The band decide to flex their hardcore muscles by covering Hard Times by CRO-MAGS. The sludgy nature of INTER ARMA’s guitar playing adds a much bulkier sound to an already fat as hell riff roller coaster. You can't help but smile when they all jumped in for a gang vocal and yelled “CRO MAG!” It was seriously so much fun and I really believe that this also could serve well to be put on a set list in between lengthier tracks such as Transfiguration or The Atavist’s Meridian to get the crowd wild again.
We are then treated to a very sinister take on a song by the one and only Mr. TRENT REZNOR. March of the Pigs benefits greatly from the fist in the face rage that Paparo has always been able to invoke through his performances on any of the band’s back catalogue. The stop and start when he also does a rare clean vocal is also very much a part of what adds to the complete and total uniqueness that INTER ARMA display in this version of March. REZNOR would be definitely impressed if these guys ever had the opportunity to perform this in front of him.
The middle portion of the record sees a slight duality in the nature of the song selection. The band decided to cover The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill by beloved alternative/post hardcore band HÜSKER DÜ. In adding their own unique spin, INTER ARMA decided to take it into as much left-field territory as they could. While the original track is a very straightforward 1980’s punk song, the group drive it towards a sludgier and more blackened area of the map. Childers and Lacour keep the rhythm section as tight as can be while Russell and Dalton bring the thunderclap riffing alongside Paparo’s venomous take on the words of GRANT HART. I initially wasn’t too familiar with HÜSKER DÜ but after hearing this cover, I was intrigued enough to check out the original and I can definitely say that the spin INTER ARMA applied was very wise indeed.
Speaking of a gnarly track, VENOM’s In League with Satan gets the reinterpretation treatment. Even though the band tried to play this one very close to the nose in terms of arrangement, there was a little bit more added atmosphere than the original VENOM cut. I also have to give hats off to Russell and Dalton for being able to emulate Mantas' riff pattern to the absolute tee.
One of the more interesting tracks that follows is the bands take on TOM PETTY‘s monster hit Runnin’ Down a Dream from PETTY’s 1989 solo LP Full Moon Fever. What I initially anticipated was the band adding another death metal or heavy blackened post metal spin on a late 80’s rock staple, but then I remembered that on last year’s Sulphur English, Paparo was able to croon like NICK CAVE meets ANDREW ELDRITCH with ten times more conviction. We are greeted with a more clean styled vocal that basically is a much heavier version of the original. No need to go completely out into the sticks for this one, but the band were yet again able to knock one into the stands.
And thus we come to the final track. When the track listing was initially announced, I was excited about all of the incredible songs on display and then I was greeted with the final track being covered: PRINCE's emotional masterpiece Purple Rain. At first, I was very hesitant and even thought to myself, “How on earth will they be able to pull this off?” Soon afterward, the band took to social media and explained that this song was never originally intended for inclusion on this record and that they only did this as a joke amongst themselves. The post also mentioned that drummer T.J. Childers recorded his vocal line in one take without any kind of pitch correction. Then I thought to myself, *quick zoom, “This is perfect.” What I did not expect was how emotional Childers vocal performance would be. I’m actually kind of puzzled that the band did not want this to be heard. I personally think that this right here could be a total showstopper. Everything in this is nailed. The soloing, the vocal performance, the atmosphere, everything is as it should be. Nothing about this screams half assed.
In fact, I want to take one second to call out the band and say this: Gentlemen, I love your music and everything you’ve done as a group. But I think I speak for the INTER ARNA fan base when I say that if you don’t include this in your set list, more specifically as a show closer, we will be devastated beyond words. In fact, if it doesn’t happen, we will probably be like this:
I’m just saying.
With Garbers Days Revisited, INTER ARMA continue their insane hot streak while also creating unique versions of songs that are iconic to some and eye openers to others. I don’t think it’s a stretch at this point to say that INTER ARMA can literally do anything they want and utterly kill it every single time. They’ve shown on past releases the ability to shift almost on a whim from style to style and on this release, they prove that yet again by adding their own voice to these incredible tracks. So to circle back to the question of what category of covers these fall into, I would definitely say they fall into category three, which I feel is the best category of all: the ability to add your own unique artistic stamp while also showing the brilliance of the original. When it comes to being able to play the genre chameleon, INTER ARMA continue to reign supreme. Only from this point forward, it’s in purple.
Garbers Days Revisited arrives July 10th via Relapse Records. Get yours HERE.