Concert preview: Inter Arma’s music embraces heaviness in both sound and concept

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From the January 30, 2014 edition

Sky Burial, the sophomore album from Virginia metal crew Inter Arma, is undoubtedly a heavy record — both sonically and conceptually.

The lyrics repeatedly refer to life as little more than a brutal slog toward death, and the recording is spiked with massive, planet-consuming guitar riffs, intricate drum patterns and frontman Mike Paparo’s burned-at-the-stake howls. Even so, there are countless moments of beauty scattered throughout, and the quintet isn’t afraid to pull back time and again, easing into long, ambient passages awash in acoustic strumming, sun-kissed pedal steel and atmospheric guitar drone.

“You hear a lot of heavier bands and they’re just heavy, heavy, heavy, and to us that can get monotonous,” said Paparo, 30, in a late-January phone interview. “I come from a background deeply rooted in black metal and death metal, but we listen to all kinds of stuff. When we’re in the tour van Neil Young is on constantly.”

The singer, who was born to a dental hygienist mother and an engineer father and grew up in a small town tucked away in the woods 25 minutes north of Roanoke, Virginia, developed an early fascination with heavy metal largely because of the grotesque imagery often associated with the genre.

“The older kids on the bus were always wearing the most insane [band] T-shirts, like Obituary and Impaled Nazarene, and I was attracted to that,” he said. “I was in elementary school when I got In the Nightside Eclipse [by Norwegian metal band Emperor], and the cover scared the crap out of me. I remember just throwing it in the closet.”

It didn’t stay there long, however, and Paparo spent his formative years delving into the music with the intensity of a grad student researching a doctoral thesis, poring over liner notes and purchasing every recording he could get his hands on — no matter how strange or obscure. He also started penning his own songs as an outlet for his tortured thoughts, unleashing them on the page before they imploded within.

“I’ve been obsessed with death since I was a kid,” he said. “When I was younger it was more of a problem, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve just kind of learned to laugh about it.”

These dark visions surface repeatedly throughout Sky Burial, whether Paparo is singing about journeying to a remote mountaintop to die alone (the title track) or paying homage to a childhood friend who returned to his hometown anticipating the end after his kidneys failed (“The Long Road Home”).

“It’s heavy music, so a lot of the time people don’t care about lyrics, and that’s fine. But I feel like I’d be shorting people if I only wrote a bunch of inane garbage and tried to pass it off,” said Paparo, who described himself as “incredibly ADD” and said he took up singing because he could never concentrate long enough to learn an instrument. “Writing the songs is catharsis. It gets this out of me.”

Photo by Tony Lynch

Double Happiness

10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3

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