Album Review: Inter Arma – Garbers Days Revisited

[Relapse; 2020]

Inter Arma make serious music, of that there is no doubt. Their albums are totems to existential despair, violent invocations of nature’s primal fury, and an apparent attempt to cheerfully undermine the descriptive adequacy of the word, “heavy.” 

However, one glance at their socials reveals a band that, refreshingly, doesn’t take itself too seriously. When an interested listener recently queried Music Twitter about where they should start if they were looking to get into Inter Arma, the band responded with “a record by a different band.” Their consistently self-deprecating stance significantly downplays the impact they’ve had on metal in the past decade, and the quite superhuman consistency of their output. Given how unimpeachable their discography is, it’s tempting to wonder where a covers album like Garbers Days Revisited fits in. Is it “canon”, a curio, or a one-off goof?

As anyone who’s ever been in a band can testify, covers play an essential role in the early days of a band’s artistic evolution. They are training wheels, essentially, helping to massage new musical muscle memory; allowing instrumental chops to develop without the burden of, you know, the pressure of having to write a passable song. Later down the line they can offer new avenues for creativity; going through the motions of playing a song from outside the constraints of one’s specific genre can extend the radius of your wheelhouse. Finally, a truly great band can take an existing song and recast it in a new, sometimes improved, light. On the other hand, a poorly executed cover – be it a horrific genre mangle, a glorified karaoke performance, or the dreaded Peppy Pop Song Recast As Gloomy Acoustic Ballad – ends up doing all involved parties a disservice. 

Inter Arma have attested to the pivotal role cover versions played in their formative years and beyond, and Garbers Days Revisited serves as a celebration of that. The band’s own music seems to exist in its own mythical realm, so the tracks they have chosen to cover for this album has a humanising effect, suggestive of a playful, down-to-earth attitude at odds with their day-jobs: something akin to “Hey! These metal dudes love Tom Petty and Prince too!” 

The majority of the selections play to the band’s strengths. Opener, “Scarecrow”, sees Inter Arma beefing up the barrelling industrial rock momentum of Ministry’s original with cavernous distortion and thunderous drums. They keep all the song’s hallmarks, including the “How Soon Is Now?”-esque flanged guitar effect, but Paparo’s screeched vocals and Childers’ creative drumming imbue it with Inter Arma’s distinct personality. A pretty straight take on Nine Inch Nails’ classic The Downward Spiral cut “March of the Pigs” veers towards live band karaoke territory, with Paparo brilliantly aping Trent Reznor’s distinctive inflection, but it’s fascinating to hear this very human and live-sounding band clinically performing robotic and mechanical industrial music. It brings to mind The Dillinger Escape Plan’s spastic cover of Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy”, which featured Mike Patton on guest vocals.

Patton again comes to mind on two other selections on here, but in two very different guises. A cover of The Cro-Mags’ metallic hardcore anthem “Hard Times” brings out Paparo’s wildest Tasmanian Devil vocal performance, resulting in a track that could have slotted in nicely on the Dead Cross album from a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, Inter Arma’s extremely faithful take on Prince’s “Purple Rain” is eerily similar to Faith No More’s immortal rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Easy” in its overall effect – it’s simultaneously impressive, moving, and laugh-out-loud ridiculous. It even has a moment like Patton’s “eww” before the obligatory, masturbatory guitar solo; Childers admirably takes the mic to channel the Purple One – a thankless task that the drummer tackles with full-throated commitment. Although a perusal of po-faced YouTube comments reveals that it may be a divisive artistic choice: “5/10 He sounds constipated and drunk,” says one user in desperate need of a humour transplant. 

Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” is given a superficial makeover that emphasises that badass opening riff and revels in an extended coda, whilst never losing the clean melodicism of the original. On the other end of the genre spectrum, Venom’s proto-black metal gets an update on a rendition of the ritualistic “In League with Satan”; the song’s tribal, repetitive groove recalls some of Inter Arma’s work on Sulphur English, but suffers a little from the outdated, theatrical-sounding “evil”-ness of it all. Paparo sounds like he’s enjoying chewing the scenery though.

Garbers Days Revisited is at its best when Inter Arma do something truly transformative with the source material. Their take on Hüsker Dü’s seminal classic “The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill” finds itself lost in a black metal blizzard that is as punishing as it is thrilling. And the album’s coup de grace is a simply immense reimagining of Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, which takes the raggedy rock of the original and dials every element up to 11, resulting in the kind of epic wrecking ball that’s become Inter Arma’s calling card. Paparo nails the clean vocals of the song’s Americana prelude, before letting loose with blood-curdling screams. There are shades of Sky Burial on here, but more than anything the final result made me think of Cobalt’s Slow Forever, which is no bad thing considering that album’s status as one of the best metal releases of the past decade.

If nothing else, Garbers Days Revisited provides a fascinating insight into the eclectic influences that have shaped Inter Arma’s wide-ranging sound. Thankfully, the band’s strike-rate is high, showing a steadfast dedication to reaching a quality benchmark. The key is to receive the album in the spirit in which it was intended: as an escapist distraction during troubling times. Your enjoyment of Garbers Days Revisited will depend, to a significant degree, upon how seriously you take it. With that in mind, a word of advice: don’t be like Danny Dircio, be like Inter Arma.