Inter Arma – Garber Days Revisited (Relapse Records)

What do the Cro-Mags, Prince and Neil Young have in common? Well, not much.

But it seems like they all made an impression on US psych-sludgers Inter Arma – and as such, each of them make the songwriting credits on the quintet’s new covers record.

Garber Days Revisited (named after the band’s rehearsal space – and you should get the other reference) takes you on a tour of the Richmond act’s influences and inspirations, from 70s rock, to 80s hardcore to 90s industrial, via pop and proto-black metal.

It could have been a mess.

But Inter Arma have proved, over albums like 2019’s Sulphur English, that their expansive sound isn’t manacled to sludge metal’s sonic norms. Death dirges, acoustic drifts, stratospheric soundscapes… you’ll find it all. And it means they can pull of a covers album as richly diverse as Garber Days Revisited.

Cro-Mags’ Hard Times and Venom’s In League With Satan both sound like the Virginians had a lot of fun when recording Garber Days Revisited. But they’re standard fare for bands whose veins pulse with metal and hardcore.

Neil Young’s Southern Man, however, is a different case entirely: it is where Inter Arma really stretch their wings.

An intro of echoing acoustics and close harmonies gives way to an emotionally fraught five minutes of blackened sludge and eviscerating blastbeats, complete with stunning fretwork from Steven Russell and Trey Dalton.

Neil Young purists will hate it, but it’s a powerful statement, heaving with despair and ripe for 2020.

The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill – Hüsker Dü’s ’85 punk scorcher – is similarly scorched by Inter Arma’s blowtorch (though thankfully it retains its glorious chorus), while somehow, they manage to not only pull off Nine Inch Nails’ March Of The Pigs, but give it an extra layer of gristle.

Ministry’s Scarecrow is as dark and menacing as Al Jourgensen’s pounding, cybernetic original; Tom Petty’s anthemic Runnin’ Down A Dream is faithfully recreated, down to every last ‘woo hoo’; and even Purple Rain stays very close to the original. Inter Arma’s take on the Prince masterpiece may not be coated in pop glitz, but the soloing and twin leads send shivers down the spine nevertheless.

For anyone with preconceptions around Inter Arma, Garber Days Revisited will be a revelation. Long time fans, however, won’t be surprised by the dexterity and sheer guts on show here.

Let’s hope there’s a Garber Inc. somewhere down the line…