You know what? Inter Arma are tired of being inadequately (and reductively) pigeon-holed under the “doom” or “sludge” labels. On the other hand, they likely don’t give a shit either about the lengths you’ve gone to in coming up with a multi-hyphenated descriptor that ticks off every metal sub-genre the band cherry picks its stylistic touchstones from; blackened-and-sludgy-southern-hard-psych-stoner-death-doom-post-metal hardly rolls off the tongue anyway.

Pitched as a deliberate subversion of expectations, Sulphur English strips the band’s sound of much of the colour and light that they had increasingly let in over their past few releases, to send listeners careening, disorientated, into a dark and stormy night of the soul, with little promise of a brighter dawn. Make no mistake, frontman Mike Paparo certainly sings of his own soul across a few of these tracks, but that album title, and its none-too-subtle nod to the toxic discourse of contemporary politics, should clue you in to the fact that it’s America’s soul that’s at stake here.

In their mastery of long-form composition, their deliberate wielding of shifting dynamics, expert control of tension and release, and, yes, exuberant indulgence in genre agnosticism, Inter Arma have always been a band that merited the use of adjectives like “transportative” and “transcendent.” Sky Burial, Paradise Gallows and especially the single track epic, The Cavern (which I like to think of as the Bloodborne iteration of Inter Arma) feel like journeys, Homeric in scale, and despite the vein of misanthropy that has run through virtually all of Paparo’s lyrics, there was always a sense of escapism inherent to the experience of listening to an Inter Arma record.

Like the best post-rock, the band’s music connects emotionally by sublimating its slow builds into moments of jaw-dropping catharsis. But they’re also just a group of incredible musicians, whose self-evident glee at the sheer possibilities of unfettered creativity translates into a life-affirming, even joyful, experience for their audience. Which is why, putting on an Inter Arma album feels like an escape from realities both humdrum and painful.

All of that is to say that Sulphur English, by contrast, is not interested in providing escapism. It’s here to confront you with personal agonies and political abominations, and get you to wake the fuck up and confront our collective reality. Where Paradise Gallows opened with a prologue of pretty acoustic guitars and solo-ing worthy of David Gilmour, all in an effort to sonically conjure up the cosmic grandeur of that beautiful album art, Sulphur English opens like a goddamn horror film, all piercing whines and echoing piano. Named for erstwhile Lord Mantis and Indian drummer, Bill Bumgardner, who took his own life in 2016 (the LP is dedicated to his memory as well as to the founding member of Bell Witch, Adrian Guerra), the album opener is a howl of pain and anger, expressed in its back half via a solid minute of lurching riffage and crashing symbols, rising to a cacophony of bass drum blasts and all-consuming static. It’s a deliberately unwelcoming introduction.

The intensity doesn’t let up over the next few tracks. ‘A Waxen Sea’ and ‘Citadel’ are about as thrillingly blunt as Inter Arma get. There’s no slow build here. Just wrecking ball riffs and T.J. Childers behind the kit doing his damnedest to convince us that he is in possession of more than the standard allotment of limbs. ‘A Waxen Sea’’s appropriately sea-sick rhythm evokes being aboard a ship buffeted by tumultuous seas. As the song spirals to its conclusion, it feels like you’re circling the vortex of an unfathomably vast sinkhole. Paparo’s low death growl throughout is positively terrifying and animalistic, and yet the key lyric of a song that seems in thrall to the majesty of the oceans is about the placid tolling of iron bells. Calm and peaceful, this ain’t.

Lead single ‘Citadel’ is like a showreel for what Inter Arma are capable of. Stop-start riffing, blast beasts, vertigo-inducing, descending guitar leads, and Paparo’s vocals vacillating between the guttural bellows of death and the demonic screech of black metal, layered with effects. The lyrics posit the song as a call-to-arms, an appeal to one’s strength of will, to rise above depression and personal anguish. It’s a striking examination of mental health, wrought in Shakespearean terms: “Held captive by untold wounds of corporeal and psychic root/ Aloft in a storm of unseen anguish where joy and sorrow entwine.” The eyes-closed, horns-raised shredding of the song’s guitar solos could be interpreted as a sonic metaphor for the triumph of Paparo’s determination to overcome, but they sit so incongruously against the blunt force aesthetic of the rest of the track, that they almost seem to mock that possibility.

‘Howling Lands’, the final piece of the opening triptych, places full emphasis on Inter Arma’s rhythm section. Tribal drums dominate the mix before roiling riffs and Paparo’s blade-sharp shriek join to create an overwhelming wall of sound. If you hadn’t done so already, this is without a doubt the track where you’ll rise from your seat to applaud the job done by Mikey Allred, who engineered, mixed and mastered the record. The sheer sense of scale created here is immense, and it’s all in service to conjuring an image that matches Paparo’s words. In his most operatic baritone, he intones that the masses are digging their way to the centre of hell, as their masters (the 1%, presumably) pound their drums incessantly. And that’s exactly what ‘Howling Lands’ feels like.

When Childers finally relents, and the gently plucked acoustic guitar of ‘Stillness’ fades in, it feels like being soothed to sleep by the side of a campfire in a moonlit desert of the far-flung wild west. There’s an undeniable Swans vibe in the song’s gothic Americana, and more than a touch of Michael Gira in Paparo’s vocal delivery. If Cormac McCarthy wrote folk-inflected post-metal, this is undoubtedly what it would sound like.

Long-term Inter Arma fans will have noticed by now that they’re onto the fifth track of the album and not one song so far has come close to breaking the 10-minute barrier. The band have been holding back on the slow build approach because they’ve been too busy trying to cave in your skull; until ‘Stillness’ that is. A spiritual successor to ‘The Long Road Home’ off Sky Burial, and sounding uncannily like the beautiful folk lullaby of Paradise Gallows closer, ‘Where the Earth Meets the Sky’, ‘Stillness’ takes its time getting to its payoff. But when that monolithically sludgy riff hits, it brings with it some serious emotional heft. It’s as if the song blossoms, if something so resolutely indelicate could be said to blossom. Paparo’s voice resonates as if it’s bouncing off the towering sandstone buttes of Monument Valley.

There’s something deeply goofy about someone roaring the word “stillness” at the top of their lungs, but there is a certain sense of calm to the maelstrom that Inter Arma create. It’s brutal, unfathomably huge and loud, but somehow comforting. Released in an understated fashion as an Adult Swim Single, ‘Stillness’ is actually something of a thesis statement for Inter Arma’s raison d’être: Paparo’s lyrics, with their references to hymns and primeval songs, are suggestive of music’s power to both rouse and still the mind. This is something the guys in Inter Arma, despite their apparently irreverent approach to release strategy, take very seriously.

The band revisit the relative quiet of the album’s centerpiece on ‘Blood on the Lupines’, another gothic reverie, which passes by like a bad dream. Paparo’s droning baritone is virtually incomprehensible over an instrumental backdrop that can only be described as Lynchian jazz-doom. But pay attention to the lyric sheet, and what you have is an evocatively told narrative about an America that has lost its way. It’s deliberately obtuse, overtly symbolic and beholden only to the internal logic of dreams, but as the band gradually builds the tension, Paparo’s narrative reaches a head that is as unsettling as any of the more extreme instrumental moments on the album.

Speaking of extreme, ‘Blood on the Lupines’ is flanked on either side by two of Inter Arma’s wildest ever compositions. ‘The Atavist’s Meridian’ may not be entirely without precedent in their catalogue (‘’sblood’ and ‘Violent Constellations’ come immediately to mind), but the malevolent churn that the band whips into life during the song’s breathtaking opening minutes sets a new standard for chaotic heaviness. Childers’ performance is simply phenomenal, and Paparo is at his most deranged, whilst the contributions by Dalton, Kerkes and Russell feel less like parts written for and performed by bass and guitar, than an unholy noise summoned from the depths of the earth. There’s a period of respite during the song’s middle section but it is defined by a pervasive sense of uneasiness; the threat of being thrust back into the raging inferno of that striking album art hanging overhead. Spoiler alert: you get thrust back in. And then some.

Given its subject matter, it makes sense that the closing title track is the most aggressive song on an album that already wasn’t shy about how mad it was about a lot of things. Quite plainly an indictment of Trump and especially the GOP’s backbone-deficient willingness to follow the “charlatan [with the] forked tongue” down any outlandish, self-serving avenue he sees fit, in their quest for “power absolute,” ‘Sulphur English’ sees the band plow through passages of blistering death-metal, before slowing down to a funeral trudge to drive home the moral imperative like exasperated and weary blows to the head: “sever the corrupt tongue of the imperious fool,” Paparo growls. You can’t help but feel that anti-Trump demonstrations would be a lot more effective if protestors sounded like the Inter Arma frontman.

As the title track fades out on a cacophony of blast beats, piercing feedback and distended slabs of guitar, you realise that you now find yourself, silent and alone in the dark. Dawn has not broken. You’ve been on a journey through that black and blustery night of America’s soul, but you still have to make your own way out to the light. Inter Arma aren’t going to hold your hand and tell you that everything’s going to be ok. That’s why Sulphur English is lacking in the unguardedly beautiful moments that had graced Paradise Gallows. It’s an album that’s decidedly a product of and reaction to the times. Despite the grandeur, theatricality and sheer exuberant technicality of everything this band does in their music, the fact that they’re engaging with the uncomfortable realities of the present adds a new string to their bow and arguably makes them more vital a band than ever. Ever since Sky Burial’s release in 2013, the metal community has been hailing Inter Arma as one of the form’s leading lights. Sulphur English may not quite attain the same stratospheric heights as that record did, but, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the rest of their catalogue, it easily earns Inter Arma the right to be heralded as the metal act of the decade.