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The long journey back from the seas of oblivion. - 72%

hells_unicorn, October 26th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, M-Theory Audio (Bandcamp)

The ancient proverb of it being impossible to step upon the same river twice, originally accredited to pre-Socratic cynic Heraclitus, carries a special relevance for any band that dabbles in the world of progressive music. There is a self-awareness that comes with the level of musicianship required for such ventures that keeps this fact at the front of a band’s mind as they try to replicate the success of past efforts while knowing full well the futility of getting there the same way. In the particular case of Into Eternity’s The Sirens, their sixth LP and follow up to the solid and often misunderstood The Incurable Tragedy, this paradox of seeking to recapture past glory in a sea of change is further complicated by a whole decade’s time spanning the wait prior to its release and a colossal change in lineup with the exodus of veritable man of a thousand voices Stu Block.

To put it bluntly, there are a number of factors that hamper this album’s intended goal of picking up where things left off, but most of it could be distilled down to simply being a bit late to the party. For the musical climate of 2013 was definitely a logic point in time to recruit a lead vocalist in the mold of Amanda Kiernan, particularly in the Canadian scene given the heavy success of female-fronted melodic death meets power metal acts such as Karkaos, Unleash The Archers, The Agonist and said band’s former lead vocalist Alissa White-Gluz being recruited to replace Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy. Yet alongside the fact that the band took this long to finally release something substantial despite putting out a few individual song teasers prior to Kiernan’s entry into the fold, her performance is underwhelming and the collective sonic flavor comes off as a tad stale, in spite of the musical contents being far more elaborate and involved than any of the aforementioned bands.

Beyond the noted down-tick in power resulting from the loss of the irreplaceable Stu Block, there is an air of contrivance mixed with over-ambition that permeates the majority of the songs found on here. Given that this band had previously taken the notion of short to moderate length song duration listening like epic forays into melodic and technical splendor and elevated it to an art form on Buried In Oblivion and since refined it into something a tad more commercially viable on The Scattering Of Ashes before marrying the two concepts together on their last outing with Block at the helm, the idea of having more than half the songs drag out for seven minutes plus comes off as excessive. True to form, the resulting elongated compositions tend to drag on, despite being chock full of high octane drum and guitar work, intricate bass noodling and frequent shifts in stylistic direction, and come off more as overlong instrumental demonstrations befitting an instrumental album with unbalanced harmonized choirs (Tim Roth’s and Kiernan’s vocals fail to gel most of the time) and moderately effective shrieks and growls.

This isn’t to say that these storm clouds of a struggle to recover from a long hiatus are without silver-linings; in fact there are quite a few of note. Despite a generally rough and low-fidelity production sound compared to the previous two albums, there is a sense of depth and atmospheric luster that often emerges, particularly during the orchestrated intro of “The Sirens” and the acoustically driven and subdued moments of “Sandstorm” and the entirety of the haunting ballad “The Scattering Of Ashes Pt. 2”. Likewise, the extremely flashy and guitar hero-like virtuoso work of Tim Roth and the almost equally ambitious bass sorcery of Troy Bleich outdo their previous efforts at just about every turn, though simultaneously feeding into the over-ambitious character of this album that ultimately hampers it. It’s something of a unique disposition, but basically this album manages to be highly impressive and endearing in spite of its many glaring flaws and incongruous songwriting.

The Sirens will likely be a tough pill for older fans of Into Eternity who were still holding out hope that Roth could convince Stu Block to have at least some degree of involvement in this effort, though one that fans of the pre-2006 incarnation of the band might find appealing to varying degrees. The songs that stand tall among the rest, ironically enough are the two that were originally written and recorded prior to Amanda Kiernan joining the fold, namely the somberly catchy “Sandstorm” and the somewhat less long-winded epic foray into technical extravagance “Fukushima”. Perhaps following the original incarnations of these songs things went a bit out of focus given the loss of time and popularity that followed Block’s departure, but this album has all the makings of a band that is back to square one, trying to reinvent themselves a bit too hard and trying to make the river less the same with chaotic splashes before stepping into it another time. It’s the same band, with the same basic playbook, trying a bit too hard to hide these facts in spite of themselves.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)

Sirens Sing Some Splendid Songs - 74%

Five_Nails, October 26th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, M-Theory Audio (Bandcamp)

Debuting its first full-length in a decade, Into Eternity arrives with a vengeance devastating body and mind, triumphing over bitter frosts and radioactive winds alike. As riffs exert themselves across expansive metric swaths, a massive sound aggressively erupts below in tireless blasting and crisp precision. This Saskatchewan quintet brings such a palpable zeal to the opening half of 'The Sirens' that it becomes impossible not to be swept up by the metal trope of screaming into the swirl of a tornado. That is, until the tropes themselves become all too apparent.

The silence behind the opening riff to the album, turning a title track from an isolated classical scale into a willful wail of animated bedlam sets off a series of intense songs that crash like waves against rocks, drawing in fleets with beautiful harmonies until the gravity smashes their cedars and grinds them into the clouds of silt billowing below the black waters. Into Eternity has a knack for lulling a listener into its accessible moments before bewildering them with the death metal intensity buffeting each melody, Homer would be proud. In this vein, with male gutturals and clean vocals from Tim Roth (guitars) and Troy Bleich (bass) joining shrieks and clean singing from Amanda Kiernan, the band has mastered its multi-tiered assault on the senses with drastic and expressive changes that build layers of emotional gravity to the band's overall tone to consistently deliver a gorgeous treble end and spread it across an unrelenting backdrop.

Sure to be crowd-pleasers, the straightforward rampage that is “The Fringes of Psychosis” with its very hummable rising chorus, the blossoming solo in “This Frozen Hell” with the persistence and elegance of myriad snowflakes forming rising drifts, and the quick-paced whirl of “Sandstorm” that sweeps in like a whirl of leaves in autumn and dissipates in fewer than four minutes make for an almost perfect first half, worthy of shining as its own EP. Carnage abounds as the snare rattles, beating each meandering riff that strives to squeeze every bit of nectar out of its nuanced noodly notation. Choruses ring out with electric resonance and create sensational leaps of the heart. Though three of these first four songs average about seven minutes apiece, “Sandstorm” is not only an outlier in its brevity but also because it is actually a seven year old single. With the right delay, airy echo, and distortion, the guitar starting “Sandstorm” still opens with such a dopamine inducing deluge of fury that it seamlessly fits in this strong suit as its chorus wails out from the imposing clouds of percussion devastating the mix. Harnessing the fury of a blizzard, “This Frozen Hell” captures the disillusionment people easily have when confronting their treacherous surroundings. Saskatchewan sounds like a truly awful place to live, and the anger of the band at that massive province of only a million people gives rise to one of very few anthems for such an easily overlooked tundra in the center of Canada. Writing about what the band knows while balancing its destructive death metal gravity with NWOBHM theatrics creates incredibly catchy and fantastically hooking songs, a first half worthy of praise and sure to satisfy the devotion of many a fan.

Simultaneously denoting a turn to weakness as well as a break in the basic formula, “Nowhere Near” is a song that shows Into Eternity stepping out of the cocoon it has built around its structure throughout 'The Sirens'. A simply gorgeous song, “Nowhere Near” opens with expressive clean vocals, a great distortion on Amanda Kiernan's voice in spite of her unnecessarily frying affectation, and acoustic guitar dances jigs to a beautiful riff with flying electric guitar gliding in and out. This is a drastic difference from the norm presented throughout this album, but a welcome one that shows a bit more nuance to a band preoccupied with pushing too obvious a format. As the song grows, involving the entire ensemble in its eventual return to form, a great drum rhythm comes in halfway through to give an unexpectedly funky bounce to the song, spiting what was a momentary build up to the blasting we all know so well and creatively using that subversion of expectation to make a memorable moment rise from an out of character song. The band plays off this well by turning it into a great harmony between male and female vocals, the backdrop properly punctuating it to give a deeper impact. However, Into Eternity hasn't totally forgotten the reason why the audience is here, and this fleeting Phil Collins aberration falls to the maelstrom that makes crowds headbang and mosh. The payoff, while another dose of the intensity that has become the expectation throughout the first half of the album, has become such a standard that it doesn't readily impress in spite of the immensity of the build towards such violence. Luckily a solo helps to enhance the requirement, but the reality has sunk in. 'The Sirens' has turned into a very by-the-numbers album, and the lifting of this illusion leads to more disappointment as the disc spins.

Here the band begins its decline, losing its novelty along with its zeal and cheapening its tone along with its delivery. In an almost immediately disappointing turn at the halfway point of this fifty minute foray, so much of the previous quality of 'The Sirens' must strive to overcome the scattered bits of overwhelming awfulness reaching up from the waters and chaining it down by its burdensome rear end. Devouring itself it in is own sarcopenia as the band overstays its welcome in these aching spaces, the general songwriting formula becomes all too transparent by the end of the first half of the album just to continue without the flavor and fire that made it melt faces at the onset. The opening tone of “Devoured by Sarcopenia” is commercially derivative. With lame highs that echo without any punch, they only annoy as the harmonies lose the magnetism they once had and the song achieves the atrophy for which it is named. Eventually, the guitars find that classical notation again, fighting against the decay, and utilize it well to give a bit of technique to the song, but its chorus is another inanimate repetition. Where Into Eternity could tier its choruses, add another layer of nuance to its music, and make memorable a bit of challenge to its own conventions, the band reprises the basic formula of worming a harmony into an ear with a sixth song on the album that repeats its title ad nauseum for a chorus.

Even so, “Devoured by Sarcopenia” is excusable. “Fukushima” simply isn't. Another single from yesteryear, this time only six years old and just as irrelevant in a brand new album, the opening is the sort of concentrated cringe that strips corpse paint from even the most zealous pizza face. If you don't make an involuntary noise of disgust when hearing that awfully sappy, obnoxiously echoey, horribly crisp combination belting out “the candles were lit for the dead (the dead), Fukushima” you have such a high tolerance for cringe that you may as well write for The Big Bang Theory because this kind of showboating is just up your alley in order to stomp on the pervasive talent that actually holds this album together. Atonal gutturals barely pronounce the title, wails that would make even a lesbian seagull cry for irradiated Easterners invade unlubricated into ear canals, and an ever-focused eye trained on the almighty dollar typify this transparent capitalization on a real world event, lest profit be forgotten. As music has always had great interest in ensuring -so succinctly put by All Shall Perish- “Better Living Through Catastrophe”, this hard and fast “We Are the World” isn't anything new or special, but boy is it annoying to hear the name of a quadrisyllabic Pacific prefecture belted out by Kiernan like she's Joni Mitchell saving the world by being skinned alive by a thousand feral cats. Metal is so well-known for focusing on tragedy and darkness, unfortunately the only tragedy in this cut is from the carcinogens released by its awful microwave dinner delivery.

As aesthetically focused as these complaints are, the instrumentation throughout 'The Sirens' makes even the most painful of moments worthwhile. The balance of beautiful guitars, rapid blasts that uphold the extreme aspect of melodic death metal, and tight deliveries all around keep this album exciting and inspiring in spite of those moments that lose that veneer. An experienced and lauded outfit, Into Eternity shows its strengths so well that they become standard to its songwriting style. Still, this album feels more like a NWOBHM band pushing a death metal gimmick rather than a melodic death metal band with the history that this group has. Granted, Into Eternity tries its own thing rather than reprising the overtly masculine themes of Amon Amarth or the Gothenburg style of At the Gates, but its maelstrom is quick to languish in its momentum, resting on gimmicky themes and tropes rather than running away with inspiration and thriving.

Picking along its depressive riff and surrounded by delicate violins, “The Scattering of Ashes” redeems “Fukushima” and brings 'The Sirens' to an alluring close. The symmetry presented throughout Into Eternity's return is found throughout the meat of the album with such a focus on maintaining structure against all odds, and sometimes against unique ideas, that the album holds itself back in places by dulling its edge in favor of planting itself into memory as a band replete with basic and catchy choruses. Still, the maelstrom from which the vocals and harmonies claw is daunting and terrific, ensuring a palpable, consistent to a fault, and overall awesome experience. Into Eternity has honed and sharpened some of its most impactful aesthetics, hopefully the overall structure can be renovated and modernized as well to allow this band to survive Saskatchewan for the next decades.

Originally Hosted on “The Pit of the Damned”: http://thepitofthedamned.blogspot.it/