Skip to content

We hesitate to describe Amthrya as Italian death metal - even though they hail from Italy and do indeed play death metal - if only because the usual connotations that come with such description do not apply and might even give the wrong impression to listeners. The fact is that Amthrya has little to nothing to do with the likes of Hour Of Penance, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Hideous Divinity – even if they (for better or worse) have come to define Italian death metal as it’s currently known. Amthrya bears no semblance to more cavernous acts as Ekpyrosis or Ferum either. No. Amthrya is something else entirely and they don’t let themselves be pinned down to one convenient regional sound. “Incision Of Gem” is their first with former Opera IX frontwoman Abigail Dianaria (no, that’s not her real name) behind the mic who has adopted a whole new stage persona and calls herself Kasumi Onryō (no, that’s not her real name either) now. Appearances can be deceiving and no release makes a better case for this than “Incision Of Gem”, where nothing is ever what it seems…

Life is stranger than fiction. The best thing to ever happen to Opera IX in the last 18 years was the recruiting of Kasumi Onryō, the heir apparent to legendary frontwoman Cadaveria who left the band in acrimony after 2000’s “The Black Opera”. Onryō brought Opera IX back from the brink of irrelevance with her devilish womanly wiles and reinstated some of the occult magick that defined the greatest Cadaveria-era works. “Back to Sepulcro” - Onryō’s debut with that band - was a lot of things. For the most part it was an exercise in redundancy redeemed by the inclusion of two new songs. More importantly, it allowed giovane donna Onryō to showcase her vocal abilities. These abilities are now put to even better use in Amthrya, a unit consisting of nobody you ever heard of or anybody important for that matter. Again, looks can and will be deceiving. Even though Kasumi Onryō has a penchant for dressing up like Sadako from Ringu (1998) and its hand drawn artwork is richly adorned with kanji and folkloristic drawings “Incision Of Gem” is not a conceptual effort about ghosts and apparitions of Asian mythology. It might very well be the most ambitious project la signora Onryō has partaken in.

The intro ‘Mist of Perdition’ sounds like an unused atmospheric moodpiece written by Romeo Díaz and James Wong for a Tsui Hark A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) tie-in feature that the world somehow never got. The music that follows it on the other hand holds the middleground somewhere between the Dutch, German, and Finnish schools of death metal without ever sounding like either. It never gets quite as abstract and left-of-field as “Nespithe” from Demilich, nor as absurdly technical and structurally dense as Pavor, or as mechanical/angular as Gorefest (circa “False”). However, it clearly takes influence from all three to a greater or lesser degree. The "Nespithe" influence is present in the riffing and drumming and while the rhythms never get quite as out there as their Finnish forebears the spirit is there. The dry guitar tone and some of the more post-influenced chord progressions and accents recall Brood Of Hatred and Golem (circa “Dreamweaver”) in equal measure. Amthrya never stays conventional very long and the bass guitar is as integral to the compositions as any of the other instruments. That ‘Anesthesia Survival’ was chosen as a single is only normal as it’s pretty representative for what “Incision Of Gem” aims for. Onryō is at her best and most primal in a cut as ‘Ebony Gem’ and ‘Letters to my Dears – Thoughts Of A Lost Man’ where she’s allowed the space to unleash and alternate her many singing styles at different times. Which brings us to the proverbial elephant in the room and the one true point of contention (if it can be called that) that we have with Amthrya and “Incision Of Gem”. Why is so little made of Kasumi Onryō’s fascination with Asian folklore and mythology?

That the lyrics she’s singing deal with psychological deterioration and diseases of the mind is a creative choice we’re not going to contest because at least they are put to mildly entertaining Asian ghost horror imagery. Far more damning is that except for the intro segment and a guest appearance from Kotama Omen Mako from MagdaleneJu_nen (マグダラ呪念) and Hiroyuki Takano from Church of Misery precious little actually capitalizes on the Asian imagery the record so proudly boasts. In our heart of hearts we’re hoping that Amthrya ropes in session musicians to lay down some guqin, shamisen, shakuhachi, or koto melodies or even invites 瑜子 from Bloody Tyrant (暴君) to provide pipa for atmospheric breaks or as interludes on their third effort. It’s unfortunate that the usage of ethnic Asian instrumentation is limited to merely the intro. Hopefully future releases will integrate these sections into actual songs or use them as moodsetting interludes, or preferably both. There’s plenty of precedent after all, whether it’s Nile and their Egyptian segments, Morbid Angel and their ritual wanderings, or Hate Eternal integrating ritual ambient into some of their songs. What Opera IX did for Italian folk music on “Sacro Culto” Amthrya should aim to do for ethnic Asian music on any of its planned future releases. The potential here is unlimited.

The closest companion to “Incision Of Gem” are “Suspended from the Cosmic Altaar” from American death metal duo Apocrophex and “Skinless Agony” from Tunisian death metal act Brood Of Hatred, although each put their own spin on what is roughly the same formula. Unlike the Apocrophex record this one doesn’t come bearing artwork from Raúl González. That isn’t to say that the artwork from Kasumi Onryō doesn’t fit the package because it most certainly does. It stays within the monochrome spectrum which is befitting for what Amthrya is trying to convey here. Ultimately one’s enjoyment of “Incision Of Gem” depends purely on one’s preferences. The sense of theatrics and melodrama is typically Italian while the music most certainly is not. Above all this is a record that grows with each listen. This isn’t a death metal record to listen for an easily digestible fix nor has it any hooks to drag first-time listeners in. No. Amthrya is the kind of band that demands the listener’s full attention to truly absorb the layers and nuance of their work. That alone makes them worthy of adulation compared to all these other more conventional Italian death metal sounding bands. None of them are seldom as interesting as Amthrya is here – and that sells Amthrya as the superior practitioner.

In 2004-2006 Saskatchewan power metal unit Into Eternity was a force to be reckoned with. They were on Century Media Records, on every major touring package in North America and pretty much on top of the world as it was. “The Incurable Tragedy”, overt populist metalcore disposition notwithstanding, saw the Canucks experiencing an even greater wave of popularity and visibility. Then… nothing happened. In the decade that followed Into Eternity, like so many bands of yesteryear, fell into disrepair as they lost members as well as their long-time recording contract with Century Media Records. Popular tastes and the metal scene as a whole moved on to the next fad as they are wont to, inexplicably making Swedish occult retro-rock band Ghost and J-pop sensation Baby Metal (hardly the best the country has to offer) the most popular (not to mention lucrative) items of recent memory. Then “The Sirens” was released to the sound of crickets on the M-Theory Audio label in October 2018. Twelve years removed from their last good album and a decade after “The Incurable Tragedy” the question doesn’t lie so much in Into Eternity’s innate ability as a band but whether or not the metal scene at large has moved on during their unusually long absence.

From days of “The Incurable Tragedy” and “The Scattering Of Ashes” only founding member Tim Roth (lead guitar, vocals) and Troy Bleich (bass guitar, vocals) remain. Justin Bender (guitars) has moved over to the production seat and replacing him is Matt Cuthbertson. Steve Bolognese went on to substitute original drummer Jim Austin, but for “The Sirens” Bolognese relinquished his position to Bryan Newbury. Finally, and probably most important of all personnel changes this band has seen to date, Amanda Kiernan was given the daunting task of replacing the man of a thousand voices Stu Block. “The Sirens” was a long time coming and delayed for at least two years. ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Fukushima’ were released as singles in 2011 and 2012, respectively, when Block was still part of the band. At one point “The Sirens” was scheduled for release on much smaller Italian label imprint Kolony Records but apparently that agreement collapsed somewhere in the interim. A new contract was brokered with the equally low-profile M-Theory Audio and now, twelve years after their last offering, Into Eternity is back, supposedly one assumes, in full force.

That Into Eternity has chosen to keep Amanda Kiernan permanently in the position that she was initially hired to temporarily fill shouldn’t surprise anyone. Canada has a history with female-fronted traditional metal going as far to the eighties with the likes of Messiah Force and since 2013 there has been something of a resurgence of female-fronted underground metal in the Great White North. Those hoping that Tim Roth would hire that other Amanda (Amanda Marie Gosse from Category VI) will be sorely disappointed. Whereas Gosse has the actual high register and falsetto Kiernan is of a grittier persuasion and far closer to Debbie Levine from Lady Beast in comparison. At least there’s sense in hiring Kiernan as female-fronted metal, especially the traditional metal kind, has proven commercially successful and incredibly popular in places like Scandinavia, Germany, Asia (especially Japan) and North America. Now that Stu Block has moved on to the greener pastures of Tampa, Florida power/thrashers Iced Earth “The Sirens” conclusively proves that a decade-plus absence hasn’t dulled Into Eternity in the slightest. In fact it very much sounds like a band with something to prove.

A strange duality is what defines “The Sirens” for the most part. The five new cuts are probably some of the most technical, melodic material Roth has penned to date. ‘Sirens’, ‘Fringes of Psychosis’, ‘This Frozen Hell’, ‘Nowhere Near’, and ‘Devoured By Sarcopenia’ all clock around (and upwards of) 7 minutes. ‘Sirens’ even opens with an extended piano - and orchestral piece. The two preview singles that preceded “The Sirens” lean more towards their 2006-2008 era and not nearly contain the amount of proverbial fireworks and bravado that their new material does. The inclusion of ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Fukushima’ is far more damning especially in light of both having been around for many years at this point. It’s understandable that Roth decided to record them with Kiernan at the helm, but that doesn’t change the fact that that space could have been put to better use for another new song. ‘Sandstorm’ and closing track ‘The Scattering Of Ashes’ are the most conventional in length and the latter sort of has the feel of a refurbished b-side of the accompanying 2006 album. “The Sirens” tackles a wide variety of subjects, both fictional and real. ‘Sirens’ is about the singing creatures of Greek mythology. ‘Fringes Of Psychosis’ and ‘Nowhere Near’ are about mental deterioriation and depression. ‘This Frozen Hell’ is a cut decrying the ungentle Canadian winter very much in tradition of Cryptopsy’s ‘…And Then It Passes.’ ‘Sandstorm’ chronicles Operation Neptune Spear and the capture and killing of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. ‘Fukushima’ is, should the name not be enough of an indicator, about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Roth’s loyalty to Touchwood Studios in Regina is admirable and “The Sirens” probably sounds far better than it has any right to considering there wasn't a major label behind the funding. It has what is probably the gnarliest production work Into Eternity has yet seen, especially compared to the Century Media Records releases of yore. Bryan Newbury’s energetic and versatile drumming in particular sounds probably worse than Nicholas Barker on Dimmu Borgir’s “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”. It would behoof Into Eternity to consider recording drums at a different facility such as The Grid Productions in Québec with Christian Donaldson or at Wild Studio in Saint-Zénon with Pierre Rémillard. "The Sirens" is rough around the edges and it absolutely takes no prisoners, to say the very least. The Mattias Norén artwork is line with Into Eternity’s prior releases and very much cements that Roth and his cohorts never left the 2002-2008 sphere. “The Sirens” lacks some of the overall polish and gloss that its Century Media releases had in abundance. It very much is the album that directly should have followed 2008’s semi-conceptual “The Incurable Tragedy”. A decade has passed since that release and Into Eternity is pretty much in the same place they were in 2006-2008. At least they are consistent.

Ultimately “The Sirens” is very much a victim of its prolonged gestation period. Had this been released in 2012 its impact would have been considerably greater. There’s only so many people Into Eternity can reach now that they no longer have the clout of the Century Media Records promotion department behind them. It speaks volumes about the sorry state of the industry when an established band like Into Eternity, who has plenty of experience in the studio as on the road, has trouble securing a long-term recording contract. How come Nuclear Blast, Spinefarm, AFM, Massacre, Season Of Mist, or Napalm Records weren’t involved in a fierce bidding war to sign these dyed-in-the-wool Canucks? For the longest time it looked as if Into Eternity’s hiatus was going to be permanent. Thankfully “The Sirens” proves otherwise and obviously Tim Roth has many songs still in the tank. Few bands can manage to bounce back from an extended hiatus so strong and convincing as Into Eternity does here. Hopefully it won’t be another decade or so before they come around to releasing a follow-up to this kinda, sorta “comeback” album.