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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.

The best thing to happen to Dimmu Borgir in years was the much-publicized split with long-time clean vocalist/bass guitarist ICS Vortex and keyboardist Mustis. Not that the transition was smooth in the least. To get to “Eonian” the world had to endure the colossal failure that was 2010’s “Abrahadabra”. If Dimmu Borgir’s very public crisis of identity has yielded anything substantial it’s that they have at long last shed the veneer that they are the vanguards of extreme metal, black – or otherwise. No. “Eonian”, like its rightly maligned predecessor, is power metal in everything but name. Trudging, dirgey, marching power metal with an undercurrent of triumphant, glorious melodies and a thick layer of would-be evil theatrics. As unbelieveable as it might sound, “Eonian” is the best Dimmu Borgir album in many, many years, or at least since 1999. It might sound nothing like the Dimmu Borgir of yore, or even like anything they have done prior for that matter. In point of fact “Eonian” is shockingly good at whatever Dimmu Borgir is attempting here. It is by far the least actively hostile outing this band has unleashed upon the world. …And 12 different versions of “Eonian”? That’s pushing it, even for Nuclear Blast Records.

Plenty of blood has been spilled on these pages detailing how terrible Norway’s most famous export is most of the time. A good deal of that venom warranted because Dimmu Borgir is godawful more often than they’re not. Over the course of 25 years Dimmu Borgir went from your average no-budget black metal band to Victorian age romantics, wanna-be Cenobites, and post-apocalyptic warriors to tundra gypsy-barbarians/pirates and now… futuristic hooded warrior-monks? "Eonian" is about a lot of things: letting go of preconceptions, overcoming barriers to reach one's maximum potential and cleansing oneself from spiritual detritus in order to attain complete and perfect awakening. In other words, roughly the same Buddhist subjects that Caelestis handles so wonderfully. So, Dimmu Borgir is really trying this time around. Trying so hard to distance themselves from their old sound that they might as well be an entirely different band, but trying indeed. At their most potent and pointed Dimmu Borgir was stunningly mediocre. At their worst they were actively hostile to the listener. Most of the time they were just bloody annoying. Moreso than on “Abrahadabra” does “Eonian” revolve around contrasting atmospheres and instrumentation. Whoever still believes that Dimmu Borgir plays, or ever played, black metal is massively deluded. The Dimmu Borgir of today is nigh on impossible to tell apart from the likes of Nightwish, Therion and Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. Except for the would-be evil corpse paint and costumes, that is.

“Eonian” is destined to be polarizing and utterly divisive, even moreso than any of this band’s other records. In the twenty-plus years since “For All Tid” Dimmu Borgir finds themselves back at the exact same spot where they started, except now they have Nuclear Blast Records behind them and every tool and resource at their disposal to indulge their every creative whim. ‘The Unveiling’ opens with industrial and Eurodance keyboards effects that would make Amaranthe green with envy. ‘Interdimensional Summit’ is a heavily orchestrated and choral pop song that in a different world would be a Nightwish or Therion outtake. ‘Ætheric’ plays around with some guitar psychedelia and stoner rock riffs very much like second advance single ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’, but it also has the very rare blastbeat. ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’ is a Middle Eastern tinged pseudo-doom metal track complete with psychedelic guitar noodling, ethnic chants and tribal percussion by former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez. The second (and pretty much last) blastbeat of the record can be found on ‘Alpha Aeon Omega’ which starts with an extended cinematic opening, sort of everything that ‘The Promised Future Aeons’ aimed for in 1999 but lacked the resources for. “Eonian” concludes with a grand finale in the form of the 5-minute instrumental ‘Rite Of Passage’. A closer so life-affirming and bordering on film score that you’d swear it was ghostwritten by Hans Zimmer or Armi Päivinen from Suomi epic metallers Ravenia. Whoever you prefer…

For the lack of a better descriptor “Eonian” sounds almost New Age-y in its choice of melodies and overarching atmosphere. Granted it fits with the overly prententious abstract esoteric and faux-philosophical concept they are pushing, but Dimmu Borgir was never known for its lyrical prowess. “Eonian” is custodian to lyrical gems as, for example, ‘Interdimensional Summit’ dispenses with the obvious by stating that “to the trained eye / there are no coincidences” and ‘Ætheric’ insists that “to govern thyself / you must know your past” or the memorable choral chorus in ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’ that mantra-like posits that “we are gods in the making / we are gods for the taking”. It’s all so wonderfully rich coming from a band as blissfully unaware of itself as Dimmu Borgir. No. Whatever this is supposed to be it doesn’t hurt as much, or at all, as some of this band’s prior records. “Eonian” is a Dimmu Borgir record where the keyboards are inobtrusive, where the orchestrations and choirs are responsible for the brunt of the dynamics and where Daray, one of Poland’s best underground metal drummers is reduced to a very expensive metronome. Poland’s best drummer is reduced to a metronome. It is so unadventurous Tjodalv could have drummed on it. In the production notes can be gleaned that Fleshgod Apocalypse keyboardist Francesco Ferrini and long-time collaborator Gaute Storås arranged the orchestrations, with the latter also handling the Schola Cantrum Choir and Jens Bogren engineering the thing.

“Eonian” is probably the best sounding Dimmu Borgir record thus far. Unless you care about little things such as guitars and drums. Since this was mixed by Shagrath the vocals, choirs, orchestrations and keyboards take prominence. Naturally with the guitars being as buried as they are, it’s surprising that they sound as crispy and clear that they do. Galder actually tries on this album too. Does he ever try. There are actual guitar solos again this time around and Dimmu Borgir still chugs as if they have a bone to pick with populist groove metal bands like Machine Head and their ilk. Speaking of Shagrath. He was, is, and continues to be this band’s weakest link. At least now his other talents are put to good use as he contributes on keyboards and shares bass guitar duties with Galder and Silly-Nose. Shagrath always better at everything excluding vocals. The Zbigniew M. Bielak artwork is probably the most restrained this band has had in a long time and includes an hourglass, a clock, the lemniscate and assorted Satanic imagery – eventhough “Eonian” at no point resembles a traditional black metal album. Dimmu Borgir’s reinvention as a power metal band would be complete if they finally decided to drop their overcooked black metal imagery and ornate stage costumes, but that is probably a tad too ambitious for this bunch. “Eonian” is pretty tolerable when you’re prepared to meet it halfway. “Eonian” continues on the path the band embarked on with “Abrahadabra”. Whether their fans will follow is another matter.

Never before has Dimmu Borgir sounded so focused and on-point as they do on “Eonian”. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Norway’s most popular export was able to conjure up an undertaking so bombastic, so melodramatic, so completely different from anything and everything they have done prior. It’s interesting to see where Dimmu Borgir goes from here and to what degree they will further embrace their newfound appreciation for power metal. It’s hard to come to grips with how good “Eonian” is when it fires on all cylinders, and even Shagrath’s tired croaks aren’t as annoying as they usually are. This time around the choirs handle the more ambitious parts – and the record is so much better for it. It’s hard to believe that this is the same band that wrote ‘In Death’s Embrace’, ‘Moonchild Domain’ and ‘The Insight & the Catharsis’. Two of these men were responsible for “Stormblast” and “Death Cult Armageddon”, one a record legendary for its atmosphere and thievery, the other for its relentless drudgery. Dimmu Borgir is nigh on unrecognizable on “Eonian”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The masks have come off from The Kings Of the Carnival Creation, but it’s not like they are suddenly venturing into uncharted territory. “Eonian” is the product of writings that were on the wall many years ago to anybody remotely perceptive – and it actually is suprisingly good.