"The Scattering of Ashes"

(Century Media)

01. Novus Inceptum
02. Severe Emotional Distress
03. Nothing
04. Timeless Winter
05. Out
06. A Past Beyond Memory
07. Surrounded By Night
08. Eternal
09. Pain Through Breathing
10. Suspension of Disbelief
11. Paralyzed

RATING: 8.5/10

Usually, throwing a whole shitload of genres together and trying to make them stick is a fool's errand. You either come across as a needlessly showoffy musical dilettante, being difficult for its own sake, or you just make a big unlistenable mess with something to alienate everyone.

That's why it's so damn impressive when INTO ETERNITY does it. They make it sound like extreme death metal, technical prog, high-pitched melodic vocals, '80s metal riffs, candy-coated choruses and blast beats have all belonged together all along, and no one else but them noticed till now. Their genre-busting antics are not only impressive on a technical level — they cram more styles into one song than most bands could pull off in a career — but they make it all sound so damn easy and seamless, it's easy to lose sight of just how frighteningly talented they really are.

New singer Stu Block is all over the map here, and whether he's doing uber-melodic choruses, high-pitched shrieks, Halford-esque screams or guttural death vocals, he's exactly on point. The harmonies that highlighted the band's last album, "Buried In Oblivion", have been scaled back a bit to make things more do-able in a live setting, but the band can still bust out a chorus that'll tear your heart out, even over blast beats and razorwired riffing.

Musically, the closest thing I can think of is CONTROL DENIED — and something tells me Evil Chuck would have been a big fan and supporter of INTO ETERNITY. Their layers upon layers of virtuoso playing are not only rooted in extreme metal, but they bring death metal into the rarefied air of the prog realm without sacrificing an ounce of its brutality. Rather than diluting it, they add it to the mix on its own terms, a gleeful post-millennial mashup of all the things that are good about the underground right now.

If you think the above is an exaggeration, just dissect the song "Out". The pre-chorus showcases manic blast beats with beautiful harmony vocals over them, while the riffing shifts from black metal-esque speed picking to wide open chords. It all builds to a huge, huge, huge chorus, multilayered vocals chiming in to sing their way insistently into your head, never to depart. It's progressive metal that goes down like a three-minute hit single, and it's one of the few instances where the old "something for everyone" cliché actually rings true. If you can't find something to like in this song, you don't like metal, man.

There's only one real complaint that can be logged with "The Scattering of Ashes" — the drum sound is terrible. It's so bad that there has to be a story of some kind behind it, because the players and producers involved would never have let something this substandard through the door otherwise. It's distracting, because the playing is so forceful and strong, there's double-kick and blast beats all over the place, and the weird fuzzy sound of the kick is an ever-present irritant.

Luckily, the rest of the album is so good, even that potentially fatal stumbling block doesn't kill it. "The Scattering of Ashes" will go down as not only one of 2006's best albums, but one of its most important – in a time when the genre's biggest bands are often content to coast on the formulas that made them successful, INTO ETERNITY continues to follow the overriding rule that there are no rules — everything's fair game, and it all fits in their expansive, incredible vision.


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