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Like a punch to the nose, shattering bone and tearing flesh, Sinister Realm introduce their brand of rocking, heavy-as-fuck guitar mongering, shout-along choruses, stomping leads and powerhouse drumming. This is a classic heavy metal band in the vein of early Manowar, with its rattling bass and thunking guitars and melodious leads, if they decided to team up with Doomsword to write music. That alone should be enough for you to shut the fuck up, close this website and go buy this fucker.
However, it has come to my attention that some of you may need further persuasion. Thus, let me turn off my objective, critical demeanor, strip myself of any kind of higher literary needs, and just review this album from the perspective of a big fan of this genre.
Just listen to the opening verse of “Machine God,” in which vocalist Alex Kristof belts some of the most triumphant, powerful lines I have heard out of any modern bands. Effective, worldly, concise. And then later on, that “Dying SUN, fading LIGHT…” bit that comes in, with the choir backing and the lead behind it…this, folks, is how you play Heavy Metal. It helps that the leads on this song are reminiscent of the great Slough Feg.
“Demon Seed” is simply better than anything you will ever do. That isn’t to say you cannot move on to write something good, too, but “Demon Seed” is just too damned cool. Listen to that earthshaking riff, and the way the chorus repeats itself over and over, becoming more glorious each time, sung in a slightly bigger, better voice than the last. Or perhaps it is just so good that it simply sounds better to the human ear every time one hears it. “Message from Beyond” is darker and more solemn, carrying a militaristic march to it that evokes early Candlemass as well as any band ever did – and maybe better.
“Mongol Horde” blares through the speakers with a stupidly simple gallop and driving tempo, but it just works, making you bang your head and especially making you feel the Mongol Horde, as Kristof sings, his voice confident and muscular in its clarity. “Enter the Sinister Realm” is an instrumental with delights abound, with wild solos and galloping bass lines and deft guitarwork on all sides, assaulting with the fire of a thousand burning stars. Every song rules – it is just a question of how much?
This is just awesome. It reinforces everything good about classic metal – the riffs are crunchy and heavy and stomp like no tomorrow, the vocals are clean, powerful and masculine (I had to cut the review down to avoid repeating myself in quoting him), the production is great, allowing for the bass to be heard and for every other instrument to have its due clarity, and the whole air, everything about this, is made with metal in heart, soul and mind. Check it out.
If bands like Iron Man and Count Raven are promising to keep the spirit of '70s Sabbath alive and kicking into the troubled second decade of our new millennium, Sinister Realm might have taken up the torch for Sabbath fronted by Ronnie James Dio, as well as the little man's early solo discography. With Heaven & Hell and the band Dio both active, this might seem like less of a necessary undertaking than the continuation of the Ozzy mythology. Admittedly, Sinister Realm are no tribute band, they simply play heavy metal in the style of the 1980s, incorporating both traditional doom riffs and the anthemic energy post-Priest heavy metal was showing.
The band mention Candlemass among their influences, alongside Sabbath, Dio and Priest, and oddly enough Alex Kristof's voice has much in common with Candlemass' most recent singer Robert Lowe. Kristof shows the same theatrical approach toward vocal lines, breaking out of the melody set by the verse to let loose seemingly spontaneous blasts of sound. The chanting chorus to 'Machine God' is almost Therion-like in its grandeur, Kristof's multi-layered vocals surrounding the marching guitars on all sides in the style of Mats Leven. The chorus to 'Demon Seeds' is an impassioned and raw performance, and along with the classic doom riffs sounds like a 2009 take on Dio's 'The Last in Line.' The band capture not only the aesthetics of their heroes, but the same transcendent celebration of individuality through crushingly powerful music that heavy metal embodied during its teen years.
Thoroughly embedded in the tradition of '80s heavy metal and traditional doom, Keith Patrick and John Kantner are bloody outstanding guitarists. They vent a blizzard of urgent, exciting harmonies during 'Mongol Horde' as well as over a minute of beautiful lead work transitioning into a solo that must have left fingers slightly blackened. Patrick and Kantner are of a rare breed; many a guitarist can become good at a particular style, add their own touch to it and make excellent music, but these guys show the authority of a musician talented enough to turn their hands to the bluesy grooves of Iommi-inspired doom and make it sound their own. Just turn to the instrumental 'Enter the Sinister Realm', where a rocking rhythm section (with some remarkably expressive bass playing from Darin McCloskey, I might add) is overlayed by furious soloing in the best traditions of Blackmore and Page.
Patrick and Kantner throw layers of innovative melody around the heavy, grooving core of doom at the centre of Sinister Realm. 'March of the Damned' has an exotic, Oriental feeling to it, both in the sparse melody that opens the track and returns at points throughout, and someone hitting a gong in the background toward the 3:30 mark. 'The Nihilist' is the raging standout of the album, due to Kristof's Dio-like booming of the chorus and the classic, romantic guitar leads that take us through the song's middle. 'Message From Beyond' breaks with a beautiful acoustic section and a foreboding drum tattoo.
As a debut album, this is incredibly strong. If we're not counting Heaven & Hell, this is easily the best debut doom album this year. Tracks like 'Mongol Horde' deserve to cement Sinister Realm among the finest purveyors of heavy metal and doom in the thriving US scene, as well as internationally. Released twenty-five years ago, it would have been a classic. As it is, it's just absolutely fucking essential. Make with the purchasing.