I think we’re finally approaching the tipping point for 80’s retro metal. By that I mean if these 80’s worship albums keep coming, the space-time continuum will shift and we’ll all get dumped back in the 80’s for reals. That would pose problems for me since I no longer own parachute pants and high tops. Despite the obvious perils we all face, if the retro releases sound as good as Sinister Realm, I’ll take my chances. These stalwart retro rockers from Pennsylvania released a killer self titled debut in 2009 and it was one of the best albums that year that no one knew about or heard. Undeterred, they rise again with The Crystal Eye and its more quality, righteous metal for the masses. Sounding like a mash up of Argus, Manowar, Cirith Ungol and Heaven and Hell era Black Sabbath, Sinister Realm excels at stripped down but classy traditional metal with a doom influence. Its straight forward, no nonsense, rocked out metal and I have to say, I love it. There’s more balls on display over the course of this album than a lot of bands show over a career. Simple at times, heavy all the time and exceptionally catchy, this may finally get these sinister ones some well deserved attention.
Wasting no time with such feeble things as intros, they launch directly into “Wings of Vengeance” and a great album is underway. Instantly memorable and likeable, it showcases what one can expect in this particular realm. Memorable, rocking , NWOBHM-influenced riffs, pounding drums and the outstanding, extra manly vocal delivery of Alex Kristof. The lead riff here is excellent pure rock/metal glory and the pace is energetic and rousing. The chorus is huge and almost demands you open a beer in tribute. There’s a lot of Manowar-isms but its not a copycat kind of song. A true metal gem. From there they swing quite abruptly into a Cirith Ungol homage with “Tormentor (Deliver Us),” where the bass work of John Shamus Gaffney comes to the fore and impresses. Its slower, heavy-as-fuck and tough-as-nails. Then you get two more fist pumping, barbarian fighting classics (“Swords Held High” and “Signal the Earth”) and a foray into tough, unflinching doom metal (“Shroud of Misery”). They save the best for last with their big, epic number “The Tower is Burning.” Its like a poor man’s Stargazer mixed with Heaven and Hell. Its a huge song with a lot of varied moods and amazingly powerful, pure metal moments. As pleased as I was with the whole album, this song in particular blew me away with its power and precision, especially Kristof’s powerhouse vocals. Its a winner!
Every member of the band excels at his job on The Crystal Eye. Kristof’s vocals are spot on and sound like a mix of the late, great Dio and Tony Taylor (Twisted Tower Dire, also sadly deceased). The guitar work from John Kantner and John Risko is exceptional throughout and brilliant at times (listen from 3:18 on in “The Tower is Burning” and you’ll see what I mean). Even the very audible bass plays a big part (check out 2:12 of “Signal the Earth” for a nifty bass solo). These guys are tight and powerful whether playing fast or slow.
The production does the music justice and everything sounds huge, heavy and mean. There’s also a lot of separation between instruments and you can hear many cool little details. On top of the musical badassery, the lyrics are uber cool and walk the line between Manowar‘s mantra of sword, steel, kill, die and more serious, somber topics (“Shroud of Misery” is quite dark and doomy). In all honesty, the only real criticism I have of The Crystal Eye is its length. With only eight songs of high quality music, it ends all too soon, leaving me wanting more.
As much as I liked their debut, Sinister Realm has topped it in every way. While it may technically be a retro album, these guys have crafted a timeless metal opus that sounds as great in 2011 as it would have in 1984. This jumps way toward the top of my “best of 2011” list and I’m going to be listening to this and their debut a lot in the forthcoming weeks. Book a trip to Sinister Realm as soon as possible. This is too good to gets overlooked.