Whenever I’m given a new band to check out for review, I do as much thorough investigating as humanly possible. So when a band is labeled as “doom rock,” which is the case with today’s subject of scrutiny, Portugal’s Sinistro, I get a bit antsy, as it’s usually just a cover-up for gothic silliness. Add to the fact that the band members only go by one letter each (save for frontwoman Patricia Andrade), and it doesn’t bode very well from the start. With warning flags in mind, how does their second album, Semente, fare in the face of all these preconceived notions courtesy of their promo sheet?
Surprisingly, pretty good. Opener “Partida” lurches forth with a lumbering riff by guitarists Y and R (this is going to get annoying very quick), but it’s when Andrade starts to sing that your attention is pulled towards the sonic vortex. Her voice is sultry, seductive, and enchanting, reminding me a bit of Shirley Manson (Garbage) and Beth Gibbons (Portishead). At 1:50, it turns dreamy with Andrade cooing gently over the throbbing basslines of F (annoyed yet?) and F’s lush keyboard melodies before returning from this dream-like state to bring the heavy back. We are then treated to some drum fills by P (why, god, why?!) before going back to the main riff. Not mind-blowing, but still rather enjoyable throughout the song’s six minute duration.
While Semente attempts to come across as a team effort, it’s clear as daylight that Andrade’s vocal performance is the clear stand-out. Her voice comes across as reassuring throughout the entirety of “Corpo Presente,” seductive-yet-yearning on the title track, and even mournful on “A Visita.” Her versatility is admirable, and this is all done in the band’s native Portuguese tongue. As for the music, it’s takes a bit of a back seat, and would very rarely classify as “metal,” with some exceptions. The transition of the trip-hop dreaminess found on the title-track into the mammoth-heavy lumber of “Reliquia” is astounding, as are the last 5 minutes of closing track “Fragmento.” But for the most part, it acts as a bed for Andrade’s voice to lay upon.
The production is thick and unforgiving. The guitars have some incredible heft, as does F’s bass and P’s bass drum. The cymbals sound a little too shiny for my liking, but overall it’s appropriately monolithic. My big concern is some of the songwriting choices. The last five minutes of “Fragmento,” albeit heavy and unrelenting, is quite literally one riff played ad nauseam. And with the exception of the aforementioned tracks, there’s little to remember, and what is memorable is often because of Andrade’s beautiful voice. What makes bands like My Dying Bride heralded is not only their talent as musicians, but how they construct and vary their songs. Sinistro has the talent, but they need to craft better tunes to hold one’s attention.
I was half-expecting another horrible album brought forth by people who only use initials as names (and that trend needs to die, like, yesterday), and thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by how good Semente is. If they can work on their songwriting a bit, I can see these guys and girl rubbing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of My Dying Bride in the coming years. One to keep an eye on.