Sinister – Deformation of the Holy Realm Review

I’m always happy to see old school death metal bands that are still around and putting out new music, especially when that music is as good as Sinister‘s. Though they formed in 1988, this Dutch group’s 2017 album Syncretism was my first exposure to the band and my neck has never been the same. That album sounded like the best of 2000s Behemoth mixed with Malevolent Creation and it quickly inspired me to dig through their back catalog, leading me to discover the band’s true brilliance via their classic 1992 debut Cross the Styx. Admittedly, the Sinister of today isn’t the same band as those days, with drummer-turned-vocalist Aad Kloosterwaard being the only original member remaining. The band’s modern era is apparently no stranger to lineup changes either, as fourteenth album Deformation of the Holy Realm has an entirely different set of members than its predecessor with the exception of Aad and drummer Toep Duin. Fresh blood in legacy acts is usually a good thing, but with the primary songwriter from Syncretism now out of the band, would Deformation be able to maintain the same level of quality?

It turns out those snarling hellbeasts on the cover are more than just for show, because this album is indeed just as vicious as its predecessor. Much like Sinister‘s best prior albums, Deformation possesses a sense of immediacy that I often find absent from modern death metal. Without sacrificing an ounce of extremity, the band’s music often strikes that precarious balance between being direct and accessible without becoming overly simple. On Deformation, that’s achieved by adding a lot of frantic melody to the mix. After the record’s surprisingly good orchestral intro, the title track launches into a bludgeoning assault that’s made all the more enjoyable by a simple melodic lick that rises from the background before ricocheting tremolos take control. The third track “Apostles of the Weak” doubles down on the melody, with panicked intervals soon driving the song forward amidst brutish riffs in a way that calls to mind Vital Remains. The band are smart enough to use these melodic ideas as a tool rather than a crutch, putting them alongside plenty of hefty chords, sizzling solos, and skilled songwriting choices that make each of these tracks wholly enjoyable.

The performances are great as well. Once again Aad stands out with his extremely guttural and commanding roar that sounds like the biggest goddamn grizzly bear alive has developed an insatiable thirst for human blood. Toep only adds to the energy and brutality, bashing his kit both furiously and relentlessly throughout Deformation‘s 45 minutes. Unfortunately, this relentlessness isn’t always a good thing. The eight proper tracks here are less distinct than those on Syncretism and that’s largely because of the rhythms. Aside from the slow intros of “Scourged by Demons” and “The Ominous Truth,” Toep stays locked into an unwavering fast tempo for almost the entire album, sacrificing dynamic moments to essentially provide a uniform substrate for guitarist Michał Grall to sow his riffs.

Fortunately, said riffs are often pretty stellar. I love the rapid tapped melodies and quick crunchy chords of late highlight “Oasis of Peace – Blood from the Chalice,” while “Unique Death Experience” stands out by barreling forward on fast belligerent chugs that are embellished with flashes of melody. The headstrong aggression of both this track and “Unbounded Sacrilege” almost remind me of modern Cannibal Corpse, which is a likeness I certainly can’t complain about. The production is suitably loud and potent, with big beefy guitars dominating a mix that still leaves enough space for the occasional choral embellishments that crop up in songs like the aforementioned “Apostles of the Weak.”

I was really excited about a new Sinister album and Deformation of the Holy Realm certainly didn’t let me down. While I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Syncretism, I love how the band maintained their brutality, vigor, and quality songwriting while incorporating a lot more melody. The fact that music has been put out under the Sinister banner for over 30 years is already impressive, let alone the fact that the band has been able to successfully incorporate new members while maintaining their unique identity and vicious energy. The result is killer albums like Deformation, a record that’s just as strong as almost anything newer death metal bands are putting out and another terrific entry in the group’s increasingly impressive catalog.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Massacre Records
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

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