Sinisthra – The Broad and Beaten Way Review

Sinisthra isn’t a band on the lips of many outside their home country of Finland, and I’m not sure they’re all that well known there either. Their biggest claim to fame is the presence of Tomi Joutsen on vocals. He appeared on their debut way back in 2005 before he was recruited by Amorphis, and after he was, the band went into a state of cryonic freeze. Over the years the various members continued to write music for an eventual followup. For various reasons, it took close to 15 years for The Broad and Beaten Way to come to fruition, once again with Tomi on the mic and with possibly the worst album art ever. I mean, look at that album cover up close. It’s like it was done by someone using a way off-market Photoshop knockoff after only getting a 2-minute tutorial in a foreign and/or dead language. Either that or it’s the most flagrant example of confrontational scrapbooking ever. Artwork debacle aside, Sinisthra play a style of music that’s difficult to define. They’re labeled Gothic metal by some, and perhaps their debut fit that descriptor to a point, but here it’s not very accurate. Some of the music sounds like the mellower moments of Tomi’s tenure with Amorphis, while other cuts aren’t metal at all. This isn’t a particularly heavy or energetic collection of songs. When the songs work they’re pleasant enough if a bit nondescript, but all too often things feel downright bland.

The album opens on a relatively bright note with “Etene,” which sounds like the recent works of Amorphis with a more stripped down approach and a beefed up, Helmet-esque guitar tone. Tomi sounds good as always and his vocals carry the song which is pretty catchy, but the guitar tone is a bit annoying and too forward in the mix. This simple fare is followed by the massive “Closely Guarded Distance, which clocks in at a whopping 13-plus minutes. It’s an odd composition, bringing in elements similar to modern Katatonia as well as djent and groove influences and some oddball synth touches. It still sounds a good deal like Amorphis, but a more proggy, pretentious version. It’s a tribute to the band that the song manages to keep its head above water and largely keep the listener engaged. However, it’s way too long and parts of it feel awkward and dated, like the meatheaded Machine Head groove that morphs into Rob Zombie creepy-eepy haunted house synths around 5:10. It’s like an attempt at Faith No More sorcery, but we all know only Faith No More has those kinds of spells. Overall it’s a decent song with interesting bits and Tomi does a great job vocally, but it isn’t something I feel the need to spend time with now that my reviewing duties are over. Better is “Morningfrail,” which is short and punchy with bigger vocal hooks. It’s certainly not what I’d call addictive, but it conveys enough energy to hold your attention at least.

That’s not something I can so readily say about the remainder of the album, which is far more lethargic. Lengthy cut “Halfway to Somewhere Else” is a languid ballad of sorts with a sullen indie rock vibe. This too runs way too long and it’s not an especially interesting or compelling piece, but Tomi’s fragile, plaintive vocals at least partially salvage the ship. Things wind out with another soft, mellow ballad and when it’s all over I’m left feeling bored and unsatisfied. There’s just not a lot of music here that really grabs hold of my ears and shakes me. It’s competent enough musically, but curiously flat. Tomi is solid, but it all still feels like a unfinished sketch of something bigger.

With the songs being written over a long period of time by various members, I wonder if the band had the time required to get together, bounce ideas off one another and make sure the songs gelled. 3 of the 7 cuts run too long and some editing would have really helped put the material over. On the plus side, Tomi gets to showcase his vocals in a way he doesn’t in his main band. He sticks entirely to clean singing and explores a vulnerability and fragility previously unheard. This window into his range and versatility is my biggest takeway from the album. Guitarists Markku Mäkinen and Marko Välimäki acquit themselves fairly well, drawing influences from a number of genres. However, some of their riffs sound dated, like they were crafted back in the groove/djent era. Likewise, some of Timo Vainio’s keyboard choices sound straight from the late 90s, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

The Broad and Beaten Way is an odd little album. I came in without the slightest sense of who the band was and what they were trying to accomplish, and I don’t feel like I’ve learned all that much despite numerous album spins. Its fusion of prog, indie rock and metal provides some interesting moments, but this isn’t an album I’d recommend to anyone except hardcore Tomi Joutsen groupies. We’ll always have that album cover though, so that’s something.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rockshots Records
Releases Worldwide: May 15th, 2020

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