Released: 2011, Shadow Kingdom Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Sinister Realm is the kind of band that reminds you why metal rules in the first place. Their latest and sophomore release, THE CRYSTAL EYE, is nothing short of bloody awesome and for all the right reasons. The Allentown PA quintet built some solid, international buzz with their 2009 self-titled debut, and THE CRYSTAL EYE appears poised only to carry that praise even further.
THE CRYSTAL EYE is 8-tracks of traditional no-frills, but no less ass kicking, heavy metal. The music harkens back to a time when being “heavy” didn’t require an explanation or a Wikipedia entry; you just knew a band was heavy quite simply because it was. And Sinister Realm is indeed heavy. The straightforward presentations of the tunes belies them as deceptively simple, but they are in reality epic in the way that true metal should be. The raw power that these five guys pull into their tunes feels entirely natural and unforced. Pomp and flamboyance doesn’t make you grandiose, but quality tunes that are well written and well executed absolutely do.
Musically, I imagine that if Priest and Candlemass had a one night stand, the resulting love child might indeed have Sinister Realm as the name on the birth certificate. The opening fist pumper “Winds of Vengeance” and the methodical stalker “Tormentor (Deliver Us)” feel like classic Priest, while the trifecta of “Shroud of Misery,” “Battle for the Sinister Realm,” and “The Tower is Burning” reminded me of the classic doom of NIGHTFALL/TALES OF CREATION. But it never sounds derivative; you can hear the band’s influences, but it always sounds like Sinister Realm. A tune like “With Swords Held High” could have easily gone into straight Manowar cheezoid territory, but its grit and conviction make it a worthy metal anthem. I must have looked quite the fool bellowing the chorus from the confines of my car during my commute to work - “WITH SWORDS HELD HIIIIIGHHH!!!!!!!”
Going back to the band's perceived simplicity, THE CRYSTAL EYE lets the music speak for itself, which I totally respect. Vocalist Alex Kristof has a gritty delivery full of bite and equally full of range, lending the tunes an added dose of density. The guitar team of John Katner and John Risko are never flashy for the sake of it; the riffs are solid and mean and the duo laces plenty of tasteful lead runs throughout the album. And the rhythm section of John Shamus Gaffney and Christ Metzger are lockstep all the way, with Gaffney’s plunking 4-string providing a welcomed buoyancy to the album. Individually, they’re all respectable musicians, but collectively they make for a musical beast to be reckoned with.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something about the album cover. The simple photo of the skull and sword on the album cover may be overly subdued by today’s standards, but goddam, does it not just shout “METAL”?! No glitzy flying unicorns or half naked nymphs to be found here. Skulls are metal, swords are metal (both literally and figuratively); what else do you need? It reminded me of the classic covers from the 80’s (I keep thinking of OZ’s TURN THE CROSS UPSIDE DOWN), and for that reason alone it gets massive cool points.
So yeah, THE CRYSTAL EYE is bloody awesome. I had zero expectations when I received this promo in my inbox, but I’ve readily fallen in love with it. This is a winner for any self respecting metal fan, ‘nuff said. THE CRYSTAL EYE is available now through Shadow Kingdom Records, check out Sinister Realm’s website for more details.