The Crystal Eye
posted on 8/2011 By:
Modern american traditional metal is a tricky thing. The line between affection and plagiarism is very thin, and especially on a non-Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade label, it's hard to get production values that don't sound like an attempted throwback. There are definite exceptions, bands that are able to play relatively old-school metal that doesn't start to crack when put under the microscope. However, there are more that fall comfortably into the bar circuit, and play their 30-minute sets every other month to a group of friends that gripe about age in between 5-minute “rocker” after 5-minute “rocker.” Sinister Realm, while probably stuck in the latter's ranks, are definitely members of the former.
Taking in their sophomore release, The Crystal Eye, is something of a pleasure. While the ingredients (Iron Maiden, Manowar, Dio, Manilla Road) are obvious, there is a definite vision for the band that clearly shines through in their riffing and arrangements. Their slow burners in particular -- songs like “The Tower is Burning,” and “The Crystal Eye” -- stick out as masterfully composed, trudging through Sabbath-ian riffs with ease, giving vocalist Alex Kristof plenty of room to rasp and soar. Sporting a powerful midrange, Kristof is Sinister Realm's strongest component, taking a European intent (i.e. soaring narration) through an American filter (that Dio yell sound) and confidently waving the denim and leather flag high. There are some issues with their writing, most of all that they get sloppy when they speed up, but their only really gaping crack isn't in their playing at all, but in their sound.
When recording strictly the usual metal set-up (vocalist, a guitarist or two, bassist, drummer), they're stellar. However, when it comes to faux-choirs, keyboard layers and vocal overdubbing, the bottom drops out of the whole affair and suddenly Sinister Realm becomes a group of amateurs. Similar to moments on early Celtic Frost albums, the band just seems to bite off more than they can chew. While there is absolutely something to be said for shooting for the stars, burning up in the sun isn't a pleasant stop on the journey.
Above all else though, The Crystal Eye is effective. The happy medium between polished retro acts and sludgy would-be-openers for Manilla Road, it is riffy, often impassioned, and heavy. And in an age that would look forward to a new Nightwish album, heavy is something to be nurtured.
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