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There’s no question about Sinister's place in the upper echelons of European, and Dutch, death metal in the years from 1992 to 1995 or 1998, if one is feeling charitable. In its prime Sinister released the classic trilogy that was “Cross the Styx”, “Diabolical Summoning” and their magnum opus “Hate”. In 1998 the sub-classic (and vintage Suffocation inspired) “Aggressive Measures” followed but everything after never quite reached the same lofty heights as its first three recordings. Sinister continued to release albums consistently, but eventually imploded as mounting interpersonal conflicts rendered it dysfunctional. Aad Kloosterwaard regrouped and released two albums worth of Sinister material under the Infinited Hate moniker before reforming his main band with him moving to the fore as frontman. Since 2005 Sinister has steadily released albums. In 2013 the four remaining prime era Sinister members at long last reunited as Neocaesar.

Neocaesar puts Mike van Mastrigt (vocals on “Cross the Styx”, “Diabolical Summoning” and “Hate”; married to “Creative Killings” and “Savage or Grace” frontwoman Rachel Heyzer) at the front of a unit rounded out by Bart van Wallenberg (bass guitar on “Diabolical Summoning”, guitar and bass on “Hate”, guitar on “Bastard Saints” EP, “Aggressive Measures” and “Creative Killings”), Michel Alderliefsten (bass guitar on “Bastard Saints” EP) and drummer Eric de Windt (vocals on “Aggressive Measures”, drums on the Warfather debut “Orchestrating the Apocalypse”). Certain expectations are inevitable with a decorated membership of such pedigree and repute. “11:11” sounds exactly as the collective sum of its parts would suggest. The ultimate coup would have Neocaesar acquiring the services of Ron van de Polder, but his alliance with Kloosterwaard makes such a union improbable. The absence of any guest vocals from the inimitable Rachel Heyzer is probably intentional, as Neocaesar has the potential to exist beyond a single album. Hopefully we’ll hear Heyzer and her beastly roar sooner rather than later.

According to Christian beliefs 11 is God’s judgment number. In Biblical prophecy 11 denotes the 11th hour, or the time just before the rapture and Armageddon. The 11:11 passages in Biblical scripture all refer to the endtimes in one form or another. Adherents of New Age philosophies on the other hand believe it to herald the dawn of a new age, a spiritual awakening and the ascension to a higher plain of existence. In the theories of German analytical psychologist Carl Jung 11:11 refers to the concept of synchronicity, or that the structure of reality includes a principle of acausal connection that manifests itself in the form of meaningful coincidences. Suffice to say what concerns Neocaesar is the Biblical interpretation of the number. Not that Sinister has wavered from the anti-religious thematic in any way over the last years, but Neocaesar does it far more convincingly and with a greater degree of focus. “11:11” might not have yielded the next 'Doomed', ‘Leviathan’ or ‘Embodiment Of Chaos’ just yet – but Neocaesar have only just started to carve out their path. Who knows what splendid 'Art Of the Damned' they’ll be able to conjure up once they have been together for a few more years?

Even without input from van de Polder Neocaesar retains all vintage elements that made Sinister the ungodly beast it was: van Wallenberg’s signature churning riffing, eerie melodies and chord progressions are in full effect; van Mastrigt’s thunderous growls (he has lost none of the venom and bite in the intervening decades since his time with Sinister) sound as commanding as ever and de Windt easily matches, if not surpasses, Kloosterwaard in the percussion department. Neocaesar probably sounds closer to Sinister circa “Hate” and “Diabolical Summoning” than Sinister themselves do at this point. While there are no weak moments to speak of ‘Victims Of Deception’, ‘Sworn to Hate’, ‘Angelic Carnage’ and ‘Blood Of the Nephilim’ are the standout tracks of the record. The instrumental, semi-acoustic ‘Sigillorum Satanas’ deserves a mention just for how different it is from the remainder of the record, and it greatly enhances the thick occult atmosphere just by being present.

“11:11” is a more than laudable continuation of the sound and imagery that made Sinister a household name in the international metal scene. Are Sinister records better produced on average? Yeah, and some people will probably take issue with the matter-of-fact production that Neocaesar has opted for here. Not that anything that Kloosterwaard touches is always immaculately produced. Infinited Hate, especially on its “Revel In Bloodshed” debut, did not sound half as good as Neocaesar does here. Eric de Windt once again suffers from a suboptimal drum sound, but the guitars and bass guitar are positively crunchy and commanding. Hopefully de Windt will see it fit to lend his throat to Neocaesar in the studio when the time is right. On the visual side “11:11” is steeped in numerology and abstract religious symbolism. As of now, and if “11:11” is any indication, this constellation is a commendable return for 3/4th of the prime era Sinister line-up. Hopefully they’ll be returning with more new work sooner rather than later…

“Hate” is Sinister’s ultimate statement, it is the band’s most conceptually complete, musically savage and their most technically refined album. Mike van Mastrigt delivers his most spirited vocal performance, Bart van Wallenberg shines on both guitars and bass guitar, while Aad Kloosterwaard hammers out what is by all means his most diverse and utterly pummeling work behind the drum kit. André Tolhuizen had exited band prior to these sessions. Bart Van Wallenberg thus became the main songwriter along with Aad Kloosterwaard (drums). This is the start of the second era of Sinister’s first period, and the first record to signal a major line-up change in terms of writing and overall construction. On this record Sinister starts to live up to its chosen moniker, as “Hate” does indeed sounds hateful, dark and broodingly atmospheric in equal measure.

What immediately stands out about this album, in comparison to the two records that preceded it, is how controlled and perfectly dosed everything is. “Hate” is still completely over-the-top in its wall-to-wall brutality, and the unhinged song structures of old remain intact and unscathed – but the whole is more controlled, better paced and just fine-tuned on all major aspects. In all its somewhat slower compared to “Diabolical Summoning”, but the fast parts are faster than anything the band had done prior. Van Wallenberg also appears to be a more technically proficient player than Tolhuizen, as the riff – and song contruction have leveled up in terms of technicality. The hateful riffs are denser, while retaining Sinister’s patented crawling melodies, and the drumming has become more involved and demanding. There are keyboards and synthesizers used sparingly to add atmospheric flavors, van Mastrigt uses spooky whispers every once in a while that add a lot to the intended horror character.

The album starts off with the slightly demented sounding but ultimately pointless ‘Intro’. ‘Awaiting the Absu’ is the first real cut of the album.  As an opener it is all you could ask for. A blast and bass guitar break follow each other in rapid succession, and not until the track goes into midpace does it truly reveal its strength. Van Wallenberg’s transition to both string instruments appears seamless, as this is the most complex and technical the band had ever sounded. The more technical playing also translates into more layered, and complex song structures. “Hate” is a step forward on all fronts for a band mostly respected for its directness and reliance on brutality. “Hate” is a game changer. The writing is as smart as it is deceptive. On the surface it appears to be a fast album, but these fast sections are surrounded by large swaths of a dirgey midpace that was the bread-and-butter of North American – and European death metal. It sounds like a fast album, but it is another solid Sinister album in actuality. The key difference is that “Hate” presents it in a different manner. Sinister hadn’t really changed from “Diabolical Summoning” – for the first time the writing was able to match the band’s strengths.

‘The Embodiment Of Chaos’ is a stellar example of the band’s new writing style, it starts out with a blast section, but segues into an extended midpace in the middle before concluding with another blast. Sinister was never much of an artistic band, and “Hate” is no different. There are no leads/solos to speak of, but the usage of melody and the way the songs are constructed add to the memorability. The chorus section to ‘Art Of the Damned’, for example, is instantly memorable. ‘Unseen Darkness’ is the slowest track of the album. Taking a cue from the arising American scene “Hate” is a faster, denser and more muscular type of death metal that still retains the band’s thrash roots and the oppressive dark atmosphere which made “Diabolical Summoning” as strong as it was.

In many ways “Hate” was the coronation moment of Sinister’s earliest period. This is arguably their best, most complete offering on all fronts. Everything came together for a moment, and this record best reflects that. The band would never reach Gorefest type of exposure or popularity, but as a more underground offering – it is among the better ones of the 90s Dutch death metal scene. After the “Hate” sessions Sinister would part ways with long-time singer Mike van Mastrigt, who was replaced by Eric de Windt. A bass guitarist would be enlisted in Alex Paul, allowing former bassist Bart van Wallenberg to remain in his current position as rhythm guitarist. Sinister would release another three records after this, all while dealing with the usual line-up changes, before finally calling it a day in 2003 after the terrible duo that was “Creative Killings” and “Savage Or Grace”.