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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…

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By the time “Creative Killings” arrived in 2001 Sinister was well underway imploding, creatively as well as in terms of membership. Previous vocalist Eric de Windt only lasted that one album, and in his stead Aad Kloosterwaard had installed his girlfriend Rachel Heyzer (who sung for Belgian early death metal group Pathology, but would truly make a name for herself fronting Dutch death/thrash outfit Occult). This was the last record for long-time guitarist Bart van Wallenberg, and the second sign of decline of what once was Holland’s most promising original death metal act. “Creative Killings” is anything but creative – and the murky Jon Zig artwork is only a signpost of deeper creative decay.

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The first sign of trouble comes with the throwaway acoustic guitar intro track ‘Relic Of Possession’, and the fact that this is a loosely conceptual undertaking about “a different motivation why someone is able to kill and murder a person” according to the newly installed Alex Paul (bass guitar), who was responsible for all the lyrics on the album. On all fronts the record is a continuation of the New York death metal style the band adopted on the preceding record. At best it sounds like a budget Suffocation knockoff, at worst it sounds like Sinister doing their utmost to get signed to California specialist label Unique Leader Records, who were somewhat of an epicenter for this exact type of second-tier knockoffs of bigger, more established death metal brands, musically as well as conceptually.  For a band that used to sound unique and have a distinct voice of its own, this record sounds nothing but artificial and artistically hollow. This is not Sinister, but a carbon copy of the New York death metal record seen through the lens of European metal sensibilities.

“Creative Killings” isn’t bad in itself, were it not of how much of a directionless and uninspired retread it is of a sound the band didn’t properly master on the earlier mentioned “Aggressive Measures” album. The only aspect that even remotely stands out is attractive frontwoman Rachel Heyzer, who grunts and growls like a female George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher. Even by early 2000s standards the record sounds confused as to what it wants to be. On the one hand the music’s basic template is clearly constructed from the viewpoint of an early Sinister record, yet everything superficial and direct about this record seems to aim itself at a Suffocation and Deeds Of Flesh audience. As a creative gamble, it doesn’t pay off in the slightest as the foundational template is in opposition of what the more direct New York death metal branch seeks to accomplish. This results in a record that is stuck in the past, yet longs to be part of an emerging subbranch of the style of which it fails to understand the subtleties that make it work.

It is not until the fourth track ‘Judicious Murder’ that the real Sinister finally surfaces. ‘Reviving the Dead’ is a faceless blaster for the majority of its running time, yet the slow break makes it sound better and more atmospheric than it actually is. The acoustic guitar in the closing section recalls the band’s third album “Hate” in a number of ways. ‘Early Gothic Horror’ is another slow crawler in the band’s original style, it is the highlight of the album that arrives at just the right moment: the middle of the album. ‘Moralistic Suffering’ starts with a riff that is surprisingly similar to the opening riff from ‘Embodiment Of Chaos’ from the “Hate” record. Keen observers will have noted that ‘Bleeding Towards the Wendigo’ and this track have identical running times, although similarities seem to end there. ‘Altering the Beast’ is wholly steeped in Suffocation worship, and in terms of construction it is closest related to “Aggressive Measures” signature tracks ‘Behind the Superstition’ and ‘Chained In Reality’. Unlike those tracks the song is mostly on the slow side, and the technicality doesn’t sound overbearing.

Of note is that ‘Altering the Beast’ is custodian to one of two guitar solos on the album, and it is sadly memorable only because of that. ‘Season Of the Wicked’ is the last original track before a cover rendition of Possessed classic ‘Storm In My Mind’. ‘Season Of the Wicked’ sees Sinister trying its hand at aping Polish rising stars Decapitated with its choppy, nervous riffing and more open-ended song construction. Towards the end the second guitar solo of the album is introduced, and while these are hardly memorable in its own right, it begs the question why Sinister only decided to use them in of two tracks. The Possessed track is faithful enough to the original, and the presence of guitar solos in this cover once again begs why Sinister not write more solos for its own original material. The production is similar to the Thanatos album “Angelic Encounters”, on which Aad Kloosterwaard also provided drums, that was released a year earlier. The artwork is typical Jon Zig, and although it is one of his better works it still is no match for the classic paintings of Dan Seagrave, Kristian Wahlin, Kris Verwimp or Axell Hermann. While “Creative Killings” is the least creative Sinister album up to that point, it is leagues better than the record that would follow in the footsteps of this one. Those who want to sample Sinister’s music are advised to check out “Cross the Styx”, “Diabolical Summoning” or the band’s third and most conceptually complete record “Hate”.