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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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“Worldshapers”, the seventh Aurora Borealis album, is a culmination of the more death metal oriented approach they have been hinting at since “Relinquish”. Stylistically it is similar to its predecessor “Timeline”, both in concept and in design. Being more of a side-story than a direct continuation of the “Timeline” narrative, “World Shapers” is the most versatile and complete Aurora Borealis album to date. While other bands might be considered more readily marketable Aurora Borealis has a level of consistency and quality that few can match, or surpass. “Worldshapers” is another worthwhile addition to the canon of a band that has never delivered a subpar product since forming.

The record derives its strength from its internal and external consistency. Bolstering the masterful songwriting of creative force Ron Vento is the stability within the ranks. Mark Green (drums) and Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert (bass guitar) man their known positions, and each player is at the top of his game. The evolution that was initiated with “Relinquish” continues as Aurora Borealis explores the death metal end of the spectrum within its death/black metal framework. Thematically “Worldshapers” delves deeper into the “Timeline” concept, but it is a side-story rather than a direct continuation. As in the past releases the lyrics are incredibly well written and thoroughly researched. The atmospheric enhancement through the usage of well-placed studio effects introduced on “Timeline” is further expanded upon and better integrated into the each of the songs.

420_photo‘In the Beginning’ functions similarly as ‘Our Legacy’ on the preceding “Timeline”. “Worldshapers” features the fastest, and most technical drumming yet on an Aurora Borealis record, but each of these relentless tracks is based around wonderful arrangements, dynamic tempo changes and crunchy midtempo sections with flowing bass licks, and a multiple sparkling solos. Opener ‘God Like Redemption’ displays Vento’s further mastery of his chosen style. Despite its leaning towards death metal Vento’s serpentine rasps are at his most hissing. The guitar riffing, and chord progressions are more typically death metal - technical without being excessive, and violent without being overbearing - but weaved through out Vento’s signature melodies. ‘The Oldest Of Dilemmas’ and ‘Watchers From Above’ offer up a number of excellent solos, this is especially the case with the latter track. ‘This Is the Way They Choose to Die’ has the best bass licks on the record, with Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert confidently breaking away from solely doubling the guitars, and writing some truly funky lines that complement the riffs, and chords. ‘And to the stars Returned’ is the most melodic, and diverse, the trio has ever sounded without doing concessions to its overall heaviness.

“Worldshapers” isn’t a direct continuation of the “Timeline” concept in the traditional sense, but a side-story set within the same conceptual framework. Thus “Worldshapers” chronicles a self-contained plot about the colonization of other habitable planets across the multiverse by alien lifeforms after mankind’s end on Earth. The first half concerns itself with abductions and experimentation on human subjects as a way of obtaining mankind's genetic blueprint. The second half of the album is decidedly more philosophically inclined, such as the pondering on the essence of human existence in ‘The Oldest Of Dilemmas’, mankind’s nature to destroy itself (‘Watchers From Above’, ‘This is the Way They Choose to Die’), ‘A Subtle Way to Eradicate Them’ poses that man’s god images come from superior extraterrestrial lifeforms, and their obfuscation of their origins and true objectives. ‘Silent War’ details said extraterrestrial lifeforms experiments through the ages and through the multiverse. Concludingly ‘And to the Stars Returned’ describes the inevitable and inexorable passage of time that even other lifeforms are not immune to, and that our enslavers must eventually answer to higher beings of their own.

There’s a wonderful sense of cohesion, conceptually and musically, to Aurora Borealis’ second era. While “Worldshapers” ramps up the speed once again it never loses sight of its melodic sensibilities. No other band combined death – and black metal as fluently as Aurora Borealis did over the course of its discography. Arguably Florida bruisers Order Of Ennead took a page or two from what Aurora Borealis carved out. “Worldshapers” is a refinement of what “Timeline” did prior, and the fact that both records are structured similarly is advantageous for the flow of each of the songs. Each member delivers an exemplary performance on the record, and surely Mark Green will follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors Tony Laureano, Derek Roddy, and Tim Yeung. Years of toiling away in the underground have finally paid off as now more than ever Aurora Borealis is getting the accolades and critical praise they deserved many years ago.

As per usual “Worldshapers” was recorded at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, Maryland with Ron Vento producing. “Timeline” introduced a previously unheard level of smoothness, sheen and crispness without sounding overly digital. “Worldshapers” uses the same template but enhances the production with more depth, texture and range. Unlike a lot of contemporary productions the bass guitar can actually be heard. Once again Vento commissioned artwork by Mike Hrubovcak (Divine Rapture, Monstrosity, Vile). For the first time since “Time, Unveiled” Aurora Borealis worked with a label again. “World Shapers” was released through Xtreem Music, the label from Avulsed frontman David Sánchez González (Dave Rotten), to lauding reviews the world over. In partnership with its Spanish label Aurora Borealis now reached a wider audience than ever before, and the accolades bestowed upon the trio brought a renewed interest in its catalog of earlier albums.