Though they’ve never achieved the acclaim of countrymen Asphyx and Pestilence, for some good reasons, the Dutch death metallers in Sinister certainly deserve some small amount of credit – for not giving up, if for nothing else. The Carnage Ending is their tenth record since their debut, 1992’s Cross The Styx. Still, for as long as they’ve been cranking it out, the last Sinister album to cross my desk before now was their second one, 1993’s Diabolical Summoning. That one was (is) a respectable slab of early death metal, old-school death metal from the days pre-dating that term, and as such, it’s neither overly technical nor overly brutal nor blackened, grinding, avant-garde, or any other descriptor. In fact, therein lies Sinister’s ultimate defining characteristic, now as it was then, and the reason they aren’t regularly lumped in with Asphyx and Pestilence: When it comes down to it, they have no singular defining characteristic or set thereof. They weren’t first, though they were closer to that than most; they weren’t best, though they’re closer to that than they are to worst. They’re good but not amazing, fast but not the fastest, heavy but not the heaviest, occasionally mildly technical but never head-spinning, skull-pounding but not head-crushing…
So that’s their place in the world, but when it works (as it did on Diabolical Summoning, and as it does here), it’s not really a bad place to be. The Carnage Ending shows that, after all the twists and turns in time, not much has really changed in the past twenty years, though in the interim, Sinister itself has changed almost entirely. Only drummer Aad Kloosterward remains from those earliest days – he’s no longer the drummer, however, and is now filling the vocalist slot. Since 2011, the entire band has turned over, so The Carnage Ending is largely the work of a new outfit. And yet, it’s Sinister, so, musically, it’s still very much business as usual.
After the requisite old-school-death keyboard-laden “symphonic” introductory track, The Carnage Ending begins in earnest with “Unheavenly Domain.” Most of this Carnage follows that song’s lead: flying kick drums with the occasional down-shift into a groovier beat; carving guitar riffs, alternately tremolo-picked and chord-based chunks; and Kloosterward’s choked grunt. Carnage breaks sporadically to entertain a few diversions – the intro to “Crown Of Thorns,” the clichéd-but-eerie keyboards in the title track. Again, nothing in those shifts is unexpected or unique, but all are enacted skillfully, with enough deftness to augment the flow of blast-happy death metal that surrounds them.
If no-frills, thrash-based death metal gets your cold and callous heart a-flutter, then it’s likely that you’ll enjoy The Carnage Ending. Sure, it’s generic and undeniably redundant, like semi-recent releases by Malevolent Creation or even Krisiun, but like those releases, it’s the product of a band that is good at their stock and trade. My collection gets cluttered, but in the end, there will always be room on my shelves for straightforward death metal performed by those who know what they’re doing. No matter what, Sinister will never be mentioned amongst the top-tier bands of their era – they existed then in the shadows of the giants of the first wave, and there they remain, two decades later, and forever – but there’s certainly some comfort in a job well done by a long-running and very capable band, even if they still can’t find the something (the anything) that separates them from the pack.
(Note: For the Sinister collector, there is an expanded edition of The Carnage Ending featuring covers of Whiplash, Massacre, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and Blood Feast. Each cover is lovingly done, fun, but again, nothing is anything transcendent.)