Year 2017 presents an interesting clash between former cohorts in death metal. Sinister, containing only Aad Kloosterwaard from the original lineup, have released Syncretism; Neocaesar, on the other hand, are a band formed from some of the most significant personnel to have participated in Sinister‘s glory run of the 90s. To the avid fan, that time can be broadly classified into three stages: (1) Cross the Styx, where the band bred thunderous rhythmic complexity with speed and progression, (2) Diabolical Summoning, where a greater preponderance on percussion after the manner of North American brutal death metal became evident, and finally (3) Hate, in which was realized a marriage between the previous two facets and an understated Gothic sensibility.
The members of Neocaesar have not forgotten their past exploits; the first minutes of 11:11, and sporadic intervals thereafter, feel like a visit from a cherished friend, but subsequent exposure reveals that this is an album of broader swathes and somewhat reduced epic scope. The contours of playing technique haven’t changed much, this is still the original Sinister sound in the main, and it is still death metal, too, but the components making up that sound are simplified and come with the added caveat of occasional melodic and structural accessibility. A hallmark of past work was an unpredictability that was organic in nature; Sinister would pounce upon the opportunity for implanting dark melody and adrenaline-galvanizing elements into otherwise uncompromisingly dissonant songs, but this was more a case of a band being alive to possibilities than any blatant play at mass appeal. That unpredictable opportunism is rarely heard here, and though it would be disingenuous to call 11:11 by-the-numbers, greater linearity in writing combined with over-dependence on the lingering but essentially second-hand motif renders it something less than the heaving mass of skull-pounding, switchback death metal which the longtime fan might rightfully expect.