Sinister – Cross the Styx (1992)
If Hate was Sinister’s attempt at producing an “accessible”, even “groovy” release (and it may have been), then what is this? Cross the Styx is admittedly not as consistent as Sinister’s third album, but some of the songs on here are better than anything on Hate. I would attribute this to better usage of dynamics and song structure, although the rhythmic potential the band exploited on that album is not as strong on this one.
Needless to say, this is a relatively short, punchy album with a large amount of songs. There is one mini-epic in the form of “Doomed”, which only lasts 5 minutes but goes through a variety of musical ideas in its short duration, and is memorable to boot. Most of the other songs here are done before they hit 4. Hate, in contrast, was an album of longer songs, which were more ambitiously structured (which makes sense, anyways, because bands tend to get more ambitious as they practice). Ambitious doesn’t always mean better, anyways – a few of the longer songs on that album had filler riffs, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem here.
Hate was arguably an experiment in rhythm and texture within death metal, anyways. Cross the Styx is more openly melodic and modal, which goes well with the dynamic range in creating varied songs. While the drums, for instance, don’t play as many different patterns here, the ones they do play cover a greater variety of tempos, meaning that there are more songs that are clearly slow, clearly fast, clearly slow then fast, etc. This makes it easier for an experienced listener to play the entire album without suffering ear fatigue… except for one problem – surprisingly, it’s the mixing. While the production is fine (a bit more fluid and trebley than that of Hate), several songs at the end of the album are simply too loud. It sounds as if they were compressed more than is necessary; it may be a result of the pressing I have, but the lack of headroom after “Compulsory Resignation” (which, if you ask me, is the most memorable song on here) forces me to reduce the volume by several decibels; I usually have the opposite problem if at all, due to the existence of Replay Gain. In a way, this makes the album an early casualty of the “Loudness War”, if one that can justify it due to its overall violent aesthetic.
That shouldn’t prevent you from purchasing Cross the Styx, anyways. Even the songs afflicted by the aforementioned production problem are well written and performed, and the slightly more conventional songwriting combined with the increased speed makes it a good companion to Hate. In other words, it’s a seminal release in the European death metal scenes, and one that probably influenced a great deal of bands.
Highlights: “Doomed”, “Spiritual Immolation”, “Compulsory Resignation”