Allentown, Pennsylvania is not just the focal point of Billy Joel's catchy ode to Americana. It's a gritty town with gritty folk and therefore it should come as no surprise it's home to SINISTER REALM, a classic-themed heavy metal act that has quickly received international acclaim through three albums.
Founded in 2008 by ex-PALE DIVINE bassist John Gaffney and PALE DIVINE/FALCON drummer Darin McCloskey (who has since left this band to concentrate his efforts in PALE DIVINE), SINISTER REALM will continue to build an audience on the heels of the much-lauded "The Crystal Eye" with their sharply executed successor, "World of Evil".
SINISTER REALM are intelligent understudies of the roots of heavy metal, encapsulating a round robin of JUDAS PRIEST, DIO, CANDLEMASS, IRON MAIDEN and VICIOUS RUMORS into their mostly mid-tempo, old-fashioned metal vibe. While fortified with astute guitarists John Risko and John Kantner and drummer Chris Metzger, the big story to SINISTER REALM's players comes with Gaffney and vocalist Alex Kristof. In some ways, Kristof rings like the more restrained pitches of ANNIHILATOR's Dave Padden. You get the sense Kristof can wail if he wants to, but outside of a screechy final note on the title cut, he delivers a controlled, classy performance for a band that prefers finesse to full-frontal. Really, the only thing that's full-frontal about SINISTER REALM is John Gaffney's buoyant impressions of Steve Harris and it's impossible not to key in on just him during the first listen to "World of Evil".
Once you've soaked up Gaffney's massive spots, then you begin to appreciate the sparkling guitar solos from John Risko and John Kantner on the rock-solid opening number "Dark Angel of Fate" and their DIO-esque rumble through "The Ghosts of Nevermore". The huffing riffs on the addictive "Bell Strikes Fear" are irrefutably JUDAS PRIEST but they're sold with a killer chorus hoisted from the L.A. power metal scene and SAXON to give them extra loft. The tuneful bridge likewise chimes of SAXON, and all put together, this is a dandy retro pounder carrying a wholesome metal heart. Again Risko and Kantner deliver the goods on the title track with mounding riffs and a polished solo section, while the morose acoustic interlude setting up the final stanza is superb.
One of the album's most exhilarating points comes with the 1:33 instrumental, "The Forest of Souls" which transitions beautifully into the closing epic, "Four Black Witches". "The Forest of Souls" sweeps from a somber but gorgeous acoustic thread into a stamping electric march that is sustained in the near-nine minutes that follow. A glaring toast to IRON MAIDEN manifests in the midst of "The Forest of Souls", straight on the heels of John Gaffney's isolated, plucking nod to Steve Harris. From there, the song morphs from MAIDEN to CANDLEMASS with tempered instead of brazen (i.e. Messiah Marcolin) vocals from Alex Kristof. "The Forest of Souls" rides confidently through its grand plantations and to SINISTER REALM's credit, it hardly feels like an exhaustive marathon. Moreover, you're surprised it all went by so fast.
"World of Evil" is decidedly stacked front heavy with the album's best numbers outside of "Four Black Witches" through the panting title track, not that the album ever slacks. The would-be PRIEST banger "Cyber Villain" is a bit silly in theme and (at-times) execution, but like everything else around it, it's compact and delivered with professionalism. It's no wonder SINISTER REALM has snagged more than a few supporters in this market. These guys are sitting on something that could be potentially bigger than what it is. Right now, they're a damned good act content to work in their own modest fashion.