overground scene

Neocaesar – 11:11

Although this is not a music reviews blog, every once in a while a new album comes out that gives me so much pleasure that I feel the duty to mobilise the limited resources in my possession to promote it. Neocaesar‘s debut album, titled 11:11, is one of those albums. 11:11 marks the return of one of death metal’s finest duets, Bart van Wallenberg and Mike van Mastrigt. This constellation’s finest achievement has been Sinister‘s Hate (1995), a masterpiece of unique death metal. Although Bart and Mike are also partially responsible for another masterpiece, Sinister’s Diabolical summoning (1993), it is Hate that showcases Bart’s song-writing style in all its splendour (Diabolic summoning is primarily Andre Tolhuisen’s brainchild – read more here). Completing the line-up of Neocaesar are Erik de Windt, who sang on Sinister’s monumental  Aggressive measures (1998), and Michel Alderliefsten, who played bass on Sinister’s Bastard saints (1996).

I cannot overstate how happy this release has made me. Neocaesar’s debut is an album that takes the listener back to Sinister’s golden era. Listening to this album feels like listening to a classic death metal album from the past. It contains eight astounding songs plus two dark instrumental pieces. It is hard to decipher what makes 11:11 such a fantastic album. Mike’s vocal delivery is one of a kind, and the vocal patterns he’s come up with are extremely catchy. Bart is sensitive to composing songs with a narrative rather than riffs awkwardly glued together. He also knows how to change the mood of a riff by adding layers to it. In most cases this in not even a complicated approach, but it is so skillfully done that it’s astonishing. One good example of this can be found in the middle of “Invocation of the watcher” where the main partially palm-muted frantic razor-sharp riff – whose role in the rest of the song is to induce intensity – is complemented by an accented tremolo-picked three note progression to create a more eerie atmosphere. “Victims of deception”, a song about child abuse by the christian clergy (thematically I sense an affinity to “Bastard saints“), has to be the most infectious song of the year; one awesome riff after the other, great performance by Mike, and great drums written by Erik. “Sworn to hate” is a dark, atmospheric track, reminiscent of the respective turn of Sinister after Bart took over musically (between 1995 and 2001). The beginning of this song is another great example of Bart’s beautiful orchestrations. Each song is so well-made that trying to identify highlights is meaningless; this album is unique and perfect from beginning to end. Note the awesome Slayer-ish “Criminally insane” section  halfway through on “Valhalla rising”. Old Sinister fans will notice the lyrical reference to “Art of the damned” on “From hell”. Mike’s raging delivery during the last 30 seconds of “Angelic carnage” (as well as earlier on in the song) brought forth memories of his delivery on the ending of “Embodiment of chaos“. “Blood of the Nephilim” closes the album in a majestic manner, its opening slightly reminiscent of the opening of “Sense of demise”.

If you grew up listening to early 1990s brutal death metal, Neocaesar will blow your mind. If you find contemporary death metal soulless, over-polished, and generic, then Neocaesar will restore your faith in death metal’s ability to surprise and send chills down your spine. If you can afford to buy only one album in 2017 then this album should be Neocaesar’s 11:11.

p.s. Support the band by buying their merchandise and music here.


Diabolical Summoning 20 years on: an interview with Andre Tolhuisen

The year 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of many monumental death metal albums such as Indecent and Obscene (Dismember), Wolverine Blues (Entombed), With fear… (At the Gates), Covenant (Morbid Angel) and Heartwork (Carcass). The year 1993 was also the year the Dutch band Sinister released their sophomore masterpiece Diabolical Summoning.

diabolicaDiabolical Summoning is, to my ears, an undisputed masterpiece because it exemplifies in many ways the uncompromising spirit of death metal music. First of all, it pushes the boundaries of extremity that other bands before them set. The way it pushes these boundaries is not necessarily by means of speed or brutality. Other bands were both faster and more brutal than Sinister at the time. However, Sinister pushed the limits of extremity and challenged musical conventions with their unique blend of phenomenal dissonant riffing (Andre’s playing involved quick shifting between slow and fast alternate picking and the mixing of more conventional melodies with warped melodies and grind rhythms), simple but creative and colorful drumming (one of Aad’s trademark characteristics was his out-of-control high hat blastbeats, that created a very chaotic atmosphere) and, finally, Mike’s raging brutal vocals that did not come at the expense of clear articulation. Mike was, to my ears, the perfect death metal vocalist; he managed to come up with catchy and interesting vocal patterns, he had an amazingly brutal voice and most of the things he sang were audible. This chemistry rendered possible one of death metal’s most excellent albums ever: Diabolical Summoning.

The person responsible for the bulk of the music in this album is Sinister+crossAndre Tolhuisen. In the remainder of this post Andre, who left Sinister in 1994, offers some interesting insights on the creation of Diabolical Summoning. In his accounts it is described how when he joined Sinister he had to embody the logic of Ron’s riffing (Ron was already the guitarist before Andre joined the band). Andre notes that internalising this logic was not only a mental task but a practical task as well and that embodiment occurred over time. In Andre’s words it also becomes clear that the incorporation of that new musical logic into Andre’s existing musical logic – which was more thrash oriented – resulted in a new form of musical expression that included elements of both styles. Other interesting topics that emerged from my discussion with Andre relate to the practices of cultural transfer between young death metal musicians at the time. The communication of musical rules and practices which were still obscure and in a process of emergence would take place in face-to-face encounters, from one friend to the other. This type of direct communication allowed young musicians – who had not gone through the legitimate channels of musical training and hence faced obstacles in transmitting sub-cultural norms and practices in a standardised and formalised manner – to teach each other death metal music in a more informal and hands-on manner. What follows are parts of the discussion I had with Andre on the comment section of a previous post and through e-mail.

I read on the Metal Archives that before joining Sinister you played in the thrash band Vulture. How did you hook up with the rest of the guys in Sinister?

“Back in 1990, about a year after Vulture, I was hanging out in a metal bar where Mike, Ron and Aad also came every now and then. We started talking and they asked me if I was interested in playing guitar with them and they gave me the demo to listen to. Well, when I heard the tape I could not really hear what they were playing and asked them if I could come to their practice room and I was amazed and shocked by Ron`s guitar parts. He had a terrible sound but I could see what he was playing and I was hooked; from that moment I was in the band.”

How different was the guitar playing you did for Vulture from the playing you did for Sinister?

“The feel was totally different,Vulture was not really my thing, especially the high vocals were not my thing. I wanted to play more brutal music but didn’t really know how. Death Metal was very underground back then and I was in the thrash scene so I never heard that kind of stuff before. Also the rhythms are very different and more complicated.”

How was the writing process for Diabolical Summoning? Did you collaborate with Bart on songs or each one composed music on their own?

“I wrote most of the stuff at home with a cheap cassette recorder by myself, later Bart was also starting to write stuff and sometimes we did it together but that was usually during rehearsal.”

Earlier Andre had mentioned:

“I wrote Diabolical for 90 % [and] the rest is credited to Bart who played bass back then.”

Would you write music first and then lyrics or the other way around? If it was the latter, did the lyrical content ever influence the music you wrote?

“As far as I remember it was always the music first and I personally don`t recall that the lyrics were an influence to the music.”

Which were your musical influences during the time you composed the music for Diabolical Summoning?

“Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends was a big influence and also Ron`s way of playing was a big influence in combination with my thrash background.”

Did your own style totally adapt to the style Sinister had when you joined, or did you keep some of your personal elements too?

“I think you can say that I adapted in a big way but still kept a little of my own influences.”

Earlier Andre had mentioned:

“The riffs that Ron came up with was stuff I never heard before, it was also really hard to learn his stuff in the beginning. I asked him to move in to my house to sit down and get it in my head and fingers, it took me about six weeks to learn the first album. We both couldn’t read any music so we had to do it like that. When he left the band I really had to get used to be the only guitar player. Bart was already in the band by then as a bass player and after some time we got used to it.”

How did you compose music?

“It would just pop up in my head, I really have no idea where it came from. I could be standing in the shower and get a riff in my head and rush out to record it.”

In which ways do you think Diabolical Summoning differs from Cross the Styx?

“That’s a tough question, Cross the Styx is totally Ron`s style except for Corridors to the abyss, and Diabolical is a combination of Ron and my style.”

Which songs off Diabolical Summoning are you most proud of or you like the most?

“Corridors to the abyss [off Cross the Styx] was written spontaneously on the first or second rehearsal if I remember well. It was my first Death Metal song written for them and we all got chills when we were playing it over and over; very nice memories. Desecrated Flesh was also my favorite and Diabolical and Sadistic intent.”

Which parts are the most challenging to play?

“Stuff I wrote myself wasn’t hard. The last song on the album [mystical illusions] was written by Bart and I found it hard to play to be honest. During recording of the album I did all guitar parts myself except for one riff in the middle, I just could not get it down and told Bart that it would be better if he played it, cause I wanted it to be played good. So, he recorded that part.”

Andre is no longer active in bands but is still proud of what he did with Sinister all these years ago and still listens to old stuff like Amon, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Hate Eternal (all the good stuff that is). And he should be proud because after 20 years, Diabolical Summoning has not lost one bit of its freshness and it can rightfully be celebrated among the monuments of the genre. Its power lies in the inventive song structures, the outstanding chemistry within the band and the passionate performances which render each song memorable and unique. The introduction of songs like “Sense of demise”, “Diabolical summoning”, and “Sadistic intent” will always be engraved in your mind once you hear them. The chorus and fast break of “Desecrated flesh” (with the super-massive riff that is able to destroy the planet) redefined the concept of intensity. These are songs with the power to drive a person to the most frantic dance and, at the same time, the most deep meditation. Sinister’s style of death metal was unique and no band ever came close to capturing that magic. Below I submit a video I found on YouTube of Andre (wearing a Deicide shirt) with Sinister playing “Desecrated flesh” live in 1994.

p.s. Greetings to Andre for answering my questions and loads of respect. I hope I did not act too much like a fanboy. All the best!

Whatever happened to Ron?

This is the first post in a series of posts I plan on the topic of unheard music heroes. I realised over the years that some of the musicians that made a big impression on me when I was young either never got the recognition they deserved or disappeared. The aim of these posts is to pay tribute to these great musicians. I start this series of posts with someone who was a true death metal innovator and for many years I thought had disappeared. I recently found out that he is still active, yet flying under the radar: Ron van de Polder of Sinister.


One of the bands me and my friends have always held in very high regard is the dutch death metal band Sinister. The first album I bought from them was Hate (1995), back in the summer of 1997. Cross the Styx (1992) and Diabolical Summoning (1993) followed shortly after. Every single album they released up to their demise in 2004 (and before their reformation) has been a masterpiece of death metal, taking the genre to new territories. With Cross the Styx, they defined their own style of death metal, which was closer to the American tradition*. However, I always thought that Sinister made use of the different rhythms and techniques as well as the potential of electric guitar, in a more imaginative way than any other band. Sinister’s style of riffing and sense of dissonant melodies are like no other band’s. Even on their first record, Sinister sounded like mature musicians. Their songs had never been a patchwork of riffs, and riffs rarely guided the songs. The latter could be described as dark musical themes orchestrated with impressive fretboard work. After Hate they started experimenting with longer, atmospheric songs often including keyboards, encasing the brutality is a swamp of mysticism and fear. Mike van Mastrigt’s awesome vocals and imaginative and catchy vocal patterns defined Sinister’s trademark sound in the early years. However, even after his departure from the band, his successors, Eric and Rachel, did an awesome job as frontman (on the hyper-brutal Aggressive measures) and frontwoman (on the phenomenal Creative killings and Savage or Grace) respectively.

One of the things that always amazed me about this band is that although they went through numerous line-up changes over the years their identity remained intact, and without compromising freshness and creativity. Another interesting thing about Sinister was that the person responsible for nearly all the music in their debut album, the music that defined their sound, was Ron van de Polder (I think their other guitarist Andre Tolhuizen had a couple of co-writing credits) a member who left the band after the debut. Nevertheless, all the albums that were released in the in-between years were phenomenal despite Ron’s (pictured below in the Entombed t-shirt) absence. Sinister is an exemplary group of musicians that fully embodied their artistic identity and reproduced it in the most natural way throughout the years, in spite of the fact that the person responsible for the original artistic vision was no longer there.

Sinister - Cross The Styx - Back

Until Ron’s informal return on the amazing Savage or Grace (2003), on which he contributed music without being a full-time member, we had no idea what he was up to and we always wondered, especially in the days when internet was still new, what happened to him. Such a brilliant musician, responsible for creating some of the best death metal in the world, should be making music. Although Savage or Grace had the classic Sinister sound that had been constant over the years, Ron’s touch gave it a Cross the Styx feel. A truly brilliant album (check out one of the most amazing songs off this album here). Yet, he did not become a proper member of the band and after that record we lost track of him again. A couple of years ago I discovered that he actually put together the brutal death metal band Infinited Hate.

He released three albums with that band between 2004 and 2007, all three of which with Aad and two with Rachel from Sinister. The style of Infinited Hate could be described as intense technical brutal death metal, much faster and complex than everything Sinister ever recorded. Heaven Termination (2005) specifically is a pretty amazing album. The most recent band in which he plays is called Weapons to Hunt and from the little that I’ve heard its music is full of Ron’s classic riffing, albeit a lot more straight-forward than Infinited Hate. Hopefully, we’ll be listening to more music from Ron in the years to come.

* Sinister were clearly influenced by Deicide‘s approach to music, as well Immolation‘s and Morbid Angel‘s approach to riffing, but my opinion is that they took it to a whole new level. Also, I personally think that the most successful of all US bands, Cannibal Corpse, owes a lot to Sinister. My opinion is that Sinister effected the drastic transformation that Cannibal Corpse went through after Tomb of the Mutilated (1992). I would go as far as to say that Cannibal Corpse totally ripped Sinister off. The entire The Bleeding (1994) album sounds like it’s been influenced by Sinister’s first two albums and particularly Diabolical Summoning (1993). The beginning of “Staring through the eyes of the dead” is classic Sinister, reminiscent of the song “Diabolical summoning”. The beginning of “Stripped, raped and strangled” is also reminiscent of the beginning of “Sadistic intent”. Other songs, such as “Forced fed broken glass”, draw heavily on “Diabolical summoning” and “Desecrated flesh”. And, with all respect due to Scott Burns, the production of The Bleeding also sounds a bit like the production of Diabolical Summoning. More recent work by Cannibal is also reminiscent of Sinister. “To decompose” off Evisceration Plague has a riff directly borrowed from “The cursed mayhem” off Hate.