Across the Styx and Back
An Interview with Mike of Sinister
by: Henry Akeley
This band should require no introduction, having proudly carried the flag for European death metal throughout a decade that has seen scores of lesser death metal bands on the continent either stagnating or wimping out. Not Sinister. Their 1992 debut _Cross the Styx_ set the standard early on for excellence in death metal: imaginative, brutal, jagged, technically adept. Follow-up _Diabolical Summoning_ (1993) injected a good, strong dose of blasting grind into their sound, and remains an unique and under-appreciated slab of tightly-disciplined sonic mayhem. And then there's 1995's _Hate_. If you ask me, it's the pinnacle of the death metal genre so far, the prime synthesis of songwriting prowess and pulverizing power. Last year saw the European release of the four-track EP _Bastard Saints_, whose two new tracks continue in the crushing tradition of _Hate_ and precede re-recorded versions of a pair of songs from _Cross the Styx_. The EP should be available in North America through the American branch of Nuclear Blast by the time you read this, and the band hopes to do a North American tour this summer, possibly as part of a package of Nuclear Blast artists.

Since _Bastard Saints_ seems to represent a kind of coming-full-circle for the band, I asked vocalist Mike what led to the decision to redo "Cross the Styx" and "Epoch of Denial" from their first CD. "Actually, two reasons," he explains. "At this moment, we've got a new line-up. We've got a new bass player, Michel, and [guitarist] Bart was not on _Cross the Styx_ either, so we just wanted to show people how we play the songs. It's even more intense, better played, faster, with some parts a little bit slower, so the songs have a little bit more feeling. So this would give the idea of how we play them live."

In fact, Michel has played bass for the band since immediately after the recording of _Hate_, and he toured with the band in support of that record. Now that there's a complete, solid line-up, has any more new material been recorded? "No, nothing recorded yet," Mike reports. "We're working hard on the new material, but we've been doing other stuff, playing, et cetera. We want to have the best songs we can make, so it takes a little bit longer than usual. It's a little harder now to write very good material, because _Hate_ is a very good album. People like _Bastard Saints_ as well, and people expect us to have the same quality. That's what we want as well, so there's a little pressure, and it's a little bit harder to write the songs." Still, there's been plenty of writing going on, Mike tells me. "We've got a lot of parts written, and one song is totally finished. It's probably the most brutal Sinister song ever. The title is not settled yet. 'Satan's Disciple' is what I'm calling it right now, but I haven't finished the lyrics."

Given that Sinister is a band whose albums are never carbon copies of previous releases, I asked Mike whether the new material would continue in the same brutal vein. (This is an idiotic question to ask the vocalist of such a titanic band, I know. But for some reason, I asked it.) "Definitely!" Mike states with enthusiasm. "The same aggression. Sinister stands for something brutal and aggressive, and we want to keep it that way. Even if we're going to sound a little bit different - like _Bastard Saints_, for example, is totally different from _Cross the Styx_ - still, it's the Sinister sound. And that's what we want to keep for the new album as well."

Clearly, these guys have no intention of going soft. I always wonder, though, how death metal vocalist are able to keep belting it out in the trademark style. I mean, you would think that that approach would just kill your throat, and I've always suspected that that's why so many bands feature brutal vocals on an album or two, then shift to a cleaner style. According to Mike, though, that's not an issue for Sinister. "No, not with me. I sing in the good way. Some guys sing out of their throats, and if you're going to sing out of your throat, then yeah. They have problems on tour, stuff like that. I've never actually had problems on tour. I can sing that way every day and have no problems. I know some guys who have pain in their throat from the way they're singing. But I have no problem, because I sing a little bit out of my stomach. That's the good way."

That's cool to know, since the band will be doing weekly dates in Holland for the next little while and, as I mentioned above, they hope to make the trek to North America before the year is out. I ask who they might like to come over with, and Mike replies that "We're working on it. We've thought about all kinds of ideas. We might make it a Nuclear Blast package." The band seems to be quite happy with the newly re-formed Nuclear Blast America. "Yeah, Dustin is doing a great job for us," Mike says. "It's really cool."

Is the band excited to get back on the road? "Oh yeah!" Mike exclaims. "We love it - that's what music is all about, playing live. That's what we want to do, to be on the road as much as possible. We get sick if some show gets canceled or a tour gets canceled. That's the biggest disappointment you can get."

As long as we're talking about like and dislikes, I'm really curious to know what Mike thinks of the recent explosion of interest in black metal - especially since Sinister are a European band who've carried the banner for death metal since well before black metal became so huge. "I like some black metal stuff, but most of the bands I like have a little bit of the death metal sound," he tells me. "I like Marduk, Angel Corpse, things like that, but they've got a little bit of death metal sound. They're not 100 percent black metal: the guitar sound is not that high, and you've only got the high vocals, warpaint, and stuff like that. To me, those bands are pretty cool."

Of course, quite a few death metal bands these days seem to have stories about harassment from hardcore black metal purists - annoying letters, people flinging dead cats around, that sort of thing. Does Sinister have any such tales to tell? "No," Mike says. "Actually, we've got a big black metal following here in Europe. When we do a show, there are so many black metal guys, it's unbelievable. And they say, 'Yeah, we only like black metal, but the only death metal band we like is Sinister. So that's cool, and we hope we're gonna keep it that way. I like some of the black metal stuff. Not all, because... a lot of those guys are just starting out playing guitar for a couple weeks or a couple months, and then they start writing music. So for me, it doesn't sound like anything. But now, there are more and more better black metal bands. So it's pretty cool, and as I said, we've got a big black metal following."

That is cool, and its good to know that the scene isn't necessarily as narrow-minded and self-contained as one might think, given the way in which it's often portrayed. As I indicated to Mike, I think that the black metal explosion has been a great thing for the scene. Yeah, there's been plenty of bullshit and hype, but at the same time, it's unleashed some creative energies that just weren't getting tapped by bands in the death metal scene. Mike's thoughts on all this?

"It's true. There were so many death metal bands at that time, and a lot of them getting slower and softer. They'd all want to sound like Death, and Death was getting softer as well. The media was making a big thing out of it, and saying that death metal died. Everybody was searching for something more extreme. That's why only bands who kept their own style - like us, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation - those bands survived. A lot of other bands who changed their style - nobody cared about them any more. People searched for something new, and the most extreme thing was black metal, at the time. Even though the music, for a lot of these bands, totally sucked, they didn't care, because it was extreme, they've got the warpaint and stuff like that; the image was cool. That's what a lot of people were searching for."

What about all the ideology, though? A lot of black metal bands talk a very hard line about Satanism, and more to the point, a lot of them have nothing but unkind words for Anton Lavey. Sinister, on the other hand, is a band which has never shied away from Satanic imagery either - but who, I would suspect, have a lot more sympathy for Lavey's atheistic, individualistic style of Satanism. I ask Mike what he thinks about all that.

"Well, I can say one thing," he replies. "Most of the guys who are saying shit like that are just, like, 15 years old. And if you're 15 years old, what do you know about life? What do you know about Satanism? I know a lot about that stuff - not a lot, maybe, but I've read many books about it, and I can say I know a bunch of that stuff. But even if I was totally into the demon stuff, I could never tell myself that there was a Satan, for two reasons. I think that if you are a Satanist, you should know stuff like that with 90 percent certainty. And nobody could know it with 90 percent certainty, because then you'd have to read so many books and stuff like that, that you should probably be 40 years old or something like that even if you spent your whole life being into Satanism. As well, I use the word 'Satan' in the lyrics, but for me, Satan is made up by Christians. So, if you believe in Satan, you have to believe in God. And I don't believe in God, so I don't believe in Satan. I believe in some other stuff; I believe in evil, but not in Satan and God."

But then what's the point of all the Satanic imagery and lyrics that Sinister make use of? "I use it as anti-Christian stuff," Mike explains. "Actually, I'm anti-religion as well. I think everybody can have his own religion, but he should not preach it to somebody else. That's why my lyrics are against Christianity in the first place, as well as against religion. People are calling themselves 'Satanists,' but for me, if you're a Satanist, then you have to keep the stuff to yourself, or among the people who have the same beliefs. Do not go and give it big hype, because that's not what Satanism is all about. Keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you're like a Jehovah's witness, walking door-to-door and preaching. That's stupid."

(article submitted 16/3/1997)

1/14/2002 A Bromley Sinister: Creative Brutality Unleashed
9/17/2008 J Smit 6.5 Sinister - The Silent Howling
2/17/2006 J Smit 8 Sinister - Afterburner
6/27/2003 X Hoose 7 Sinister - Savage or Grace
1/14/2002 A McKay 7.5 Sinister - Creative Killings
2/13/1999 P Schwarz 7 Sinister - Aggressive Measures
10/11/1996 A Wasylyk 7 Sinister - Bastard Saints
9/2/1995 G Filicetti 7 Sinister - Hate
5/13/2001 M Noll Marduk / Mortician / Vader / God Dethroned / Amon Amarth / Mystic Circle / Sinister / ...And Oceans / Bal Sagoth Baptized by Fire and Beer
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