SINISTER REALM, The Crystal Eye (2011, Shadow Kingdom)
This is the best kind of bad Photoshoppery, the kind that makes a cheap photo look even cheaper in the service of adding a sword and a glowing gem (I guess that’s the crystal eye?) It would have been easy for the artist to toss in some swirling brown background, or some lightning bolts or fire or something, but no, he kept it simple, kept it true. Black background, slightly out-of-focus skull, big sword that appears to mysterious emanate from the side of said skull, and some highly lame typography. While it would of course have been preferable to actually assemble all these pieces and shoot them in situ, even The Council realizes that modern metal bands are highly budget-constrained and are therefore willing to overlook any shortcut that nevertheless yields such a ridiculous Big Dumb Skull. The Crystal Eye: it’s gonna getcha!
Sinister Realm, previously featured all they way back at SKULL35, work in the medium of mid-paced true metal, a la latter day Dio (with some nods to early Jag Panzer as well). And like Dio’s last however many albums, Sinister Realm suffers for lack of variation in tempo (especially for lack of any real upbeat numbers) but they more or less make it work on the strength of the songs and singing. Vocalist Alex Kristoff has a powerful, meaty voice that commands respect and brings focus to the songs even when a few more ass-kicking riffs wouldn’t have hurt. Of the three Sinister Realm full-length albums, I’d say The Crystal Eye is the best by a nose, thanks largely to the harmonic depth of songs like “The Tower is Burning,” and if you like similar American bands like Argus or Jag Panzer (at their slowest), then Sinister Realm are likely to twist your nipples as well.
— Friar Johnsen