Sinister Savage or Grace

Holland’s hell children Sinister return to the fold with their seventh release in 14 years, but this time it’s without the help of founding guitarist Bart Van Wallenberg (replaced by Cantara’s Pascal Grevinga). In a strange twist, original guitarist Ron Van De Polder was asked to write all the music but didn’t play on the album itself. Nevertheless, Savage or Grace eschews the band’s former affair with mid-paced death metal and seethes anew with a ferocity unheard since 1995’s Hate. After another signature instrumental intro ("Rise of the Predator”), the title track slices ‘n’ dices through flesh and bone as front-demon Rachel Heyzer settles into a gruff, Morbid Angel-ic howl. "The Age of Murder” and "Chapel Desecration” are effectively brutal but ultimately by-the-numbers on a Malevolent Creation slant. This recent line-up change takes its toll, however, with a few notable missteps: despite its brooding intro, "Conception of Sin” harbours decelerating guitars that are slightly off-count, and the drums in "Barbaric Order” suffer the same fate. The production clarity suddenly drops out during "Collapse Rewind” but is restored for the fret-burning closer "Apocalypse in Time.” Not as technical as Monstrosity but more accessible than Suffocation, Sinister need only break in their newest member before rising to full power once again. (Nuclear Blast)