Before even examining the performances themselves, we need to discuss how the album sounds. One of the reasons the two songs that make up The Unborn Dead work so well is the analog approach utilized to capture the necessary atmosphere for the tracks to have enough impact with both fans of Sinister, and those who wrote the two songs that adorned it. It also allowed the two songs to vary enough to become distinguishable between one another. Here, however, most of the songs end up sounding the same, sometimes being indecipherable despite how many times you heard the original, even if paying close enough attention. The guitars have a thick distortion that is a bit higher in pitch and offers more subtle shifts in sound than anything directly noticeable, and the bass guitar is present at a low volume twang that the aforementioned instruments can sometimes drown out. Even the vocals do leave a little something more to be desired, but work perfectly when channelling a traditional Death Metal approach, or the darker side of thrash like with the cover of Slayer‘s “Necrophiliac”. The drums are pristine though, having the right deeper bulkiness to everything but the nicely leveled crashes and cymbals.
Due to the way everything sounds, it can make some tracks lack bite, and in some instances any major discernible features. The Carcass classic “Exhume to Consume” is one of them, sadly. The main reason it stands out is due to the drum patterns laced with the band’s signature bass lines that still resonate through Sinister‘s cover, not to mention the general execution in timing between this version’s mildly grimy grooves and pounding blast beats. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as impressive, largely diluted from the traditional death metal approach utilized. Death‘s “Beyond the Unholy Grave” is done well for the most part, though without that signature vocal approach just stands as another straightforward death metal cut that has a stronger bass guitar presence compared to the other tracks of this style on the recording.
There’s also Bolt Thrower‘s “Unleashed Upon Mankind”, as well as Merauder‘s “Master Killer”. While neither version are bad, you can’t really hear much of a difference between them, leaving the hooks in the former the only thing that really makes this version stand out against the latter. The worst, however, ends up the cover of Kreator‘s “Under the Guillotine”, which just becomes your typical thrash tinged death metal throw away cut. A lot of what makes the original is essentially non-existent in this version, and chances are you won’t even realize you’re listening to it, let alone something Kreator originally came up with, unless staring at the track listing.
But, there are still a number that sound pretty good. Take the cover of Sepultura‘s “Beneath the Remains” for instance. It’s one that has a distinctive enough sound that, no matter what, you’ll realize who originally performed it right away. Sinister manages to capture that mixture of groove and death metal that made this track a fan favorite, though it can sometimes feel a bit too upbeat, such as the bridge just past a minute and a half in. Autopsy‘s “Ridden with Disease” ends up very well paced, presenting a decent bass guitar presence that is tuned pretty deep, though doesn’t always sound like it’s playing more than one note over the leads that also drop to a lower pitch during the more melodic bits, adding a creepy aura to the performance.
Of course, neither of those really stand up against the cover of Repulsion‘s “Radiation Sickness”, greatly benefiting from what sounds like traces of so-cal inspired thrash metal with subtle hints of crossover in one of the more vile sounding tracks of the release. The shorter performance is met with the proper amount of enthusiasm, which only enhances the addictive hostility. But, finally, there’s the cover of Carnage‘s “Blasphemies of the Flesh”, which perfectly suits the band’s ability to capture a doom metal spirit, not to mention throws a little variety into the mix thanks to some cleaner chords and patchy output from the guitar due to a lower tuning and what sounds like a thinner, hole filled distortion effect.
Finally, there are three original compositions here, though only one is new. “The Malicious (Intro)” sets the mood nicely and winds up a solid performance you won’t really want to skip despite it’s nearly two-and-a-half minute length. You also get two re-recorded versions of classic Sinister material. “Spiritual Immolation” is a richer performance overall, having a good amount of technicality in the guitars for as fast as it can get, not to mention a cold chill in the air as the pace slows briefly about two-thirds of the way in. “Compulsory Resignation” carries the same weight, though the drums are what really take control of the performance as whole. Both of these songs really put the full potential of Sinister on display, making you wish the previous ten songs wound up at least sounding this good.
While Dark Memorials isn’t necessarily a bad recording, it just doesn’t do most of the originals justice. Sinister is one hell of a death metal band and they didn’t really need to do a cover album. Period. But, we have it now, and it just turns many of the highly influential songs by some of the most legendary metal bands of all time into mild death metal fodder. By the time you hear the two bonus tracks, you’ll walk away wishing this were just re-recorded songs from the band’s past instead of random material from ten other different groups. Thankfully there are still some solid tracks to keep the listener engaged, though even those can wind up losing replay value fairly quick. Dark Memorials stands as an album only the die-hards who want to hear some of what influenced Aad and the rest of the new line-up will really embrace. If you’re not one of them and just want more of what Legacy of Ashes or The Post-Apocalyptic Servant had to offer, then this might not be the best choice for you.