Some records genuinely get better with volume, and that seems to be the case with New Sky, the self-released debut full-length from new-school Pittsburgh bashers Sistered. The four-piece make some predictable moves throughout, and guitarists Jesse Meredith and John Dzziuban (lead and backing vocals, respectively) add a few wispy post-rock melodic flourishes to the barrage of assaulting riffs, but I’ve found that when you turn it way up and just let the eight tracks overtake you, it hardly matters whether or not you see it coming, or what stylistic turn is next. When approached in the right mindset, New Sky is heavy with an admirable intricacy behind it, punkishly raw and yet metallically weighted in a vague progressivism. There are a few standout moments and a few missteps, but the overall clarity of Sistered’s presentation and their unabashed sense of preaching to the choir have a charm to them that serves the band well throughout the 41-minute runtime.
There’s a bit of a genre-blend happening along the line of New Sky, the thrash riffs of the instrumental guitar-led opus “Talkin’ Shit From Outer Space” (no word on whether the title was intended to make fun of Joe Satriani, but given some of the noodling within, there’s a good chance it was) soon giving way to the darker doom rock of “Story of the Witch” to launch the album’s back half. The shorter, punkish “Shut Your Eyes” launches New Sky, and almost immediately there’s a groove to latch onto in the drumming of Josh Egan and the bass of Cary Belback, who display almost universally the trappings of a soon-to-be-underrated rhythm section. The late-arriving vocals from Meredith and Dzziuban are semi-melodic shouts that’ll be familiar to anyone experienced with the first Torche EP, but that turns out to be just one of several tactics Sistered have at their disposal. As upbeat album-highlight “God Save the Child Brides” plays out with backing gang shouts and gruff older-school hardcore punk drunken fronting yelling, I’m more inclined to want to be a part of the cavalcade than pass it up. The chorus is infectious and the song still has enough of a rock edge that I don’t feel like I’m being taken somewhere I’d otherwise resist going.
New Sky’s biggest turn comes with the transition from “God Save the Child Brides” into the title track, which finds Sistered embarking on the kind of sentimental-single-notes-over-chords chicanery that I’m told the mop-topped pop kids eat for every meal of the day. That intro soon gives way to chunky Mastodon-meets-NWOBHM riffing and farther-back shouting from Meredith (presumably) and maybe overly active hi-hat work from Egan as complement for an already angular guitar line. At 8:18, “New Sky” is second only to closer “Blood Red Fog” in both track length and scope, but it’s the first show of Sistered’s ability to transcend genre and be something more than “modern riffy punk metal.” An extended break recalling the intro leads into the song’s second half, gradually building to a satisfying instrumental culmination that touches on both the prior-heard melody and chugging heft. It’s the kind of song you’d like to take a second to process, and Sistered do tack on a couple seconds of silence to the end, but as they should, they soon launch into “Layer of the Empire,” which might be the heaviest of the more riff-based tracks on New Sky, taking a kind of pre-Spiral Shadow-era Kylesa approach to post-doom with an engaging stutter in the guitar, subtle vocal melodicism, thick bass and well-used crash in the drums. The opener is forgettable in comparison, but with the ensuing three songs – i.e., “God Save the Child Brides,” “New Sky” and “Layer of the Empire” – Sistered make a good case not only for the diversity of their approach, but also their identity within that variation. “Cool tunes, bro,” one might say if encountering the band for the first time at Pittsburgh’s Smiling Moose or some other similarly-minded venue.
The momentum does derail some with “Talkin’ Shit From Outer Space,” which, while a great band motto, goes on for a bit long and could probably just as easily have held vocals as it does the capable solos from Dzziuban and/or Meredith. At 5:22, it’s less the intro for the second half of New Sky than it is a full song, but it doesn’t quite operate as either, leaving expectations for one or the other unmet. Likewise, the long fade at the end of the aforementioned “Story of the Witch” sounds awfully conclusive, mirroring the structure some of “New Sky” with an instrumental section at its end, but shorter by three full minutes and more intense in its approach. That said, it’s a more satisfying defiance of expectation when the minute-and-a-half “Midnight Revenge” blasts out its furious black-metal infused trash rock as an answer to the ensuing quiet of “Story of the Witch,” setting up closer “Blood Red Fog” slowly engrossing, patient build. A set-back, reverbed solo tops tense drumming and basslines, and a scratchy-voiced vocal (maybe there’s that grunge influence Sistered professes to have) delivers the title over a suitable cacophony, only to have the process begin again. Late in the song, the guitars trade leads in the right and left channels, finally meeting up for New Sky’s payoff apex. To be blunt about it, it works, and though I’m inclined to say they cut it short by one cycle through the riff and end the song too soon, I realize that at upwards of nine minutes, it might be time to let it go and let the feedback carry the album to its finish.
Ups and downs abound, but the end result of New Sky is a strong debut from Sistered, who still have a ways to go in seeking out their musical personality from the fray of their influences, but they’re well on their way. There’s much on New Sky for the band to work from, and plenty for anyone who’d seek them out to engage with sonically. But in all seriousness, if you’re going to look up Sistered and listen to their songs, make sure you do it at a time and in a place where you can turn it up, because there’s something lost in the subtlety of what they do at low volume, and if you want to take it on, it’s important to do it the right way. Play it loud and play it more than once. New Sky might take a bit to settle in, but the result is worth the effort.
Tags: Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Sistered, Unsigned bands