SIGH – Monography

INTRO

The history of metal is studded with bands which are difficult to label: whether for the many styles drawn into play or for the unconventional paths chosen by these artists, the monickers sporting this feature are so many nowadays that it got almost easier to find this kind of bands rather than the more traditional ones. This wide range of evolutions which keeps extending forced the critics to coin the Avantgarde Metal macro-category, sort of an enormous container with almost undefinable features, except for the prominent experimental inclination opposed to the more standard ways of making music. Right in the middle of these two factions we find Sigh: too bound to traditions to be considered avantgarde, too avantgarde to be considered standard; their style has always been marked by a will to go beyond the schemes, while still keeping them in mind.


ORIGINS

SighSigh‘s history began at the end of the Eighties under the name of Ultra Death, later changed into the current one in 1990. At that time, Japan wasn’t a country with a strong Metal scene, although some relevant bands were already active (Loudness, X Japan and Gargoyle, for example); yet, the extreme world didn’t have many bands on its side: one of the few important acts was Sabbat and their primordial Black Metal inspired by Venom’s sound. Again, Venom will be fundamental for Sigh: Mirai and his mates never hid their passion for Cronos’ band, as shown in the tributes released throughout their history. The link with the old school has been always present during all these years: even in the more experimental works, the old school aura is very noticeable. Yet, it’s impossible to consider Sigh as a mere replica of that sound, since they proved to have a strong and unique personality from the beginning.

As it was natural for an emerging act of that era, the — still unstable — formation took the first steps with some short self-released demos in 1990. Desolation and Tragedies respectively contained three and four tracks in which raw and primordial Black Metal managed to leave some room for doomy slowdowns and keyboards dark and occult, or on the contrary crystalline like an elegant piano; obviously, sound quality was not the best, which didn’t satisfy the band. Between a demo and the other, what once was a trio — even a quartet with the old moniker — became a duo with Mirai Kawashima and Satoshi Fujinami, creating the core of the band for all its career.

It’s only in 1992 that Requiem For Fools was released: an EP lasting less that fifteen minutes supported by the Californian label Wild Rags Records, already known for the re-release of Tragedies; the three tracks contained in this album showed an already non-standard band, even using an instrument like the ocarina in a Black Metal work, beside the already present keyboards. This attitude won’t be received too well from the labels to which the band sent the album, except for Mayhem’s Euronymous who decided to open the gates of his Deathlike Silence Productions to the Tokyo-based band thanks to that peculiar sound. This is the real starting point of the history of Sigh: a history which we are going to examine album by album, following the tradition through which they are named.


THE TASTE OF DEFEAT

Scorn Defeat1993 is the year of the debut: contacts with Euronymous get important to achieve a fully satisfying result, since the Norwegian musician restrains the Japanese band, recommending them to take some time to fix some details and to get a more evil look fitting their music. Unfortunately, 1993 is also the year of the infamous murder putting an end to the Inner Circle and its emanations; among the many consequences, Deathlike Silence Productions got acquired by Voices Of Wonder, leading to complications in the production of Sigh‘s first album, particularly due to its artwork. After having worked out this issue, Scorn Defeat was finally ready to be released.

With the addition of Shinichi Ishikawa on guitars — despite being already active in live shows — Sigh becomes a trio again; the direction to follow already cleared thanks to Requiem For Fools and the seven tracks — divided into «Side Revenge» and «Side Violence», in a Deathlike Silence way — prove it. “The Knell” and “Taste Defeat” came from the EP and were proposed again in a less raw version, finally with a sound quality doing justice to the compositions; an element distinguishing the first of the two mentioned songs from its previous version is the elegant keyboard intro in which the strongly neoclassical influence shows both in the melody and in the sound of a synthetic harpsichord which leads to the Black-Thrash fury of the track.

The other songs also show their personality through elements nowhere to be found in a Black Metal album of that time: the piano notes on one hand making “At My Funeral” disturbing, on the other refining the ending of “Ready For The Final War”, then interweaving with the acoustic guitar in “Weakness Within”; “A Victory Of Dakini” is characterized by a solo in which the bass seems to run after a guitar apparently on an overdose of classic Rock and Metal. The true gem is actually “Gundali”: six minutes in which organ and synths, accompanied only by percussions and whispers, create a solemn song which ends in another piano passage; this shows Mirai’s skill in managing the keyboards which — being present in various forms in every track — became an essential element of Sigh‘s music, in this case particularly in mid tempos and slowdowns.

Scorn Defeat‘s themes were also different from the then growing Black Metal scene: while keeping the same dark attitude of the genre, the inspiration drawn from Japanese myths and occultism made the album even more unique.

So this was the beginning of Sigh‘s career: although being newcomers, there were already qualities which very few could and still can pride themselves on. Early Nineties Black Metal’s malignity met a unique creativity foreshadowing the evolution of Symphonic Black Metal which would be realized soon.


THE BLACK ART OF ELEGANCE

Infidel ArtFollowing their debut, Sigh found a new home in the British label Cacophonous Records through which they release a split with the Greek band Kawir; the side of the Japanese act contained — in addition to a Venom cover — the short song “Suicidogenic”: this song will be then inserted in the sophomore album Infidel Art in a very enriched version.

At that time, the idea of using keyboards in Black Metal started to catch on thanks to bands such as Emperor and Gehenna, followed by Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, leading to the birth of the Symphonic subgenre. For their part, Sigh took the orchestral element already to another level; the intro for “The Last Elegy” is emblematic: a sort of waltz with a totally not dark tone which leads to a song made of Black vocals, doomy slowdowns and Thrash-like bursts — the same mix which the whole album is based on — all accompanied by triumphant keyboards and an oriental sounding flute. Same goes for “The Zombie Terror” and the heavy “Desolation”, in which the orchestrations get a more elegant tone, without forgetting an almost psychedelic mysterious veil in an ending enriched by an organ in the background; that organ is the main instrument — together with the piano — in “Beyond Centuries”, song in which the gothic-vampiric atmosphere foreshadows what will make Cradle Of Filth and Theatres Des Vampires famous.

Infidel Art was also characterized by the high quality of Shinichi’s guitar riffs: “Izuna” and “Suicidogenic” are perfect examples of the union of a certain melodic style with a sound which — in its Metal side — is anything but refined; these two songs are full of negativity, thanks to the deep bass, the solid and always simple but fitting drums and the raw scream of the leader — the ending of “Suicidogenic” is unforgettable — sometimes alternated with clean singing adding an exotic touch. Finally, there is “Beyond Centuries” which at some point brings an almost Stoner-ish riff as if it was the most natural thing to do.

While Infidel Art is not often mentioned when talking about Sigh, it was an essential step for the growth of the band which — although still linked to more traditional sounds — was already trying to play something original.


JAPANESE OCCULT RITUALS

Ghastly Funeral TheatreDuring the following two years, Sigh worked on various things, among which there was an EP that we’ll put aside for now; so, 1997 saw another relevant release. Even if it’s an EP lasting less then half an hour, Ghastly Funeral Theatre (葬式劇場Soshiki Gekijo in Japanese) is usually considered as part of the main discography of the band: the most obvious reason is the tradition of the album titles, because the «G» of this album connects the «I» of the previous and the «H» of the following one to complete the first cycle; the other reason regards the evolution of the sound which surely pass through these twenty-three minutes of music.

Since the keyboards of a cursed amusement park of the intro you can notice the horror and mysterious direction of this album; this kind of atmosphere matches the themes, once again — and more than ever — linked to Japanese esoterism, as shown in the cover art where these two aspects meet in a picture of a curse thrown on a man.

Of the six tracks of this EP, three are instrumental: in addition to the intro, there are the outro “Higeki” and the interlude “Imiuta”, in which Mirai gives vent to his composition skills with the piano and the keyboard; the latter of the two, especially, could even be the background music for a J-RPG, with its high emotional intensity and reflective nature.

The other three songs are the closest to the Metal universe. The accelerations and slowdowns of the previous works are no more, in their place mid-tempos dominate almost the whole album in some sort of Heavy-Doom Metal with an extreme and progressive vein. The orchestrations — although reduced — are still there and there is a comeback of the ethnic element thanks to the flute, supported by the acoustic guitar in “Doman Seman”; this track is probably one of the most emblematic, talking about the first real experiments made by Sigh, with the first atmospheric phase and the second, more Metal one and a dreadful chaos of string in the middle which already back then showed that playing extreme didn’t just mean to put blast beats and screams. For their part, “Shingontachikawa” and “Shikigami” can pride themselves of guitars solos — three different ones in the latter — and the (synthetic) sound of a saxophone, an instrument that for the first time made its appearance in the Japanese band’s music and which will get more important later on.

There is another reason making Ghastly Funeral Theatre relevant: it’s the first release where Sigh used MIDI technology instead of the old synths. In this regard, let’s make a step back to the EP we put aside: “Shadowking” is a song made at the time of Infidel Art, but it wasn’t used in that album because of the change of instruments would have made it look out of context; from that track, an EP with the same title should have been made but it was never released and even Ghastly Funeral Theatre was like a preparation for what came later, since originally conceived as part of a never completed split (firstly with Abigail, then with the Swedish Vergelmar). “Shadowking” and the two covers which would have put together with it will be later released in some reissues.


VISIONS OF A PICTURELESS MOVIE

Hail Horror Hail«Warning: This album is way beyond the conceived notion of how metal, or music, should be. In essence it is a movie without pictures, a celluloid phantasmagoria. Accordingly, the film jumps, and another scene, seemingly unconnected with the previous context, is suddenly inserted in between frames. Every sound on this album is deliberate and if you find that some parts of the album are strange, it isn’t because the music in itself strange, but because your conscious self is ill-equipped to comprehend the sounds produced on this recording.»

These words are printed on the back of Hail Horror Hail, released in the same year of the previous EP. If up to now Sigh were just making known sounds more personal, with this album the idea was clearly to go beyond any kind of border. Trying to imagine the movie it should represent, the only possible image is a horror B-movie, as the title suggests: while it cannot boast a great sound quality — and taking advance of its absence instead — this work is able to convey dark and mysterious sensations, leaving the listener-viewer in a state halfway between anxiety and curiosity.

In some respects, a B-movie generally has some points in common with a standard film: a plot, some characters, a setting; in the end, the structure is the same. Similarly, Hail Horror Hail is like a Metal album: rotting guitars, chaotic solos, dynamic rhythms and screamed vocals are all there, just like you would expect from an album mixing Heavy, Thrash and Black. The opening title-track makes it clear that it belongs to these genres with a catchy riff, a lead guitar with some bluesy shades and diabolical lyrics; but yet, this same track also suggests that the listening won’t be really linear.

The monstrous sound effects that appear here and there are probably the less surprising element, despite being quite unusual. The orchestrations are more present than ever, often earning the spotlights; in fact, there are many symphonic parts sounding dramatic and theatrical and even more often they work together with the rest of the instruments with spectral, melancholic or proud tones. Invasions from other genres come unexpectedly: the Jazz influences of the saxophone and the piano find some room here and there; a certain Rock attitude straight from the Seventies shows itself for example in some dynamics of “Seed Of Eternity” and in the organ of “The Dead Sing”; “Curse Of Izanagi” seems to draw from J-Rock in its chorus. There are also flutes, acoustic guitars, choirs and even a vocoder, whose presence is pretty evident in the angelic-robotic vocals of “42 49”.

If all of this wasn’t enough to highlight Sigh‘s progress, two tracks in particular remark this evolution and take it to another level. “12 Souls” is a nightmare in which synthetic and schizophrenic percussions, dis-harmonic orchestrations and bizarre riffs blend into an infernal chaos that in some way finds time for some jazzy interlude; these seven minutes show how the Japanese band went further with this work, creating a song completely different from the others, yet full of the same horror aura. On the other hand, “Invitation To Die” is a complete enigma: an ethereal yet constantly tangible psychedelia, a synthetic bass, Mirai seems to make some sort of rap-scream, hand claps keeping the rhythms and finally the absence of electric guitars; a track that even today would sound at least bizarre in a Metal album, yet managed to find its place in a work released twenty years ago.

Generally, Hail Horror Hail is considered the point when Sigh got free of any chain restraining them and dived into the world of experimental music; this common opinion is justified by certain choices in this album which will be the foundation for the following evolution of the band.


THE DEVIL’S CIRCUS

Scenario IV: Dread DreamsAfter two years of almost complete silence, in 1999 Sigh prepared to release a new work, starting the second cycle of their titles. The fourth scenario of the history of the band took advantage of the will to experiment with sounds of the past creating something personal.

Following the cinematic attitude of the previous release, Scenario IV: Dread Dreams creates a diabolical reality, in some way comparable to the animation movie “Chika Gentou Gekiga: Shoujo Tsubaki”: in both works, the atmosphere half-way between horrifying and grotesque of a horror circus generates bizarre and insane sensations which, in the album, are particularly evident in the synths of “Divine Graveyard”. Each track shows elements which suddenly transform the scene in a dire, macabre carnival, usually through keyboards and ethereal choirs. The most destabilizing element is probably the piano, especially in “Black Curse”: almost disconnected from its context, yet fully capable of making it its own, taking advantage of the ambiguity of this bond.

Like in the previous works, Sigh keep exploring the fusion between Metal and symphonic parts, using an elegant waltz as an interlude before the grand finale; the synthetic orchestra takes various shapes ranging from the psychedelia in “In The Mind Of A Lunatic” to the dramatic sounds of “Imprisoned”, not to mention the elegant intro of “Severed Ways” and the constant clownish nightmare. This weird creature is incorporated in another, more metallic entity made of Black evilness, Heavy-Thrash movements and sabbathic anguish; among mid tempos and Doom slowdowns, Sigh‘s circus slowly walks through a not so simple, yet suitable for their experiments road.

In addition to these two aspects, there is a Rock vein in different forms: the more progressive one gets evident in songs like “Infernal Cries” and “Iconoclasm In The 4th Desert”, especially thanks to the cooperation between the organ and the guitars; the agony in “Black Curse” is unexpectedly crossed by a Surf-ish passage which later turns into Funk; bluesy solos appear here and there, particularly in “Severed Ways”.

Despite being one of the least acclaimed albums by Sigh, Scenario IV contained many elements which will characterize the following works and thus is important to understand the evolution of the Japanese band. This will also be the last release for Cacophonous Records, left due to copyright issues and poor promotion by the label.


INTERFERENCES FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION

Imaginary SonicscapeAfter two years, the release of Imaginary Sonicscape marked the passage towards Century Media; this time, Sigh took their music literally to another dimension.

The extreme elements almost vanished, except for Mirai’s scream; there is very little Black Metal in this album, more inclined towards Heavy Metal and Psychedelic Rock, obviously with many unexpected trips to other musical fields. The album is full of unpredictable digressions, it’s like it wants to deceive the listener by making them think that there is a logical scheme, just to surprise them with sudden changes; just think about the Ska-Reggae part “Scarlet Dream”, or — even better — the hallucinogen Trip-Hop of “Nietzschean Conspiracy”, also with a sax and lyrics written with the help of Bard Eithun (Emperor, Aborym, Blood Tsunami and many more).

Not that the more standard — which actually aren’t — are any less weird: the opener “Corpsecry – Angelfall” is one of the most infamous moments of Sigh‘s career, thanks to the interweaving guitars and Seventies sounding keyboards, the simple yet incredibly effective rhythms and the extreme vocals, as well as the use of childish screams here and there; this unheard mix of ingredients leaves its mark since the first listening due to its originality.

The unpredictability of the long suite “Slaughtergarden” — made like a horror short film — shows in all of its eleven minutes, evolving among industrial sensations, alien vocals, psychedelic synths and Jazzy passages with even a Fender Rhodes, all without forgetting the Rock energy of Shinichi’s guitars; this element sounds perfect in highly electric songs such as “Ecstatic Transformation” and “Bring Back the Dead”, both not devoid of strange elements like the lysergic part of the first and the massive percussion of the latter.

The best trips happen with the slower “Dreamsphere (Return To The Chaos)”, characterized by Middle-Eastern movements, just like “Requiem – Nostalgia” shows some background melancholy in the choirs and the mellotron. Yet, the true gem of this album is “A Sunset Song”: the combination between the setting of a sunset beach and the Heavy-Black aggressiveness is so grotesque that it’s still inimitable; especially when it suddenly turns into a Disco song, just to nonchalantly get back to the infernal coast.

Imaginary Sonicscape is often considered one of the main masterpieces of the Japanese band: the idea of adding psychedelia to — more or less — extreme Metal is something that a few years later would catch on, albeit in a different form; this work is still unique in Avantgarde Metal and at its release showed how it was possible to go beyond the borders of a genre without forgetting them.


CONTROVERSIES UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN

Gallows GalleryThe partnership with Century Media didn’t last very long, since the following work was already released through different labels, namely Candlelight Records and Baphomet Records; the reason was the controversial and not so appreciated choice of working with sonic weaponry techniques from World War II… Or so the legend says.

Reality is actually less surreal: the reason that made the German label divorce with the Japanese band is the strong stylistic change, more and more distant from the Black extremism of the beginnings; taking two birds with one stone, the same excuse was used to explain the main problem of Gallows Gallery: a problem which will make the band release a remastered version only two years later. This huge defect doesn’t regard the compositions or the performance of the musicians, but the sound quality which is really amateurish; the album is very penalized by this issue, yet its worth is not completely erased and the reissue will give it the quality it deserved.

About the stylistic change, it’s understandable to be surprised by a work like this released by a once Black Metal band: it’s actually a work more inclined towards classic Metal, some sort of Power Metal with Heavy and Thrash touches that keeps winking at decades long gone. Yet, «classic» is a quite deceiving word to describe Gallows Gallery

One of the most mind-blowing elements is Mirai’s performance on vocals, which for the first time are far from being screamed, being instead in a cleaner and digitally edited style, usually on multiple layers, creating sort of a choir. While using incredibly catchy lines and some high notes, these vocals are very different from the usual Power Metal ones: “Silver Universe” has a verse with an accompaniment coming out straight from the Sixties alternated to an almost chaotic, yet ultra-catchy chorus. Mirai also experiments with less common techniques, such as kargyraa in the ending of “The Enlightenment Day”, sygit in the intro of “Gavotte Grim” and subharmonic singing: small details that give the album an oriental touch.

Asian sensations reveal themselves many times embracing different regions of the continent, thanks to ethnic instruments such as tabla, sitar, gong, taishougoto and tibetan bells; “The Enlightenment Day” is especially marked by a Middle-Eastern sounding psychedelia. Another external presence is the Bruce Lamont’s (of Yakuza fame) saxophone which easily combines with “Midnight Sun”‘s Rock’N’Roll, enriches the Power Metal in “In A Drowse” and offers its own contribution to the Asian setting. There are also unexpected symphonic passages, like the epic and combative ending of “Confession To Be Buried”, but even more in the quiet and ethereal “The Tranquilizer Song”; finally, some electronic drums complete the complex picture.

Still, the core of Gallows Gallery is still in the more metallic aspects; in particular, Shinichi and the various guests’ guitars are the key to success of many songs: the riffs and solos in “Messiahplan” and the Japanese tendencies in the second half of “Pale Monument” are only some of the best moments offered by the axes, often in a bizarre contrast with the liveliness of their melodies and the melancholic-nostalgic atmosphere of the lyrics and the rest of the music. This album is also the first presence of Junichi Harashima at the drums, giving Satoshi the chance to shift to the bass and offering a very dynamic performance.

Controversial to the bone, Gallows Gallery was a weird chapter of Sigh‘s discography: definitely atypical even for such an eclectic band, yet indisputably linked to the style that made it an essential entity for the less standard Metal.


REQUIEM FOR HUMANITY

Hangman's Hymn - Musikalische ExequienThe reissue of Gallows Gallery was released in 2007 through The End Records, yet another label that hosted Mirai & co.; meanwhile, the band didn’t just sit there twiddling their thumbs: in that same year they published their seventh full length, Hangman’s Hymn – Musikalische Exequien.

The album consists of three acts: two made of three tracks, while the middle one of four. It’s a concept album both in the lyrics and the music: recurring melodies and themes on many songs give the work a sense of continuity, while the words express total hatred towards humanity.

Despite the theme is not a novelty in extreme Metal, the way it is presented is quite peculiar. There are four aspects in the album: Earth — represented in the first act — is the setting where humans can get rich of their superficial greed; at the third act we reach Hell, where flames punish the sinners; Heaven is barely mentioned near the ending and immediately denied, cutting off any hope for salvation; finally, the Funeral is present in every second of the album.

It is no coincidence that the songs are enriched by Latin choirs taken from “Requiem” — moreover, sung by some fans — in addition to majestic orchestrations inspired especially by XVIII century German composers; the subtitle of the album also shows the inclination towards romantic Germany. The symphonic aspect — although realized with artificial sounds, except for Tim Conroy’s trumpet — appears very well-crafted and takes different shapes ranging from the epic vein in “Inked In Blood” to the pride of “Death With Dishonor”, with also some moments that vaguely remind to the cursed circus of Scenario IV.

The peculiarity of Hangman’s Hymn is the alternation between such pompous orchestra and a Teutonic-inspired Black-Thrash hybrid with no frills, actually quite raw in some purely metallic parts; among the furious outbursts of “Dies Irae / The Master Malice” and the headbanging rhythms of “Me-Devil”, there is some room for less frantic passages such as the melodic Death riffs “In Devil’s Arms” and some Heavy Metal solos.

Mirai’s return to screamed vocals show some changes in his style: more expressive than before, without forgetting some clean parts here and there. These small variations — together with the choirs — make the vocal element more varied and reflect the two faces of the music.

Despite being divided in tracks, Hangman’s Hymn is to be considered as a whole and works better if listened all at once; at the same time, every song presents features making it easily appreciable on their own as well. This approach halfway between a concept album and a standard work fits perfectly a band like Sigh: the always different personality of each release is shaped based on the theme, so that the artists can give vent to their eclecticism without sounding dispersive.

Hangman’s Hymn also brought some news in the band: while searching for a model for the booklet, Sigh met Mika Kawashima, who joined as a singer and saxophonist under the alias of Dr. Mikannibal.


MUSIC IN TIME OF WAR

Scenes From HellAfter releasing a tribute to Venom made switching instruments among the members, the quintet prepared to open the third cycle of its discography; 2010 was the year of Scenes From Hell, once again turning the tables.

In this album, Sigh proved to have learned Gallows Gallery‘s lesson and decided to put it into practice in the best way: experimenting with sound quality. With the main themes being war, hell and death, the work needed two things: a terrifying artwork and a raw sound. Needless to say, both wishes have been fulfilled.

Scenes From Hell once again wanders between Black and Thrash, but Shinichi’s guitar sounds rawer and with a grave tone, in contrast with the clearer sound of Hangman’s Hymn; the drums sound dirtier as well, especially when the rhythm tend towards Punk, like in the opener and closer tracks. This — intentionally — dirty sound has its icing on the cake in the dual vocal approach provided by Mirai and Dr. Mikannibal: the former is typical scream, while the latter counterbalances with a deeper growl. The two singers keep exchanging verses, creating a grotesque deviation of the «Beauty and the Beast» — so overused in certain Metal genres — where it is not clear which one is more monstrous; of course, only if you don’t consider their looks, with all due respect to Mirai.

Despite the stylistic similarities with the previous album per regarding the purely Metal side, the atmosphere is largely different: it’s the perfect soundtrack for the hell born from war, a scenery perfectly represented in Eliran Kantor’s artwork. For its part, the music creates the same deadly setting through a small brass orchestra and other winds supported by Mirai’s symphonic arrangements inspired by Russian composers. The sensation of watching a diabolical march towards the Afterlife is achieved especially in the two funeral tracks: the air raid sirens in “The Red Funeral” and the slow tempo of “The Summer Funeral” instill a desperate sense of terror in the listener.

The proud, epic nature that can only lead to death is very present in dynamic songs such as “L’Art De Mourir” and “The Soul Grave”, where the pompous and carnivalesque melodies of the brass contrast and at the same time emphasize the atrocity of the metallic side; same goes for “Vanitas”, in which there are majestic and cruel slowdowns. The usual instrumentation mad by Seventies organ, piano and much more enrich the songs, particularly with the theremin and the sax solo in “Musica In Tempora Belli”; there are also illustrious guests on vocals like Kam Lee and David Tibet and even the audience at Maryland Deathfest recorded and used in “Prelude To The Oracle”.

The not so clear production is still criticized nowadays, so Scenes From Hell has not been completely understood yet; Sigh proved to be atypical even through this ideas, staying faithful to their nature halfway between old school and avantgarde, baffling both parties.


TRAPPED IN A LUCID NIGHTMARE

In SomniphobiaDuring the two years following the release of Scenes From Hell, Sigh worked on a couple of minor releases: the first was an EP created for Black Curse Over Hellsinki containing four rarities for collectors; the other one — released in the following year — was a five-way split for which the Japanese band used the unreleased “Somniphobia”. As you can guess by its title, this song will be part of the new album released in 2012.

Meanwhile, yet another conflict with a label led Sigh to go back to Candlelight Records, leaving The End Records, with which the relationship ended in the worst way possible: the rip-off allegations left no doubt about the fate of the collaboration.

Introduced as a «nightmarish Imaginary Sonicscape», In Somniphobia brought back the experimental psychedelia of the 1999 album and applied to it the evolution of the following years. Not only that: this work was probably the most distant from Metal in the strict sense, embracing a wide range of genres, mainly Jazz and Electronica; this time, though, the external elements were not just embellishments for the basic style, they were integral part of it, creating a hybrid which is difficult to pigeonhole — more than usual, of course.

This doesn’t mean that Metal is absent, it is still playing the lead role in Sigh‘s music and incorporates anything it gets its hands on keeping renewing its nature, starting from the Seventies-like progressiveness flowing in a huge part of the album and through every instrument. The neoclassical influences shape the elegant delicacy of “Purgatorium” and the central part of “Equale”, a track starting with Latin American inspired melodies and ends in a horror atmosphere; the three-way solo in “The Transfiguration Fear” (keyboard, sax and guitar) is just the peak of a track capable of using Middle Eastern percussions, magical choirs and western a atmosphere in Power Metal kind of sound; and — of course — we can’t forget about the Metal side, as showed by the headbanging inducing passages of “Fall To The Thrall”. However, it’s exactly between the four mentioned tracks that the true show takes life: “Lucid Nightmares”.

The seven sections of the suite take the listener to a forty minute nightmare made of madness and experimentation. The infernal dream starts off with a gloomy and mysterious intro passing through some electronic crafting, wide Jazz digressions and much more, without putting aside anything described before; the Middle Eastern sensations of “Somniphobia”, the Funk-carnivalesque sound of “L’Excommunication A Minuit”, the charming sensuality of “Amnesia”, the indescribable weirdness of “Far Beneath The In-Between” and the emotional crescendo of “Amongst The Phantoms Of Abandoned Tumbrils” represent the various phases of the nightmare and are linked by short disturbing interludes. The ending brings back the idea of the intro, with no mercy for the victim of this psychological torture.

To realize how much stuff there is in this album, just think that the booklet says that the only Mirai used over twenty instruments and the «etc.» at the end of the list that that’s not all; among synths, effects, various vocal techniques and manipulations, ethnic elements and weird stuff like a shortwave radio, the leader did not set any limit upon himself. In addition, there are the performances of the other four musicians — in particular Dr. Mikannibal’s saxophone — and the guests which include trumpet, clarinet, accordion, sarangi and piano, as well as some vocals by Kam Lee and Metatron.

No doubt that In Somniphobia is one of the most experimental and innovative Sigh albums; while keeping in mind the sounds of the past, the band keeps reworking the whole history of music through their eyes, following their own path which basically no one else dare to cross. Such a long career devoted to retro-avantgarde was worthy of being celebrated with a live album, released the following year for the twentieth anniversary of Scorn Defeat.


ORCHESTRA OF THE LIVING DEAD

GravewardThe works for the third «G» met a huge bump along the road: long-time guitarist Shinichi got fired from the band, quite abruptly too; Mirai accused the ex-colleague of neglecting the band, not even noticing that his guitar is out of tune. This was the first time a member left the band since the early demos, but it didn’t discourage the band that immediately started looking for a replacement. The new guitarist was You Oshima, only member of Kadenzza, whose activities had been interrupted by a series of unfortunate events; Sigh gave him the chance to once again take the reins of his musical career.

With this new line-up, Sigh recorded and released Graveward in 2015: a tribute to the soundtracks of Italian horror movies; in particular, the inspiration came from Fabio Frizzi’s work, known for having worked many times with Lucio Fulci. The creepy atmosphere of the films produced in Italy during the Seventies and the Eighties was channeled in a Black-Thrash-Heavy Metal hybrid strictly linked to the same era of the genre not just for the compositions, but for the production as well, once again far distant from the nowadays crystal clear sound. While Mirai’s initial idea was to fill the album with synths from the past such as minimoog and mellotron, things developed in a quite different way.

This album apparently sounds less experimental and more traditional than the previous one, yet equally well-made and indisputably marked by the Japanese band’s trademark. The spotlights are on both the guitar of the new entry You and Mirai’s orchestrations and synths, giving them many chances to play the main role in the macabre scenes taking life in each track; the Thrash assault in “Out Of The Grave” and the complex solos alternate to the pompousness of “The Tombfiller” and the filthy sound of “The Trial By The Dead”, never with one topping the other, carefully measuring their own and each other’s space. The peak of this collaboration is the mysterious and spectral “A Messenger From Tomorrow”, a track which seems to emerge from the realm of the dead; the cemeterial atmosphere, the slow tempo, Lyris Hung’s violin and the vocal parts by Metatron and Shining‘s Kvarforth make this song the jem of the album.

Not that the rest of the track-list is any less interesting: each episode is full of more or less evident details that allows them to shine of their own light. There is room for the rough Punk’N’Roll of “Dwellers In Dream” and for the refined Prog and Jazz digressions of “The Casketburner”; the samples, the glitches and the electronic effects of “The Molesters Of My Soul” may surprise in such an old school release, yet they work as good as the sax solo of “Out Of The Grave”. Old Goblin-ish synths infest many tracks together with clean and catchy vocals alternated to Mirai’s deadly scream, like in the chorus of “Kaedit Nos Pestis”.

Graveward stinks of death like a zombie just reemerged from its tomb: the deathlike stench permeates the whole album, sometimes becoming suffocating and instilling that mix of tension and curiosity typical of the golden age of horror. If there was an album deserving the overused definition «Horror Metal», no doubt it’s this one; we can say that Sigh hit the target.


UNCONCEALED INSANITY

Heir To DespairThe creation of the new album proceeded a bit slowly, so much so that the band wanted to record it before the end of 2016, but… Mirai had to learn how to play the flute. Besides this very valid reason, the mixing and mastering phase required a lot of time and here we are on November 16 2018, the release date of Heir To Despair.

The theme of this work is insanity, represented in the cover art by an apparently happy woman who, with her smile, tries in vain to hide the dreadful reality of her house; in this respect, it is worth noting that Eliran Kantor found his inspiration from Japanese psychotropic drug advertisements from the Sixties and Seventies sent by the leader of the band.

The presentation of Heir To Despair is quite peculiar: an album so personal that no one will appreciate, except for its creator; however, Mirai’s idea about his latest creation is immediately disproved by fans and critics. “Homo Homini Lupus” anticipates the release of the album and catches the attention of Sigh‘s listeners; despite this, Mirai is still convinced that liking that track means that you won’t appreciate the rest of the songs.

There is a kernel of truth in the words of the musician: Heir To Despair can’t be represented by such a straightforward and not so experimental song like “Homo Homini Lupus”, where «not so experimental» means putting together a Maiden-ish riff, Thrash-like aggressiveness, synthetic sounds from the Seventies and Phil Anselmo’s vocals; yet, in its five and a half minutes it contains only a small part of the insanity infesting the rest of the work.

The nine tracks often draw their influences from the entire Asian continent, ranging from the Middle-Eastern feel particularly present in “Aletheia” and “Hunters Not Horned” to instruments such as Kevin Kmetz’s shamisen, taishōgoto and sitar, all with the unexpected Japanese in the lyrics which — especially in the many clean passages — strengthens the oriental atmosphere, exactly like in “Homo Homini Lupus”; this language also allows the leader to sing more confidently, as shown with the supersonic speed through which he vomits the lyrics for “In Memories Delusional”. However, this Eastern tendency doesn’t mean that there is no way to put surprises such as a very short Ragtime interlude.

These ethnic aspects are inserted on a mix of NWOBHM riffs, Thrash bursts, Avant-Prog experiments, a bit of Black evilness, a very small dose of Power and anything which is part of Sigh‘s experience, including solos by You Oshima, now fully at ease in the band. But while finding yourselves among epic-dramatic symphonies or in a Rock’N’Roll passage is quite standard in an album from them, “Heresy” manages to amaze even the most die-hard of their fans: among all the weirdness, its three acts include the nightmarish glitches of In Somniphobia, even with a raptus of the sax; oriental atmospheres which reminiscent of Infidel Art together with a neoclassical harpsichord; an entirely electronic rhythmic section; a riff almost stolen from Slayer; any kind of voice, such as robotic and childish ones; a Japanese romantic ballad of some past decade accompanied-disturbed by an unceasing background noise; a never ending psychedelia giving some sort of sense in this chaos. And all of this happens in little more than ten minutes.

At this point, someone may wonder where did they use the infamous flute mentioned at the beginning; the answer is simple: its presence is disseminated in the whole work and is one of the strongest points of some songs. Just listen to the melancholic title-track or the more dynamic “Hands Of The String Puller”, both characterized by a strong Prog touch which for more and more important during the third cycle of Sigh‘s discography; Heir To Despair is the best conclusion they could give to this quartet of albums, exactly thanks to its progressive nature. Although we can’t know in advance what awaits us with the next «S», we can be sure that Sigh will manage to amaze us.



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