Sigh – Shiki


Describing the music of Japanese metal legends, Sigh, is like navigating through an English translation of the philosophical works of Hegel. 1997’s Hail Horror Hail takes its place as one the greatest black metal albums of all time, but everything after this makes Enslaved look like a conventional rock band. 2001’s classic Imaginary Soundscape falls somewhere between Black Sabbath and 1970s prog with flashes of disco; their last effort is one of the strangest experimental thrash albums ever committed to tape. How surprising, then, that they should rein in the weird avant-garde elements on album number twelve in favour of a doom-orientated sound.

Of course, this album would be experimental if created by any other band. Opener, ‘Kuroi Kage’, takes a monstrous sludge riff as its foundation, but you can detect a subtle world orchestra effect among the grotesque distortion. Sigh are never fearful of bringing the dramatic elements to the forefront of their sound, yet they also switch from down-tuned fuzz guitars to Far Eastern-inspired jazz without you noticing. The psychopathic vocal transgressions have a comical effect in the Japanese language, conjuring images of a gerbil entering a snake’s den. You can sense the trepidation in each inflection. The near eight minutes of crunchy doom allow you to flex your muscles, but follow up, ‘Shoujahitsumetsu’, is a different proposition. Here is a reminder that Sigh started as a grotesque black metal band. Blast beats and rapid-fire voice wails mix with a celestial thrash detour in the middle section as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

As the one consistent running through the album, Sigh’s interpretation of doom metal is imaginative. Slow tempos and bass-heavy fifth chords are only a small part of how they approach this sub-genre. Often, they alternate between different tempos, as on the heavenly noise conjuration of ‘Shikabane’. You’ll feel like a moth gravitating towards the temporary alleviation of light. The shiny synthesiser bleeps and robotic voice effects in the middle eight are a normal occurrence for Sigh. Fans of 2018’s Heir to Despair will appreciate the Arabic melodies of ‘Satsui – Geshi No Ato’ among the spaghetti western doom metal posturing. How they go from this to the quiet euphoria of Orbital is a question only they can answer. The guitars are the dominant instrument in the mix despite the competing ideas bidding for supremacy on Shiki. Even the Eastern-themed assembly of woodwind and swishing synths in ‘Fuyu Ga Kuru’ falls under the boot of a dissonant arpeggio that will remind you of Slayer’s ‘Seasons in the Abyss’. The clarity of the smooth trumpet solo at the end needs to be heard for you to believe it’s possible to merge such disparate instrumentation in a metal composition.

Doom is the main musical theme here, but a sinister form of prog metal evolves in parallel like an intriguing sub-plot. Sigh like their 1970s prog rock as much as their extreme metal, and you can detect traces of it in the flanger vocal effects and harmonised guitars of ‘Mayonaka No Kaii’. Death-doom guitars receive a furnishing of moogs and flutes before the band race through a succession of heroic shredding and the late afternoon sunset of an organ solo. Many artists would struggle to find cogency in such radical experimentation, but this song is quite conventional by Sigh’s standards.

2018’s Heir to Despair relied too much on its weird personality to illuminate its charms. Shiki corrects this and shows how to write a coherent avant-garde metal album with an abundance of imaginative risks and plenty of hooks. Is there a better band in the whole of Japan than this unique quintet?

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 26/08/2022

Record Label: Peaceville Records

Standout tracks: Kuroi Inori, Shikabane, Fuyu Ga Kuru

Suggested Further Listening: Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion (2020), Thy Catafalque – Vadak (2021), Cult of Lilith – Mara (2020)