Album Title: Graveward
Label: Candlelight Records
Year of Release: 2015
Sigh are one of those bands that I never managed to get into. Mind you, I was probably guilty of just the one attempt before discarding them. In my defence, it was in my more formative years of black metal discovery and the all-out avante-garde nature of the 1997 album ‘Hail Horror Hail’ was just too much for my delicate constitution at the time. The result was that, to my detriment, I never went back to try again. Until now, that is. Over the years, my tastes have definitely broadened and my mind has opened to a point where I felt that another attempt at the Japanese band was well and truly due. It has proved to be a prudent decision and one that has offered me more enjoyment than I, in all honesty, had expected.
The first thing to say is that this quintet are still mad as hell and manage to both confound and confuse with their eclectic, chaotic and unusual approach. However, the apparent lunacy which remains rooted in black metal but which then incorporates just about every other genres of music, from jazz to classical, industrial to thrash, is kept in check enough so that the music never freefalls out of complete control. It gets close, but never jumps off the precipice into complete anarchy.
Since their last album, 2012’s ‘In Somniphobia’, things have changed in the band’s camp. Most notably, Sigh recruited guitarist You Oshima (of Kadenzza fame) and whilst my frame of reference is limited, I must admit that this would appear to be a real benefit to Messrs Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keys, orchestration), Dr Mikannibal (vocals, saxaphone), Satoshi Fujinami (bass) and Junichi Harashima (drums) as the guitar playing is definitely one of the strengths of ‘Graveward’, be it the riffs or the abundance of expressive and lavish lead work.
In terms of the lyrical and thematic inspiration at play here, ‘Graveward’ has been inspired by Italian zombie films as well as the genre of Hammer Horror, following a conversation with Fabio Frizzi, a name familiar with horror fans no doubt thanks to his involvement with the movies of Lucio Fulci (‘The Gates Of Hell’ for example)
Opener ‘Kaedit Nos Pestis’ blasts out of the blocks with an almost neo-classical-inspired lead guitar solo before reverting to a more thrash-meets-black metal riff and growled vocals. It’s a high tempo opening that also features keyboard solos, an almost catchy, sing-along chorus of sorts and higher-register clean vocals, not to mention keyboard solos, programmed embellishments, rich orchestral sections and dark choral chanting. It’s suitably quirky and initially quite daunting but, given time, it becomes quite infectious.
Thanks to an abundance of rich orchestration, the title track is more straightforward for a Sigh composition and comes across as a darker, more demented and ultimately, a more interesting version of Nightwish. ‘The Tombfiller’ meanwhile is like the bastard offspring created following an illicit liaison between a Hollywood thriller/horror soundtrack and Bal Sagoth in a bedroom of power metal.
The central riff to ‘The Forlorn’ is a masterclass of jagged, evil-injected headbanging groove interspersed with 70s keyboard sounds, strange electronic noises and a sheen of pantomime horror. ‘The Molesters of my Soul’ offers more brilliant slow-paced riffing but ups the avant-garde ante courtesy of bizarre effect-laden vocals, a plethora of odd electronic sounds and forays into downright weird recesses. And yet, the lead guitar solo is sublime and segues beautifully back into a return of the bludgeoning riff.
‘Out of the Grave’ is frenetic, schizophrenic and allows the saxaphone the spotlight, an aspect I’d normally dislike immensely but which fits the tone of the track perfectly. ‘The Trial By The Dead’ introduces a female soprano voice as well as a somewhat cheeky injection of French cabaret music, whilst ‘The Casketburner’ successfully blends uncompromising extreme metal with moments of freeform lounge jazz and swing music. And yet, for all its cabaret quirkiness, make no mistake – there’s a genuinely dark and foreboding metal underbelly to much of this material from Sigh, as befits the lyrical themes at play on ‘Graveward’.
‘A Messenger From Tomorrow’ begins in highly melodic fashion, a relatively rare thing for Sigh and, despite a few shifts in direction as is their style, the melodic and infectious nature of the track remains throughout to a greater or lesser extent. For me, such is it’s understated magnificence, it’s the album’s stand-out moment.
‘Dwellers In A Dream’ closes the album in a high-tempo fashion but suffers a little from ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ syndrome caused by its direct predecessor.
If I had another small criticism, it would be in terms of the production. With hindsight, I have come to realise that the slightly cluttered and muddy sound is probably deliberate in order to add authenticity to the lyrical concepts at play. However, I’d have personally preferred a clearer mix to allow the myriad ideas and embellishments every chance to shine.
That said ‘Graveward’, which also features a special guest list that includes the unlikely bedfellows of Matt Heady (Trivium), Fred Leclercq (Dragonforce), Salisbury Tolis (Rotting Christ), Metatron (The Meads of Asphodel) and Niklas Kvarforth (Shining), is a bit of a belter. It toys with the listener and tests your stamina and ability to embrace eclectic ideas. However, it is brought together so smoothly and seemlessly that after a few listens, it actually makes quite a bit of sense. Ultimately, it is a chaotic and very odd extreme metal record that is also charming and very rewarding. For that, it deserves our appreciation and admiration. I’m now off to rediscover Sigh’s back catalogue…wish me luck.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld