Sigh – Heir To Despair – Album Review

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Artist: Sigh

Album Title: Heir To Despair

Label: Spinefarm/Candlelight

Date of Release: 16 November 2018

Sigh are just one of those bands, where you can honestly say that you never quite know what each new release will bring. They are a band that truly deserves the term ‘progressive’, even ‘avant-garde’ because they can flit effortlessly from extreme black metal, to orchestral and symphonic, right through to softer soundscapes. But all the while, you can guarantee that the music will not be straightforward or conventional. There may be aspects of the output that you can recognise as one thing or the other, but there is always plenty of experimentation going on within their records, meaning that you are properly kept on your toes. Just when you think you’ve started to understand the album, something will happen to throw you right off the scent.

It is this that makes the music of this eclectic Japanese band so exhilarating, especially where a new album is concerned. Admittedly, I don’t always like every album, or parts of albums, because of the direction the band take us in. But I am always fascinated to hear what Sigh come up with. If you’re after an easy listen, then it is safe to say that Sigh are not the band for you and you’re probably better off searching elsewhere. For the rest of us, let’s delve into the world of Sigh once again, via their eleventh album ‘Heir To Despair’

Once again, Sigh are comprised of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keys, orchestration), Dr Mikannibal (vocals, saxophone), Satoshi Fujinami (bass), Junichi Harashima (drums) and guitarist You Oshima. But once again, they have taken a great delight in throwing us all another bundle of curveballs and idiosyncrasies within this latest release.

Sigh

The first thing to point out from my perspective is that as oddball and bonkers some of the material is, the underlying feeling I get is that ‘Heir To Despair’ is actually quite an immediate disc. Within the nine tracks, there are plenty of moments where a melody will hit me or where something just grabs my undivided attention. It is within these moments that Sigh guarantee that you’ll come back for repeated listens. They know that if they offer some kind of hook or motif somewhere within the music, you’ll want to hear it again. And to hear it again, you’ll no doubt listen through those other strange soundscapes and ideas, gradually getting to grips with what is being laid in front of us in the process. It’s a clever strategy and one that has worked with me by and large as I have grown ever-fonder of this record.

The other aspect of ‘Heir To Despair’ worth mentioning at this stage is the heaviness of much of the material. There is a spikiness and an aggression within many of the compositions that either hark back to their earlier extreme metal days or simply underline the fact that for all their experimentation, Sigh are heavy metal through-and-through.

The list of instruments that Mirai Kawashima is credited with seemingly gets longer with each release and ‘Heir To Despair’ is no different. Here, the multi-talented musician has added the flute to his impressive armoury and he wastes no time in introducing it into this record, within the opener, ‘Aletheia’. The track begins with a strong metallic flavour but the flute is introduced within the first minute to add a light, whimsical edge to counteract some spiky, heavy riffs. It’s like listening to an aggressive, angry Jethro Tull at times. But the variety within the song, coupled with some elegant melodies means that it just works.

Meanwhile, ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ comes to life like an epic power metal number before descending into something more akin to a blend of thrash and black metal thanks to the looser feel to the riffs and lead work from the underpraised You Oshima as well the general speed and frenetic intent of the track. The thrash attack returns at the start of ‘In Memories Delusional’ which is arguably the fastest song on the record, complete with double-pedal drumming from Junichi Harashima. But by the same token, it also features some of the slowest, vaguely doomy riffing as well, a nice juxtaposition that succeeds well.

It is with ‘Heresy I Oblivium’, the first of a trilogy, where things take a genuine turn for the strange, courtesy of some strange electronic sounds, a definite stripped-back EBM feel and digitised beat. It is creepy, atmospheric and not a particular favourite if I’m honest. As the song develops, the introduction of more flute alongside a harpsichord increases my interest but it’s an odd track, a typical Sigh curveball, and one that I do skip from time to time.

The ‘Heresy’ trilogy continues with the short and completely nuts ‘Heresy II Acosmism’, dominated by a strange digitised voice and electronic sounds. ‘Heresy III Sub Species Aeternitatis‘ has actually grown on me somewhat, with its chilled-out, psychedelic feel, but it remains that this trilogy is clearly where the Sigh guys were smoking their strongest substances.

After that, a return to the heavier climes was required and is delivered in the shape of ‘Hands of the String Puller’, which has an intro that is one of the most melodic and epic on the album. From there, it is full-on prog/avant-garde goodness before a reprise of that epic melody and flute/guitar solo duel which means that this remains a personal favourite.

The album also ends strongly with the title track, a ten-minute foray into diverse soundscapes that is entertaining, challenging in places and which leaves you in no doubt that Sigh are still full of experimentation and musical devilment. Despite my personal misgivings over a couple of the tracks, without them, this might not have been a true Sigh album. As it is, it’s a very intriguing and, crucially, a properly enjoyable record that has given me more pleasure than I first expected.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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Nachtmystium – Resilient EP
Divine Ascension – The Uncovering
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Universe Effects – Desolation
Kalidia – The Frozen Throne
Rikard Sjoblom’s Gungfly – Friendship
Ashes of Ares – Well of Souls
Veonity – Legend of the Starborn
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Lost In Thought – Renascence
Into Eternity – The Sirens
Fifth Angel – The Third Secret
Ashes of my Memory – Raptures /// Disillusions EP
Anathema – Internal Landscapes
Samskaras – Lithification
Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow
Northward – Northward
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Haken – Vector
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Ultha – The Inextricable Wandering
Amaranthe – Helix
Ghost Ship Octavius – Delirium
Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
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Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
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Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
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Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
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Marduk – Viktoria
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The Sea Within – The Sea Within
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Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
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