I’m super late with this review, as this album was released on November 16th, 2018. But this is one band which you have GOT to check out! Sigh is an avant-garde extreme metal band from Japan which have been around for quite some time. Their lineup has changed over the years, but the leader and primary songwriter has always been Mirai Kawashima, who plays pretty much every instrument on the face of the earth: vocals, keys, woodwinds, bass, percussion, you name it. Other band members include bassist Satoshi Fujinami, drummer Junichi Harashima, saxophonist Dr. Mikannibal, and guitarist You Oshima.
What do they sound like? Well, it’s difficult to find a good band comparison because they really sound like no other band on the planet. They’re extremely heavy and feature a lot of growling, but still use a lot of melody. They have always excelled at writing catchy riffs and this album is no exception. Their use of classical arrangements, jazz chords, and world music sounds sets them apart from most extreme metal bands. If Opeth collaborated with a symphony orchestra to perform “Night On Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky, the result would sound a lot like Sigh. On “Heir To Despair,” their sound is more Japanese than that of past albums, as well as more electronic.
The album opens with “Aletheia,” which features one of the best riffs on the album. It has a very Eastern vibe in its chords, but not really in a Japanese way. It’s the kind of riff we Westerners imagine being played on a flute to charm a cobra. Indeed, the song does feature quite a fantastic flute solo, as well as a EDM-inspired section in the middle. If you asked me what Sigh sounded like, this is the song I would point to you. “Homo Homini Lupus” is next. As you may recall, it was among my favorite songs of 2018. The riff will get stuck in your head all day, as will the heavy, ominous chorus. One interesting thing about this song is that Kawashima often sounds like he’s rushing to fit all the words into the small amount of time allotted to him in the verses, giving the song a frantic feel. I don’t know if I explained that very well, but if you listen to it, you’ll hear what I mean!
“Hunters Not Horned,” one of the more melodic tracks on the album, is a fairly straight-ahead hard-rocker. It features a great guitar solo and extremely catchy melody before shifting to a slower, flute-driven bridge. Finally, it speeds up again for the frantic outro. It’s really more like three shorter songs mashed into one, which I like. “In Memories Delusional” starts out sounding like a “conventional” metal song, featuring heavy blast beats and a technical, shreddy riff. However, soon after the chorus, we learn that it is anything but conventional, featuring surprising time changes and more riffs than some bands have on their entire album. The guitar solo is probably my favorite on the album: emotional, technical, and perfect for the song. Oshima absolutely nails it here. It closes out with djembes and other African percussion as well as some incredible string arrangements. The use of violin-family instruments is something Sigh has always done very well, notably on their album “Scenes From Hell,” which, despite the title, sounds more like Beethoven than Black Sabbath.
Next up is the “Heresy” trilogy, and this is where things get just a bit spotty for me. “Heresy I: Oblivium” is pretty good, showcasing the electronic side of Sigh to solid results. Kawashima has made no secret of his enjoyment of the vocoder, and he uses it well on this track. It’s not pure electronica, however; the rest of the band gets involved too. After some very nice riffage, we hear a flute solo accompanied by acoustic guitar. It would have made a great beginning to an awesome epic, but sadly that’s not what we get. “Heresy II: Acosmism” begins with some very strange, eerie vocoder work and ends with about a minute of noodling that intends to be avant-garde but misses the mark. “Heresy III: Sub-Species Aeternitatis” is not really bad, but it’s two minutes long and doesn’t really go anywhere, which is disappointing. So, this epic had potential, but it just doesn’t do it for me. “Oblivium” is pretty sick, however.
“Hands Of The String Puller” singlehandedly (my apologies) makes up for “Heresy,” however! It opens with a dark, ominous riff before shifting gears into the fastest, heaviest song on the record. The pre-chorus features an extremely cool flute riff, which contrasts dramatically with the low-end riffs and blast beats going on behind it. After a riff-based instrumental section, the song transitions back into the opening riff and then various flute explorations. (These guys like their flute, can’t you tell?) The predominant vibe of this song is fear, which seems to fit the title, though I don’t understand the lyrics. It might be my favorite song on the album.
Finally, we hear the ten-minute title track, which begins with a no-holds-barred hard-rock jam reminiscent of King Crimson in the mid-seventies. After some quality guitar work, the song leads to a melodic, atmospheric section, revealing the softer side of Sigh. This section gradually builds into one of the heaviest riffs on the album, which then gives way to a serene synthesizer-driven piece. The two completely different bits switch back and forth for some time before the record’s grand finale. Sigh is a band of sharp contrast, and perhaps no song demonstrates that quality as well as “Heir To Despair.”
Besides “Heresy,” I do have a couple complaints. Many of the songs have long bits of synth-based noodling at the end, which tends to kill the vibe just a bit. It’s not a major issue, but my opinion is that a song should end at the actual end, and if you have a good ending then you don’t need to tack anything on. If the noodly bits and the second two parts of “Heresy” had been removed, it would have fit on a vinyl record-and one heck of a vinyl record at that! The other thing is Kawashima’s voice. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s very different (even for a growler) and takes some getting used to. This is not a band for the faint of heart and the vocals are part of that.
Regardless, the good far outweighs the bad on this album. I can’t give it a 10/10, seeing as how I do have some minor quibbles and there is a bit of filler, but the material is 10/10 quality. This is an adventurous band for adventurous listeners, and I would highly recommend this album to any fan of extreme metal, avant-garde music, or any combination of the two!