Avant-garde Metallers SIGH are certainly a one-of-a-kind band. Theirs is an unprecedented concoction of styles that goes from Black/Death Metal, Retro Rock and Middle Eastern music to the works of classical composers like Bach, Chopin, Stockhausen and Xenakis. All this without ever compromising their extreme musical roots. This said, there’s no better example to showcase the ambitious scope of their music than the outfit’s ninth studio album, In Somniphobia (2012); a collection of tracks full of cathartic power, ominous beauty and nightmarish paranoia.

Since their early days these Japanese mad scientists have been adorning their covers with carefully-detailed graphics depicting traditional Asian themes (1995’s Infidel Art), trippy imagery (2001’s Imaginary Sonicscape) and Expressionist fantasy-like scenarios (2010’s Scenes From Hell). However, none of their previous works can be compared to the arresting visual piece fronting In Somniphobia. This painting not only speaks for itself as high concept art, but also accurately complements the album’s cosmopolitan aura.

“It’s a sunny town’s market piece, filled with smiles and fruits but, considering SIGH’s music, I was actually shooting less for neo-classical and more for just plain unsettling” remembers Berlin-based artist Eliran Kantor. He was commissioned by the band to create In Somniphobias cover after the success of their previous collaboration on the album Scenes From Hell. Kantor spent two months completing the period-oriented image. Apart from the aforementioned description, it also includes significantly disturbing elements like two little girls playing with skulls and what seems to be a high class, pregnant, old lady (apparently called “the queen” by the author) pushing a small wood wagon with seven dead babies inside throughout the marketplace. It also features the band’s name in a very subtle fashion.

For all its high level of detail and execution, the genesis of the project came from a very simple idea. As SIGH’s leader and vocalist Mirai Kawashima explains: “We just told Eliran that the album was about nightmares and gave him some demo tracks. We didn’t tell him any details at all. So, from the concept to the final details, they all were his ideas. The initial sketch was something very close to the final version, and we didn’t ask him to change anything at all. It was perfect from the very beginning.”

Although Kantor prefers not to reveal much about his painting techniques, he affirms that technically, “I just came up with whatever I needed in order to get that certain atmosphere I was looking for”. Despite his refusal to offer more creative insight, it’s impossible not to notice the undeniable influence by the works of Symbolists, Surrealists (mainly on the absurdity of the scene) and even by some Baroque painters, especially on the treatment of colors and the style of the human figures. As Mirai enthuses: “When we worked together on the previous album ‘Scenes from Hell’, I named the Bosch and a few other artists such as Arnold Boecklin, Paul Delvaux as my faves. I cannot tell if Eliran used any other technique for this artwork, but I can say this describes the world of ‘In Somniphobia’ perfectly. From the first time you look at it, it seems like a beautiful painting, but once you look into the details, you’ll notice a lot of strange things going on. This stands for nightmare for sure.”

The good relationship between the designer and the band (especially with Mirai) positively contributed to the success of the finished artwork. “He’s a good friend of ours” says the vocalist and multi instrumentalist in reference to the designer. “It wasn’t easy to explain with words what we wanted for the artwork, but because we have the similar vision, he was exactly able to understand what we wanted. We can leave everything up to Eliran as he shares our same views.” Kantor complements the vocalist’s views when he affirms: “The reason I think what I do for Mirai ends up on the front page of my portfolio is that we share similar taste, in both music and visuals. I’m pretty much given a free hand with SIGH.”

So, after so much debate: what’s the real meaning behind this cryptic and upsetting painting? Kantor’s final answer doesn’t seem to bring too much light to the mystery: “The plot is quite simple to figure out, but I’d rather not explain the actual meaning behind it. As music-wise it’s quite a surreal record with its main focus being nightmares, and I think each listener will end up with an entirely different experience so it would be a shame to ruin all the mystique. I’ve read some great theories online about the cover, weaving various political conspiracies and secret meanings. These things will be in the back of their minds when listening to the record, which is fantastic. All I’m willing to give out is a small silly trivia detail, not really related to the concept – in a classic King Diamond-like manner, the queen is based on my grandma.”

Band and Album Title: SIGH – “In Somniphobia”
Release Date: March 13, 2012 via Candlelight Records
Cover Artwork Commissioned by: SIGH
Author: Eliran Kantor
Original Dimensions: 60×54 cm
Technique: Not specified by the author

Coming Next Week: Cormorant’s “Dwellings” – The Triumph of the Independent Spirit
Previously on AJFA: DEATH’s “Symbolic” – The Intertwined Fates of Two Creative Geniuses