“Progressive” and “black metal” are not always the easiest of bedfellows. While the likes of Ulver and Ihsahn (from Emperor) have managed to gradually incorporate more influences and styles into their output without annoying too many of the nail-gauntlets-and-corpsepaint brigade, their efforts are often marred by the less intuitive, engineered prog metal out there – overly-intellectual, technical-for-technicality’s-sake pointless meandering that gives the rest of the subgenre a bad rap.
Japan’s Sigh, though, are a very different story. First, it’s rare for almost any type of metal to count a saxophonist among their long-term members. Second, despite their bleak black metal beginnings (their first album, 1993’s Scorn Defeat was released on Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence label) they very quickly shifted towards more avant-garde stylings, culminating in 1997’s Hail Horror Hail which embraced a mish-mash of thrash metal, psychedelia and electronica all at once.
More recent releases showcased such varied influences as classical, burlesque-inspired themes and even sparked rumours of deadly curses contained in their lyrics . And third, this latest record – Heir to Despair – shows off their exaggerated attention to detail as it rounds off their third cycle of the first letters of releases spelling out their name.
Ghastly Funeral Theatre
Hail Horror Hail
Scenario IV: Dread Dreams
Scenes From Hell
Heir to Despair
Check out the music video for the rip-roaring single, “Aletheia”.
While the remarkable cover art paints a picture of urban insanity of Stepford-like calm masking inner turmoil, it’s the incongruous and unexpected twists the music takes that really drives this theme home: banjos, sampled stabs of laughter, flute melodies straight from Jethro Tull (especially on “Hunters not Horned”, which veers between this comparison and the carnivalisms typical of Arcturus), digitally treated vocals… the list goes on and on. Despite these disparate sounds, though, Sigh’s greatest achievement on Heir to Despair is tying together all these into cohesive, singular entities.
On the subject of singular entities, the “Heresy” triptych on the album – “Oblivium”, “Acosmism” and “Sub Specie Aeternitatis” – are some of the most interesting and multifaceted compositions to grace the genre in some time: quasi-industrial leanings, varied vocal deliveries, electronic snarls and classical allusions vie for attention across three linked tracks. The shorter lengths of the last two (totalling just over four minutes between them) makes their experimental nature more digestible, but they still read as similar to some of David Bowie’s more left-field leanings, especially given the untreated saxophone and piano stabs.
Three things that stand out across Heir to Despair are, first, the enviably crisp guitar tone throughout and second, the equally crisp execution with which the instruments are handled. If for no other reason, this album should be remembered for the quality of musicianship exhibited. In third place, the incongruity of English song names with predominantly Japanese vocals suits Sigh’s out-of-the-box, inimitable approach to black metal that blends contrived and experimental songwriting with ominous, unpleasant atmosphere.
And because you need more of that sweet dark sound… here’s “Homo Homini Lupus”.
While other long-running bands from the second wave that released albums this year like Immortal, Marduk and Archgoat delivered exactly what fans hoped for (ie, more of the same), Sigh have, as usual, taken the road less travelled and released yet another fresh, genre-defying album. This approach may not guarantee popularity, but they can definitely sleep the sleep of the artistically fulfilled.
Heir to Despair Track Listing:
02. Homo Homini Lupus
03. Hunters Not Horned
04. In Memories Delusional
05. Heresy I Oblivium
06. Heresy II Acosmism
07. Heresy III Sub Specie Aeternitatis
08. Hands of the String Puller
09. Heir to Despair
Run Time: 54:30
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Record Label: Candlelight / Spinefarm
1. The band planned to re-record “The Curse of Izanagi” for 2010’s Scenes From Hell, but their label owner committing suicide unexpectedly was taken as an omen for them not to revisit the voodoo-based song.