When music fans think about second-wave black metal they tend to reach for one image in particular: the corpse-painted hordes of Scandinavia. For most, the grainy black and white photos, lofi sound and church burning ‘antics’ of these acts dominate the perception of the scene. If you scratch below the surface though, you’ll find a much more diverse grouping of bands occupying the outskirts of the genre. There was the punk and d-beat inspired noise of Brazil’s Sarcofago and Mystifier, the Hellenic metal stylings of Rotting Christ and, from Tokyo, the wild prog influenced noise of Sigh.
From their raw beginnings releasing material on Euronymous’ own Deathlike Silence records, Sigh have gone on to become one of the most widely respected avant-garde bands in metal. Over the years they’ve pivoted between styles, taking in everything from death-doom, and power metal to prog, jazz and Japanese folk music. It’s a heady mix, but a constantly rewarding one, that has seen them outstrip most of their contemporaries who are content to retread old glories. The band’s latest album Shiki takes its name from a Japanese word that has a variety of meanings, with Sigh main man Mirai Kawashima focusing on two in particular, the nature of the four seasons, and the time in which we die. This preoccupation with mortality permeates the album, giving it both a feeling of impending darkness, but also feels like a celebration of all the things Kawashima loves, particularly awesome guitar solos.
After a brief intro the album kicks off proper with ‘Kuroi Kage’ where a mid-paced riff transforms into epic, 80s style guitar harmonies, followed by choral vocals and proggy saxophone. At 7 minutes long, this exhilarating concoction of genres sets out the band’s “kitchen sink’s going in” ethos on this record. ‘Shoujahitsumetsu’ is a shorter, sharper track that channels both classic second wave black metal and a little bit of Motörhead, while ‘Shikabane’ has a melodic, punkish vibe that brings to mind Venom and To Mega Therion era Celtic Frost, capped off with some suitably spooky synth work. ‘Fuyu Ga Kuru’ has a doomy blues vibe, starting with a clean guitar intro and baritone vocals, but then quickly flipping to gnarly blackened thrash and then again to ethereal female vocals and soaring synthesizers. As an album centrepiece I feel this song really defines the sound of Sigh in 2022, a mix of classic metal, prog, surreal passages and traditionally non-metal instruments. It’s madcap, eerie and operatic all at the same time. Other highlights include ‘Shouku’, which has shades of power metal and Dimmu Borgir, and ‘Mayanaka No Kaii’, which leans in hard on prog rock, with Wakeman-esque keyboards and complex riffs.
The album ends with ‘Touji No Asa’, a melodic drone and synth piece which seems to signify the ending of one season and the change to another. As with all of Sigh’s releases, there’s a density to Shiki which will keep you coming back to it and discovering new intricacies on each listen. Sigh are, as they always have been, a total one off, and we’re lucky to have them.
Shiki is out today via Peaceville Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader