SIGH – Shiki (2022)REVIEW

Inspired by the wilt of traditional autumnal poetry and its natural applications to one’s aging into the perceived second half of their lifespan, we find Death is always lurking nearby in the not-so peaceably stated effulgence of Tokyo, Japan-based progressive metal act Sigh, whom present their eclectic twelfth full-length album as stoic maturation yet in abstraction. ‘Shiki‘ is the type of surrealistic gathering of experiential and aggressive metallic forms we’ve come to expect in most regards yet it appears hung up, clinging onto sentimentality in unusual continuation of its predecessor. The full listen ends up reading as a half-striding step forth from an auteur who’d rather -feel- themselves into a place of surety than take another flying leap, at least for the time being.

Formed in the wake of another nascent extreme metal project circa 1990 the legend of Sigh‘s early nobility in the black metal pantheon couldn’t be a more ideal deep cut, at least in the sense that they are perhaps the fourth best-known group to have made a dent within the lot of six bands who’d worked with Deathlike Silence and certainly the most consistent in embrace of the true counter cultural excitement of heavy music since. Their early sound wasn’t so unlike a lot of the Venom influenced bands in the late 80’s, think of early Samael when approaching their legendary ‘Scorn Defeat‘ (1993) LP debut and it may generally encourage a better understanding of what folks mean when they discern between early second wave and otherwise, at least in terms of what’d been developing outside of Norway between about 1986-1992. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to suggest that the sort of Mark I triumvirate from the Tokyo-based band was their only real connection to black metal proper, ‘Infidel Art‘ (1995) is generally their character-rich masterpiece of that era if you ask me, but somewhere between their breakthrough fourth (‘Hail Horror Hail‘, 1997) and the unmercifully boring ‘Scenario IV: Dread Dreams‘ (1999) Sigh had become a progressive/art metal band…

…and an incredibly influential one thanks to their two highly regarded post-millennium era records ‘Imaginary Sonicscape‘ (2001) and their arguable first mainstream critical darling (in most respects, ‘Hail Horror Hail‘ was the breakthrough) ‘Gallows Gallery‘ (2005) which I remember distinctly for its popularity and an interview with the band’s maestro Mirai Kawashima wherein he’d insisted that the spirit of black metal was within all of Sigh‘s music not in spite of its divergence but because of this step away from the conditioned normalcy of heavy music. Though it was perhaps spin on some level it did allow my mind to stay completely unhinged and broadened in terms of what a progressive or avant-garde application of black metal modus could be. If we consider what their early 90’s contemporaries were doing by comparison, no doubt the progressive metal bug had hit many but, it’d been this band that’d remained the alien in truth. Though it’d be fair enough to say that, much like Enslaved, they’d simply overstated and iterated certain fundamental tics which were perhaps more exciting to new fandom than the old guard. Many bands who’ve been around as long and whom remain tangentially relevant to black metal tend to carry around a banner of a past self in a very obvious way yet this has long been emphatically not the case for Sigh, it’d be detestably reductive to see their work as that of a ‘legacy’ group so much as an ever-evolving musical organism yet we can generally expect certain sounds and voices to arise within each elaborate construction beyond 2001.

From my perspective Sigh have long been an easily read face, in the sense that no mask can contain when energy and inspiration is flowing hard (‘In Somniphobia‘, 2012) and when their thoughts become introspective, nostalgic and yearning for the next personal step to take (‘Graveward‘, 2015). Both modes, or, expressions end up producing quite involved and redeeming works if we consider the last two decades of songcraft, works which are consistently exciting in their exploratory depth but not always memorably achieved. These modes of the artist will nonetheless variously appeal to different types of fans — If you’ll allow for my Americanized zen Buddhist thought process to infiltrate the moment, consider it the difference between the “beginner’s mind” upheld and the sentimentality of the ‘self’ engaged too heartily. In this sense the temperament of an individual is sometimes clarified by their preferred pieces from Sigh‘s discography, and perhaps if you just love it all you’re either a gawkish generalist or an intellectual psychopath, eh. In approach of this twelfth full-length from the band it would be fair, and perhaps logical, that ‘Shiki‘ finds Marai and co. in a particularly introspective yet heavily nostalgic mindset, not only for the sake of the passage of time but in meditating upon death, ephemera, and the slow waltz towards the end of life.

We must pull backwards before we find the momentum to push beyond the moment and in this sense we’re graced with what is initially the heaviest Sigh record since 1999 herein, eh, or at least since the vastly underrated ‘Graveward‘ as the first set of three songs kicks off ‘Shiki‘. Loudblast‘s current bassist and Malignancy‘s drummer provide session work on this album, which is interesting enough but all that you’ll notice as an existing fan is that the precision of the rhythm section is impressive enough as these heavier songs fire off. “Kuroi Kage” thunders between big, brawny doom-chunking, some ‘Hail Horror Hail‘ weened rock dramatism and a few bursts of black metal intrigue and this manages to be the right sort of momentum to start. Pushing right into the black-thrashing metal of “Shoujahitsumetsu” in its first half continues to make the argument that this will be a bit of a ball-buster ’til the piece almost turns on a dime, dropping everything to have a sort of more naturally power-metallic prog jut which should appeal to my fellow ‘In Somniphobia‘ enjoyers. Finally, think of “Shikabane” as if Sigh had sort of pulled the avant-garde side of post-’85 Celtic Frost into the dynamic of the album but, placed it at the gap of the first third rather than at the very end. The darkest thoughts, or, riffs are unmercifully made completed within this somewhat transitional piece though it does have a satisfying sort of haunt to its terror trembling instrumentation. From there the album ‘goes places’ so to speak, or at least pushes far beyond what’d been implied thus far, thankfully.

The first real point of passion to be found on ‘Shiki‘ arrives in earnest on the second single, “Satsui / Geshi No Ato” but, keep in mind they’ve unfortunately edited it down to just “Satsui” so you will miss out on the second half of the track which is some manner of electro-hop beat with a neoclassic nod in its loop and a satisfyingly glitched guitar (probably) progression and some scowling vocals buried beneath. This is something somewhat new and unexpected for Sigh and though the pairing provides some wild contrast the choice to end with someone scanning the radio before dropping the signal undoes the moment achieved to some degree. The wheels have fallen off the boat at this point and the aggro-atmospheric metallic surrealism of “Fuyu Ga Kuru” (my personal favorite song on the album) again takes us somewhere new for the album but not unheard of in Kawashima‘s wheelhouse, the psychedelic black theatre they’ve been working with beyond 2005 at least factoring in heavily, though the well-tucked Sabbath riffs are especially appreciated in the jazz-warmed fuming of it all. At this point the album is basically finished beyond premier single “Mayonaka No Kaii” which may very well be -the- piece to remember and celebrate on the album for most but it feels more related to the compositional mode of ‘Heir to Despair‘, the 70’s Flower Travellin’ side of Sigh looking inward in a dark kinda way which, I suppose I’d end up enjoying more than the heavier stuff on this record, vocoder and all.

A fine album in its own right, one of the heaviest yet somehow sleepiest releases from Sigh to be sure and for what its worth nothing too expected by any measure, ‘Shiki‘ manages a very complete and entertaining trip through mid-life morbidity. Though I’ve got my own prime selections from their discography still lingering in mind at every mention I don’t yet feel like the artist has reached a point of deadlock, or, lack of inspiration despite this being twelve albums deep. If you feel a lifetime away from this natural point of mid-life the core thought herein might not hit with any urgency, though the crossover between mayhemic boggling prog-metal maxim and seated introspection here is unavoidably read and easily enjoyed. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Peaceville Records
RELEASE DATE:August 26th, 2022

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