It seems like SIGH exists solely to make my life as a music reviewer more difficult. The avant-garde black metallers from Japan challenge every perception one has as a music consumer. Do I compare this release to their previous ones? No reason: every SIGH album sounds different, from the more straightforward black metal of Scorn Defeat through the psychedelic mania of Imaginary Sonicscape to the present Hammer Horror-inspired outing, Graveward (out now, Candlelight Records). Do I focus on the individual contributions of the musicians? No point for the most part, the album has more than a hundred layers per track and to pick them apart individually, with one major exception, would be like critiquing the individual seeds on a strawberry. That same feature of the music means that any attempt to categorize this album or draw parallels to other bands, would be, pardon the pun, fruitless.
Furthermore, regarding my distinction between a music “listener” and “consumer”: I’ve listened to Graveward while cooking, eating, talking to family, getting ready in the morning, exercising…and it just doesn’t sink in. This album isn’t background music. If you don’t have the time to sit down and devote your attention to it, you might as well listen to something else. If I wasn’t already a huge SIGH fan and someone who has frequently and unsuccessfully attempted to describe the band to others, I probably would have given up by now. So why bother?
Graveward is frequently described as a “cinematic” album, and I think that’s the best way to start explaining it. Much like a movie with carefully arranged cinematography, the album requires several listens to take in, and even then what someone notices or appreciates of the work will differ from person to person. For example, the beginning verse of “The Molesters of My Soul”, right at the 50-second mark, starts out sounding like a record being played backwards. However, there is this delightful little keyboard riff going underneath of it, like a music box in an asylum. When I hear it, I picture someone viewing an utterly warped and abstract scene with a mundane background item being the only thing in jarringly clear focus. You will almost certainly picture something different, and that’s where the true beauty of this album lies.
It would be normal for me to recommend a more accessible album to introduce someone to SIGH before throwing them headlong into the muddled delirium of Graveward. We’ve already established that “normal” hardly applies to this band, but in this case the truth is that Graveward is one of their most accessible albums. Those already familiar will note their traditional nonlinear songwriting and jarring transitions are less common on this album. This follows back with the “cinematic” theme; while a movie does not necessarily need to follow a predictable linear path, the zombie flicks and classic horror items that songwriter Mirai Kawashima has claimed inspiration from are by necessity structured to create the tension and release that makes horror movies work. My personal favorite track from the album, “The Forlorn”, is structured perfectly in this way. The lyrics tell of a recently deceased individual unable to come to terms with their own death. As their panic mounts over the realization, so too do the orchestral elements of the song. “What happened to me? What happened to my body?” wails Mirai as the strings section swells behind him. By the end his lamentations have ceased save for whispers, swallowed by guitar and keyboard leads ushering his soul to Hell. On a negative note, the song “Out of the Grave”, released as the album’s first single, seems a little too by-the-book and is comparatively disappointing.
From the thrashy leanings and “Don’t let them…” refrain of opening track “Kaedit Nos Pestis” to the grandiose opening of “The Tombfiller” sounding straight from a STRATOVARIUS album, to the monumental “A Messenger From Tomorrow”, I still feel only moderately acquainted with Graveward despite my many listens. All I can say is this album ruins the old cliché of “being taken on a journey” because no band can do it in such an imitable and engrossing manner as SIGH. My final words are in praise of new guitarist Yuichi “Kadenzza” Oshima, who matches strings with Mirai’s keys with the apparent ease of a true virtuoso; a perfect addition to the band.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Kaedit Nos Pestis”, “The Tombfiller”, “The Forlorn”, “The Molesters of My Soul”, “A Messenger From Tomorrow”