Here’s a fun drink idea for your next party: pour a shot of sake into your cup, followed by a trickle of absinthe, a vial of goat urine, and top the drink with cake sprinkles. Add a single ice cube. Feed this mixture to a large bat. Let it sit for a quarter hour until the mixture starts being digested. Light the bat on fire.
There’s only one word that can encompass this specific cocktail of madness: Japan. Sigh are on their tenth trip around the turntable and still spin at 45, since there isn’t a faster option. Graveward is their attempt to penetrate the monolithic shadow cast by In Somniphobia, an album so fantastically strange that it was a sidestep even by the standards of a band that defines the term “avant-garde”. Will Graveward see them pulling an Opeth and venturing even further from their black metal roots, or is this going to be more of a Cryptopsy style return?
Did you like Scenes from Hell? If not, that’s ok, there are plenty of other shitty people in the world for you to hang out with. If you did, then I suggest that you open a new tab now and exchange some of your favorite type of currency for your very own Graveward. The symphonics and aggression of Scenes From Hell make their return here, but appear in concert with the moody strangeness of In Somniphobia, bubbling up in Sigh‘s churning glass, jagged, dangerous and as always, unabashedly bizarre. Unlike its predecessor, Graveward is metal through and through, each song a cancerous vertebra in the twisting spinal column of a black metal album that’s been through hell and come out stranger.
“Kaedit Nos Pestis” marks Sigh‘s territory right away, gushing out a stream of fetid liquid that steams when it hits the freshly turned soil. Deeply rooted in old-school black metal and power metal, the song snaps Graveward open with incredibly fun lyrics and bizarre singing that’s so cheesy it would stick out on a [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] album. “The Forlorn” is the album’s first mid-paced song, but it’s no less intense or weird than the three that precede it – just try not to sob out the line ‘I am not dead…’ with Mirai Kawashima. You can’t.
The first half of Graveward closes with “Molesters of My Soul,” which is best simulated by compressing a brass section into a two-by-four, sticking a bunch of nails into the wood and subsequently being smacked with that board at a steady 92 bpm. As stomping and mad as it is, the song also features one of the most interesting intros on the album, a twinkling music-box-like melody that I’m about half sure was stolen from the studio as In Flames was recording A Sense of Purpose. “The Casketburner” is another standout on the last half of the album, fun enough to go toe-to-toe with some of Revocation‘s latest material. There’s really not a bad song to be had here, which is what we’ve all come to expect from Sigh.
Despite this, Graveward dose have one big problem, and it’s a surprising one. The album often feels a little, well, predictable. The songs aren’t nearly as varied as those on In Somniphobia, but that wouldn’t be such a problem if Graveward didn’t feel like it was still running on its predecessor’s chassis. The same gags and sounds pop up in the same places that they did on In Somniphobia; “Kaedit Nos Pestis” features a hand-clapping track that’s quite similar to one from “The Transfiguration Fear Lucid Nightmare;” they bring out the saxophone in the same places as the album progresses, and there’s a definite U-shaped curve in speed across the length of the LP. On top of this, the choice to put “Dwellers in a Dream” after the seven-minute epic “A Messenger from Tomorrow” – which sounds like the S&M version of “One” if it was rewritten by madmen – is pretty questionable. I don’t think Graveward is too long (49 minutes is a great length and Sigh can get away with much more), “Dwellers in a Dream” isn’t the best way to close the album.
While it’s not quite the masterpiece that was In Somniphobia, Graveward is far from a blemish on Sigh‘s discography. It’s a great album despite its flaws, but it is a little bit worrying. There’s the lingering suggestion that Sigh are running out of ideas, and while one could hardly blame them, seeing as they’ve never hesitated to shove everything possible into their art, it makes me weary for the future of Japan’s most revered extreme metal export. Only time will tell whether they can make the turnaround, but even if we have to wait another three years, there’s always the back catalog to keep us company.