Sigh // In Somniphobia
Rating: 5.0/5.0 — There will be double vinyl. And you will own it.
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: sighjapan.com | facebook.com
Release Dates: EU: 2012.03.12 | US: 03.13.2012
Bands really get the shit end of the stick sometimes from their fans, and one of the major offenders is the concept of change. On the one hand, a band is never supposed to change their sound. Their fans will freeeeak out and everyone will call what they do a big pile of shit (how about that last Drudkh album, went from darling of the scene to whipping boy in the matter of a day). On the other hand, others will hear a record from a band that’s functionally the same and say something cocky like “Is Cannibal Corpse or Slayer even remotely relevant anymore?” [Oh wait, that was me and everyone got mad. — AMG] Sigh is one of those bands that I think threads that needle perfectly—offering up records every couple of years that change their sound, while keeping the intangible core in place. In Somniphobia is really no exception to this rule—and it triumphantly continues the band’s current success streak.
Particularly Sigh‘s last couple records, Hangman’s Hymn and Scenes from Hell, have been orchestral black metal with a distinctly neo-Baroque or Viennese Classical kind of melodic approach, but mostly the writing was just fast and slightly raw. Scenes from Hell had a weirder, and more foreign kind of production due to its uses of a real orchestra and it had a nice claustrophobic sound to it. What’s weird is that when I put on In Somniphobia, I didn’t think it sounded that much different from Scenes from Hell. But then after a time I started to re-evaluate that, as In Somniphobia FELT like Scenes from Hell (as in, it was obviously the same band and the x factor was still there), but musically it’s a very different beast. While the opening two tracks and closing two tracks are both “straight metal” tracks, only “Purgatorium” and “Fall to Thrall” would have belonged on Scenes from Hell, for example. While “Equale” and “The Transfiguration Fear” both have more of a NWoBHM meets 1960s rock feel. And, like Hail Spirit Noir before them, it works tremendously well. These songs are catchy, fun and awesome. I particularly love Dr. Mikannibal’s slightly harsh vocals and how they’re used in the background.
The middle part of the album is probably the part of the record we could call In Somniphobia. It’s 42 minutes long by itself and could easily have passed for its own very, very good record. Here, the weirdness is cranked up another notch and the music separates itself from the band’s earlier material a lot more. From the opening strains of “Somniphobia” which brings in what sounds like a haunting, distinctly “Oriental” (for lack of a better adjective) viola [Edit: It's an Indian instrument called a Sarangi, the sound awesome], to the late Arcturus-like drops of electronic circus music, to the sultry tones of noir jazzmetal complete with porn sax and an imaginary woman in a red dress on a piano on the track “Amnesia,” Sigh sounds like a band that is trying to push at the boundaries of what is OK to do within metal and frankly, to keep themselves entertained. But, as Mirai Kawashima (who I’m pretty sure mans the band’s Twitter account) says “[W]e live in [the] 21st century. In Somniphobia isn’t avant-garde enough to scare people…” But that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to impress, though.
And impress it does, every song on this album is amazing. I am particularly fond of the the moments of 60s rock and the idiosyncratic performances, like having clapping and organ in a black metal song. But a lot of this stuff is just Sigh doing what they’ve always done well: good orchestral arrangements and smartly constructed melodies that take the listener in and really grip him. The 9 and a half minute conclusion to the In Somniphobia section of the record demonstrates this perfectly, building up and reaching a climax around 6 minutes into the song. Then, against all better songwriting judgement, they just riff on this build-up and it sticks. The use of accordion and chanting makes both the aforementioned track and “Far Beneath the In-Between” sloping examples that recall Arcturus‘ La Masquerade Infernale, while having a feel all its own. And so on. And so forth.
Hell, even at over an hour long, this victim of Reign in Blood syndrome cannot pull himself away from listening to this magnificent work. I’ve had this album since January and it has never left my playlist. I’ve listened to Sigh more than any other band this year and I haven’t liked a record this much since Orphaned Land‘s ORwarriOR. Sure, these are very different records with very different target audiences and ideas, but what they both share in common is that this Angry Metal Guy can’t. Stop. Listening. Oh, and isn’t the artwork fucking amazing? There is nothing wrong here at all. This isn’t just an album you should own, this is an album you should own on vinyl.