Sigh // Scenes from Hell
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —Best black metal I’ve heard in a long time
Label: The End Records
Websites: myspace.com/sighjapan | sighjapan.com
Release Dates: US: 01.19.2010 | EU: 29.01.2010

Let me start with the a territory that isn’t very comfortable for many in heavy metal: orchestrations. Heavy metal has seen many variations on the classical orchestration in many different subgenres. Neo-classical metal, like the wanky stuff with Yngwe or Symphony X, has long bragged about the influence of baroque and classical music. Bands like Rhapsody of Fire and Epica do things that sound like they should be straight out of a movie score and black metal even has a symphonic sub-genre, most notably filled by Dimmu Borgir, whose symphonics have gone over the top in the last few years with the addition of Mustis (though we’ll see what happens now that he’s gone). Never before in my tenure of heavy metal listening have I heard orchestrations used in a black metal record to such effect as they have been used on Sigh‘s new record Scenes from Hell.

There are not very many bands that have the kind of respect for progressiveness, yet extremity, that Japan’s very own Sigh has in the underground. Not only has Sigh managed to reinvent themselves pretty consistently, they still consistently produce records that are both extreme and yet somehow oddly catchy and palatable. There are not many bands that can say that they can do both of those things with any consistency. While Scenes from Hell doesn’t technically take on new territory, it does so with an approach that I think is highly novel and very interesting: not only do they use a real orchestra, but instead of using the orchestrations as a background to standard black metal they are instead used, often times, as the leading piece in the track. Where good riffs exist, there is very little orchestration or not at all. In these sections, the rawness and riffyness of this record stands out on its own. But, when the blazing riffs or death marches are added together with orchestrations that is where this record shines.

Scenes from Hell is a triumph of excellent orchestration, musicianship and performance. Simultaneously raw and beautiful, Sigh walks the line between beautiful classical music and raw black metal and never falters or falls too far into one or the other. I am reminded, actually, of Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s 2009 release Oracles by comparison, which is the only album that I feel comes close to the same kind superior approach to classical music, however, they did that completely without orchestrations, carrying the melodies on the guitars instead. However, it is the same qualities, the heavy melody and smart arrangements, and thereby unique approach to metal, that make these two albums similar in my book. If you’re looking to sample this record, something you shouldn’t do (seriously, just go buy it), you should check out the tracks “L’art de Mourir,” a perfect example of the contrasts this album offers between rawness and trumpet orchestrations, and “The Summer Funeral” a funeral dirge that will be stuck in your head for hours after you listen to it.

Honestly, the only complaint that I can even come up with at all is that the production could be better. However, I’m actually torn on this as well, as I think the production actually helps keep this raw. Some of the modern orchestrated black metal stuff, in my opinion, has lost a lot of its rawness and atmosphere. While the production on this record is totally claustrophobic, it gives the orchestra the room it needs and it keeps the metal nice and raw. In some ways, the production, which some have complained about, is probably the best way they could have produced this record. Not too clean, but not too muddy as to lose the good contrasts.

In any case, I think that this is the best follow-up to Hangman’s Hymn that’s even possible. I think a lot of people will claim, unfortunately, that these two records are far too similar to each other and that Hangman’s Hymn is superior. I think neither of these claims are true. The writing on Scenes from Hell is not thematic and because of the production, and where the orchestrations sit, it also draws itself away from the pack when it comes to symphonic black metal. Scenes from Hell will go down as a masterwork of black metal, in my book, and shows that black metal can still be creative and interesting. Buy it.

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  • http://www.furiacontralamaquina.com ballener0

    I agree with almost everything you said here. Not only Scenes from Hell stands as a great album for its great riffing, catchy and still very aggresive, but the orchestra fits so well in the overall image…I listened it twice and I’m totally into it, and I would also recommend The Summer Funeral.

    The thing with production, in my case, is that it is too bad for my taste. I love well produced albums and it’s been a long time since I really enjoyed an album that searched for rawness with a harsh production. Surely this album stands at the edge of what I would call “bad production” in any other genre, but it sounds very balanced and it’s still nice to hear though.

    Mmmm, it’s been months since I last listened to Hangman’s Hymn, so maybe it’s time to revisit that album as well. After beeing a bit disappointed with ORwarriOR this album is an unexpected gift!

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      You were disappointed with ORwarriOR? Oh man! God, I love that record, it’s one of the best I’ve heard like.. ever. Anyway, I am a huge fan of this Sigh album. I think it’s better than Hangman’s Hymn in all ways except production. But I know where you’re coming from. I was really taken aback by the production at first, but now that I’m into it.. I dunno if I would change it. It works well.

  • http://www.furiacontralamaquina.com ballener0

    Yeah, I feel ORwarriOR is a bit boring sometimes. Maybe I had too much expectatives upon them after this many years listening to Mabool over and over. I’ll give it a rest and will listen to it again in a couple of weeks.

    Going back to Sigh, yeah, it works great. It’s useless to regret they didn’t opt for a better production now that it’s finished, so I’ll just enjoy it as it is. I’m not that much into black metal and less into symphonic, but definitely when I first listened to it yesterday…well, made my day! Hell yeah!

  • Eric

    It is a great album indeed, I love sigh. You really should review their 2001 album “Imaginary Sonicscape” If you’ve already heard it I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a masterpiece. I would very much like to hear what you have to say about it in detail though.