Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
A lot of the music that we listen to as metal heads is extremely similar. When it really comes down to it, is there that much difference between Immolation and Incantation? Sure, those of us who spend most of our time with it could tell you the differences pretty readily, but the average person isn’t going to hear all that much difference between the two. And there are good reasons for that; Immolation and Incantation are both well-respected death metal bands, and so the music that they play is going to have a certain level of similarity. It’s risky as a band to do something completely out of left field because it’s a lot easier to say “Wow, that’s definitely weird” than to say “Wow, that’s definitely good.” And yet the Japanese quintet Sigh has built an entire career on playing strictly weird music. Sometimes it’s good and weird. Sometimes it’s just plain weird. With Graveward, their tenth studio album, they’re strongly in the “good and weird” category.
One major change from In Somniphobia, and indeed every Sigh album before it is that long-time guitarist Shinichi Ishikawa has left the band and been replaced by You Oshima. Oshima immediately proves that he belongs in the band by opening the album with a ripping guitar lick that recalls Death’s The Sound of Perseverance. The guitars are dark and organic, and it would seem that such a sound shouldn’t sit well alongside all the keyboards and orchestration that Mirai Kawashima provides, but instead it all blends into one great metal sound. Unlike in Scenes From Hell, the orchestration doesn’t completely overpower the guitars, and unlike In Somniphobia, they’re actually important. Even on a song like “The Tombfiller” where horns and strings kick the song off, the guitar quickly establishes itself as an essential part of the music.
The pure theatrics of Graveward push it powerfully into the realm of “The Good” and not just “The Weird.” This is bombastic in a way that In Somniphobia just wasn’t. Apparently, the album is intended to be a tribute to horror films, and that attitude absolutely shines through. It could just as easily be a tribute to pirate action movies (“The Tombfiller”) or fantasy video games (“The Forlorn”), though. The material on offer is varied, yet it all sounds like one album. Personally, I haven’t heard this cohesive a collection of weirdness since Unexpect’s Fables of the Sleepless Empire.
For the most part, the guitar parts are either catchy head-bobbing riffs or crazy air-guitar solos. One misstep that should be mentioned, though, is that You Oshima’s use of pinch harmonics borders on the gratuitous. And while the orchestration mostly enhances the songs, when Kawashima is completely unleashed to fiddle with his weird electronics (see “The Molesters of My Soul”) things come dangerously close to In Somniphobia levels of excess. Since that particular song is followed by the excellent “Out of the Grave,” the album avoids collapsing under its own weight, but it seems clear that Sigh is a band that produces their best work when they’re somewhat restrained. They still manage to get “fucking bizarre” down perfectly without destroying the music, though; see “The Casketburner,” which blends weird-ass jazz club moments with some Western film attitude, Vegas flash, and good old fashioned shred.
Sigh has been playing metal for twenty-five years now, and while they’ve managed never to be “generic,” they haven’t always been much more than the novelty act that you point to when you want to show somebody something really weird. With Graveward, though, they might finally have an album that stays in my playlist because it’s genuinely catchy and good, rather than just bizarre. From “Kaedit Nos Pestis” to “Dwellers In Dream,” there’s good stuff to pick out in every song. Even if the last several albums put you off the band completely, I’d highly recommend you give this one a try.