Formed in Tokyo in 1989, Sigh were soon signed to the (in)famous Deathlike Silence label, who released their acclaimed debut album, Scorned Defeat. That record, ground-breaking and bombastic, forever changed the face of black metal, and almost three decades later, they’re still as uncompromising as ever. Latest album, Shiki, finds the band blurring musical boundaries and mapping uncharted territory.
The word “Shiki” has several meanings in Japan, among which are ‘four seasons’ and ‘time to die’, and it’s around these two themes that Shiki revolves. Sigh don’t stand for procrastination, and ‘Kuroi Inori’ is a brief prelude, an EVP which captures a ghostly apparition on tape, before the band hit us with the doomy riff of ‘Kuroi Kage’. Sigh proceed to stomp like a kabuki monster, and with a riff that swings like a huge pendulum inching towards your neck. It’s taken for granted that when dealing with Sigh you should always expect the unexpected but, nevertheless, this opening shot took me by surprise. I was anticipating blast beats and other musical fireworks, so the Sabbath-like dirge that kicks off Shiki rather took me by surprise, but that only makes it all the more arresting.
Shiki is the musical equivalent to a Takashi Miike film; it’s often bizarre, violent and bordering on the psychotic. This album is avant-garde in its purest definition and it seems that nothing is out of bounds, with ambient, classic rock and traditional Japanese sounds melded to their black metal roots. Sigh making good use of electronics, and also traditional Oriental instruments such as shakuhachi and shinobue flutes, and they swirl into a psychedelic stew. The lithe flute is often contrasted with crushing beats, and that juxtaposition between light and shade runs throughout Shiki, and makes for an intriguing listen.
It seems that Japanese is the perfect language in which to “sing” black metal, and both Mirai Kawashima and Dr Mikannibal unleash some unearthly vocals, and the two in tandem make for a truly haunting experience. What really comes to the fore on Shiki is its progressive nature; tracks such as Fuyu Ga Kuru are organic in nature, they evolve and shapeshift, and become songs of several suites. ‘Mayonaka No Kaii’ wass the album’s first single (check out the amazing video here) and it perfectly encapsulates the band’s proggy leanings, and is perhaps the first black metal song to feature such a vivacious Hammond organ solo. ‘Touji No Asa’ is another instrumental to bookend the album and, evocative and possessive, ensures the band depart as they arrived.
Throughout their career, Sigh have released a string of critically acclaimed, genre-hopping albums, and while their trademark weirdness could have become formulaic, they keep finding ways to keep things fresh, and Shiki stands as a career best.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- Shiki is released via Peaceville on 26th August 2022.
- Kuroi Inori
- Kuroi Kage
- Satsui – Geshi No Ato
- Fuyu Ga Kuru
- Kuroi Kagami
- Mayonaka No Kaii
- Touji No Asa