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A great thing about heavy metal is that it has reached virtually every corner of the world, and the more recent generation of metal has seen many of its brightest shining stars coming from places one might not first expect. From Japan comes Sigh, a band that is a current frontrunner in black metal of the 'weird' variety. A band that has wandered through a different style with seemingly each new album they release nowadays, Sigh finds a unique and quirky sound on 'Imaginary Sonicscape', staying true to any avant-garde label while being infectiously catchy and fun. These certainly aren't tags one would normally think of when speaking of black metal, but Sigh makes it work. Although the band's experiments here are not all successful, I can't help but love what the band has done here.
Recently, I've been finding quite a few black metal bands that are incorporating ample amounts of psychedelic rock into their sound. Sigh is no exception to this, and they make the combination sound very convincing. Although Sigh's sound is certainly rooted in black metal, many of the songs here use upbeat hooks and melodies to give the music a sense that it is more parts 'fun' than 'funeral', and on some tracks (most notably the ridiculously enjoyable rocker 'Bring Back The Dead'), you shouldn't be surprised if you're rasping along to the chorus. Although pop music is in audible effect here however, there is good reason to call Sigh an avant-garde metal band, although the weirdness is not always in full swing.
Sigh takes what have otherwise been largely (although not fully) a straightforward melodic black metal album and adds strange electronic effects overtop some parts, to give a quirkier feel. While it is only to the benefit and credit of the band that they are taking risks, many of the electronic layers they use sound shrill and even a little distracting from the main attraction, which is the wonderful songwriting and delivery. The band takes some big leaps with composition as well; although 'Imaginary Sonicscape' is no stranger to the concept of the melodic hook, there are moments here which define any category that Sigh may have been placed in before. The highlight of the album 'Requiem - Nostalgia' even plunges into something that sounds like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack to some Spaghetti Western film. As a rule, it is the compositional experiments that the band takes that are always more successful than the weaker layering experiments. That is the only flaw that seeks to demerit this masterpiece luckily however, and while 'Imaginary Sonicscape's more adventurous segments may take a little while to get used to despite the instantly endearing nature of the rest of it, Sigh has made a masterpiece here that defies tradition.
Some of you awful elitist types out there – I know you’re reading! – surely want to jump on this band for watering down black metal with prog rock and… other influences. You silly fools; that ship has long sailed. By now we should be wondering why on earth a psych rock/heavy metal/avant-garde band would want to utilize black metal vocals.
Because, in spite of the myriad views of what constitutes “black metal”, there is just no way to construe this music as such. And because Mirai sounds awful. I thought he always kind of did; he does not emit a piercing shriek, or a menacing snarl… it’s more like Helen Keller post-throat cancer: rather effeminate and monotone.
In fairness, any black or death metal vocalist would/does sound worse in a rock or heavy metal environment. It’s music that’s designed to be sung to, whereas your Morbid Angels and your Darkthrones growl and scream precisely because there’s just nowhere in their music for singing to go. Check the first track of this album, which is a pretty straightforward rocker and is thus the most offensive in that aspect: Mirai’s just bellowing over everything and you can’t help but want him to shut the hell up. Carry a tune or get out of the goddamn way!
(Lest you think I’m being unduly close-minded on this matter, I point out that Sigh at least apparently agrees with me, as they’ve recently switched to clean vox. But I have heard but one song of the newest album.)
Well, it’s not all bad. “I am the sun, I am the moon!” he screams in Scarlet Dream – okay, that’s pretty catchy – and the artificially distorted vocals sound okay alongside the slow triphop in Nietzchean Conspiracy.
Yes, the triphop. I told you Sigh weren’t black metal anymore. At this point, I count three major categories of influence on their sound, all of roughly equal significance:
1) heavy metal… or verrrrry early “black metal”, like Mercyful Fate,
2) progressive/psychedelic rock, and
3) every other style of music conceived in the history of popular music.
I’m barely kidding. The triphop – with accompanying sax, no less – will seem much less strange after you have heard the band break directly from heavy metal into… is that reggae in Scarlet Dream? Something like that. And why put reggae (or whatever) in the middle of a metal song? Well, why not put reggae in a metal song? Perhaps you can supply your own answer to that.
Back when Sigh were still (mostly) black metal, I think the idea behind their weird sidebars was to emulate horror movies, and the way they contrast the benign and everyday with the horrific. So there’d be some tame, peaceful-sounding string (keyboard) stuff, perhaps, and then, like a stinger, comes the black metal.
I thought that worked about as well at generating a horror movie-like atmosphere as does Mortician’s habit of using sound clips pilfered from their collection of horror movies. That is to say, I did not think that it worked very well at all.
Now that Sigh’s music consists almost entirely of weird sidebars, you have to wonder how seriously they took that philosophy anyway. Maybe they just really like playing in lots of different styles – and then recording that music – and then putting it all on the same album, instead of separate ones, like sane people would. You can certainly rest assured there’s nothing scary about this album, provided that your musical horizons extend beyond CCM.
If there’s a guiding philosophy behind the avant-garde indulgences on this album, it’s something like… fun… almost. Layers and layers of tripped-out sound – excellently produced – leaping from one idea to the next without warning, while still keeping enough within the bounds of rock songwriting to remain easily digestible. Some of you might not warm up to that. I assure you that it could be worse. Suppose they were trying to “broaden the boundaries of metal by blending eclectic influences”, blah blah, “open-minded”, blah blah. Now that would be scary. And trite. And pretentious. And typical of avant-garde metal.
Luckily, this album is not typical and not pretentious. Furthermore – this is key – it’s actually listenable, provided you’re up to rolling with the punches. Reggae? Sure, I’ll go with that. I hate triphop, but I like Nietzchean Conspiracy. As “catchy” metal goes, it sure beats the hell out of listening to yet another eunuch wailing about elves. As catchy music goes, it beats the hell out of damn near everything. Why listen to only one kind of annoying music when you can listen to them all at the same time? They should play this on the radio instead of… whatever the hell it is that they play on the radio these days.
As other reviewers have already mentioned, Sigh is hard to classify, because they refuse to stay within the boundaries of any one genre. It’s metal, all right, but the entire album is laced with so many different musical styles, from psychedelic rock to hard bop, that it becomes impossible to define them!
On Imaginary Sonicscape, Sigh experiments more than have ever before, taking what’d they had accomplished on Hail Horror Hail[ even further. Unlike other metal bands whose jazz and psychedelic influences can often be very discreet, Sigh makes them glaringly obvious: from the totally popish melodies in Sunset Song to the jazzy solo in Eecstatic Transformation. What’s more, Sigh tends to put on a very theatrical feel throughout the entire album, be it through handclapping, synths, or even flutes. Yet Sigh never puts it on too thick, and manages to blend all these different styles seamlessly.
Very similar to prog, Imaginary Sonicscape adds in a variety of different song structures, textures, and moods from song to song, which also adds to the theatrical aspect of the album. The best part is you never know what the hell to expect. One moment Sigh could be putting out a killer riff, then the next moment jump into a creepy theatrical interlude, yet still manage to make the transition as seamless as possible with no awkward moments to be found. This is avant-garde metal at it’s best.
“Eecstatic Transformation” is probably the best track on the album, which highlights Sigh’s songwriting as well as their jazzy influences. There’s one point in the song where Sigh has a nice little riff going, then take a 180 degree turn into a very melodic, spacious interlude that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. “Corpsecry Angelfall”, “Scarlet Dream”, “Sunset Song”, and “Bring Back the Dead” are some other standout tracks as well, but there really isn’t a bad track on Imaginary Sonicscape.
All in all, Imaginary Sonicscape won’t be your bag if you’re expecting some traditional BM (or BM at all, for that matter), but you're sure to love it if you're into avant-garde styles of metal.
Sigh is labelled as "black metal" by many. People who even attempt to label them with that genre do not fully see the vast array of influences and musical styles attemped by this Japanese three-piece.
Disco? Pop? Prog? Funk? Elements from all these styles are contained in this masterpiece known as "Imaginary Sonicscape." Sigh is by far one of the most unique metal bands. Ever.
The guitar work on this album is superb. The solos are quite well-done, and Shinichi is a great guitarist who can create great, catchy riffs. Mirai's keyboard work is phenomenal. His eclectic use of keyboards is great, and unique keyboards are featured on every second of every song. He is also a great player of the keys, and one song is dedicated to just Mirai playing a fas piano part.
The cons of this album are the vocals, the lyrics, and the drums. Actually, I really wouldn't call the drums a "con", but they are very bland and simple, which does work well with the music. The vocals are traditional black metal screams, which really don't go well with the the music. The lyrics are horrendous. IT'S PSYCHEDELIC MUSIC! IT'S AVANT-GARDE! WHY IS HE TALKING ABOUT CliCHE BLACK METAL THINGS LIKE SATAN AND TORTURE! I really wish the lyrics were just in Japanese.
This is a great album, and one the most unique experiances.
BEST TRACKS ON RECORD: "Requiem: Nostalgia" and "Corpsecry: Angelfall"
Sigh, having solidified their place as one of the best Japanese black metal bands with their early releases, went for a more experimental bent in their later albums, and while those didn’t always work consistently, the experimentation was interesting enough. Their sound has always been intriguing, and anyone interested in metal that is barely traditional would enjoy Imaginary Sonicscape, a disk that features the most polish of their albums to date.
Any album which begins with a Minimoog solo and ends with a distorted version of the Minute Waltz is bound to be intriguing, and the sounds between beginning and end are quite excellent. Shinichi is one of the better non-prog guitarists, and while he may not shred scales as easily as a Michael Romeo or John Petrucci, his riffs and solos are brilliant and nostalgic, many of them inspired by the chunky Iron Maiden riffs of old. And while Mirai’s howled vocals are decent and his bass lines traditional, it is clear that he is in his element surrounded by synthesizers of all kinds - the album credits lists almost every instrument he plays, among them a vocorder, Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond Organ, the aforementioned Minimoog, and many, many others. The way these are implemented over the classic metal sound is also quite brilliant - they are used less to show off Mirai’s playing talent and more to show off his compositional skills, as many of the arrangements use the instruments to their full potential. Nieztchean Conspiracy uses absolutely no guitar or bass, and features some quite real-sounding synth strings and horns that is layered to create an almost jazzy sound, one that is only reinforced during the organ solo. The album features many songs that sound quite little like metal in the traditional definition, but are nonetheless excellent. The opening of Sunset Song is an oddly happy riff considering some of the twists that the song takes; Impromptu, which is a solo piano arrangement that leads right into Return to the Chaos, will be stylistically familiar to those fond of neo-classical arrangements, and the male operatic vocal chorus in the Requiem - Nostalgia is both surprising and satisfying. And the album’s epic, 10-minute Slaughterguarden Suite is unpredictable throughout, from the earliest synthesizer-only parts to the guitar and keyboard solos later in the piece. Sigh’s unpredictability is clearly its greatest asset.
While not all will enjoy the Avant-garde style of metal that Sigh employs, anyone who desires a disk that is experimental without being utter crap, as is the result of many ill-fated experimental side projects in Europe that trade off band members like sex partners, will enjoy Imaginary Sonicscape. At the very least, it’ll keep you guessing.