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Heir to Heresy - 85%

Twisted_Psychology, November 28th, 2018

Sigh may be a name synonymous with avant-garde metal weirdness, but such shock has inevitably become formula after over two decades of it. The band’s eleventh full-length album is business as usual, featuring all the hyperactive genre-hopping and nightmarish theatrics that fans have come to expect from them. Specific motifs like the electronics that pop up on the “Heresy” suite even trigger direct associations with past albums like 2012’s In Somniphobia.

However, Heir to Despair does stand out for being the band’s most distinctly ‘Japanese’ album. Despite what the mostly English song titles would suggest, the lyrics are delivered almost exclusively in the band’s native language and songs like the opening “Alethia” feature a slew of Japanese folk instrumentation alongside the band’s staples. Clean vocals are additionally more prominent and there’s a heavy emphasis on flute playing as well, which is great to hear even if the saxophone is practically nonexistent as a result.

And with that, the band’s strong musicianship and varied songwriting are presented at full force. Following the somewhat doomy opener, “Homo Homini Lupus” bursts in with peppy rhythms and flamboyant guitar work. I also appreciate the haunting slow burn of “Heresy I: Oblivium” and its transitions to its briefer sequels, including the unnervingly ethereal “III: Sub Species Aeternitatis,” even if the former could ironically afford to be shorter while the latter could’ve been expanded. Fortunately, the ten-minute title track justifies its length with low key swing and more creepy atmospherics.

It’s hard to tell if Sigh isn’t as out there as they used to be or if we’re all just used to it, but we can at least guarantee that they’re still capable of crafting enjoyable material. Heir to Despair may not be the band’s mind-blowing effort ever but it does feature some great tracks and the indigenous elements scattered throughout give it something for even the most jaded fans to latch onto. Nothing feels recycled or cynical and as long as the band can keep that up, we’ll likely stay happy with more of the same.

Highlights:
“Aletheia”
“Homo Homini Lupus”
“Heresy I: Oblivium”
“Heir to Despair”

Originally published at http://indymetalvault.com

Well, that's one way to ruin an album - 50%

BloodIronBeer, November 26th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Spinefarm Records

Sigh is a band that has a cult following, and are known for their bizarre approach, lax form, loose adherence to conventional instrumentation, and style that completely defies real categorization. In the loosest of terms, the two main styles that this particular album seems to stem from is a kind of one-size-fits-all metal and Asian folk music. And this includes western Asia. The first four tracks see high usage of a phrygian dominant kind of scale that give it a “Middle Eastern” sound, the Heresy trilogy of songs uses a lot of electronic effects with a downbeat electronic drum track to match, a heavily modified spoken word section in part 2 (which is creepy as fuck), part 3 is laden with feedback, and static. The title track kicks off with sort of death metal riff with a Japanese instrument called a taishogoto, and leads into a strangely power metal riff after. At any given moment a riff can sound like things as musically distant from one another as the Beetles and Nocturnal Breed. Vocals can be anything from poppy singing, to the shrillest black metal shrieks. The over all feeling of the album is uneasy, and indeed, uncanny.

Though this band is known for being out in left field, I feel like this is actually one of their more firmly rooted albums, with the exception of the Heresy tracks which are certainly as avant-garde as anything I'd ever care to introduce to my ears. Hands of the String Puller uses some kind of flute to convey a European style folk melody. The first 4 tracks in general are certainly not overtly weird. Even the closing track which moves through it's many styles, from death metal to a post-black metal with hand drums, doesn't match the Heresy tracks in terms of “what the fuck am I listening to”.

The most captivating thing about this album is certainly it's air of mystery and unsettling vibe. It's very eerie. Even in it's lighter moments, there is something dreadful underpinning it all.

That said, this band sounds, on the Heresy tracks, like they're trying way too hard. The flute, and other unexpected elements in the early tracks work quite well, but the Heresy tracks are try-hard overdose if I've ever heard it. The drums sound awful, there's no songwriting to speak of, much of the tracks are actively grating, going from brash and severely overproduced to literal noise in the form of feedback, beeps, boops and static. Honestly, these three tracks are about as offensively bad as music can get. It gets really easy here to conflate aspirations of a higher art form and just being an egregious try-hard, and it feels like a lot of that is subjective and I'm obliged to spell that out – but there's nothing actually groundbreaking here, so what else is the point? Because it's certainly not pleasing in any humanly perceivable way. The worst part about the idea that there is something deeper to extract from music which is so jarringly abnormal – which is neither necessarily true or untrue – is that the weirder it is, the more people insist there must be something to “get”. Well, there's nothing to get here. It's just the end product of musical experimentation – and experiments fail far more often than they succeed. Don't try to read anything else into, it's just shit. And I should reiterate, I'm only talking about tracks 5 through 7 here.

The rest of the album, is pretty solid. It's unique and ominous. It's style over substance, to be sure – it's oddity is derived from great leaps in style and instrumentation, and less so in terms of actual song writing or musical devices.

Unfortunately I have to gouge the score because of tracks 5 through 7, and it's not just the music itself – which is violently unlikable to be sure – but it's the fact that the band showed great capability in the other tracks, and thought I wouldn't call them out for trying to slip in some pretentious horseshit. This shitstain in the middle really broke up that great ominous aura that pervades the album, too. Without deviating so far down the path of experimentation, they could have saved that awesome vibe.

Invest in progress to keep metal alive! - 93%

kluseba, November 24th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Spinefarm Records

Sigh has always been hit and miss for me. I loved the creative Imaginary Sonicscape, the underrated Gallows Gallery, the unforgettable avantgarde effort Hangman's Hymn - Musikalische Exequien and the epic symphonic masterpiece Scenes from Hell. The last few records were somewhat disappointing in my book however with the heavily overloaded In Somniphobia and the faceless Graveward. In my opinion, Heir to Despair is not only a return to form but might be the band's second strongest record ever behind Imaginary Sonicscape.

One reason behind Heir to Despair's success lies in the songwriting. The different songs still contain multiple creative ideas but the tracks are quite long and take their time to unfold these changes and shifts carefully. The vocals and lyrics are less important as most songs have prolonged instrumental segments or are even entirely rid of vocals. The only song that still sounds a little more hectic is oddly chosen single ''Homo Homini Lupus'' with Phil Anselmo's angry backing vocal tracks. Even though the song is clearly the weakest on the record, it's still acceptable as change in style in general and link between this new album and the style of the previous release in particular.

Brilliant opener ''Aletheia '' already includes more ideas than other bands put on entire releases. Heavy metal guitar riffs meet thunderous black metal vocals with oriental folk and symphonic sounds cleverly woven in and some sound samples adding an atmosphere that transports you straight to a Middle Eastern market place. Traditional heavy metal instruments like bass guitar, electric guitar and drums meet three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument shamisen, harp-like string instrument taishōgoto as well as piccolo and other types of flutes and epic keyboard sounds inspired by progressive rock music of the seventies. Contemporary influences meet experimental rock music from half a century ago and folk sounds reaching back several centuries. This mixture is adventurous but thanks to a careful, elaborate and intellectual songwriting, the risks are rewarded and this opener turns out being one of the group's greatest songs ever written. The dynamic, epic and surprising folk metal song ''Hunters Not Horned'' with its brooding progressive rock break in the middle sounds equally great. ''In Memories Delusional'' is overall faster but includes an outstanding slow middle section with the greatest guitar solos on the entire album before it ends with extended Middle Eastern folk soundscapes that start joyously and progressively get an insane shift taking you on an uneasy and emotional ride.

The centerpiece of the record consists of the three-part ''Heresy'' track that focuses on atmospheric contemporary sound collages as folk sounds meet orchestral passages. Traditional metal songwriting is almost completely absent from these three tracks and these three songs can even be considered courageous by Sigh's groundbreaking standards. This is exactly why this risk pays off in my book. This trilogy sounds unique, inspired and fascinating and invites for multiple spins that always offer something new to discover. Traditionalists will be heirs to despair but one can't quite picture traditionalists listening to such a band anyway. Some critics have cited this centerpiece as the record's weakness but it might be the opposite since ''Heresy'' could be the bravest thing Sigh has accomplished so far in its career.

The band decided to not end the record on such unusual notes and concluded this excellent album with two songs that go back to the style of the opening quartet. ''Hands of the String Puller'' finds the right balance between aggressive and progressive sounds and reminds of a twisted horror movie soundtrack with its haunting vocal effects, gripping guitar riffs and frenetic folk sounds. Closing title track ''Heir to Despair'' sounds like a psychedelic folk tale with extended instrumental passages that would also do a film or video game soundtrack justice. To name a few references, the track makes me think of blind gambler, masseur and swordsman Zatoichi in the universe of the beautiful, brutal and strange immortal girl Tomie.

Another fitting reference is the outstanding cover artwork. Sigh has always had particularly memorable cover artworks and this one offers a lot to discover if one looks a little bit closer at it as is the case for the band's music as well. What or who is the strange woman looking at with her mysterious smile? Why does she water seemingly dead flowers? Are those blood stains on her dress? What are the weird drawings on the wall behind her? What is the shadow on the wall in the other room? This cover artwork seems to be taken right from a Japanese horror movie as you get the ominous feeling that something just isn't right.

While the atmosphere of Sigh's Heir to Despair is quite uneasy indeed, everything is certainly right with this adventurous, ambitious and unique record that combines all of Sigh's strengths for one of the band's greatest records ever. The only important negative point is the slightly thin production as the band would deserve better financial resources for a production of the highest standard. When Nuclear Blast gave experimental symphonic metal band Therion the financial support to record its groundbreaking Theli album a little more than two decades ago, it would end up changing the history of metal music as one knew it. If Sigh were given the same resources by today's standards, the band could revolutionize the genre as well and not just be a respected group by a few open-minded metal fans but become the next big thing in the entire scene. Invest in progress to keep metal alive!

The best Sigh album in some years - 100%

Kronisk, November 23rd, 2018

Context is everything, so bear with me whilst I give some. My favourite previous Sigh album is Scenario IV: Dread Dreams. Its opener and closer are my favourite examples of songs where you do not know whether it is quite black or quite doom, but it is just so savagely what metal is that you would play it for the proverbial Man From Mars anyway. On a similar token, I hated Graveward. Maybe the problem was that my first listen was on Spotify, so every so many songs the flow was severely broken by Spotify's shitty ads. But I have listened to Graveward in a lossless format since, and I have never used Spotify again. I still stand by Graveward being Sigh's absolute worst (and with Sigh that means most boring) album.

So when I say that in my mind, I visualise Heir To Despair climbing up to the summit of the mountain of King Of Japanese Metal and taking a throne right next to Scenario IV, understand my meaning.

Given that Heir has a cameo appearance from Phil Anselmo, one of those dirtbags who mistake metal for being conservative and about "lookithowtuffIam", this would normally be significant. But Phil's voice is filtered through so many effects that he is utterly unrecognisable anyway. He sounds like an actual man in this song, as opposed to the fourteen year old boy with his testicles caught in a hair-crimper voice that I normally associate with Phil Anselmo. But Homo Homini Lupus has something else that Pantera et al do not. When Mirai says he at least partly understands the emptiness, fear of further abuse, and pain that can drive a Human being to violence against self or others, I believe Mirai. After listening to this album, and any song therein including Homo etc, I believe him at least as much as I did during Scenario IV.

Normally, when I review an album, a film, a game, or any kind of practical device, I like to temper it with a description of what detracts from the product. Few are the albums that do not have something about them that, changed or rectified, would have made them that tiny bit better. Not so with Heir To Despair. I seriously cannot think of any element in Heir that makes me reconsider giving it top marks. Even the production within the ever-more-apparent limitations of the compact disc format, which is especially punishing to artists that use more than a guitar or two, bass, and drums, is an example of the best within the aforementioned limitations. Being able to hear what the bassist is doing most of the time is a rare gift. If Mirai ever stumbles across this review, I want him to hear me when I say that I would gladly pay Japanese import prices to have this album in ninety-six kilohertz.

During a conversation at a hobby store, a man told me that when you send cultural things to Japan, they take the essence of it as they see it and ramp it up many notches. You can see this in Japanese pop, Japanese boy bands, Japanese films, and so on. Sigh is therefore prima facie evidence that metals doom, black, thrash, and all else real, is the most awesome music on Earth. Because the way Sigh takes what metal is about and sends it back to our Western ears, it comes back so awesome that we struggle to learn the lessons we ought to learn from it.

Heir To Despair is hands down the best album of 2018, and the best Sigh album since Scenario IV: Dread Dreams. Never has the cover art of an album given such an accurate picture of the content. The lady on the cover looks like she is trying so hard to "be positive" that she might just take one of the glass shards on the floor and gouge a permanent smile onto her face. The music captures exactly what it feels like to be pushed into such a pit of despair. This album is the most perfect expression of what metal is really about in many a year. Run, do not walk, and get yourself a copy.