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Sigh - Heir to Despair CD (album) cover



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kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars Sigh have been one of the most interesting Japanese bands for some time now, and here with their eleventh album they have taken another musical turn in their journey which may surprise some and will delight many. It is an album about insanity, and at first glance at the artwork that doesn't make sense as surely the woman watering her flowers is smiling? Find a nice big version of the image and you will realise the plants are dying, it not already dead, and the room behind her is in chaos. Japanese band Sigh will release their eleventh studio album Heir to Despair on November 16 via Candlelight Records. The album is mostly sung in Japanese, which is very unusual for the band, while Mirai Kawashima used some Japanese traditional singing techniques and Kevin Kmetz, formerly of Estradasphere and master of the traditional Japanese instrument, the shamisen, is featured on several tracks. This definitely gives the band a very traditional feel

While their last album, 'Graveward', contained some symphonic and orchestral elements, this has one has been inspired by progressive bands and contains plenty of vintage keyboards and flute as well as the riffing guitars we would normally expect. The band state they been paying attention to the likes Brainticket, Embryo, Agitation Free, Between, Gentle Giant, Os Mutantes, Modulo 1000 and Black Widow, which isn't a list one can imagine ever seeing from a Japanese metal act. I love the sheer diversity of this album, one never knows what is coming next, either from the next song or even the next few bars of the song which is being played. One might imagine it to be incredibly challenging, but in fact it is actually a really easy album to listen to. I enjoyed it the first time I played it, and each time since then has allowed me to discover something else.

Sigh continue to move, change, and challenge both themselves and their fans, and this is an incredibly strong result on every level.

Report this review (#2186755)
Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars Though I've lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, I don't know many Japanese metal bands, and until recently, I didn't know Sigh either. Then within the space of about a week, not only was Sigh mentioned in two metal album discussion videos I watched on YouTube, but their album 'Heir to Despair' showed up in a recommended albums message from Amazon. Being a sucker for album art, I ordered the album right after checking out whose album cover this painting graced. Then I made a quick visit to YouTube to make sure I hadn't ordered something that would leave me dubiously scratching my chin.

The artwork really intrigued me. It has a very 1950's/60's, Showa' Japanese look to it. The woman is smiling as beautifully as though she were a star actress posing for a movie poster. And yet the plant she waters has withered and the room behind her looks not only austere but items on the floor and torn images on the walls suggest that someone had a serious freak out session in there. Word is the image and the album are about insanity? (The Japanese text translates directly to 'Inheritor of despair', by the way)

I had no idea about what music to expect except for that it would be metal. That Sigh cover black metal, avant-garde metal, progressive metal and more was unknown to me; however, before the album was over I could have guessed most of that myself. The music is speedy, melodic, symphonic at times, suggestive of power metal in a spot or two, and holds a fudge ton of progressive and odd bits to make sure that the album never becomes repetitive. One thing I'm very glad to hear is the variety of additional instruments, particularly traditional instruments like koto and shamisen, but also a good variety of other sounds and effects. Flute also figures in prominently in some tracks. The 'Heresy' trilogy is the most exceptional moment on the album with distorted vocoder vocals, electronic effects, sounds and voices, and a liberal amount of creative editing used to great effect.

Actually, the whole album very masterfully weaves together such an eclectic melange of metal styles so that crunchy guitars yield to Eastern music for a space, flute delightfully plays along to distortion- enriched power chords, symphonic elements add the extra 'umph' to some parts, accordion lends a folk feeling, and traditional Japanese instruments expand the soundscape further. As another reviewer stated, one never can be sure of where the next track will go or what will follow.

I'm not especially a fan of Japanese vocals in any popular music genre because I find them usually too similar in a predictable way. But here, the vocal styles and sounds I would expect from a Japanese metal band don't remain stuck in a trench. They are principally black metal croaks but joined at times by growls. There are also chanted vocals and rapid fire, staccato utterances. Most of the lyrics are in Japanese for which I'm grateful as I sometimes cringe the way some vocalists struggle with English phonetics. (To give an example from another band, 'I cross my heart / I cross my eyes' when 'cross' was supposed to be 'close'). Yet, to give praise where it's due, none of the English on 'Heir to Despair' has stood out for being poorly pronounced to my ears. Then again, I've mostly been enjoying the sounds of the music and vocals and haven't concentrated on the lyrics.

Having never heard any other Sigh albums, I have nothing to compare this to. But I'm very impressed with the package presented here. I love an album of creative and diverse musical approaches, and the recording quality captures all the band's efforts really well. It's a delight to listen to this album!

Report this review (#2186756)
Posted Thursday, April 25, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars Sigh's latest album is the second Sigh album I've listened to, and it was great. The Japanese black metal warriors continue their journey with Heir to Despair, which is another album full of solid, psychedelic black metal. Heir to Despair has a great-looking album cover that's appealing to the eye with the smiling woman on it, making it look like an innocent picture. A closer look at the art shows that the woman is watering a dead plant, and there's debris all over behind her. If you look very closely, there is a man's shadow in the background that looks like it's approaching the woman, spooky. This album cover reflects the title of the album, "Heir to Despair."

The music matches the album cover, that is, it seems pretty but it's also very chaotic and heavy. Fifty-plus minutes of great psychedelic black metal. Even then, the album is difficult to categorize into any specific genre. Black metal is just a general descriptor. Good ol' Sigh. Like any other album by this band, you have to listen to it in order to get an idea of what it actually sounds like.

I don't listen to much black metal but when I do, I prefer Sigh... and Enslaved, maybe Deafheaven, and definitely Agalloch. To fans of psychedelic metal, black metal, maybe post metal, and certainly fans who like Avant-Garde metal, this album is for you. Heir to Despair is only my second offering by Sigh but it's certainly not going to be my last.

Report this review (#2494673)
Posted Saturday, January 16, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mirai Kawashima's come over a little Ian Anderson. Not to a full Jethro Tull-ish extent, mind - but there's an outbreak of flute and piccolo on this Sigh album that's just as interesting an addition to their sound as when Dr Mikannibal first brought her saxophone onboard. For a good long while, the sound of Sigh has been guided in part by the particular direction that Mirai's wanted to take his multi-instrumentalist experimentation in; just look at the credits for this and their past few albums and you'll see how much he's changed his portfolio from release to release. So the addition of flute this time around may sound like a small thing, but as an extra ingredient in Sigh's bizarre mashup of classic metal and black metal and progressive rock, it ends up being an interesting through-line which ties the album together.
Report this review (#2952727)
Posted Monday, September 18, 2023 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Heir to Despair" is the eleventh full-length studio album by Japanese avantgarde/progressive metal act Sigh. The album was released through Spinefarm Records in November 2018. It´s the successor to "Graveward" from 2015, and the album features the exact same quartet lineup who recorded the predecessor.

As always Sigh have managed to incorporate new musical elements to their progressive blackened heavy/speed metal style and this time around it´s the inclusion of traditional Japanese instruments and the fact that Mirai Kawashima (keyboards, vocals, vocoder, programming, main composer) have learned to play the flute (and occasionally use it on the tracks like he does on album opener "Aletheia"), which are the most dominent new elements. There are of course other new adventurous ideas on the album, but if you´re familiar with the preceding releases from Sigh you of course wouldn´t expect it any other way. Kawashima just never ceases to amaze. He is such an incredible musical capacity, who seems to be able to do anything he sets his mind to (learning to play the flute before recording this album was probably a walk in the park for him).

The main vocal style is the usual raspy blackened snarling, but the extreme metal vocal style is complimented by both male and female clean vocals, vocoder parts, and a varity of choirs and backing vocals. In addition to the traditional Japanese music influence there is also a strong middle eastern music element featured on the album. The basic guitar, bass, drums rock/metal band instrumentation are combined with Kawashima´s different keyboards/synths/organ/piano layering and his classical music influences are heard throughout the album.

Avantgarde/progressive heavy/speed metal with raw snarling blackened vocals may be the best overall description of the music, but Sigh are as always almost impossible to give a label which makes sense for the reader. Compared to "Graveward" my ears tell me that "Heir to Despair" is a slightly more well developed and tasteful release featuring a sound production, which is also a step up from the sound production of the predecessor (it´s clearer and more powerful sounding). This album is even close to being accessible at times. As an example take a listen to the sophisticated and very melodic Iron Maiden influenced lead- and harmony guitars on "Homo Homini Lupus" or the uplifting and melodic rocking "Hunters Not Horned". Avantgarde music never felt this pleasant and easy going before.

When that is said "Heir to Despair" is still a complex and demanding release featuring many layers of instruments and vocals, and a generally unconventional approach to composing music. Most tracks have recognisable vers/chorus parts, but everything else going on are quite unique when heard in this context. Upon conclusion "Heir to Despair" is another high quality release from Sigh, who are still one of the most original and creative acts on the scene. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives).

Report this review (#3049104)
Posted Monday, April 22, 2024 | Review Permalink

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