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5 stars Well, this seems like a great contender for album of the year. I have said this before but Prog has been killing it this year. There have been so many great releases that I can tell will be regarded as instant classics for the next 10 years, and it seems like we'll get even more this September. So I wanna highlight an album from last month that has quickly become one of my favorites this year. The metal we got from this year so far has been at worst ok, but at best stellar, and this right here is the cream of the crop in terms of that experimental, highly pronounced progressive metal.

Sigh is a band that cropped up in the late 80s in Tokyo, Japan. Their current line-up includes Mirai Kawashima (Lead vocals, keyboards, sampler, programming, vocoder, woodwinds, bass, percussion, and arrangements), Satoshi Fujinami (Bass, guitars, drums), Junichi Harashima (Drums), Mika Kawashima, AKA Dr. Mikannibal (Saxophone, vocals), and Nozomu Wakai (Guitars). They were considered one of the first black metal bands in Japan, however, they had a resolve to experiment, which paid off by 2001 with their most acclaimed album yet, Imaginary Sonicscape. So far they have had a good track record of creating great albums that have an evocative, psychedelic, and straight-up insane music. They have an edge when regarding experimental metal music in the past decade, and they still have one even now. So far from what I have heard from them, they haven't released a single bad album, and I doubt they'll stop anytime soon. So, this is their 12th studio release, and I must say that this is probably their strongest album to date.

Minus Kuroi Inori, which is just a 16-second prelude, the first track, Kuroi Kage is one of the best openers for a metal album I heard this year. I adore how it has this intense and overarching build-up to a satisfying payoff with that intense, and almost sludge metal riff. The main focus point here is probably the Eastern influences. In the albums I have heard from them, they never really had any sort of sound and structure that felt very Eastern, only really dipping their toes into that whole cultural style on a few occasions. Here though is when you hear a more old Japanese sound. It is like the band is embracing their country's culture while also embracing their intense music, combining the two into a harmonious mix. It's honestly to god the most structural metal song I heard from this year, and I think if there was a track that can get someone hooked instantly to this band, it'd have to be this one.

I said before that the last track almost had a sludge metal riffage to it, well take that and give it a sprinkle of Mastodon-influenced sounds with the next track, Soujahitsumetsu. Besides the Japanese singing, this feels very reminiscent of that early 2000s sludge metal sound that Mastodon was pioneering with Remission and Leviathan. However, I never felt like they were copying that sound. Instead I feel like they are using it to break a new mold, revitalizing that sound further to where it feels more intense, more grandiose, and more fun. This song just has a fun feel to it all, especially at that guitar solo after the halfway point, how it just feels so fast yet so full of energy. It's just a wild track that gives you a whirlpool of awesome riffs that help solidify it as an awesome track all around.

These elements get expanded upon with Shikabane, where we get even more fun flavors to work with. I love how it goes from this intense piece to a more atmospheric and synth-driven piece that gives this early days horror movie vibe. I love it wobbles around, almost like the album is taking a breather after going through a ton of epic metal pieces, before going back up again to that heavy attitude once more. I think the drumming here is the main highlight, how it can just go from some intense and speedy styles to more gripping and slow builds. I think if your album doesn't have good drumming, then you aren't doing a good job, because to me the drums are the heart of a song. A song can still be good without drums, that much is evident in many genres that do not even rarely have any drums like new age or acoustical music, but when you do have drums, they have to be strong or else everything will fall flat. With that being said, they are strong here. Some fun playing and stylization with the drums go a long, long way. It's just a great track all around.

Like how each song just builds to some amazing moments, the album just keeps building, and here we see one such of those amazing moments with Satsui - Geshi No Ato. Oh my god, no wonder this was chosen for the promotional single for this album because it is top-notch. I adore how bouncy, and just plain rambunctious the first half feels, and it feels like that throughout the entire stretch of the song until it dissipates this more electronic and very light soundscape that just envelopes you even more to this experimental sound. You can tell, after 11 albums of trying new things and experimenting, we get stuff like this that shows how this band can work with that intense, but also very fun and lively progressive metal sound.

Oh man, and it just gets better with Fuyu Ga Kuru. This song just goes through such a journey, that hones in on that Eastern style the band brought forth in spades with this album, having woodwinds in this song while also having a symphonic mellotron in the back, creating an atmosphere in many areas of this song, to then go back to that energetic sound in such a smooth and well thought out manner is flat out amazing. This album is embracing the band's country's culture in spades, and honestly, it really works for a metal style. That Japanese sound found here really gives this album an awesome and unique flavor that I haven't heard before. It is a unique experience for me, especially before listening to this album, I was mostly listening to more Western Prog bands, so hearing this was a very nice change of pace.

Believe it or not but the album just doesn't stop getting better, in fact, this is probably the best album it has gotten, and that statement goes to Shouku. Such an epic track. The intensity, the heat this propels is just marvelous. It is so fast that when it gets slower and heavy, it still feels like a rush of blood through my veins that just gets me hungrier for more. I just have to say this, but the part at 3:50 is so good. It is just heaviness in musical form that just drives through your head like a needle on a thread. It instantly pierces you, no, it takes a chainsaw and slashes your chest in, and it's the best feeling yet on this album. When I first heard it, time felt stopped in its tracks, and I think that is such an amazing feat for a band to pull, to just make your listener feel like time and everything around them just stopped moving. It is a hard, near impossible feat, but it feels like Sigh did it without any issue at all. I just love it so much, and I think it turns this entire album into a must-listen for me.

Skipping Kuroi Kagami, which isn't a track but more of a 1-minute interlude, for the next track, Mayonaka No Kaii. This is where all that build-up pays off in the end with a really strong track. It fully gives you that one-two punch of that epic metal sound, with those historical cultures the band embraces on this album. A full lot of flutes, Eastern stylizations, and a juicy amount of epic progression and composition are to be found here, all in five minutes, making it not the longest track, but yet still making it one of the juiciest, most fulfilling tracks this album can have an end on.

However there is still one last track, and that is Touji No Asa. Where Mayonaka No Kaii felt like a fulfilling piece, Touji No Asa feels like a true closure to this album, not making me hungry for more, but appetizing me up for what is next to come in the band's strong lineup of albums. It is a good end to this album, not ending with a giant bang, but with something quieter, and more ethereally potent.

When I mean this is a contender for album of the year, I mean it. It does so many things right, and each song just gets better and better. This is an album that you got to run and listen to because it is such a treat. Everything on it from the sound, to the bare essentials of what makes a metal album work is done with such potency that it makes this one of the strongest, most fulfilling Sigh album I have heard so far, and the most fulfilling metal album I have heard of this year so far. Give it a spin, you will not regret it.

Report this review (#2788157)
Posted Sunday, September 4, 2022 | Review Permalink
5 stars Although they have a long history (12 albums in 29 years) and are respected in the underground scene (especially as an Avant-Garde band), it is the first time that I have the pleasure of listening to Sigh, and therefore I do not know how important or innovative is "Shiki" in the band's discography. I don't know if it means a new approach or a progress in his style, I only know that it is a quite original and traditional work at the same time, where extreme genres such as Death, Thrash and Black Metal (in its most symphonic variant) easily coexist along with sounds close to oriental folk and eighties synthesizers.

In addition to never reaching abstraction or the 'post-rock' approach (where the sound is more important than the forms) that 'Avant-garde' bands are accustomed to; "Shiki" -in its austere forty-six minutes- offers us groovy riffs, epic choruses and dynamic sections that musicians like Mikael Akerfeldt would surely like.

Report this review (#2844316)
Posted Thursday, October 6, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars It's rare that I find an album so agitating that I can barely find it within myself to write a song-by-song review, but this is one of those albums. But, my interest was provoked by recent glowing reviews (Dapper~Blueberries and JohnProg), so I decided to check it out.

My first two attempts were aborted because of lack of uninterrupted/undisrupted time, but I distinctly remember thinking, both times, "I'm nowhere near in the mood to take this on." Today I've carved out the time I need to devote to doing my review.

The drumming and percussion work is wonderful. The keyboard work is interesting and well spread out among a multitude of instruments and sounds though the use of "old" keyboards (old sound samples providing the programmable sounds) is always disappointing to me. The guitar work is pretty standard--especially in terms of sounds and styles used. But it is the vocals (as diverse as they are) that I find laughable and, frankly, unenjoyable--even despite the talented theatricities. As my immediate predecessor, JohnProg, noted, there are many enjoyable melodies and dynamic and stylistic shifts (e.g., in the more instrumental "Mayonaka no Kaii"), within many of the songs (with great drum play throughout), but, at the same time, there are so many sounds that feel borrowed and recycled (from other bands/songs). I do not feel as if this album or music has brought anything new or exciting to the world of Progressive Metal music; on the contrary, it may, in fact, be more "retro" than forward thinking.

For those who love the "classic" sounds and riffs of the historical line of metal music, this might be an excellent grab. For those who are looking for boundary pushing music within the Prog Metal subgenres, this may not be up to your hopes and/or expectations. For those of you who are not really metal lovers, this probably won't be your cup of tea--this despite the usual Japanese skill and energy that it contains. I wholly respect the artistry and effort that went into putting this album together, which is why I would never consider rating this any lower than three stars: they are, after all, professionals; I know that there are many artists out there that could never do better.

Report this review (#2844506)
Posted Friday, October 7, 2022 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
5 stars When it comes to strange and twisted experimental metal, few have been as weird and long lasting as Japan's SIGH that started out over 30 years ago as a symphonic black metal band when it was propelled into the limelight with the help of Mayhem's Euronymous. Through the decades this band has increasingly added more elements to its sound with each album unexpectedly taking you into a completely different and oft uncharted territory within the overarching metal paradigm. Having existed in a weird twilight zone where black metal, progressive metal, symphonic prog, jazz-fusion and psychedelia meet, the band had always looked abroad for inspiring musical forces but beginning with 2018's "Heir To Despair" at long last realized there have been some interesting sounds to mine from the homeland all along and thus Japanese folk music was fair game. Something about that album didn't quite gel for me though so i wrote it off as a fluke.

SIGH has been the brainchild of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keyboards) and his wife Dr. Mikannibal (vocals, saxophone) and has featured a rotating cast of supporting musicians over the decades. With 2022's SHIKI Kawashima has not only adopted more homegrown folk sounds but for the first time in the SIGH playbook has employed the Japanese language to narrate a concept album based on an ancient Japanese poem that along with the album cover art represents Kawashima's inward perspectives on his native Japanese culture. Along for the ride in this episode of the SIGH show is guitarist / bassist Frédéric Leclercq who has played with DragonForce, Kreator, Denied and many other bands. Also on board is percussionist Mike Heller who has also been a tour de force in the metal world having played with Fear Factory, Raven, Malignancy and a host of others. The band is topped off a bassist simply presented a 藤並聡.

In many ways SHIKI is the aggregate achievement of SIGH's long and varied musical palette. Starting off with a psychedelic ambience the track "Kuroi Kage" ushers in a doom metal stomp before the track typifies SIGH's black n roll musical heft with Kawashima finally joining as Japan's answer to Captain Beefheart with his schizoid raspy vocal style undecipherable to all but those fortunate enough to speak Japan's native tongue. The album progresses by quickening the pace with "Shoujahitsumetsu" revisiting past black metal frenzy territory allowing Kawashima to find himself uttering lyrics like a Japanese mad rapper. In the album's 46 minute run the tracks are beautifully forged to reflect SIGH's long established commitment to Western song structures but this time augmented with Japanese folk musical textures ranging from backing vocal chants to beautiful sounds effects from instruments such as the hichiriki, taishogoto and shamisen.

While one could very well compare SHIKI to album's like "Imaginary Sonicscape" for their bold incorporation of a multitude of musical influences, the focus has completely shifted with SHIKI making it a more streamlined and showcases a musical procession with a purpose beyond the shock value of being weird for weird's sake (don't get me wrong, i do love that too!) The album almost comes off as a dramatic musical with Kawashima's vocals conveying the anguish and grief of some tragedy that due to linguistic alienation is conveyed through his vocal tirades that sound like the Japanese equivalent of Captain Beefheart having a temper tantrum at times. Add to that a stellar production, engineering and mixing job that allows the metal heft to perfectly coincide with the nuances of electronic, ambience and psychedelia all neatly sewn together. Through this tightrope act, SHIKI manages to maintain a thunderous energetic uproar with various strains of metal ranging from doom, black and thrash along with quieter moments of transcendence that result in satisfying polarized mood swings.

Unlike any of SIGH's previous albums, SHIKI sounds epic in scope and perfect in execution. This is an album that is paced perfectly to allow heavy metal bombast to coincide perfectly with trippy psych-fueled electronic intros, outros and midterm breathing spaces. The influence of Japanese folk musical motifs is also incorporated into the very chord progressions that comprise the compositional flow and the use of the Japanese language gives the album a completely different rhythmic drive than any previous album. I'm very happy that bands from around the world are choosing to use their native tongue in lieu of the ubiquitous English for that very reason. Just when it seemed like SIGH was ready to go stale on us, this unique act has found a new lease on life and with the newly incorporated sounds and themes of the vast world of Japanese culture could very well be around for another 30-some years. This one was a true surprise and is one of my top album picks for the calendar year of 2022. What an amazing comeback from this legendary band. SHIKI is without a doubt this band's best album yet.

Report this review (#2877220)
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2023 | Review Permalink

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