As a black metal band with a full-time saxophonist that's led by a man outspoken in his distaste for visual kei and kawaii metal, Sigh
have been Japanese metal’s ultimate outsiders for a generation. Indeed, long before saxophonist
joined, frontman Mirai Kawashima
had to look as far afield as Norway for the band’s first record deal. Never ones to be bound by genre norms, even that 1993 debut album Scorn Defeat
included a two-minute piano solo.
last we heard from Sigh
was 2018’s Heir to Despair
. Although characterised by Kawashima
as a musical nostalgia trip back to the Japan of his childhood, he still found room for English lyrics on multiple songs. Not so with Shiki
which even lacks an English subtitle. This new album’s title has upwards of twenty possible translations. Helpfully,
Peaceville Records’ press release
highlighted two – ‘four seasons’ and ‘time to die’ – as the most pertinent themes.
Joining the metal world’s answer to
and Morticia Addams
this time around is French guitarist Frédéric Leclercq
, appearing in a much-expanded role after guesting on 2015’s Graveward
; American drummer Mike Heller
; and founding guitarist-turned-bassist
, who makes an appearance of unspecified length or substance. Apparently neither guitarist
nor drummer Junichi Harashima
A snippet of eerie throat-singing leads into Shiki
’s true opening number, Kuroi Kage
. Its lumbering, doomy main riff is variously accompanied and interrupted by whirring
old-timey keyboards, Kawashima
’s squawked vocals, devotional chants, and fitful bursts of more dexterous guitar work. The only moment of mellowness comes in the fifth of eight minutes, when Mikannibal
’s sax wafts in over some sparse percussion.
takes things in an oddly conventional direction: an unrelenting thrash-inflected blitzkrieg, punctuated by a guitar solo that may leave many wondering how Leclercq
has ended up better known as a bassist. Shikobane
the speedometer down a few notches. It also primes listeners for what lies ahead when, around the halfway mark, it shifts focus from orthodox metal to ethereal soundscaping.
Satsui - Geshi no ato
is similarly bifurcated. What begins as a relatively straightforward song by Sigh
standards – polished black metal peppered with sitar and trills of flute – abruptly becomes something more reminiscent of trip-hop. It’s
a testament to Kawashima
’s artistic bloody-mindedness that he didn’t cut the Geshi no ato
half from the single version, despite the mismatch in sound.
Fuyu ga kuru
’s most arresting vocal performance on the album, although it’s also arguably where the language barrier looms largest on Shiki
. By cross-referencing the title’s literal translation (‘Winter is coming’)
with the press release’s association of winter with old age, you can take an educated guess at what the singer’s genuinely anguished-sounding screams might be about.
If Fuyu ga kuru
freaking out about the inexorable
march of time, Shouku
(‘Eclipse’) might be him raging against the dying of the light. That’s the impression his feverish Hammond organ solo gives, at least. Whatever the lyrical subtext may be, this track is Shiki
’s last out-and-out metallic
offering, if not Leclercq
’s final bow.
For that, we must look to penultimate track (and lead single) Mayonaka no kaii
, the second half of which is essentially dedicated to solos of one form or another. Closing track Touji no asa
more of a coda than climax, comprising a blissfully meditative blend of sitar and shakuhachi. In case this sounds like too happy an ending, given the overriding theme of a man grappling with his fear of death, be sure to listen right to the end.
What with Shiki
being a Sigh
album, this review could probably go on for another nine paragraphs and there’d still be ground it hadn’t fully covered. Highlights not discussed above include the four-way woodwind party on Fuyu ga kuru
Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if Shoujahitsumetsu
becomes a gateway song to Sigh
-donia for the uninitiated. It’ll certainly merit a place on ‘mainstream’ extreme metal playlists.
is available for pre-order on CD, vinyl and digital platforms via Peaceville Records here