SIGH — Shiki (review)

SIGH — Shiki album cover Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
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.
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Tupan wrote:
61 days ago
Great album, I also support the intention of singing in their original language!
adg211288 wrote:
61 days ago
I've somehow only heard a single album from Sigh and that's odd seem I seem to have given that one an instant five stars. I'll probably have to do with them as I did with Enslaved and give their work a proper sequential going over.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
2 months ago
I pretty much love every Sigh release to a certain degree but Imaginary Sonicape is so over the top that it's in a world of its own!
Nightfly wrote:
2 months ago
I've only dipped into Sigh briefly in the past but this album caught my attention and I even bought it and really enjoying it. I'll certainly spend some time checking out their earlier stuff in more detail.


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