Sigh – ‘Scenes From Hell’ Review

With each album, Sigh has consistently shown their listeners that they will never be pigeonholed into a specific genre.  While the origins of their music are rooted in black metal, orchestral, jazz, and avant-garde influences are also present.  Imaginary Sonicscape was a bizarre trip through a psychedelic atmosphere.  Gallows Gallery, the band’s foray into melodic metal, proved that they could retain a high level of musicianship and varied influences while creating songs that were instantly catchy and accessible.  With 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn, Sigh incorporated a large amount of orchestral influences, resulting in a highly symphonic and intriguing listen.  However, for the first time, Sigh overdid it.  The tracks themselves were fantastic, but long orchestral breaks made the album a chore to listen to.

Enter Scenes from Hell.  For the first time, Sigh does not completely reinvent themselves.  Rather, they have taken the winning formula from Hangman’s Hymn and stripped the filler from it, resulting in a cohesive and wildly enjoyable album.  The orchestral influences are back and more prevalent than ever, but the band has truly perfected their incorporation into the song structure.  Unlike other symphonic bands, who simply write metal songs and layer violins and trumpets over the riffs, Sigh make the orchestral atmosphere an integral part of the music.  Saxophone solos follow guitar solos, loud trumpets punctuate heavy passages, and violins and keys mingle with distorted riffs and blast beats.  Never have classical instruments sounded so normal in metal.

Don’t worry, Sigh have not lost their avant-garde side.  ‘Normal’ does not mean that you have heard this before.  ‘Prelude to the Oracle’ opens the album with a thrash riff, quickly bombarding the listener with a chorus of trumpets.  Songs run the gamut from intense blackened thrash to slow, doomy dirges, such as the exceptional ‘Funeral’ songs in the center of the album.  Of course, Mirai’s trademark howls and keys are backed up by Shinichi’s furious guitar shredding, but Scenes from Hell also boasts the addition of saxophonist and vocalist Dr. Mikannibal.  Her deep growls and solos, especially on ‘Musica in Tempora Belli’ add a new dimension to Sigh’s music.

Despite excellent song structures, insanely catchy melodies, and a new level of orchestration and experimentation, Scenes from Hell is not Sigh’s best album.  It remains a blast to listen to after repeated listens, unlike its predecessor, Hangman’s Hymn.  However, the production is strangely muddy – the bass is inaudible, more or less, and the guitars occasionally sound as if they were recorded underwater.  Considering Sigh’s popularity and the quality of the production on previous albums (Gallows Gallery notwithstanding), this is bizarre.  And, while it’s great to hear the band perfect the style that they dabbled in on the previous album, it is somewhat disappointing.  In today’s metal scene, with two-bit metalcore acts and ‘bedroom black metal’, it is always refreshing to find bands like Ulver and Sigh who constantly reinvent themselves and progress.

Even with poor production and a lack of progression, this is certainly one of the best albums of 2010 thus far.   Sigh’s brilliant combination of blackened metal with symphonic elements is one of the best that has been recorded, and is not to be missed.  While no one can predict what Mirai and crew will come up with next, it is fair to say that, considering their track record thus far, it will certainly be another monumental landmark in the evolution of black metal.

Adam

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