Music / Sigh
Sigh is an Avant-Garde Black Metal
band from Japan, maybe the first Black Metal
band ever from that country, which formed in Tokyo in 1990 and has the distinction of being one of the outright weirdest
bands from an already weird genre. They were somewhat well-known among the black metal scene in the early 1990s for being signed to Deathlike Silence Productions, the record label of Mayhem
guitarist Euronymous. Beginning as a fairly straightforward Black Metal
band, they increasingly began to experiment with their sound a bit
, invoking Mind Screw
in the liner notes to Hail Horror Hail
. This culminated in 2001's Imaginary Sonicscape
, which goes to levels of Genre Roulette
that quite possibly have to be heard to be believed. After committing Genre Adultery
with the Power Metal
-influenced Gallows Gallery
(their biggest departure from Black Metal
and their only release not to feature any Harsh Vocals
), they settled on a hybrid of Black Metal
, Thrash Metal
, and Symphonic Metal
for Hangman's Hymn
and Scenes from Hell
. In Somniphobia
go back to the Genre Roulette
of previous works. As of 2014, they describe their style as "Cinematic Horror Metal".
The band appeared in the music documentary Global Metal
, where they were particularly known for the line "metal is something cool"
, their particularly vague reaction (and for some, a Take That!
) to the Visual Kei
scene that currently dominates Japanese metal. While they are not a Visual Kei
band or associated with it, they occasionally use visuals akin to most avowed VK artists, possibly as part of their Genre-Busting
Current line-up :
- Mirai Kawashima - vocals, keyboard, samples, formerly bass
- You Oshima - guitar
- Satoshi Fujinami - bass, formerly drums & guitar
- Junichi Harashima - drums
- Mika "Dr. Mikannibal" Kawashima - alto sax, vocals
- Damian Montgomery (Ritual Carnage) - guest vocals on "Iconoclasm in the 4th Desert" and "Imprisoned" (Scenario IV)
- Gus G. (Firewind, Dream Evil, Ozzy Osbourne) - lead guitar on "Confession to Be Buried" and "Silver Universe" (Gallows Gallery)
- Killjoy (Necrophagia) - narration on "Gavotte Grim" (Gallows Gallery)
- Mike McKenzie (The Red Chord) - guitar on "In Devil's Arms" (Hangman's Hymn)
- Kam Lee (ex-Death, Bone Gnawer, The Grotesquery) - guest vocals on "L'Art de mourir" (Scenes from Hell)
- David Tibet (Current 93) - spoken word on "The Red Funeral" and "Musica in tempora belli" (Scenes from Hell)
Their major releases follow Theme Naming
, with the first letter of each one being a letter of the word "Sigh".
- Scorn Defeat (1993)
- Infidel Art (1995)
- Ghastly Funeral Theatre (1997; actually an EP rather than full-length but still follows the naming convention)
- Hail Horror Hail (1997)
- Scenario IV: Dread Dreams (1999; their fifth major release but fourth full-length, hence the "IV")
- Imaginary Sonicscape (2001)
- Gallows Gallery (2005; the least Black Metal-sounding of all their albums, a fact which got them dropped from their then-label)
- Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien (2007)
- Scenes from Hell (2010)
- In Somniphobia (2012)
- Graveward (2015)
- Heir to Despair (TBA)
- Alliterative Title: Hail Horror Hail, Gallows Gallery, Hangman's Hymn.
- Altum Videtur: Heavily used in Hangman's Hymn, which makes sense as the album is structured as a funeral mass of sorts. Also shows up elsewhere, such as the song titles "Musica in tempora belli" ("Music in a Time of War", although apparently it is slightly grammatically incorrect; it's evidently supposed to be "Musica in tempore belli") and, apparently, "Kaedit nos pestis" (which appears to be roughly translated as "Strikes Us with Pestilence" or "Plague Strikes Us", though it apparently is correctly spelled as "Caedit"). Finally, there's "Vanitas", which, unsurprisingly, means "vanity".
- Avant-Garde Metal: Definitely, and possibly one of the weirdest examples of the genre. You're not going to confuse a Sigh album for much else. They are also considered Trope Codifiers for the eastern experimental scene.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- All the song titles on Ghastly Funeral Theatre are in Japanese. Many of them refer to elements of Japanese mythology and folklore. The vinyl edition of Hail Horror Hail by The Crypt/Dark Symphonies has a twelve-page insert that includes explanations of some (though not all) of the folklore elements referenced in Scorn Defeat, Infidel Art, Ghastly Funeral Theatre, and Hail Horror Hail. Specifically:
- "Soushiki" (葬式) means roughly "funeral".
- "Shingontachikawa" (真言立川) refers to a particular school of Buddhism. Not much is known for certain about them because most of their writings were burned; they were perceived as amoralistic because of their focus on sex magic.
- "Imiuta" (忌み歌) evidently translates roughly as "Abominable Song". Note that these kanji are sometimes romanised as "Imi-ka" rather than "Imiuta".
- "Doman Seman" (ドーマン・セーマン) appears to be an amulet worn by people who swim in the ocean, intended to protect them from sea demons.
- A Shikigami (式神) is a being in Japanese folklore somewhat similar to a witch's familiar.
- "Higeki" (悲劇) translates roughly as "tragedy".
- Some of their albums also have alternate Japanese titles, and a few tracks on Hangman's Hymn also have alternate Japanese titles (mostly the ones with Latin titles, plus "Overture"). The album titles, with romaji in parentheses:
- Scorn Defeat: 嘲笑敗北 (Chōshō haiboku)
- Infidel Art: 異端芸術 (Itan geijutsu)
- Ghastly Funeral Theatre: 葬式劇場 (Sōshiki gekijō)
- Hail Horror Hail: 恐怖万歲 (Kyōfu mantoshi)
- Imaginary Sonicscape: 架空音景 (Kakū on kei)
- Hangman's Hymn: 音楽による葬式 (Ongaku ni yoru sōshiki)
- The English titles generally appear to be reasonable translations of the Japanese text. It's not entirely clear to a non-Japanese speaker whether the other albums only have English titles; more research may be required by someone who actually speaks the language.
- Finally, Hail Horror Hail has Japanese lyrics in several songs ("12 Souls", "Invitation to Die", "Curse of Izanagi").
- Black Metal: Japan's most famous export in the genre. Not all their albums fall under the genre, but most of them have elements of it, although they're very much a Genre-Busting band starting with Infidel Art.
- Brains and Bondage: Dr. Mikannibal, who really is a doctor of physics.
- Call-Back: "Lyrics Suite", from the vinyl version of Graveward, features musical and lyrical references to "Voices", from some versions of Imaginary Sonicscape. It is, for that matter, a With Lyrics version of "Graveward Suite", a bonus track on the Japanese CD edition of its eponymous album.
- Concept Album: Hangman's Hymn for sure, quite possibly Scenes from Hell and In Somniphobia (which includes a seven-part "Lucid Nightmares" suite) also.
- The Cover Changes the Gender: Their cover of "Teacher's Pet" by Venom is sung by Dr. Mikannibal.
- Cover Version: Sigh have covered Venom (quite a lot of Venom too, someone in the band must really like them), Necrophagia (not surprising as Mirai was a member of that band for at least one album), John Coltrane, and Death.
- Cultured Badass: Given that Sigh has quoted Chopin and Mozart, incorporated references to works like Paradise Lost and Oedipus Rex into their works, and named The Beatles as one of the major influences on their increasing experimentation starting at around Ghastly Funeral Theatre, the whole band arguably qualifies, though Mirai, being responsible for the bulk of the songwriting, probably qualifies most of all.
- Depraved Bisexual: Mikannibal, who is bisexual, seems to cultivate this image on purpose. She has revealed in interviews that she has eaten cockroaches, drinks cow's blood before recording vocals, records vocals naked, and enjoys urethra torture (inflicting it, that is).
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: Some of their early promotional photos are pretty androgynous-looking, particularly Mirai's in the packaging for Scorn Defeat. This was probably at least partially a product of the corpse paint they were wearing at the time; since they stopped wearing it, this no longer particularly applies.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Mikannibal was a model in the packaging of Hangman's Hymn (that's her in the top frame of the collage) before she became an official band member.
- Epic Rocking: Most releases have at least one or two really long songs. Infidel Art has five of them - only one song on that album ("Suicidogenic", at a mere 4:46) is less than eight minutes long. Their longest song, "Slaughtergarden Suite", is nearly eleven minutes long - unless you count "Lucid Nightmares" as one song; it runs for 41:46, but it really plays more like a suite of several songs that are stitched together with connecting interludes. (The longest song in "Lucid Nightmares" is "Amongst the Phantoms of Abandoned Tumbrils", which runs for 9:31; however, the song proper is closer to 7:14, with approximately the last 2:17 being comprised of a trippy interlude.) Also above the nine-minute mark are "Ready for the Final War" (9:16), "The Zombie Terror" (9:43), "The Last Elegy" (10:30), "Beyond Centuries" (9:39), and "Seed of Eternity" (9:19).
- God Is Evil: "The Summer Funeral" includes the line "God is so evil if it was his will".
- Gratuitous French: The song titles "L'Art de mourir" ("The Art of Dying"), "L'Excommunication à minuit" ("Excommunication at Midnight").
- Gratuitous German: The subtitle of Hangman's Hymn (which translates roughly as "Musical Obsequies"). The final movement of the album is also entitled "Das Ende" (appropriately enough, "The End").
- Harsh Vocals: On every album except Gallows Gallery. Interestingly, Mikannibal's harsh vocals are usually lower-pitched than Mirai's on Scenes from Hell; on In Somniphobia, she employs a larger variety of vocal styles and can be either higher- or lower-pitched than Mirai, depending on which style she is utilising.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: As seen above, every main release in the band's discography starts with one of the four letters in the band's name. They always cycle through the four letters in order, then restart the cycle after they get to the end.
- Last Note Hilarity: "Requiem - Nostalgia", as mentioned below under Mood Whiplash.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title of "Kaedit nos pestis" is apparently taken from Oedipus Rex, while Hail Horror Hail is taken very nearly verbatim from Paradise Lost (the original has "Hail, horrors! Hail" instead).
- Loudness War: Most of their albums are affected in at least some issues. Some details:
- Scorn Defeat: The original Deathlike Silence Productions does not suffer from this trope, being a solid DR12. It was later remastered by Enucleation Records with five bonus tracks, and came to a rather egregious DR5, though the mastering engineer took care not to clip it. And then Hammerheart Records remastered it again two years later. This time it came out to DR9, but with a caveat: the original album was clipped. The bonus tracks, however, were free of clipping and came out to similar dynamic range as the album itself. There is also, of course, the 3LP Dark Symphonies version, which will probably be many listeners' preferred version if they can track it down.
- Infidel Art: DR7, clipped. There is also a 3LP Dark Symphonies reissue with an alternate mix of the album and an additional bonus track.
- Ghastly Funeral Theatre: DR10, clipped, but probably not noticeably for most listeners. Also reissued by Dark Symphonies with the band's "Tragedies" demo on the B-side.
- Hail Horror Hail: DR8, clipped. There is once again a 3LP Dark Symphonies reissue, with a "rough mix" of most songs from the album as a bonus (and an instrumental version of "42 49").
- Scenario IV: Dread Dreams: DR10, clipped, but probably not noticeably for most listeners. This does not have a vinyl edition.
- Imaginary Sonicscape: Original album is DR7 and clipped. Was later remastered with two bonus tracks and an extended version of "Bring Back the Dead", which is DR6 and also clipped. This is the final album to receive a 3LP Dark Symphonies reissue (which has all the bonus content from the remaster as well as a couple of demos).
- Gallows Gallery: The original is DR9 and not clipped, but not mixed all that well, with the result that the instrumental clarity isn't that great. The End remastered it in 2007 and it became DR6 with clipping, but it was clearer. The version that finally gets it right is Blood Music's 2CD/2LP reissue, which is DR8 on CD (probably higher on vinyl) and sounds great. (Note, however, that the untitled instrumental that closes the album and the David Harrow mix of "The Tranquilizer Song" are omitted from Blood Music's version; in their place you get demo versions of the entire album except for "Midnight Sun").
- Hangman's Hymn: One of the band's worst offenders at DR5. Naturally, this is clipped to hell. Unfortunately, there is currently no vinyl edition.
- Scenes from Hell: The band's worst example of this trope (up until the Japanese version of Graveward) at a very clipped DR4. There was later a remaster of this album by Maor Appelbaum (available on the Mort Productions reissue) which came out to DR5, but without much clipping this time. The production is also much clearer in the Maor remaster. Scenes from Hell has also been issued on vinyl, where it seems to have more dynamic range (with most tracks in a typical rip coming out in the DR7-DR9 range); unfortunately, this is based on the original, lo-fi version of the album.
- In Somniphobia: DR7. Not as badly clipped as some of the band's other releases, but it's still there. This has also been issued on vinyl.
- Graveward: The US/Europe version is DR6, but not clipped at all. The Japanese version is DR3 and badly clipped, making it the band's absolute worst example of this trope to date, but also has several bonus tracks that extend the running time of the album by over 25 minutes. (Note that guitarist You Oshima did the CD mastering for the Japanese version). The vinyl edition released by Blood Music appears to be a clearer and more dynamic version of the US/Europe CD master (a rip of the vinyl comes out to DR10, but note that dynamic range scores on vinyl rips are very nearly useless due to the analogue distortion inherent in the format).
- Metal Scream: Both Mirai and Mika use this as their primary vocal style to the point where their vocals are usually pretty much indistinguishable. An exception to this is Gallows Gallery, which contains entirely sung rather than screamed vocals (apart from one bonus track that was only included on The End's remaster, which is generally considered to serve as a reasonable argument for why the main album didn't include harsh vocals). However, Soprano and Gravel is not uncommon on their recent black metal albums either (see below under the trope for details).
- Mind Screw: Invoked. Hail Horror Hail says the following in the liner notes:
This album is way beyond the conceived notion of how metal, or music, should be. In Essence it is a movie without pictures; a celluloid phantasmagoria. Accordingly, the film jumps, and another scene, seemingly unconnected with the previous context, is suddenly inserted in between frames. Every sound on this album is deliberate, and if you find that some parts of this album are strange, it isn't because the music is in itself strange, but because your conscious self is ill-equipped to comprehend the sounds produced on this recording.
- They have kept to this philosophy ever since, though, on the other hand, Mirai has also said he doesn't consciously write songs with the intention of making them musically diverse; he simply chooses the best way he can find to express a given feeling, and this ends up covering a wider range of stylistic territory than most other bands explore.
- Mood Whiplash: They do this a lot. A prime example is on "Requiem - Nostalgia", which starts as a stately Power Ballad and ends with several hundred samples of what sound like giggling babies over a flippant snippet of Chopin's Minute Waltz.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Frequent on their albums, but nowhere near so much as on Imaginary Sonicscape, which could also pretty much be described as musical Genre Roulette, what with oddities like disco and dub reggae breaks being thrown into the middle of almost every song. Not to mention the obligatory classical snippet (an excerpt of Fryderyk Chopin's Minute Waltz) overlaid with what appears to be several hundred samples of giggling babies (apparently Mirai's son) that closes the album. In Somniphobia probably doesn't carry this trope out quite as much as Imaginary Sonicscape, but it's probably close.
- New Sound Album: Arguably, most entries in their discography count as this. Gallows Gallery is probably the biggest standout, with the songs being substantially shorter than those on their other albums and featuring substantial Power Metal and NWOBHM influence and no Harsh Vocals, although it could also be considered Genre Adultery since they never did anything else like it.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Hangman's Hymn is full of it, which is to be expected considering that the album is structured as a funeral mass of sorts.
- Progressive Metal: Many of their albums have elements of it. Infidel Art may be the best example, with an average song length of about eight minutes. Imaginary Sonicscape and In Somniphobia, with their various multi-part suites, are also good examples. It's also worth pointing out that Mirai is fond of using vintage synthesizer equipment from the '70s, which gives a very Progressive Rock feel to a lot of their music.
- Recurring Riff: Hangman's Hymn has many recurring melodic lines, riffs, and lyrics, culminating in the title track, which includes a section that's basically a Call-Back to all the preceding songs.
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: "Requiem - Nostalgia" ends with a Standard Snippet of Fryderyk Chopin's Minute Waltz (overlaid with hundreds of samples of giggling babies). Similarly, Hangman's Hymn quotes liberally from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem in D Minor.
- Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Well... they are Black Metal. By the standards of the genre, honestly, they qualify as a Downplayed Trope; a lot more of their lyrics are based on Japanese occult traditions than on Western ones. Mirai has commented that he feels it's pretty silly for bands who may not even know much about Christianity to make anti-Christian music. That said, they definitely still have songs that fall into this trope; they just tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
- Soprano and Gravel: Most of their vocals are the typical Metal Scream of black metal, but they use clean vocals on several albums as well. Prominently, Scenario IV: Dread Dreams and Imaginary Sonicscape have a lot of clean backing vocals, which are often female to boot (as on "Diabolic Suicide", "Infernal Cries", "In the Mind of a Lunatic" "Scarlet Dream", "Ecstatic Transformation", and "Requiem - Nostalgia"). Starting with Imaginary Sonicscape, the band also uses clean lead vocals, either by Mirai or guest vocalists (starting with "Requiem - Nostalgia"; Hangman's Hymn and Graveward are also examples of this). Gallows Gallery is an exception to this trope, as it has no Harsh Vocals (except on one bonus track on The End's remaster).
- Spoken Word in Music: Shows up occasionally, the most prominent examples being a couple of songs on Scenes from Hell feature narration by David Tibet of Current 93.
- The Something Song: "The Tranquilizer Song".
- Stylistic Suck: Scenes from Hell was given an intentionally lo-fi, claustrophobic production. The 2CD Mort Productions reissue has an alternate mastering that sounds far clearer, but is still extremely loud (just not quite as loud as the original, and with way less clipping).
- Uncommon Time: They use this pretty frequently. For example, 7/4 segments (or multiples thereof) show up in "Izuna", "Intro: Soushiki", "Outro: Higeki", "Hail Horror Hail", "42 49", "A Sunset Song", and "In Devil's Arms" (this list is undoubtedly not complete). They're still using compound meters in new songs as of Graveward (in "Kaedit nos pestis", for example).
- Vocal Tag Team: On recent releases Mirai and Dr. Mikannibal trade off on vocals. Their vocals are almost indistinguishable from each other most of the time.
- The Walrus Was Paul: One of the most notable examples in Black Metal. They are very clear about the fact that their music is intended to be a Mind Screw.
- Watch It Stoned: Recommended by Mirai himself for In Somniphobia: “Be sure to smoke first, then listen to this with headphones. Bad trip guaranteed.”
- Widget Series: Oh gods yes. They're one of the very weirdest bands from Japan, which, considering it has produced bands like Dir en grey and Koenji Hyakkei, is saying a lot.