Reviewed: October 2022
Released: 2022, Peaceville Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Japanese extreme metal institution Sigh are back with their 12th full-length album, Shiki. They’re an interesting band with a flavourful history, playing more straightforward black metal early on but quickly bringing in progressive and experimental aspects. While most of what they’ve put out has stuck somewhere in this nebulous definition, you never know entirely what to expect from a new Sigh album, only that it will have some mixture of extreme metal and avant-garde elements. This can produce masterpieces like 2001’s Imaginary Sonicscape, but also some albums can end up sounding cluttered or unfocused, as Heir to Despair suffered from.
So where does Shiki fall within this? Its immediate impression is something of a throwback. Not that it abandons the experimental aspects by any means, but as a whole the black metal side does feel like more of a core part of the experience than it has on some recent works. The band’s native Japanese is the language of choice, and even the artwork feels like it harkens back to 1995’s Infidel Art in style.
This time, rather than the avant-garde aspects being the basis, they’re utilised more as accents and additions. “Shouku” is pretty overtly black metal at first, but cuts loose and become more playful in its second half. By contrast, “Fuyu Ga Kuru” becomes and ends in a much gentler tone, but kicks off into something much more intense in the middle. “Shikabane” plays off some doom-ish stomp against punk-inspired fervour, later adding spacey vibes. “Shoujahitsumetsu” is an explosive piece, erupting with blast beats and tormented screeches over and over again, but allowing itself to indulge into some sweet lead work half way through.
This is undoubtedly what the album does best: it handles changes very well. Not one of the songs on here is an unchanging monolith, there’s always some sort of gear shift to allow the band’s more exotic tastes to shine amid the heavy metal landscape. These are always incorporated very skilfully, never feeling jarring or out of place. They don’t disrupt the songs, they adds spots of flavour and tempo changes to help the pacing.
Sadly the album does peter out a little towards the end: of the closing three tracks, two are interludes/outro pieces, while “Mayonaka No Kaii” is one of the less impactful songs on here, just not quite pulling things off as well as those that come before.
Still, as a whole this is a Sigh album that manages to place good emphasis on the heavier, more metallic side of the band, while still letting their eccentricities play a vital role in things. It may not quite capture the same mind-blowing lightning in a bottle feel of something like Imaginary Sonicscape, but it’s a solid addition and will satisfy those hungering for something a bit more vicious.