Sigh is a trailblazer of a band with a career nearly spanning three decades. Any thoughts of this band sitting on their laurels or going through the motions are crushed within the opening cadence here. Sigh continues to strive toward new heights, constantly reinventing themselves to create music that is both hauntingly eerie and extremely catchy all at once. All of this is encapsulated on their twelfth album, Shiki, which not only showcases the beginning of something new, with the pomp and circumstance of ceremony, but also shows us a sense of this band’s mortality.
On first listen, Shiki can be off-putting, especially with how complicated its atmosphere unfolds. “Kuroi Kage,” the album’s true opener, is a massive behemoth that combines elements of second-wave black metal, jazz, and death metal that is jarring. However, they do a fantastic job of keeping things cohesive while offering breathing room to take it all in. While Shiki can sidle up to the experimental at times – Sigh, after all, has become more and more embedded into the avant-garde camp throughout their career – they also are fully willing to add elements of thrash and grind here and there to keep things interesting. For example, “Shoujahitsumetsu” shines as it sounds like Sigh is pulling from bands like Iron Maiden and Kreator and making it sound as close to modern thrash as it can be while keeping the band’s stamp intact.
If you wonder why I mention Kreator at all, it’s because Sigh recruited bassist Frédéric Leclercq to provide the excellent guitar solos scattered throughout this album. These solos not only give new life to the music, but it makes the album sound different from Heir to Despair, which was deeply rooted in its avant-garde nature.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Sigh record without the ‘eerie.’ While there was a twinge of oddly-placed electronica – with Mirai Kawashima’s eclectic vocal work acting as a background cue – it isn’t until the fifth song “Satsui – Geshi No Ato” where that eeriness fully takes center stage. Here, pipe instruments, saxophone, a trip-hop beat, and synths become the highlights that shine through while a looming shadow darkens the overall atmosphere, this should come as no surprise to long standing fans. Shiki has this sense of grandeur and nostalgia, and these avant-garde elements give it a very traditional and formal overtone. While the album is rooted within the confines of modernity, there is something deeply ceremonial and ritualistic about how the music is structured. Sure, those thrash elements persist, but it’s hard to not be struck by how oddly pensive it is. Sigh has definitely evolved since their inception, and are also signaling that they will continue to change and experiment with their sound. Wherever their music and ideas lead them, their maturity will lead the charge.
All in all, Shiki is an album that rewards those who pay attention to its intricacies and who has the patience to fully submerse into these depths. It is a masterclass of composition, setting, and musical design, showing us why Sigh has remained at the top of their caliber. By showcasing their strength and unity as a band and their musical versatility, Sigh pays homage to their past and look towards their future, which seems to be as bright and as reflective as they can be. While I did enjoy Heir to Despair, Shiki is intricate and heavy, campy and strange, but never dull. This album is one of the many reasons I keep coming back to the avant-garde side of black metal: there is always something to look forward to, even when it seems that every boundary has been crossed.