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Saturday, December 12, 2009

CD Review: Sigh - Scenes From Hell

Sigh - Scenes From Hell
2010 The End Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Once again Japan proves why their arts and entertainment scene rivals anyone's in the entire world. Not even the turn of the new year and 2010's first outstanding metal album comes courtesy of the deadly-brilliant Sigh, Scenes From Hell.

Emperor (and to more streamlined measures Dimmu Borgir) essentially opened the frigid gates guarding modern black metal by introducing symphonic supplements to the briskest-flowing music available. Let's not of course forget to bow before Celtic Frost for having the guts in the eighties to dabble with strings and chorals within a black metal construct where such maneuvers were more critcized than praised.

Both bands might or might not be humbled by all that has transpired in their wake given the viable explosion of extreme and dark metal caveats borne out of the Scandinavian territories. Call it death-folk, call it Viking metal, call it Symphonic Purgatory whatever; the sound of an orchestra breezing (sometimes in gelatinous globs depending on whether the band in question is using samples or a real section) behind carreening bpms has set the world on fire. Thus, mission accomplished from the black metal legion.

Asia, however, has quite a bit to say themselves, not just in black metal, but in metal and rock altogether. Taiwan's Chthonic has emerged as one of the metal scene's finest assets, while in Japan, groups such as Boris, Dir En Grey, MUCC, Balzac, Geisha and Gonin Ish have produced electrifying metal, rock, punk and prog the world simply needs to hear if it's still obtuse to them at this point.

If black metal and violently extreme speed isn't your thing, then Sigh isn't necessarily going to win you over. However, the ingenuity of this group demands attention. Though originally signed by the late Euronymous of Mayhem and his notorious label Deathlike Silence Records, Sigh has managed over the course of their blistering career to milk some of the most diverse articulation the subgenre has ever seen. Gallows Gallery, Hangman's Hymn and particularly Sigh's 2001 space-funk-death masterpiece Imaginary Sonicscape have all breathlessly pushed the boundaries of black and death metal to their straining points.

This time, Sigh proves why they're one of the most ambitious metal groups operating today with the Faustian thrash guiding the supremely impressive Scenes From Hell. In the past, Sigh has fused everything from jazz to folk to electro-ambience to 70s funk into their lunatic art. This time around, chamber fugue set on reckless abandon is the scheme to a successfully tormented vibe on Scenes From Hell.

Giving oratory resonance to Dante and Heironymous Bosch, Scenes From Hell is wonderfully brutal, frighteningly maudlin and occasionally nuttier than a tin of holiday cashews. The forlorn march guiding "The Summer Funeral" is accompanied by an oom-pah horn and string section which varies schizophrenic vibes between depressing, playful and ultimately grievous. In spots, the string section and plummeting organs rings like a mud-bogged slosh to the cemetery plot's gaping maw.

Most of the time, Scenes From Hell rockets with tremendous ferocity while creating climactic background scores. "L'art de Mourir" bobs between a succession of orchestral lines inspired by Fiddler on the Roof, Bernard Hermann and old 40's popcorn flicks, all while moving at top flight. "The Red Funeral" is practically perfect with its punishing velocity and spine-tingling string plucks, much less the avalanching brass section creating a transcendent din of cataclysm. Provoking a seriously infectious headbang amidst the senses-flailing "Musica in Tempora Belli," even The Great Kat might have to yield for just a second to pay respect to this group.

With an out-of-nowhere funky organ blare greeting "The Soul Grave," Sigh stamps on the gas yet again while their string and horn sections create a titanic overlord theme to accompany all the differing guitars, organs and synth strikes assisting this chaotic composition. All over this album, Sigh goes beyond most of what has been attempted in symphonic metal by coralling puffing tubas, frantic clarinets and a deep extraction of a Brahms symposium performed in the oldest concert hall built during the Victorian age. The fact Mirai Kawasima would be at the fore with death snarls and banging piano hammers, along with Shinichi Ishikawa's fearsome guitar leads would indicate the Grand Guinol has risen again.

Seriously, the only symphonic supplements missing from Sigh's wondrously astute orchestral aesthetic is the love theme from Dr. Zhivago and the Star Wars promenade. Otherwise, all is fair game including the alluring addition of saxophonist/vocalist Dr. Mikannibal for her first official full-length Sigh project.

Scenes From Hell is devilishly neurotic and one of the most fabulous dirge odes ever created in metal. Once again Sigh stakes another watermark in their illustrious career. The gauntlet has been thrown hard to the metal community with the thunderous burst of Promethian clatter.

Rating: ****1/2

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