Sigh | ‘In Somniphobia’
Amid the unforgiving genre restrictions of metal, the defining aspect of Sigh is their willingness to follow as many unlikely stylistic diversions as possible.
Back when applying corpsepaint and a scowl was still considered novel, ‘Scorn Defeat’ showcased an already exploratory take on black metal, evolved enough to veer off into classical piano tangents at will.
Subsequent albums upped the ante in terms of their focused eclecticism, making attempts at categorisation inadvisable at best.
It’s not difficult to be all over the map, but it’s something else to mould that approach into a rich yet coherent style in itself. Mastermind Mirai Kawashima has pulled off this feat before, and repeats it with particular aplomb on ‘In Somniphobia’.
‘Purgatorium’ kicks the album off with uptempo power metal laced with orchestral flourishes and culminates in the first of many pleasingly ostentatious guitar solos. ‘The Transfiguration Fear’ begins in similar terrirory, but before long we’re in 70s hard rock mode with Hammond organ, latin percussion and a ska-tinged sax solo, before it turns into ‘Breaking the Law’ and fades out on some melancholy whistling. It won’t surprise longtime fans that it all hangs together, and works.
The doomy goth of ‘Opening Theme: Lucid Nightmare’ introduces the title track, which crams just about everything in: cheesy synth-driven prog, black metal, doomy chanting, creepy fairground vibes, sitar and tabla, a Residents-like vocoder bit. Intelligent songwriting and production prevents it from even sounding jarring.
‘L’excommunication à Minuit’ is another take on groovy 70s rock, brazenly incorporating the most obvious ‘Eastern’ cliches. ‘Amnesia’ exhumes the corpse of blues rock and rifles through its innards in search of something pungent and new. It suggests a band challenging itself to find something worthwhile even in the most hackneyed of styles.
The fact that tracks like the (occasionally) black metal ‘Amongst the Phantoms of Abandoned Tumbrils’ and the (partly) thrashy ‘Fall in the Thrall’ seem relatively straightforward in this company attests to the sheer variety on display.
Expect the unexpeccted: around the next corner you might encounter a tinkling harpsichord, consciously comical ‘extreme’ vocals, moody trip-hop or straight 80s thrash. In this case, it’s the purists who risk being burned and died. There’s humour and wit here, but nothing sounds like it’s done for shock value or laughs – the effect is more of an omnicient being surveying the globe, unconcerned with nuances of time and place.
It’s hard to tell how much of a concept work this is, but the beautiful and disturbing cover art, the occasional audible lyric, and the uneasy atmosphere suggests themes of plague and madness. It boasts a cleaner production than predecessor ‘Scenes From Hell’, but it’s still nightmarishly psychedelic.
‘In Somniphobia’ feels like a summation of Sigh’s work to date.
The faithful will notice little that hasn’t been hinted at on previous albums – but it’s stunning in it’s scope, ambition and gleeful disregard for mortal logic.
4.5 / 5 - Paul Condon ::: 20/2/12