Sigh - Graveward [Candlelight Records - 2015]
Sigh are a Japanese operatic metal band which has existed since the 90's, with an extensive discography of more than 10 albums under their belt, including an entire disk of Venom covers. "Graveward", their latest album, came out in May 2015.
The guitar player, far and away the strong point of the band, employs a form of sweep dominated atonal chug clearly developed by countless hours spent worshipping Emperor's final album "Prometheus" (and Ihsahn's increasingly operatic solo records). Ihsahn's signature phrasing, preference for pinch harmonics and dark sense of melody are evident throughout this album. He matches Ihsahn's technicality, if not his originality.
Unfortunately, the guitars are buried in goofy present synth textures, intended to imitate orchestral and brass timbres, but sounding a lot more like the soundtrack of a cheap video game. So many rigid sounds added in post-production that the album loses all organic feeling; it hardly seems like a band's live performance, the timbres maintaining a consistent synthetic sheen. Synths were certainly present on albums like "Prometheus", but sounded better, and didn't take such an obnoxiously central role.
The rest of the band's sound can be easily traced to the classic King Diamond albums and Dimmu Borgir's "Death Cult Armageddon" (the one from 2005 that included a 40 piece orchestra). As with either of these artists' work, listening to this album is a bit like watching a high budget fantasy film (or these days, Game of Thrones). Refusing to suspend your disbelief quickly makes the whole affair look terribly silly, what with the numerous cliches employed, and the general overwrought drama of the presentation. Taken with a grain of salt, it's easier to appreciate the cinematic ebb and flow of the story's different pieces.
I've always considered myself a casual fan of King Diamond, taking great amusement from his exaggerated vocal characters and sing-songy tales of caution, not to mention the fantastic guitar work / musicianship present on many of his recordings. However, I'm baffled by the idea that he takes his lyrical content seriously, and so too with this band.
At numerous points on the album, the singer engages in cackling evil laughter, or pretends to cry while repeatedly singing a phrase like "I feel cooooooold". His mid-ranged growl sounds most similar to Shagrath of Dimmu, but apes Diamond's way of threatically exaggerating the inflection of each line, and similarly employs a chorus of falsetto voices to add punctuation. In the end, Sigh's lyrical content and delivery are significantly cheesier than classic King Diamond, and lacking his charisma/charm. In 2015, phrases like "My PAIN / my SORROW / the PATH / that I MUST FOLLOW" feel so cliche as to be totally meaningless. Do not listen to this album unless you are prepared to deal with a relentlessly whiny attitude.
Judging by the band's online profile, in which they confusingly refer to themselves as 'Avant Garde Black Metal', they take themselves completely seriously. Since when can such cleanly produced, operatic, neo-classical forms of 'metal' be called 'black metal'? There is not a single moment of genuine dread, darkness or even 'heaviness' anywhere on this recording. It's about as bright, shiny and polished up as they could make it. Value judgements aside, the style of the band's music is undoubtedly a lot closer to operatic or symphonic progressive / power metal than anything 'black'. The fact that Ihsahn and Dimmu Borgir both used to create black metal, but have now continued to make much brighter, melodic operatic metal may explain this, but I don't consider their newer music anything like 'black metal'. I'm no 'purist' of 'true black metal', but I have no use for the kind of overdone cheese found on this album, in which an excess of layering actually detracts from the best elements (the guitar riffs).
In conclusion, you should listen to some Emperor, vintage King Diamond, Celtic Frost, Borknagar or older Dimmu Borgir if you need some sweepingly dramatic gothic/operatic metal. Listening to this album, I would have no idea this was a veteran band, indeed I would assume they were but one in the ocean of forgettable young bands. Though many of the heavily harmonized melodies and riffs have promise, nothing about this recording is emotionally convincing, and the only real value this album has to me is its unintentional hilarity (the pretend crying gets me everytime). The circus-like, cartoonish quality of this album is the perfect proof that layering instrumental bombast does not necessarily create more intensity, and can in fact actively remove it.Josh Landry