posted on 3/2012 By:
At the risk of making the most colossal understatement of the century, it’s important to point out from the start that Sigh is a rather odd band. No, scratch that: Sigh is a head-spinning, reason-defying, immense perplexity of a band. Hmm, that’s not quite right either. Alright, try this: Sigh is perhaps the only band whose music actually seems like the perfect complement to that impossibly awesome cover art, y’know, with a pregnant and aged queen pushing a cart of dead infants through a medieval open-air market where children play with skulls and animal carcasses are splayed out on hooks. Such a classic visual trope, right? Anyway, Sigh has long been one of those bands to which genre tags adhere loosely, fleetingly, if at all; in fact, despite the band’s obvious black metal genesis (i.e., their debut album was released by Euronymous on Deathlike Silence), the only label that my head can make much sense of is “Sigh metal.” Think how much brighter this world of nasty music in which we wallow might be if more bands strove for their name to become a genre where n = 1.
So yes, Mirai and company have cut for themselves an iconoclastic swath through extreme music over the past two decades, with current offering In Somniphobia entirely unlikely to change their singular status. Of course, it’s far from sufficient to give a listen, say, “Yep, Sigh is still fucking weird,” and leave it at that, particularly because In Somniphobia is the strongest, strangest, and most fun record Sigh has put out since Imaginary Sonicscape (nor does this writer believe it to be a coincidence that these two albums share the same initials). After the synthed-up pop madrigal weirdness of Gallows Gallery, the bizarro-Kreator bite of Hangman’s Hymn, and the claustrophobic orchestrated death chamber of Scenes from Hell, In Somniphobia luxuriates in exploring and exploiting every possible type of instrumentation, style, and texture available to these mad chemists of sound.
Oh, what’s that? You’re a bit skeptical about my claim that this troupe of Hell’s troubadours really uses “every possible type of instrumentation, style, and texture”? Fair enough, but why not give a quick listen to “The Transfiguration Fear Lucid Nightmares.” The song itself is wickedly catchy, and although it features an astonishing number of tangents - including, but not limited to, handclaps, ska beats, what could pass for either tabla drums or bongos, group whistling, and upright chimes - the whole damn thing is built on such a sturdy foundation of melodic galloping riffs that it holds together beautifully. “Lucid Nightmare” is the album’s only throwaway track, a symphonic/noise interlude featuring Metatron’s (of brethren in queerness The Meads of Asphodel) inimitable grumble-speak, but as it unfolds into the sort-of title track “Somniphobia,” whose doomed lurching is replete with squelching keyboards (think Sabbath’s “Who Are You?”), sitar, buried trip-hop beats, and a final minute which mimics flitting back and forth between a dozen radio stations at once, you’ll find yourself thinking either “Ah, that’s better,” or “What are all these ants doing swarming over my arms and why is Angela Lansbury hovering outside my bedroom window wearing a tiara made of shark teeth and OH GOD IT’S ACTUALLY MIKE PATTON DRESSED AS THE POPE RECITING DR. SEUSS THROUGH A FLESH VOCODER.”
And the really damnable thing is that these are pretty conventional songs in terms of their structure, but Sigh constructs these familiar forms with pieces yanked straight from a symphony of sideways-fucked, shroom-induced vision quests. Most of the songs end their proper run a minute or more from the start of the next track, leaving plenty of space for “what-the-fuck?-ness,” as with the end of “Far Beneath the In-Between,” which tosses out some alarm clock noises and gentle, Satie-esque piano. This minimal comedown naturally follows the carnival waltz of the song proper, which features Dr. Mikannibal’s saxophone, plus accordion and guest vocals from Death/Massacre’s Kam Lee. Elsewhere, the sinuous guitar lick that opens “L’Excommunication a Minuit” spins out some serious Santana groove, but then adds in plenty of funk effects, plus keyboards that sound more like a baseball stadium organ than anything else, and just for good measure ends with witchy laughter, tape rewinding, wind chimes, running water, a music box, and who knows what else. In Somniphobia, therefore, is not particularly heavy in any conventional sense, but is so dense and unremitting in its strangeness that you would never really threaten to call it “light.”
Mercifully, for an album which traipses past the hour-long mark, some of the album’s most alluring moments appear throughout the second half. “Amnesia” is basically a blues jam, with a fat, laid-back swing properly plumped with thick bass and copious saxophone; if Hell has a burlesque theater, this would probably be the soundtrack to an especially blue number. Guitarist Shinichi also busts out some fancy-smooth soloing, and ringleader Mirai offers some octave-heavy smooth jazz piano clanking. Metatron reappears on “Amongst the Phantoms of Abandoned Tumbrils,” though most impressive is the section where Shinichi fires off a succession of licks that are then duplicated and riffed on by Mirai’s swirling Hammond tones. Just after the three-minute mark, the song breaks into some very Cuban rhythms, backed by accordion and harpsichord. A buried chorus repeats “Bring out your dead!” over a shuffling, half-blast drum pattern and tandem keyboard/accordion vamping which cuts out abruptly and is replaced by more tape manipulation, disquieting samples, and snatches of delicate piano that recall the theme from Twin Peaks. All in a day’s work, then.
The real joy in listening to In Somniphobia is the anticipation - what fresh auditory calamity will befall our ears next? Will “Ending Theme: Continuum” flirt with the kind of beats that so enriched Blut Aus Nord’s The Desanctification? Will “Fall to the Thrall” reprise some of the thrashing madness of Hangman’s Hymn? Will the three-part closer “Equale” see Mirai shouting “Kill me now!” over and over again while supported by jaunty keyboard and guitar licks, and will the coda get more than a little bit churchy, with organ, horns, and choral overtones? Well, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, of course. I don’t know whether this music will prove to be the soundtrack to your most beautiful flights of daydreaming fancy or most terrible panics of inescapable nightmare, but I do know that this is music by which it is impossible to remain unmoved. In Somniphobia is a vast cornucopia of peculiarity, a rich tapestry of things going slightly wrong, and it makes for a captivating and unforgettable listen.
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