There are bands that we call progressive; bands that think outside the box. Then there are bands like Japan’s Sigh, which have never acknowledged that there was a box in the first place. I got into them with the album Imaginary Sonicscape (2001), an album that to this day still pushes the envelope of what heavy metal actually is. Sigh has continued to push their brand of weirdness through each subsequent album. And in 2015, Sigh is releasing one of the most ambitious releases they’ve ever crafted. This is an album of metal tunes featuring a huge number of arrangements, samples, noises, and other weirdness, centered around compositions from Italian horror films. Are you on board yet? Graveward also features a number of guest vocalists, from Sakis Tolis from Rotting Christ to Fred Leclercq from Dragonforce. Yet, the guest performances are so seamlessly worked into the album that they’re tough to even spot.
Sigh has thrown the idea of two guitars, bass, and drums, plus vocals completely out the window here. That setup becomes the skeleton of something far more involved. For example, in the song “The Forlorn,” there is a really cool organ solo, sweet orchestral flourishes (which are present on all tracks, mind you), synthesizers, sound effect samples, and other weirdness. Meanwhile, a truly awesome metal song is happening in tandem with such craziness, featuring a chilling “chorus,” wherein the narrator shrieks “I AM NOT DEAD!”
There’s so much going on here, you’d expect almost to be lost in the chaos of it all. What I truly applaud about some of these compositions is that the myriad of layers all complement one another. And what that means for the listener is that you can listen to this album passively, and still enjoy it. However, you’ll be truly rewarded by listening closely and gaining a deeper appreciation for just how much is going on in every measure of each piece. “Molesters of My Soul” starts with a pretty cool pseudo-doom metal riff, but then quickly transitions into a carnival of insanity. It’s really easy to get lost in compositions this dense, which is why I do recommend multiple listens.
The song “The Trial By the Dead” also shows perfectly this mix of complexity and accessibility, with a very good driving metal riff at its core. But so much more is happening in this song, with horns and strings and woodwind instruments, weird keyboard accessories, a huge choir of singers that weave their way in and out as part of the ambiance of it all. During the verses of this song, we hear Mirai Kawashima at his best vocally – exasperated at times as the narrator of yet another tale of classic horror.
Each individual song on Graveward has its own level of complexity and character, while keeping to the horror movie theme. What I will add, though, is that among the dozens of musical layers within each track, there is some really great guitar work going on. Each song has at least one guitar solo, and they’re all as tastefully bombastic as the rest of this album. I’m so impressed by this album. Because of its ambitious nature, boasting 100-plus audio tracks per song, I’d be scared that this would be too self-indulgent to actually enjoy. But no, it all works so well and becomes a memorable part of this band’s already impressive legacy. This is a fucking fun album to listen to! Sigh has never been a band afraid to push the envelope. They just pushed it further, and I’m so glad for that.