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CD review: SIGH, Scenes from Hell

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CD review: SIGH, Scenes from HellBy Ben Apatoff

If Scenes from Hell is any indication, Beelzebub's lair is not pretty. Choked-sounding saxophones squeal for help, announcing the arrival of a freight train circus packed with cinematic string arrangements, 3/4 sea shanty progressions narrated by downtuned power chords and and enough sound clips to rival early WHITE ZOMBIE. Contagious riffs fight off a headache-inducing mix and a filthy low end. But if this really is what the Abyss sounds like, then the new album from Japanese black metal heroes SIGH also confirms the wise idiom of the late BON SCOTT: "Hell ain't a bad place to be."

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Scenes from Hell is an ear-splitting mindgasm of a record, spiritually closer to MR. BUNGLE than VENOM. Death metal stereotypes are buried by writer/arranger MIRAI KAWASHIMA, one of the only musicians who can make symphonic death metal without sounding overblown. On paper, tracks like "The Red Funeral," "L'art de Mourir" and "Vanitas" must've looked like the remnants of an acid trip, but they all sound vicious on record. Much credit is due to DR. MIKANNIBAL, who proves she's more than eye candy on her first-ever Sigh full-length by dousing every song with saxophone lines that are almost comically brutal. Other than BELPHEGOR, there may be no black metal band that comes close to Sigh's straight-faced goofiness.

With the remaster of 2001's avant-metal masterpiece Imaginary Sonicscape fresh in mind, the muddy guitars and overhwelming snare on Scenes from Hell are a letdown. Also, it may be unreasonable to ask for audible vocals in death metal, but both Kawashima and Dr. Mikannibal are impressive growlers who deserve to sound better than this. But what Scenes from Hell lacks in production it makes up for in music, and Sigh have kicked off the "Best of 2010" race in style.

Rating: 3.5 Devirs out of 5 Hearts

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