Album Review: SIGH Heir to Despair
As a band, Sigh need little introduction. They emerged from Japan during the second wave of black metal and their career is marked by longevity and consistent evolution. When describing the groups’ efforts, terms such as formulaic and repetitive don’t exist. Since the release of Scorn Defeat in 1990, they’ve pushed the limits of the genre by implementing avant-garde and progressive elements—they’ve unleashed complex endeavors that are as intricate as they are operatic. Given how diverse each effort they release is, it’s impossible to predict what direction the band will take next.
Their newest full length, Heir to Despair, is certainly no exception. A slight departure in style from 2015’s Graveward, Heir to Despair is a journey into the depths of madness. It's one that features psychedelic sounds that harken back to the days of early proto groups such as Black Widow. Just when you think they’ve gone as far as they can go, Sigh deliver an album that defies all expectations.
While some of their past album covers have featured Japanese folk art, Eliran Kantor provides an image that accurately depicts the concept of the album in question. A woman watering a plant, an image normally associated with nourishment, hides a clever deception. Her smile seems to hint at dementia as she pours water into a vase of dead flowers. Madness is the dominant theme that permeates the album, and the methods in which Sigh explore the subject creates something that plunges the listener into the darkest recesses of their own subconscious. “This is what true horror is about…” founding member Mirai Kawashima says of Heir to Despair, “You cannot draw the line between sanity and insanity anymore.”
The album begins with “Aletheia”, which features a mix of melodic guitar work fused with traditional folk instruments. This unique combination is indicative of what Sigh are striving for with this release, merging the classical with the new and treading the thin line between them. The album transitions into “Homo Homoni Lupus” with a mid-paced melody that lulls one into a false sense of security before unleashing the raw energy of thrash that grabs you by the throat. Although it’s a phrase that’s been used several times before, this is the ultimate "calm before the storm.’"The title, which loosely translates to "one man wolf", appears to establish a theme of isolation. It’s from this moment forward that Sigh take us further into a world that’s devoid of any traces of normalcy.
“In Memories Delusional” firmly establishes a perspective similar to psychosis. Although other songs on the album have a clash of vocal styles, this one, in particular, illustrates the inability to differentiate between reality and delusion. If this depicts the trauma that comes from said conflict, then it’s the conceptual work contained in the trilogy of “Heresy I: Oblivium”, “Heresy II: Acosmism”, and “Heresy III: Sub Specie Aeternitatis” that simulates someone giving in. The trifecta ultimately becomes the concept within the concept. Multilayered and atmospheric, Sigh demonstrate their ability to achieve perfection.
The concept established in this precious trilogy is fully realized in “Hands of a String Puller”, with a title suggesting that this is where madness completely takes control of its victim. Pushing the boundaries of instrumentation by incorporating a classical flute into the mix, the result is something that combines beauty, chaos, and entwines the listener in the collision of two worlds. As with Dante’s Inferno, the ninth circle of the journey into hell completes itself with the albums 10-minute title track. Considering Heir to Despair allows madness to play out on a stage, this curtain call is more than an appropriate end to the journey one starts at the beginning of the album. It’s a waltz as one succumbs completely, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel weightless as the last few seconds of the song plays out.
Where does Sigh go from here? Only time will tell. For a band that’s always been impossible to predict and at times harder to decipher, Heir to Despair serves as a testament to their abilities. Nietzsche once stated that “If one stares too long into the abyss, the abyss will stare back into you.” The words of the 19th-century German philosopher are embodied on the album.