Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. Today marks TBT number 71 and to usher in the occasion, we're taking a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – and the land of blackened, experimental metal.
Japan's Sigh have carved out for themselves a irreplaceable corner of the metal universe with their unconventional take on metal music. Sigh's 5th studio album solidified the band's departure from the ordinary with an album Terrorizer Magazine called the 10th best album of 2001.
SIGH IMAGINARY SONICSCAPE
Release Date: July 2001
Record Label: Century Media Records
'Experimental' can be a four-letter when it comes to describing music. The broad term is a safe space for music which is created for creation's sake – meaning any half-baked, performance-only, short-sighted sonic adventure can sit next to truly genius combinations of sound and mood. Sigh's 2001 Imaginary Sonicscape falls into the latter half of the experimental universe. Incorporating jazzy interludes, expressive clean leads, and emotional story-telling, Imaginary Sonicscape reinvents black metal concepts in a memorable and supremely enjoyable way.
The Japanese tend to do things with metal music which often fall out of the Euro-centric, conceptual box – and Sigh are no exception to that rule. Imaginary Sonicscape bleeds with vision, and despite the huge array of blended concepts, the album breaths life into a sonic Frankenstein. Tracks like "Dreamsphere (Return to Chaos)" toy with post-metal and prog elements:
The very next track on the album, "Ecstatic Transformation" delves into jaunty organ as a backing groove and riffs reminiscent of crusin' stoner metal. Accompanied with signature black metal vocals, a cheeky clap-along track, and an expressive mid-song breakdown, the song really shouldn't work – any yet somehow it does.
"Scarlet Dream" is arguably the most popular track off of the album. The refrain to the song is catchy and reminds me of many of the Gothenburg-style hooks which were popularizing at the time. However, instead of breaking into fast, arpeggio-laden riffs, the song introduces throat-singing under the black metal vocals. Pauses in between measures are accented with a hollow-drop sounding effect. The result of this enterprise is mesmerizing. The big risk of using unconventional soundscaping and musical styles turns into a big reward.
Once called "surrealist black metal" by AllMusic.com, Sigh demands respect and attention with Imaginary Sonicscape. More about Sigh and their impact on the metalverse can be read about here in a fantastic interview between our very own Jason Deaville and Sigh's mastermind Mirai Kawashima. Sigh is impressive in a variety of ways: First, it's risky for a Japanese band to take on the black metal sound during the second wave of black heavy metal. The sound and aesthetic was dominated by bands surrounding the infamous Scandinavian scene. Second, Sigh have been churning out records since the 1993 – and they all offer something a little different for the listener. In fact, Sigh released an album as recently as 2018 with the critically acclaimed Heir to Despair (spoiler alert – we gave it a 10/10). So not only are they still releasing albums, the albums are absolute gems. Imaginary Sonicscape was remastered and re-released in 2009. This newer issue includes two additional songs and a longer version of "Bring Back the Dead". The remaster feels brighter and crisper. On either album version (original or remaster), the atmosphere retains a journey-like wonder and captivation. If you haven't gotten into Sigh as a band yet, Imaginary Sonicscape is a marvelous place to start. It offers a little something for every metal fan and acts and a bridge between their older, harsher black metal roots and their future experimentation and genius.