Review Summary: German symphonies meet thrash metal in an avant-black environment. A serious contender for album of the year.S
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Right off the bat, readers of this review should be made aware that Sigh is no ordinary band. They do not understand how to half-as
s their albums and they've never scraped by. They go the extra mile to evolve their sound and never release the same album twice, and have long-since gone above and beyond the genre they were initially lumped into. Do not call Sigh a black metal band; it's unfair to them as well as the genre. Sigh has, by this point, evolved beyond the restraints of a singular genre.
Though they started off playing what could be interpreted as a pure black metal, Sigh have since been aggravating anyone possessed with the task of labelling them. Most recently, they released a highly upbeat album in "Gallows Gallery", which added a playful, almost power metal like twist to a psychedelic metal sound. "Imaginary Sonicscape", inarguably the band's magnum opus, is truly a pinnacle of psychedelic metal, and deserves points purely for making a brief reggae passage fit perfectly amongst the masterful piano playing and tortured screams. Obviously the group is not without foundation, but yet they somehow possess the ability to herald so many different styles, eras and ideas all the while creating a wholly unique and identifiable experience. Enter 2007, and one of my most (if not my most) anticipated releases of the year has arrived. Enter "Hangman's Hymn".
Much like every album they've done, "Hangman's Hymn" has its own unique sound. When work on the album was announced, Mirai & Co. stated two things. Firstly, they said the album could be described in four words: fast, heavy, bombastic and majestic. Beyond that, Mirai went onto explain that the album would play out, sonically, with a thrash-metal-meets-German-symphonies twist. He was right. In sound, the album definitely mixes symphonies with trashy tempos, all the while retaining the band's trademark Celtic Frost/Mercyful Fate foundation. And then there are the vocals.
The vocals on the album deserve their own paragraph. Really, they're that good. "Gallows Gallery", the group's 2005 release, was pretty good vocally. It was entirely clean sung, and featured excellent use of the vocoder. To be honest, harsh vocals would not have worked on that album, but they were missed nonetheless. Luckily, harsh vocals are definitely appropriate for this album, and to the gleeful surprise of many, Mirai's blackened shriek is at an all time best. It's absolutely vicious, yet on the whole fairly distinguishable. Amidst the harsh scowls you'll find everything from demonic laughter (reminiscent of the legendary King Diamond), and even some of the higher ranged vocals found aplenty on "Gallows Gallery", though obviously without the vocoder. All of these come together with the addition of choirs, sparsely used only when appropriate, and in a neat twist, excellently performed almost exclusively by members of the band's official web-community.
The Gregorian styled choirs are as haunting as can be, instantly evoking shades of Jerry Goldsmith's legendary Ave Satani
, which many will hopefully remember from 1976's "The Omen". The semi-spoken passages found on the album are excerpts from the Requiem Mass, and carry the partial concept of the album along.
As well as tying the album together thematically, the choirs also add to one of the many moods found on the album. At times, "Hangman's Hymn" is haunting. Occasionally, it's demented and twisted (thanks in part to the laughter that appears numerous times throughout the album). Hell, at times there's even the odd instance of playfulness, though it comes in the form of mockery, which is most obvious on Me-Devil
Nearly everything on this album is executed perfectly, from the absolutely brilliant use of symphonies (which were programmed since the band could not afford to use an actual symphony) to the outstanding guitar work (Shinichi and the bevy of guest guitarists really outdid themselves) and everything in between. The vocals, as stated, are virtually perfect and the drums are highly effective at keeping the album moving. I should note that this is the first Sigh album to feature blast beats. The drums do however contain one of the lesser accolades on the album. They're great, no doubt, but they do come off a little same-y. The bass is a bit non-existent and times, and the Christopher Lee-like spoken passage toward the end of the album is a little too Rhapsody for my liking, though it redeems itself merely in conceptual relevance.
Sigh has really done it. "Hangman's Hymn" has solidified their place as one of the most innovative and under-acknowledged bands in the metal genre, or even the music world as a whole. They have outshone the limiting black metal tag they were pigeonholed with after their first album. Once again they have released an album virtually impossible to relinquish to a single genre; it's avant-garde, yet unlike other avant-metal albums, it doesn't come off sounding like a contrived evil circus. It's thrash-y and blackened, yet it's a nearly impossible feat to distinguish which is more pronounced. Most of all, it's extremely well thought out, perfectly executed and most importantly, a blast to listen to. You will have trouble putting this album down.
They've come a long way since being signed by the late Euronymous fourteen years ago. This is their second best album, right behind "Imaginary Sonicscape".
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.