Saturday, July 7, 2012

Album Review: Sigh - "In Somniphobia"

So Deep Purple, Darkthrone and a saxophonist with a Ph.D in physics walk into a bar. I can’t actually think of any witty punch line, but if everyone I just mentioned went to a bar together, got wasted and decided to record a musical mindfuck of an album, it would be the new Sigh album, In Somniphobia.



And this musical mindfuck of an album is pretty cool.

Sigh are a Japanese experimental black metal band who’ve been around since the 90s when the Scandinavian black metal movement picked up. Despite forming in the same era, Sigh (to my knowledge) has not followed the thematic patterns of the many Norwegian black metal bands. In Somniphobia is the first of their works that I’ve actually taken the time to listen to, but I’ve heard nothing but good things of pretty much their entire catalogue of albums.

In Somniphobia is not for everyone. I’m going to put that out there right now. It’s probably one of the most experimental black metal (or extreme metal for that matter) albums I’ve ever heard. First and foremost in the experimentation is the instrumentation. The guitars and keyboards team up for Ritchie Blackmore/ John Lord style riffs and rhythms, playfully interchanging lead work and chordal backings for the music. The guitar solos seem to take a mix of 70s hard rock (a là Led Zeppelin) and 80s NWoBHM (a là Iron Maiden) for some really funky and fun licks.

The next things that hit you to make you scratch your head are the other instruments. It feels like Sigh went into a music store, closed their eyes, spun around and stopped, just pointing at random instruments saying “LET’S USE THAT ONE TOO”. So far, all the extra instruments I’ve picked out of the mix include traditional strings, Indian stringed instruments (e.g.: sitar), accordion, tabla, bongos, and saxophone. The saxophone is handled superbly by Dr. Mikannibal (the Ph.D mentioned above), who also brings some soft, almost jazzy female vocals as well. The drums and lead vocals seem to take a more traditional black metal approach with vocalist Mirai Kawashima screaming and screeching overtop of it all and drummer Junichi Harashima pounding away with thrash and blast beats (there’s also the occasional swing jazz beat, just to fuck with you that much more).

In Somniphobia can be broken into three parts. The first two songs make up the first movement with a more straightforward rock/ metal style, but that quickly fades when the second section, dubbed “Lucid Nightmares” kicks in. “Lucid Nightmares” is split up into seven songs, which range from two minute long strings of trippy and freaky samples to gritty and dark lounge jazz music, and everything in between. After “Lucid Nightmares” comes the final two songs which seem to return to the (slightly) more traditional rock sound again.

Lastly, I’d like to dissect the title of this album a little and compare it to how the listening experience felt (look at me being all deep and shit!). In Somniphobia, to me, translates to “inside someone who is scared of sleep”. I know, I know. You’re thinking, “that’s obvious as shit Gupta, a-derrrrrrp.” but when you think about someone who would have somniphobia, they refuse to sleep because they’re terrified of either loosing control of their body or because they have recurring nightmares. They don’t haveinsomnia – insomnia means that you can not sleep. Somniphobia means that you will not sleep. They keep themselves up. Think back to all of the all-nighter’s you’ve pulled (I know you’ve done them, don’t you fucking lie). You kept yourself up. While you were staying up all night finishing a project/ completing Halo 2 on Legendary again (kids still play Halo 2, right? I’m not that old, am I?)/ whacking off, didn’t you notice by the end of the night, you started to feel a bit loopy and twisted? In Somniphobia seems to capture that deranged sensation you feel by the end of your all-nighter, except if your all-nighter was an entire God damn month long. Its something that while it’s happening you love how over-the-top and surreal it is, but once it’s over and someone asks you about it, you say, “I think things happened? Maybe?”. While the album was a really cool experience to listen to, the one gripe I have with it is that none of it was memorable. I’ve probably listened through the album close to 10 times now, and I wouldn’t be able hum a single part to someone if they asked what it sounded like. But that’s not going to stop me from listening to this album over and over again.

That last paragraph was long-as-shit. Whatever.

Bomb-Ass Tracks

The Transfiguration Fear: Opening with a 70s bad-ass-off-the-book-cop style bongo passage, we've got the much mentioned Deep Purple style keyboards in the verses and multiple keyboard and guitar solos. Oh, and a smooooooooooooth sax solo. Daaaaaaaaaaamn. The outro is pretty freaking sweet too with the clapping and whistling. If you haven't listened to the song, this description probably confused the shit out of you.

Lucid Nightmares III: L'Excommunication a Minuit: This seriously sounds like Deep Purple with screaming over top. There could probably be a lawsuit here. Another awesome sax solo by Dr. Mikannibal.

Equale: Santana-esque latin guitar solo? Check. Clocking in at just over 8 minutes, the not-longest song on the album has a oddly infectious chorus (to "Part I: Prelude") too. Who know Final Fantasy style piano with black metal vocals over top could sound so good?
On a Playlist With: Diablo Swing Orchestra, Devin Townsend, Deep Purple

Overall Score


Sigh have created something really, really cool here. You might think an album that takes about 10 times listening through to figure out if you like it or not isn't a good thing, but I think that's part of the charm of this album. It kept me coming back for more and more.

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