Sigh – Scenes from Hell – 4/5
[Link Removed due to Complaint]
Sigh have long been one of those very few artists who are not only capable of consistently writing good material, but re-inventing their own sound with each coming release, and so with news of yet another one I couldn’t help but be a little excited. A new member contributing vocals and sax work and the knowledge that scores of instruments have had their own lines worked to create a sort of ‘Black Metal Orchestra’ certainly had me intrigued; trumpets, trombones, horns and violins galore painstakingly worked into the composition so as to be integral to it, but as promising as all that sounds, it hasn’t entirely worked. In fact, perhaps the biggest shock was the very album title, suggesting that this would be darker and more frantic, aggressive and twisted than anything that came before it, but that simply isn’t the case. Instead the torturous themes of their last release have been replaced by something more akin to a violin battle with the devil; still somewhat hellish but there’s a bouncy jazz or folk like element that often takes the forefront to the extent this barely feels suited to being called ‘Black Metal’ at all.
My first major complaint is that of the new member; to recruit a saxophone player, have her at the forefront of the news to the extent people forget that this is her first full-length with the band (excluding ‘A tribute to Venom’) and then only have one short prominent sax solo feels like a bit of a waste of her capabilities (clearly demonstrated during that lonesome solo). Shadowed even with regards to the trumpets, trombones and horns ‘backing her up;’ even the deeper ‘gallhammer-esque’ howl she is capable of lending to complement Mirai’s high pitched wailing comes all too infrequently and when it does, both vocalists are rarely given the volume in the end production to discern anything more than a vague pitch; outside of the first track there is no use of alternating vocalists frantically bouncing lines off one another and it all ultimately comes off as unessential to the piece.
The drumming feels monotonous, like a machine whirring in the back without a real role to play and the bass is completely lost amidst the multiple layers for almost the albums entirety. Even the role of the guitars has dwindled to the most basic and unnoticeable of tremolo riffs, given a handful of solos early on to strut their stuff, but even those seem to dwindle by the end for a greater emphasis on their new found fascination with all things orchestral. The high-paced sections are – because of all the layers working against one another – coming across slightly muddled and confused as you strain to separate the leads from the oppressive and dominative rhythm, and when things slow down enough to be more readily discerned it feels more like a classical composition without the black influence at all. It is this latter style that surprisingly works to its advantage; many of the slower paced, jazzier ‘big brass band’ influenced tracks working marvellously at producing an emotional theatrical atmosphere delicately worked with all the layers without becoming overwhelming.
This isn’t necessarily a bad album, but after ritually following their updates on the albums development, through the intense labour put into the orchestration of the multiple tracks utilising the genuine instrument, the dual vocal work painstakingly recorded and then the delay to make sure the production was spot on, it all feels underwhelming. This release feels as though they have tried to pack so much in that they’ve neglected what should be the essentials for the bonus additions and sadly it shows. There is usually a refinement to their chaos, an oddly organised anarchy of elements that made “Hangman’s Hymn” such a success, but with this abhorrent production it simply sounds messy; the energy isn’t focussed, and whilst that in itself doesn’t detract from the actual compositions, it robs it of any real impact. If you’re new to the band, there are simply better places to start.
Highlights: The Summer Funeral, Musica in Tempori Belli (second half)