Shiki by SighRelease date: August 28, 2022
Now onto their fourth four-album ‘cycle’, it’s time for Japan’s premier metal experimentalists to hit the reset button and summon up a whole new sound from scratch. Of course, that doesn’t mean that fans aren’t going to get at least some of what they expect through Shiki’s ten labyrinthine cuts, but as always a new approach to instrumentation and composition has resulted in an album that owes as much to the classics as it does to their own history. Anthemic twin-guitar harmonies and virtuosic runs (courtesy of Kreator’s Frederick Leclercq), lush goth symphonics, flashes of outrageous psychedelic weirdness and one of Mirai Kawashima’s most eclectic vocals performances to date combine forces to create an album that defies explanation but has to be heard at least once to be believed.
A huge part of Sigh’s most recent work has been how they have managed to temper their avant-garde sensibilities with their metal roots to the extent that it’s almost a trademark but 2018’s Heir To Despair muddied the waters further by introducing traditional Japanese instrumental and compositional techniques. The trend continues here but Shiki perhaps does a better job in fully integrating the three, as is evident from openers ‘Kuroi Inori’ and ‘Kuroi Kage’. Though the former’s throat-singing excursion lasts a mere 15 seconds, it’s a suitably eerie scene-setter for ‘Kuroi Kage’s lumbering, proto-doom riffs. As Kawashima’s spectral croak joins the fray, a whole world springs into life. Bells chime, histrionic synths herald the first of countless epic solos and Dr Mikannibal’s smoky saxophone ushers in a loose, jazzy segue that mixes traditional eastern and metal percussion to stunning effect.
‘Shoujahitsumetsu’ is relatively straightforward in comparison, largely staying within a metal framework, but even then it leans heavily into Sigh’s brand of stylistic weirdness. There’s a constant tug-of-war between thrashy black metal aggression and flashy old-school exuberance that neither side seems destined to win. The fun is in the battle and in listening to Sigh veer wildly between extremes, Shiki begins to make sense. It’s a sonic odyssey through the surreal and the earthly, a heavy metal Divine Comedy that is always pushing its extravagance to further excesses to realise its vision. ‘Satsui – Geshi no Ato’ takes the album into the realm of the theatrical, Kawashima adopting a grandiose croon to add dramatic flair, and throughout seven minutes it hits one soaring peak after another. There’s atmosphere and élan at every turn but more than anything, it’s the sound of band who, even after thirty years, still relish the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of their sound.
Though Shiki may be Sigh’s ‘darkest’ record in recent memory, it views that darkness through a distinctly psychedelic lens. It’s consistently unpredictable and as each galloping bassline and thundering metal workout inevitably gives way to one weird-ass psychedelic prog meltdown after another, the spectacle is enough to make you thankful that bands like this exist. It’s an unapologetically weird record shot through with flashes of true genius and with each fresh listen, a new avenue of interpretation opens up. This is one for the heads, for the voyagers, and for the curious and if you fit any of those bills, you’re probably appreciatively nodding along to it right now. If not, why not?