Live: The Eastern Forces of Evil by Sigh

Release date: June 16, 2023
Label: Peaceville

One of black metal’s most consistently interesting acts, legendary Japanese avant-garders Sigh have returned with their seventeenth full-length release. As prolific as they are, however, Live: The Eastern Forces of Evil 2022 is only their fourth official live album. Anything new from Sigh always commands the discerning metalhead’s attention, however what makes this particular album is that it comes hot on the heels of 2022’s critically acclaimed Shiki, considered by many to be the band’s best studio material in years. How does it sound live?

Formed in 1989 and led by the musical polymath Mirai Kawashima, Sigh’s recorded output has become defined by its distinct eccentricity. Delving deep into the strange and unusual, the progressive and the experimental, the band has cemented its reputation as a vital creative force in the avant-garde metal world. Emerging from the mires of second-wave black metal (with their debut particularly notable as the sole non-European release from the legendary Deathlike Silence Productions label), the band grew arms, legs and all sorts of amorphous limbs by incorporating strong elements of jazz, neoclassical, and world music into their sonic melting pot.

With a title referencing the band’s 1997 underground live release The Eastern Force of Evil 2022, this new album features the line-up of Kawashima on bass/vocals, Dr. Mikannibal on vocals/saxophone, Nozomu Wakai on guitar, and Takeo Shimoda on drums. Recorded in Japan to what sounds like a deathly silent crowd, the band rips through a characteristically enigmatic and vibrant setlist, oscillating between old and new as easily they jump between musical styles.

Kicking off with some menacing throat-singing, the unsettling intro soon gives way to ‘A Victory Of Dakini’. Opening with the band’s first track from their debut album, Scorn Defeat, is a bold and confident move, although its incredibly old-school black-thrash riff has clearly aged like a fine wine. The band sounds positively invigorated: although the track could be considered somewhat primitive compared to their more adventurous work from subsequent years, Sigh have clearly lost little of their youthful energy.

‘Purgatorium’ from 2012’s In Somniphobia brings us to up to date with the band’s contemporary sound; punchy, energetic, and extremely catchy, with the fist-pumping gang chorus complemented by tasteful flourishes of harp. This transitions into ‘The Transfiguration Fear’, with its infectious handclaps, sultry sax, and catchy vocal harmonisation, which calls to mind a chorus of wolves howling into the night sky.

The doom-laden ‘Kuroi Kage’ lurches with a grandiose riff, worthy of Candlemass, alongside some proggy synths and unexpected, harmonious piano. As the first representation of the aforementioned Shiki, it sets the tone for further appearances later in the tracklist. ‘Mayonaka No Kaii’, ‘Shoujahitsumetsu’, and ‘Satsui’ all enjoy an airing, and the sheer variety of sounds and styles found in these four tracks act as a microcosm for Sigh’s overall approach: the band effortlessly switches from neoclassical keys and hammond organ to blast-beats, vocoder vocals and blistering guitar solos.

On the topic of vocals, Kawashima is on excellent form. His characterful and highly idiosyncratic approach to black metal shrieks and guttural lows is an essential ingredient in Sigh’s unique musical recipe, and his voice has lost none of its distinctive flavour. This is particularly apparent on ‘Inked in Blood’, from 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn album, where his eccentric, theatrical vocals dominate. The backing vocals are similarly diverse, with an unusual hooting vocal punctuating ‘Shingontachikawa’’s old-school death metal stomp, while a distinctly operatic backing in the uptempo ‘Introitus’ contrasts with the parping synth and angular prog breakdown.

In a fitting break with tradition, Sigh closes with a ripping cover of Death’s ‘Evil Dead’. If beginning the show with their very first album’s opening track is a self-assured move from a band 17 albums deep into their career, then ending with a classic cover (acknowledging the track has featured in historical setlists) only demonstrates this further. Sigh truly is defined by a strong sense of identity: no other band sounds quite like them, and the unique style they have developed and honed over the past three decades sounds as fresh as ever.

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