Sigh: Gallows gallery
28/08/12 || Sokaris
It’s late 2005. It’s been over four years since Sigh unleashed ”Imaginary sonicscape” upon an unsuspecting metal populace. In the interim Sigh’s only shown up on a pair of split 7 inch EPs with Necrophagia and Abigail and in both cases only recorded cover songs. Members of the band have been busy contributing to other musical ventures (including raw black/thrash project Cut Throat and full lengths from the two bands mentioned previously). Unfortunately though, a proper follow-up to Sigh’s magnum opus has yet to materialize. Unbeknownst to the public however, the band had completed a new full length the previous year, delivered it to an apparently confused Century Media and were shown the door, figuratively speaking. The band was free to pursue other avenues of distribution but finishing the album would have to be on their own dime.
Not willing to allow irrelevant details like mainstream record label business issues or easily explained details steal the thunder of their new release, the band invented a story that their upcoming album contained “sonic weapons” from World War II and could potentially harm the listener. Band mastermind Mirai was supposedly hospitalized at one point due to his exposure. This was all for the band’s own amusement and was a more exciting explanation for the album’s delay and subpar mastering than the cold, hard fact that Century Media don’t take risks. Ask Ulver about that.
Anyway, its Halloween, the new Sigh album “Gallows gallery” is finally out and you’re at a record store cool enough to stock indie label metal on release date. Your eye is drawn to the seasonally appropriate orange cover. There’s a sort of stripped down, serene atmosphere to the artwork but its quickly apparent that there’s an internal darkness to the piece. Such an interpretation also serves as an apt description of the sonic experience of “Gallows gallery”. At this point you should know not to form specific musical expectations for Sigh, so dive in and try not to get too freaked out.
9. On one hand, the somewhat more organic, heavily psychedelic element of “Imaginary sonicscape” is still very much present. On the other, there’s a huge change in musical structure in both the forward momentum of the songs and the instrumental layers. With only a pair of exceptions (“Confession to be buried” and “Gavotte grim”) every song is between 3 and 4 minutes long and most follow fairly straightforward paths. There might be an extended bridge or outro but gone are the frequent occurrences of musical diversion. And while the analog synthesizer work is still present, Mirai has stripped his arsenal down to mostly just playing one at a time. This is Sigh focusing on a more specific sound. It’s still experimental, it’s just that the experiment runs the whole length of the record.
To attempt a brief description of the sound I would ask the listener to imagine if one of the more energetic bands involved in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal back in the early 80s managed to simultaneously modernize their sound while injecting heavy doses of oldschool rock and roll psychedelia. Less of a mashup of styles and more a bizarre cocktail of a few disparate corners of Sigh’s realm of influences.
7. Objectively its not a great sounding recording. Since the album’s style is so unconventional there really isn’t any superior model to compare it to, so most of the flaws don’t detract as much as they define a rather bizarre end product. Everything’s kept warm and boomy, which fits, but in the case of the bass it overwhelms a lot of the rest of the mix and makes the drums sound distant. This in particular is a shame because drum tone is excellent. The remaster is a bit cleaned up and I prefer that version. Some audiophiles found fault in that mix as well but I’m not a hi-fi-guy and would just advise potential buyers to contrast and compare.
10. This might be Sigh’s most guitar-oriented album as the disc is chock full of soaring melodic hooks, crunchy grooves and a variety of solos performed by both the band’s regular six stringer Shinichi as well as a diverse panel of guests. Also, special mention to Satoshi for contributing as a second guitarist to the majority of the album.
7. This entire album features a vocal approach that’s more or less exclusive from the rest of Sigh’s discography. A heavily layered, synthed-out wall of falsettos and croons soar over the music. Add to that plenty of “ooo’s”, “woah’s” and the like, also performed with the same layered recording techniques and you have a vocal sound I doubt the band would be able to re-create even if they were the kind of act to repeat themselves. The screams are gone but they’re not necessarily missed in this particular case. An aggressive vocal style wouldn’t have fit at all considering this isn’t an extreme metal in the accepted definition of that word in metal. There’s no black or death here, so it’s interesting to hear the band really commit themselves to adopting this new sound.
5. Most of the heaviness of the album is found here. The bass mostly sounds like its constantly exploding, which is cool, but the lack of clarity and dominance of too many of the lower frequencies hurt things more than they benefit.
8. Introducing newcomer Junichi Harashima, a very welcome addition to the Sigh family. He utilizes a much busier, much more diverse and most importantly, more energetic style that really brings a lot of life to the band’s overall sound. He never oversteps, rather he utilizes every piece of the kit to compliment the compositions. I especially like his use of roto toms to add some dramatic flavor to some of the fills. There’s a few approaches he re-uses throughout the album but I feel these tricks just give him more personality as a player.
9. This time around Mirai approaches things as an oldschool rock keyboardist, rather than some kind of deranged modern composer. As mentioned earlier, it’s generally one synth at a time and he relies on what’s most appropriate for the album’s feel. There’s more organ fiddling here than in a freshman college dorm. We have lush chords to provide the proper psyched-out atmosphere and memorable bluesy leads to really heat things up. The album does feature two more low-key tracks in “The tranquilizer song” and “Gavotte grim” that let Mirai play around with some darkly rich textures as well. A much simpler approach overall but it works like a charm.
7. There’s a sense of despair and dark fatalism to most of the songs. A sense that things suck and they have to be this way. There’s a lot of mentions of confession, repentance and sin and I can see a kind of Christ theme in some of the songs though I might be over-analyzing. The lyrics more explicitly express the subtle darkness of the album in an interesting way.
9. There’s a stark minimalism but it’s all done for a reason. The image of the man about to hang himself wouldn’t look nearly as cool if it wasn’t a silhouette. The artist manages to get so much out of using so little. I also really like that they changed the background color to differentiate the remaster, from a warm orange to a crisp light blue.
8. Not really a logo but I’m giving a high score for realizing that the old ragged-looking Sigh sigil wouldn’t have fit this cover nor the music it represents. Times New Roman is always classy.
7. It’s all appropriate, text laid out in a similar fashion to the cover, cool frames around the lyrics. I do wish the band pictures were a little clearer. Having them monochromatic in contrasting color looks fine, but the images are way too dark.
Overall and ending rant
It’s ironic that the album with a person preparing to commit suicide on the cover is Sigh’s most fun album. Seriously, it’s a riot. I definitely hear elements of Iron Maiden and the more upbeat Sabbath tunes when the band gets galloping on “Gallows gallery”. The bold keyboard jangling gives an upbeat jazzy overtone to the proceedings and the guitar solos really sound like the guests let loose, getting to show some chops that might not be used much in their main bands. Of course, Shinichi is his usual badass self on lead guitar as well
If you’re coming at Sigh from a more melodic, traditional metal approach start here. If you’ve made it this far into the band’s previous works you’ll probably enjoy yet another refreshing change up. Regardless of your experience with Sigh this is a one-of-a-kind album.
As briefly mentioned above “Gallows gallery” was reissued by The End with remastered sound and a few negligible bonus tracks comprised of outtakes and slightly different versions of songs. Some of the problems that the original mix suffered from are addressed but even still, a new remaster is in the works from Blood Music which is set to appear as a 2CD digi and 2LP set.
- Released: 2005
- Label: Baphomet Records
- Website: Sigh MySpace
- Mirai Kawashima: vocals, keyboards
- Shinichi Ishikawa: guitars
- Satoshi Fujinami: bass, guitars
- Junichi Harashima: drums
- 01. Pale monument
- 02. In a drowse
- 03. The enlightenment day
- 04. Confession to be buried
- 05. The tranquilizer song
- 06. Midnight sun
- 07. Silver universe
- 08. Gavotte grim
- 09. Messiahplan
- 10. –
- 11. The tranquilizer song (David Harrow mix)