Sigh: Scorn defeat
26/06/12 || Sokaris
A copy of black metal pioneers Sigh’s “Requiem for fools” EP ended up in the hands of a young Norwegian man in 1992. This man’s name was Øystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous, guitarist of the band Mayhem and the central figure in an emerging musical maelstrom known as black metal. Originally conceived as a sort of throwback to rawer, darker heavy metal, (hence the genre using the somewhat ill-defined term originally invented by Venom and applied to any band with sinister themes in that era) the black metal movement that centered in Norway grew into a multi-headed beast, branching off into different styles and gaining footholds all across the world. The distant land of Japan held a hidden treasure in Sigh, a rapidly developing band with a different take on the fledgling genre that Aarseth had devoted himself to. A full length was planned to be released through his Deathlike Silence Productions, which had already handled releases from Merciless and Burzum. Though Euronymous wouldn’t live to see its release, “Scorn defeat” was borne of this international cooperation. The enigmatic East Asian Sigh’s debut proved to be a unique classic in the black metal genre and the launching pad for some of the most creative and diverse music by any band.
8. “Scorn defeat” is a spectacular culimination of the initial blend of early extreme thrash, midpaced to doomy atmospheric elements and splashes of classical music that defined the band’s early material. Mirai Kawashima was a good songwriter from the get-go and it was mainly a lack of production values holding Sigh back, which is why including previously released songs (“Weakness within”, “Taste defeat” and “The knell”) doesn’t hold the album back. The older tracks have evolved in subtle ways and are injected with new energy, allowing them to sit beside the newer material.
Although Sigh is mostly known by the quirky and eclectic tendencies that would become more prominent later on, there’s always been a sense of refinement present. As a fan it’s exciting to watch the band become a stronger and more interesting unit with each release. “Scorn defeat” showcases intelligent transitions, compelling riffs and a diversely unconventional take on black metal. The band’s boldness is especially impressive considering this was years before post/Orthodox/industrial/experimental acts flooded the scene. This isn’t a case of branching off an established style or adding experimental elements to expand one’s influences, this is a band that’s just simply different. The kind of band that possesses an understanding of their roots but holds no interest in fitting into any scene.
7. Comparing them side by side, in a way I slightly prefer the wider, darker style of production featured on “Requiem for fools”, though the slightly clearer mix might serve this longer composition better, allowing more dynamics and inflicting less listener fatigue. There’s a raw tone to everything, but in a more straightforward, oldschool manner rather than the cavernous classics that were being released in the genre alongside this one. Everything’s clear without sounding overly polished, extremely organic and natural sounding. Straightforward production seems to fit, since it gives more impact to the keyboards and more melodic guitar elements when they enter.
8. I can’t really call Shinichi Ishikawa the missing piece of the puzzle, because I believe that Mirai and Satoshi formed an effective enough team to churn out amazing songs and classic albums as a duo. However, Shinichi brought in a distinctive personality and style to the arrangements and it’s near impossible to imagine the band without his impact. He imprinted his distinctive flair on the guitarwork, especially in the leads department. His full blues swagger meets thrash shred wasn’t fully featured on “Scorn defeat” but his presence is undoubtedly felt, adding extra flavor to a solid base. Crunchy heaviness and dark doomy departures are all led by quality riffs and a larger well of influences than their contemporaries in Scandinavian.
7. Extremely raspy in an almost proto-black manner, which fits the music considering its heavy drawings from the formative extreme bands of the 80s. Mirai isn’t shrieking his lungs out, rather utilizing a more controlled approach and portraying a good amount of different darkened moods, including some admittedly amateurish clean vocals (though they have their charm). There’s a ton of personality and charisma on display and the verses keep you engaged, whether its the snarled, metal-as-fuck approach on “Ready for the final war”, spoken word on “Gandali” or the desperate, hopeless sounding vocals on “Taste defeat”. Mirai’s accent colors his lyrics as well, adding another, interesting facet to an already recognizable performance.
6. By black metal standards, extremely audible. Sigh were never into doing the ultra-thin, icy and cold style of the genre and the bass is given a nice smooth tone that you can actually hear. It doesn’t pop up from behind the wall of guitar much but it helps strengthen the rhythmic backbone of the album. Bass guitar doesn’t really get time on its own but it helps shape the album’s tone and contributes more in this case than in a lot of the super trebly blackened classics.
6. Mostly straightforward, maybe a little bit too much so for my tastes. I think the kit sounds great, every piece can be easily heard without drowning anything out, I just wish more of the kit was used, more often. It doesn’t hold the album back overall though and maybe I’m just biased towards more busy drumming. In later Sigh albums his basic beats made more sense, since it was business as usual to have multiple layers, genre blends, tempo shifts and just general insanity driving the compositions forward. In these cases, the drums kept things grounded and provided a sort of entry point into the fray. Here however, the mix is roomy, the hooks are simple and raw, and some more percussive flair would be welcome.
8. From their conception, Sigh were never afraid to include an extra layer of melody in their songs. Also, one of their biggest immediate strengths was their willingness to use this extra instrument in ways unconventional in metal, back when what we now consider symphonic black metal was just being established by the mighty Emperor. Sigh’s approach differs from the rest, though at this point the keys were primarily influenced by classical music. In this case, rather than atmosphere and bombast, the band used piano, harpsichord and organ in a more Baroque approach, with spidery solo instrumentation. as opposed to orchestral layering for the most. Keys are strung throughout the songs and occasionally take over for extended periods, though intensity is never lost. The piano garnishes on “At my funeral” or the extended unaccompanied work ending “Gandali” are definite points of reference for Mirai’s masterful use of the instrument, but every song features engaging elements that nod towards his classical upbringing.
7. Simple, dark, exotic. Fitting since those three adjectives could describe the album as a whole and for me the biggest qualifier for lyrics being good is whether or not they fit the music. These qualify and, though not mindblowing, they definitely enhance the experience.
Well… fuck it, let’s rate ‘em all.
2. (original DSP release) 6. (second DSP release) 5. (Vinyl Collectors LP)
6. (Equilibrium of Noise cassette) 7. (Enucleation reissue) 8. (Deepsend reissue)
“Scorn defeat” has been graced with atrocious artwork, the worst of which is actually the original (top left). Personally I prefer the black and white version of Chris Moyen’s take on it.
8. I’ve always loved Sigh’s logo. It’s symmetrical and pointy and hard to read, which doesn’t exactly sound like it’d stand out in the black metal realm. But it’s got a distinctive shape and looks great.
6. As I’ve outlined above, obviously “Scorn defeat” has a lot of damn versions. I’m somewhat of a Sigh collector, I’ve got six different fucken editions of their debut and there’s at least two distinctive versions I don’t have. The older pressings are fairly basic, what you would expect from something around the time. If you pick up the Deepsend 2CD version you get a sexy little digipack which forsakes the booklet and gives you liner notes and lyrics across its four panels. Dig deep into those pockets for The Crypt’s vinyl release and you’ve got a treasure trove of Sigh goodness, two gatefold vinyls with different covers, each with their own gigantic poster, inside liner notes and a double-sided OBI strip all packaged in a huge box.
Overall and ending rant
If you want the full Sigh experience there really isn’t any particularly advisable place to start. The biggest part of their appeal is that the whole of discography becomes richer with each release and each release usually takes several listens to fully unravel the mad genius behind it. It’s really best to just dive right in and if you’re more of a traditional extreme metal fan than it probably makes sense to start from the beginning. “Scorn defeat” is the unique offspring of enthusiastic worship of classic underground metal and an adventurous musical spirit. Ambitious and vicious, Sigh could’ve disappeared after this and lived on as a cult act but fortunately this was only the beginning.
- Released: 1993
- Label: Deathlike Silence Productions
- Website: Sigh MySpace
- Mirai Kawashima: vocals, bass, keyboards
- Shinichi Ishikawa: guitars
- Satoshi Fujinami: drums
- 01. A victory of Dakini
- 02. The knell
- 03. At my funeral
- 04. Gundali
- 05. Ready for the final war
- 06. Weakness within
- 07. Taste Defeat