SIGH have developed a reputation for metamorphosing from one album to the next. Their musical output has run the gamut from straight-ahead Black Metal, to Jazz-influenced Extreme Metal, to Psychedelic, and more recently, Classical. Therefore, the biggest surprise of their latest release, “Scenes From Hell,” was that there was nothing surprising.
This album stays close to the sound that was established on their most recent full-length, 2007's “Hangman's Hymn.” Frontman Mirai Kawashima dedicated much time to the study of orchestral arrangement, and this time opted for an actual chamber orchestra to play the Classical portions of the music, rather than reproducing the orchestral sounds with a synthesizer. The orchestral score for this album was reportedly hundreds of pages long, and stretched the limits of this eclectic musician. Unfortunately, the result here is not nearly as cohesive as “Hangman's Hymn,” and the listener is confronted with a product that, while having much of the bombast of its predecessor, does not convey the same sense of being a singular piece of music. The composition seems to have suffered here due to the learning curve associated with the orchestral arrangements.
On the positive side, this is the second album to feature saxophonist/vocalist Dr. Mikannibal, and her performance here adds new menace to the SIGH sound. Her vocals are much lower than Mirai's, and the call and response performance on opener “Prelude To Oracle” is absolutely frightening. Ditto her performances on “Musica In Tempora Belli” and “Vanitas.” Look for her to be a vital, powerful component in the band's further evolution.
SIGH are one of the biggest risk-takers in the Metal scene, and as such, they should be expected to have highs and lows. Praise should be given to the band for stretching not only their sense of genre convention, but also for constantly pushing to grow the limits of their own musical capability. This album needs to be viewed in that context, and should not be used as a starting point for unfamiliar listeners to get to know this challenging band. Fans should accept this album as an experiment and a learning experience, and eagerly await the next album when the lessons learned are put to good use.
(Online March 26, 2010)