SIGH are a truly unique band. For over 20 years now they’ve been ignoring western conventions, blurring genre lines and pushing the boundaries of what is musically possible with their brand of quirky, Avant-garde Black Metal.
It is fair to point to the 2001 masterpiece, "Imaginary Sonicscape," as the panicle of their output, and for my money, also 2007’s "Hangman’s Hymn." Personally, I consider that record a groundbreaking achievement in progressive music and one of the best records of recent times. It therefore follows that the follow up to that album, 2010’s "Scenes From Hell," was met with quite a lot of anticipation. That album – which featured the addition of naked, saxophone extraordinaire, Dr Mikannibal - is a much more malevolent and overbearing beast than any the band had unleashed up until that point and for the most part its intricacies and detail were lost to me, while I did not find it in anyway unenjoyable, has remained an unrewarding experience for each repeat listen – though it does perfectly capture and replicate the intent of its title.
What then of "In Somniphobia"? Well, firstly, it is a world apart from those last two records, and in fact, for the most part a world away from any common sense of the Metal genre. To consider SIGH in any way conventional is so foolish as to be laughable, yet, until now, they’ve always had one foot planted firmly within the realm of the genre from which they spawned. There are moments; such as the more traditional approach of “Fall To The Frall” and the album’s first two tracks, with their distinctive guitar harmonies, where the songs are recognisably Metal but for the most part "In Somniphobia" is steeped in a sound much more akin to jazzy, seventy’s, Psychedelic Rock. This is primarily due to the reduction of guitar driven compositions in favour of those centred around Mirai Kawashima’s organ and piano play.
While there is certainly a dreamlike quality about the album, especially in the way it seems to change gears both uncomfortably and familiarly at the same time, it falls short of the “sonic nightmare” it is intended to represent. It is trippy and even unnerving at times, certainly, but in no way is it threatening. For sonic landscapes that inspire Lovecraftian terrors, or bring to mind something like the nightmare scene from Akira – which I believe is the band’s intent - one is better served by "Scenes From Hell." Perhaps the nightmare is better conveyed through the lyrics, but as I have no access to them at this point, its essence remains a mystery – is the noise of an alarm clock during “Far Beneath The In-Between” meant to imply waking?
There is scarcely an instrument the band leave unemployed; “Somniphobia” alone features bagpipes and flute (maybe even a recorder) melodies, while “Amongst The Phantoms Of Abandoned Tumbrils” uses a piano accordion to create the soundtrack of an evil carnival, which in turn develops into a barrage of high pitched chimes that bring to mind shattering glass. A recurring element of the album’s sound is the use of traditional drums to imbue the album with an imperial vibe (for me personally it often brings to mind the Woodland Temple from Majora’s Mask), which is contrasted with various celestial electronics - on true display for the first time since "Imaginary Sonicscape"’s dub sections.
With many of the seven to nine minute songs being quite the journey in and of themselves, "In Somniphobia"’s near hour long playing time is fairly demanding and can be quite the chore to take in all in one go. While anything less is not to be expected of the band, previous albums have managed to contain all of the subtleties and cripticisms while at the same time blend them together to create something that can also be taken, and enjoyed at face value. In the case of "In Somniphobia," much like its immediate predecessor, it appears that some sort of Rosetta Stone is necessary to grasp the album’s meaning and to unlock its enjoyment – for, while this album is startlingly impressive, it is equally, baffling.
(Online February 24, 2012)