At the time of writing this a new Sigh album is on the horizon so I thought I’d take the opportunity to rank all of their albums from my least to most favourite. Typically I personally find lists a bit shallow and gimmicky but at the moment I only own a fraction of this band’s long-spanning discography physically and I don’t like judging an album without the full package. If Sigh or their record label(s) would release their back catalog on vinyl I’d give them all of my money but unfortunately that isn’t the case so I’m relegated to listening to the majority of their material digitally.
Please note that I think absolutely all of Sigh’s material is of the highest quality so even my personal least favourite is still fantastic. Since their inception in 1989 they have yet to disappoint. If you have a differing opinion, feel free to write in the comments. Also, I won’t be covering the EPs or Demos, despite Ghastly Funeral Theatre’s place as the “G” letter filling out the word “SIGH” after Infidel Art. If that seems confusing, the first letter of each of the band’s album titles spells out “SIGH” chronologically.
Without further ado, here are all of Sigh’s LPs ranked before the release of the upcoming eleventh record, Heir To Despair.
Hangman’s Hymn: Musikalische Exequien (2007)
Coming in at number 10, Hangman’s Hymn is by the far the album I listen to the least in Sigh’s discography for a few reasons.
Firstly, the majority of these songs are delivered at the same pace with similar melodies and overarching themes. As a fan of classical music and overtures in general, the latter doesn’t bother me, nor does this album do anything to really put me off. It sort of just exists as a return to the heavier form that the preceding Gallows Gallery briefly did away with.
The first three songs are presented as Act I and as such sound very much like one long song. They are also some of the heaviest, shortest and straightforward tracks in Sigh’s entire discography. My biggest problem is that the Act II doesn’t separate itself too much from this formula with the sixth song, Death And Dishonor being almost unidentifiable from the aforementioned opening trilogy.
It isn’t until Act III that things start getting with Overture properly showcasing some familiar themes while introducing more orchestrated instruments and a bit more diversity in the song structures. What follows in the final two tracks is true Sigh magic. Salvation In Flame and the title track end things on a high note with that experimental goodness that only this band can deliver.
All in all Hangman’s Hymn is as succinct and direct as Sigh has ever been. It is also one of their most highly regarded albums from what I can tell but I think a large amount of that favoritism stems from it sounding a lot closer to what people consider as mainstream Metal. It is one I enjoy listening to at times but mostly I just skip to the last Act as I find it the most interesting and engaging.
Gallows Gallery (2005)
Sigh has seemingly been all over the musical map so it strange to consider that this record might be Sigh’s most adventurous and bizarre to date as it is the only not to be wholly rooted in extreme Metal. If anything, this is the band’s most stripped back release with no screaming vocals and a heavier reliance on a more traditional ’70s Blues/Rock sound.
The real highlights on Gallows Gallery are the exciting hooks, tempo changes and the variety of keyboards on display throughout, the latter performed by frontman and main composer, Mirai Kawashima. In a lot of ways this album almost sounds like it could have been a side project rather than a full-fledged Sigh outing. There are some familiar riffs but largely this is a giant departure even for this band who tend to throw any and everything into a composition. The guitars are bluesier, the choruses are much more pronounced and the inclusion of jazzy saxophonist Bruce Lamont are equally as interesting as they are out of place.
Tonally, Gallows Gallery is just as dark and menacing as any of Sigh’s other releases but in a much different way. The Tranquilizer Song perfectly reflects the album’s demented cover-artwork and stands as one of my favorite pieces written by the band. It isn’t an album I listen to as often as others in their discography but when I do it is always an enjoyable experience.
This is also a perfect example of a heavy band not having to sacrifice their musical integrity in order to do something different. Every song on this record is as well written and performed as anything from their other releases. It displays a musical prowess and a willingness to experiment not often seen in the industry. Gallows Gallery is a great place to start for those who aren’t particularly fond of heavy screaming but would like to give this band a shot.
This was the first Sigh album that took a lot longer than usual to grow on me. In fact, had I wrote this list in 2015 it would have probably sat at the very bottom for a few reasons.
After In Somniphobia, Graveward was a jarring direction to take the band from a production standpoint. The former included a brightly mixed collection of longer, progressive songs with intricate melodies and complex solos while this outing seemed more reliant on muddy guttural guitar sounds and dense production. At first I simply wasn’t hearing what was under the surface and was comparing it far too much to its predecessor. If there is one thing that can’t be done with Sigh is expecting things to become formulaic so I should have known better.
It took me a very long time to be able to appreciate Graveward. For awhile I actually considered it to be a dud. It wasn’t until I listened to the song Tombfiller with a quality pair of headphones on that I dug a bit deeper and forcibly re-listened to each song over and over. In a lot of ways it is very similar to Hangman’s Hymn in that the tracks are shorter and a lot more direct but whereas I found the recurring theme on that album to be a bit too repetitive and bland, Graveward is filled with dense layers of orchestral flourishes that accentuate the driving guitars and drums.
Graveward is no longer the disappointing followup to an album that will rank much higher on this list. Instead, it has become one of the more interesting projects that this band has produced. In a lot of ways it is much more refined version of all of the collective ideas that preceded it. The symphonic elements don’t sound as whimsically detached this time around and everything works to serve the purpose of creating concise, tightly-knit songs as opposed to long, epic orchestrations. While I still prefer the production of the more treble-heavy progressive outings, Graveward is a phenomenal outing with an inspired level of detail in its songwriting, performances and meticulous attention in mixing it all together so well in the studio.
Scorn Defeat (1993)
We are only at number 7 on this list and things are already getting a bit tough for me to rate. Admittedly, the bottom 2 and the top 4 were the easiest to place while these next few could easily be moved around a little depending on my mood.
Placing Scorn Defeat this low is a bit irksome for me as it ranks higher nostalgically as the first album I’d heard from the band. In the mid 90s I was a huge fan of any kind of heavy music I could get my hands on. My first introduction to Scorn Defeat was on the latter half of the B-Side of a Mayhem tape my friend had created for me. Back in those days it was often customary to fill what remaining minutes there were on the two-sided cassettes with filler but those taster tracks were anything but. It took a year or so before I finally got my hands on a complete copy of Scorn Defeat as well as its two follow-ups and thus began my undying fandom to date.
Mayhem’s own Euronymous published and released this first Sigh LP under his Deathlike Silence label so in many ways this is as close to a refined genre that the band would ever be. Though, unlike their Black Metal brethren Sigh was already experimenting outside the boundaries of that label. Songs like At My Funeral and Taste Defeat include snippets and swathes of originality that would later become more prevalent on later releases.
Scorn Defeat has a raw sound not entirely dissimilar to any of the band’s Scandinavian peers but where it differs is in Kawashima’s willingness and desire to explore beyond the genre’s boundaries. The keyboards are featured a lot more with a full piano piece centrally placed within the album. In a lot of ways it is far more haunting than anything else being produced at the time.
A special shout-out has to go to the song Ready For The Final War that has me seriously rethinking this album’s placement on this list. The chorus is absolutely chilling but also laughably catchy in a way. There is an inherently macabre swagger to it that could only be delivered by this group of Japanese musicians. It is a masterpiece of a song on a phenomenal album that ranks as one of my favorites of all time. The fact that there are still more Sigh records that I prefer above it should say more about the quality of this band’s offerings than anything else.
Hail Horror Hail (1997)
Between Sigh’s second album and this third full-length they recorded an EP entitled Ghastly Funeral Theatre that had a much stronger leaning towards the avant-garde compositions that would be much more prevalent on subsequent releases. This experimental style is noticeable from the band’s inception but here, on Hail Horror Hail is where they leaned into it much more predominantly.
There is something off-kilter and a bit unsettling in the compositions this time around. Songs often change direction in an almost jarring way at times. Almost every track weaves in and out of steadfast guitar-led riffs into orchestral breaks at the drop of a dime only to eventually regain composure and trot along as if the bizarre asides barely existed at all. The one-two punch that is 42 49 and 12 Souls is a prime example of the complete and utter chaos that this album exudes upon the listener’s ears as the former ends with a haunting orchestral piece that perfectly blends into the latter’s opening. 12 Souls weaves in and out of what I can only describe as complete sonic insanity throughout but it oddly works.
Mirai’s genius as a songwriter and performer is spattered all over this record. All of the symphonic sounds are created by him with the use of keys, samples and programming effects. I give it a slight edge over Scorn Defeat mostly due to the slightly better production as the different instruments can be heard much clearer due to the absolutely amazing tone used and the inspired mixing. The driving riffs are much brighter this time around and a lot less obscured by the variety of keys and effects being played. Songs like The Dead Sing illustrate how well all of the components work together with a unique, recurring rhythm that includes what sounds like an entire gymnasium worth of instruments. Somehow nothing is lost in the mix which makes this album particularly impressive.
For the first time since the beginning of Sigh there is a distinct variety in the music on display on Hail Horror Hail. There are often instrumental piano breaks in between songs on the band’s earlier material but this time around we are offered the song Invitation To Die around the 3/4 mark of the album that enables the listener to catch their breath before the final curtain draws with the tremendously well written trilogy of last songs.
Hail Horror Hail might not be a great place to start for those interested in getting into Sigh but it is definitely one of their best. The constant changes in themes, moods and styles might be a bit much for newcomers as it very much sounds like a band transitioning through experimentation. For those who love all facets of the band’s music, this could easily be anyone’s personal favorite as it contains a little of everything and all of the different components are inspired, interesting and awesome.
Scenes From Hell (2010)
After the success of 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn Sigh could have easily gone back to the well and explored those sounds and themes more. Unsurprisingly, they did the opposite in a lot of ways. The orchestral reprises and ideas remain but everything else has changed, for better or for worse.
As noted, Hangman’s Hymn has always been a bit underwhelming for me but for many it was their introduction to the band. Scenes From Hell feels like a bit of a middle finger to anyone who jumped on the bandwagon after the former’s relative success. It is muddy, inaccessible and harsh to an almost irritating degree. The performances and production seem written solely for the purpose of repelling listeners from listening to the album on cheap earphones or digital speakers and the overall quality has been often denigrated. My advice is to buy the actual album and listen with a decent pair of headphones or on a good stereo system, your opinion will likely change.
Dr. Mikannibal (a real doctor with a PHD in physics) makes her first appearance on this album as a vocalist and saxophonist. Her addition to the band is simply one of the best examples of a newcomer joining the fray in the history of music. Her guttural vocals and inspirational guidance is evident throughout as a partner in Kawashima’s madness both in and outside of the band. The two feed off each other in the most unhealthily delightful way. For evidence of this, pop on Summer Funeral and listen as they riff off of each other both musically and vocally, it is superb.
At a very short 43 minutes and change Scenes From Hell is a quick listen that isn’t always easy on the ears for those who can’t afford a decent way to hear it. The highs are mixed to such a drastic degree that cheap audio hardware will easily fizzle and pop with every note and the lows are so murky that they could easily be confused as an old man’s chili farts in a lazy Sunday recliner but for those willing to go the extra mile and give it the proper attention, this album absolutely rips.
Infidel Art (1995)
Due to the death of Euronymous Sigh had to shop elsewhere for a record label before eventually landing on Cacophonous to distribute their follow-up to their first album, Scorn Defeat.
The signs of the band’s reluctance to be cornered into a solitary genre or musical style was evident as early as this second full album. The style and sound displayed here are vastly different than the Black Metal rawness of their first release. There is a greater emphasis on the bass guitar straight out of the gate and the guitar sound is a lot brighter. It should be noted that Kawashima provided the bass licks this time around so it isn’t particularly surprising that it drives the majority of the songs. It seems that Sigh’s music largely depends on whatever instrument he is particularly fascinated with at the time.
In a lot of ways, Infidel Art is a mixture of Punk and Thrash music tightly loosely tethered with beautifully written piano ballad asides. Izuna opens the record with an ambitious gallop that showcases Kawashima’s ability to hold down a consistent rhythm on bass as well as conceptualize bizarre, atmospheric effects with keys and samples. This variety and craftsmanship is something that is on full display throughout each of this album’s 6 songs.
Zombie Terror is possibly the most unusual amalgamation thus far of all Sigh’s ideas forcibly rammed into a tightly-knit basket of insanity. It opens urgently with an almost Misfits-like force and even gives way to an appropriate amount of barbaric grunts, bellows and chants reminiscent of Danzig’s vocals. Eventually the song changes completely into an absolutely beautiful piano-led piece that would fit well on any early ’70s Pop or Prog-Rock album. The Punk riff surprisingly rears its filthy head in intervals to surprise the listener towing all instruments throughout as it closes out with a fantastically clean guitar solo and spacey keyboard sounds. The lengthy instrumental section at the end is one of the best moments in the band’s entire career. It truly must be heard to gain full appreciation.
If Scorn Defeat evoked images of the cold Winter, Infidel Art is the inevitable Spring that follows. There is a genuine warmth in the production with the samples of orchestral instruments being much more prevalent this time around and showcased in the foreground much more. The band seemingly decided that things didn’t have to sound dark or brooding to convey heaviness, instead they opted to create unsettling soundscapes through bouts of levity and genuine uncertainty to create something intensely moody.
Good Heavy Metal usually consists of intricate melodies and leads. It shares a lot more similarities to Classical music than anything else. The Last Elegy and Suicidogenic might be the prime examples of this with their warm, orchestral openings. Similar to a composition by Brahms or Tchaikovsky they start out subtle and gentle in order to set the mood before swiftly pulling the rug away and introducing the hook. In this case, Sigh delivers a pair of tunes that don’t fit in with the norms of contemporary bands. They are simply well conceived orchestrations of complete horror.
Beyond Centuries concludes the album wonderfully with a haunting organ sound followed by a cleanly played guitar. The rest of the song transitions between bluesy choruses and dirge-like verses with occasional organ effects and breaks only to conclude with what sounds like an organized jam session with tapped guitar harmonics and seemingly arbitrary vocal shouts. It is an absolutely epic conclusion to a perfectly succinct record that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. “Epic” proper, not in the frivolous youthful manner. I’m old.
Scenario IV: Dread Dreams (1999)
My top three entries on this list share a few things in common. In contrast to some of Sigh’s other productions these next few tend to have a brighter guitar tone with a greater emphasis on clarity over raw heaviness. I’m not trying to suggest that they aren’t as heavy because they are, I’m merely opining that these few in particular are a bit more experimental with a wider array of influences.
Scenario IV bounces back and forth between avant-garde moments such as the ending moments in Diabolical Suicide to riff-heavy Rockers like In The Mind Of A Lunatic and Infernal Cries. It keeps things moving along at a blistering pace while retaining all of those traditionally odd Sigh moments. Things never get boring over the course of these 9 songs with enough variety and well-conceived breaks throughout.
Songs like the aforementioned opening track, Diabolical Suicide and Black Curse closely straddle the line between genius and absurdity with the latter containing near incomprehensible vocal passages complimented by even more confusing instrumental timing. The recurring swathes of dissonant, seemingly arbitrary piano fills make it almost a chore to understand but as is with a lot of this band’s music, it all works.
To keep the album from becoming repetitive or mundane there are cleverly, almost comically placed horns, funky slide guitar breaks, spacey laser zapping effects, theatrical approximations of symphony samples and traditional guitar solos as well as a bevy of other instruments. The fact that this album can contain all of those elements and not devolve into self-parody or complete silliness is remarkable, particularly on songs like Parted Ways where all it would take is one ill-placed orchestral effect to send the piece tumbling like a house of cards.
Ultimately, there are many reasons this album is so high on this list for me. It is a culmination of all the ideas present on the first three outings refined and almost perfected but there is one thing that they have introduced here that I don’t particularly care for. The inclusion of some of the abject samples as song and sequence openers feels tacky. They are a product of the ’90s that has aged horrendously and is better fitting for a terrible Rob Zombie or Static X album. The static fuzz of what sounds like a television permeates throughout and makes frequent reprisals in spots that frankly take me out of the moment. Despite this minor nit-pick I really can’t recommend Scenario IV enough. It is a well-written, fantastically performed entry in the Sigh pantheon outdone only by two other LPs, in my opinion.
In Somniphobia (2012)
In a lot of ways I think this album’s place at number 2 is going to be the most contentious on this list. For starters, I’ll admit to being a fan of Progressive Rock music straight out of the gate with The Mars Volta being one of my favorite groups of the past couple of decades. There are a lot of elements of In Somniphobia that remind me of that band’s material, particularly Frances The Mute and Amputechture. These similarities lie mostly in the extended musical sections, layout of the tracks and sequential structure more than the flavor of the music itself. There is something warm and crystal clear about the production that I admire, particularly due to this entire record seemingly having been written as one long structure akin to a Classical composition.
The album opens with two songs that are familiarly performed by the band in that they could pretty much be placed within any other grouping of Sigh’s tracks without confusion or compromise. It is where things traverse afterwards that makes In Somniphobia stand out against the grain for me. After the powerhouse of Purgatorium and The Transfiguration Fear the structure of the album takes a structural turn with a large portion of the remaining songs being one long composition.
Before I dig further into this thing as a whole I’d like to just point out the absolute mastery of Kawashima’s writing skills on the second song, the aforementioned The Transfiguration Fear. I’m not sure I have the vocabulary skills to properly describe just how powerful and incredible this song is. It needs to be heard to be understood. There are days when I wake up with a need to hear it. Without a doubt it is my go-to Sigh song. Images of Manami Matsumae’s iconic Capcom video game scores comes to mind as well as Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy cartoon character. Dr. Mikannibal’s phenomenal saxophone solo near the end is a perfect addition that blends well with the overall playful cynicism conveyed by each of the expanding band’s players in turn. Seriously, this album is worth the purchase for this song alone.
If other Sigh albums were inspired by some of the darker compositions written by Romantic-era German composers, In Somniphobia takes on a more 20th Century feel with a heavy influence from traditional composers from France. The title track feels a lot like a French Waltz before things take a turn with Sitar flourishes on its counterpart. The Just Intonation is a welcomed addition to this band’s repertoire that I personally have a great deal of affection for, being a band of Harrison’s work in The Beatles and some of Jimmy Page’s acoustic work in Led Zeppelin. These literal tonal shifts are so fresh and new for a band who have been around as long as Sigh that it would be impossible for me not to have this album sit so highly on this list.
Lucid Nightmares VI: Amongst The Phantoms Of Abandoned Tumbrils is yet another highlight on In Somniphobia that is perfectly placed a bit closer to the end of the record. It just might be the most concisely written and executed piece of music that Kawashima has ever written with a direct correlation to both the fantastically painted album art and the disgusting historical events of The Black Plague. It ties everything together with a disturbing bow as guest musician Adam Matlock performs a very French hymnal sounding accordion piece nearing the song’s end as a harmony of voices urgently shouts “Bring Out Your Dead.” It is extremely powerful,sad stuff and definitely one of the strongest moments on any album I’ve heard in recent memory.
In Somniphobia is impressive on so many levels. Bands who have existed as long as Sigh have no reason to sound this fresh and innovative after so many albums. Typically, the idea well starts to run a bit dry or a group starts to simply rest on their laurels. Not only is this an excellent album but a testament to how consistently creative and surprising this band is. They are constantly and consistently pushing the envelope when it comes to music and surpassing my expectations. These songs, this album art and the quality of the production are the reasons why it took me a little longer to be able to appreciate Graveward. It is tough to exceed something this close to perfect, but speaking of perfect it is time for my number 1.
Imaginary Sonicscape (2001)
When I first set out to work on this list there were only a few albums that had their spots locked from the very beginning. Imaginary Sonicscape was and always will be my favorite Sigh album unless they can usurp it with another masterpiece, which isn’t entirely unlikely considering how highly I regard the much more recent In Somniphobia. Not only is this my favorite Sigh record but one of my personal top 5 albums of all time. It is a perfectly constructed piece of work from start to finish and one I highly recommend to everyone despite how absurdly difficult an official physical copy can be to acquire. Seriously, someone needs to release all of these on vinyl because CDs and digital releases simply don’t cut it.
Every Sigh outing since Infidel Art typically opens with a powerhouse of a track and what we have here in Corpsecry-Angelfall would largely become the template for albums to come with its driving guitar riff and singable chorus line. It makes it virtually impossible to stop listening, whether it be for curious newcomers or loyal fanboys it sets the mood brilliantly for what’s to come. The ending moments become somber and reflective with some interesting atmospheric effects and soundscapes (sonicscapes?) performed by none other than Kawashima himself. These experimental movements make the transition into the next two songs much smoother as Scarlet Dream and Nietzschean Conspiracy are a couple of the band’s most blatantly adventurous tracks to this point.
A Sunset Song refreshes the listener’s interests after the experimental third track with a bluesy guitar-led tune reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s work in Cream. Of all the music I’ve heard in my lifetime this one song stands out as one of the most cleverly written pieces ever. It is almost comical how the entire thing is developed around such a “butt Rock” inspired framework juxtaposed with elements of Country swagger, ’50s Crooner sensibilities and a Disco intermission, for good measure. How the band managed to write and combine all of this seemingly opposing ideas into such a catchy song without it coming across as jarringly inappropriate is beyond me. I’ve yet to play it for someone who didn’t enjoy it, or at least laugh at how unbelievably crazy it sounds.
There are no filler songs or erroneous ideas on Imaginary Sonicscape. The B-Side almost perfectly mirrors the A-Side structurally and is sometimes the half that I prefer to start with. There is a near-perfect symmetrical break in the piano break Impromptu that splits things up phenomenally with one of the band’s best songs, Dreamsphere leading the way into the second half at an explosive pace with an inspired gusto. It is also the song that comes the closest to sounding like a traditional Hard Rock track in the vein of early ’70s bands like Deep Purple with a keyboard solo so close to Jon Lord’s iconic Machine Head sound that it almost certainly an homage.
The rest of the album keeps along at a brisk pace with more notable Rockers in Bring Back The Dead and Ecstatic Transformation. In my mind it is as important as some of music’s most heralded and iconic records. There is a level of polish and skill present here that makes it deserving of much more attention. Sure, there is something special about discovering an underrated, underground band but Sigh has been at it for almost 3 decades and I think they deserve a helluva lot more recognition and respect than they receive. To assemble this list I’ve laboriously listened to their entire discography over and over again and have come to the realization that they might be my favorite band. I’ve always enjoyed their music but listening to their legacy from start to finish and back has given me a new level of respect for their willingness and ability to stay relevant, fresh and interesting. Heir To Despair will be releasing in a few days as of this post and I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical copy. Let’s hope Candlelight produce enough this time around so I don’t have to resort to an inferior digital download. Here’s hoping!