Last year, we made a list of albums fit to listen to for the delightfully autumnal, spooky Halloween season, one album for each day of October. Check it out, links below:
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!
Is it Uriel or Egg? I’ve read a ton of different breakdowns of what the members of this band and its offshoots that I no longer care how it all fits together so, for the sake of convenience and brevity we’re going with the name on the sleeve and the liner notes and referring to this fantastic record as Arzachel.
When it came to making this list I thought it might be tricky to conjure up 31 different albums. Now that we’re nearing the end it is evident that there are more that I could have added as today’s inclusion was going head-to-head with Comus’ First Utterance. The reason I chose Arzachel was due to it’s heavier reliance on Lovecraftian references and the heavy reliance on the organ, for those who have read my Gehenna post you will know that it all comes down to the organ.
At first, this album sounds very similar to some of it’s contemporaries, specifically Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer. It doesn’t take long before things take a trip towards the strange on the opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights. The album opens with a verse not entirely dissimilar to other Rock bands at the time but where it shifts is in the eerie organ bridges where the music takes a break from following a rigid structure to become a lot more loose and experimental.
The title track and Queen St. Gang are similarly bizarre and eventful, particularly the former with it’s extended stretches of ethereal, ambient sections. The latter provides the first recognizable groove heavily rooted in Blues music and is probably the most straightforward of all the songs present here before the surprise, brief ending that devolves into a fantastic slurry of discordant feedback and organic effects.
Leg is another bluesy number accompanied by a sinister sounding organ performing long, disjointed chords in the background. The entire album walks the line of traditional, organized compositions and complete, utter chaos brilliantly. It is a shame that this was the first and only album released under this moniker, though there is also something very special that it exists as a one-off. What occurs at the halfway point in the song Leg is particularly noteworthy as it breaks into a heavy jam session that gives way to the long, psychedelic closing tracks.
Clean Innocent Fun and Metempsychosis end the album in an absolutely horrific way and are the main reasons this was the album I chose over Comus for this list. First Utterance is a terrific album but it is one that is simply strange whereas Arzachel tap into the creepy Halloween mood significantly more. Clean Innocent Fun opens with strange string plucks and discordant sounds before giving way to a brash cacophony of noises that might sound at home on an early Sonic Youth album. The entire record has led us to this final pairing of songs that have finally done away with the facade of normality to completely embrace the chaos.
Unfortunately, Arzachel is not an easy physical release to acquire but it is luckily one that can be downloaded from a number of different sources or heard on YouTube entirely. I’d urge anyone with an interest in unique, wonderfully performed music to give it a shot, particularly at this time of year with the lights low and the fireplace roaring. It is a real treat and I’m just glad it hasn’t been lost to the ether, hopefully it never will.
Electric Wizard: Dopethrone (2000)
After my explosive negativity regarding Rob Zombie I figured I’d change course today by offering up an alternative that retains the influences of classic Horror without being quite so gimmicky or pandering. Borrowing from inspirations such as Black Sabbath, Spanish Horror’s Jess Franco and H.P. Lovecraft, Electric Wizard are a juggernaut in the world of underground heavy music. With song titles stripped from Eldritch lore as well as modern horror heavyweight Wes Craven, Dopethrone is a perfect soundtrack for the Halloween season.
There are tons of bands that have tried to recreate the sound of Sabbath so it can often be difficult to parse the good from the bad. Disciples of the juggernaut band have been around almost as long as their inception but only a handful have made an impact on me, Trouble, Saint Vitus and Sleep to name a few that come to mind. Even then, those bands are so rooted in their Sabbath DNA that they can oftentimes come across as a bit unoriginal and boring. Electric Wizard differs in the risks they aren’t afraid to take. They are also a great deal heavier than the aforementioned bands with the vocals being the most noticeable change as Oborn opts for a much louder, shouting style than the more formulaic nasally whine that the others adopt.
The songs on Dopethrone are structured and sequenced in a way very similar to early experimental rock outfits such as Hawkwind and Uriah Heep. Vinum Sabbathi and Funeralopolis open the album with a pair of hard-hitting rockers before Weird Tales forces the listener on a nightmarish, Lovecraftian drug-induced journey filled to the brim with Eldritch imagery and sonic experiments. Altar of Melektaus concludes the 15 minute venture with an incredibly interesting effects-laden instrumental section before things get normalized once again with the very catchy track entitled Barbarian.
What is perhaps the most surprising is how coherent and concise this entire album is considering how utterly fucked up the band admittedly were during the recording process. Oborn himself openly told UK-based music magazine Kerrang in 2009 that the band would wake up after being camped-out in the studio, drink, do a bunch of drugs and just jam. The music in no way reflects this kind of debauchery as every instrument comes through cleanly and articulately. I mean, I can’t even have two beers before playing if I want something to sound even remotely decent. Perhaps I need to do more drugs and drink quadruple the amount to break on through to the other side, or maybe I’m simply not even half as good as I think I am.
While Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone might not scream Halloween on the surface as it doesn’t really do anything particularly spooky or scary, the content and influences behind the music definitely reflect this time of year. This was one that took almost a full decade to grow on me after purchasing it in the year it was released but it has slowly become one of the prized albums in my collection that I revisit quite often. It is much more available now than it was back in 2000 as it has developed a prestigious cult following and for good reason. This is one Black Sabbath influenced band that does so much different that they can stand on their own two legs.
White Zombie: La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 (1992)
My god how I hate Rob Zombie’s work. Him and Dave Grohl have been creating trash since they became things in the public eye. Is it David? Robert? Jesus Christ I can’t stand either one of them. Mass market fluff for fake fans of rock to embrace. Dave?
Gimmicky, overplayed with very little substance is how I would describe almost everything that can be associated with Zombie’s moniker. I mean, how can one expected to be welcomed into the world of film with a stupid name like that? Oops, is his surname actually Zombie? My bad. His films and music still suck though. Thank god for the damned music on La Sexorcisto though otherwise he’d be batting pretty rough in my stats book.
First and foremost, I don’t have a “book” filled with statistics. Secondly, I really can’t stand Rob Zombie’s films or solo outings but I can appreciate this album and passively enjoy Astro Creep 2000 just as long as I never have to hear the singles from the latter ever again. Gimme some Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds over the Astro Creep versions of More Human Than Human and Electric Head all day baby.
To put it briefly, the music on La Sexorcisto is incredibly fun. Imagine the fun of Russ Meyer with a coated underlining of classical horror cinema. It came before Astro Creep’s blatant bludgeoning of horror references and is better for it. Good gravy I fucking loathe those horror audio clips on that album.
Y’know? Listen to Astro Creep instead if you’ve never heard it but just know that La Sexorcisto was the good one. I don’t care anymore. While you’re at it, tell me how amazing his films are at ripping off Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Every single one of them including the Halloween reboot, re-boot, re-franchised, re-chainsawed, re-massacred, re-envisioned reworking of words that don’t actually exist in practical dictionaries. Words like Sexorcisto and Supersexy.
So, here we are at day 27 of 31. Today I’m going to recommend my favorite Misfits’ album, or is it a compilation? Well, who the hell cares because over the years it has surpassed Earth A.D. as not only my favorite Misfits’ record but also as the best Punk album of all time. If you want to know the backstory you can read the extremely confusing, convoluted history elsewhere. Sure, most of it is probably incorrect but hey, at least you’ll have an idea, yeah?
Misfits: Legacy Of Brutality (1985)
I’ve offered my piece on each of the only important Misfits albums on this list so to avoid redundancy I’ll do this one in bullet points with my final thoughts at the end. Jerry Springer is still relevant in 2018, isn’t he?
- Danzig recorded over raw demos so his vocals are much more pronounced but also more refined with a wider range of octaves not entirely reliant on barbaric shouts and grunts.
- This is a list comprised of my favorite Halloween albums and this album has a song called Halloween. I’m a simpleton, not a barbarian.
- Clean, clear guitars with a pronounced emphasis on Only’s bass.
- The brilliant inverse that are the riffs used on the two opening tracks Static Age and TV Casualty, respectively.
- Legacy Of Brutality is groovy with a heavier reliance on competent songwriting than it’s predecessors. The songs live and breathe as a result.
- American Nightmare is a perfect orgy of Tarantino violence and Elvis swagger.
Legacy Of Brutality is an album that could not have existed if it were created in a studio with a hateful cast of characters plagued with the interpersonal issues of this group. There are plenty of interviews with current and past members of the band that dictate how important Glenn Danzig was as a participant but mostly, the leader.
To be frank, Misfits have become a trashy, identifiable novelty at cheesy mall shops for years. What’s impressive is how people who actually enjoy real music can still hold them in such high regard. Yes, I just suggested that I’m awesome but hey, so is Glenn Danzig. Sure, I might sound like a Danzig “fanboy” but he went on to create awesome music without the likes of that band without ever using it as a means for success.
In conclusion, listen to early Danzig Misfits then listen to Misfits without Danzig and judge it for yourself. I’ve tried to enjoy the “newer” stuff and all I can hear are a bunch of apes grinding out the same three chords while shouting trash into a microphone. To say that the band became a joke would be generous. I’ve witnessed people wearing their shirts and backpacks and sneakers and socks and tattoos and bracelets and nipple studs AND jackets loud for years. Only a fraction of them know who the band was or what they mean to people like me. “Elitist hipster fanboy” am I.
Isn’t it ironic how inherently creepy and demonic religious sounds and imagery can be? I mean, on one hand The Bible is full of ghastly horrors and violent actions yet people still congregate to Churches and the like all over the world as a means to find a sense of purpose and peace.
Something as simple as the sound of an organ can deliver such a prominent horrific tone to pretty much anything. If you don’t believe me, take a video of yourself tying your shoelaces or making pizza sauce and add the sound of the most cheery song but perform it on the evil instrument. Atmospherically the sound of those Satan pipes can enhance the feeling of even the most menial of tasks. Did you just catch the biggest fish in the lake? Listen to an organ playing on your radio and instantly you have just become the wicked warlock of the waterways. It is powerful and eerie and is the instrument I find most representative of the Halloween season. Phantom Of The Opera and Carnival Of Souls would be nothing without the harrowing sound of this, one of the unholiest creations from within the house of God.
Gehenna: First Spell (1994)
The aptly-named album First Spell is Gehenna’s debut studio recording and second EP. It opens with the lonely swelling of a lonely organ sound in the song The Shivering Voice Of The Ghost. This alone warrants the inclusion of this album on this list. If that isn’t clear enough, read the bit of organ ranting I just wrote in the preface to this post, or don’t. Who the hell am I to tell you what to do?
There is something very cinematic about this entire package. It is a thick, foggy rhythm and crisp melody that permeates throughout all five of it’s tracks and the cover-art evokes imagery from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The songs are paced and sequenced in such a way that they become much more than the sum of their parts and more like a constructed script or narrative and at a brisk twenty-six and a half minutes it is free of any missteps or filler, unlike this write-up.
The production is very raw yet clear and concise. It is a bit surprising to me that Gehenna would later opt for a more traditional sound on subsequent albums as this is pure perfection to my ears. This is purely subjective but then again, what isn’t when it comes to an opinion piece? All I know is that I’ve been trying to replicate this record’s guitar and drum tone since it came out to no avail. It is rich and complex while maintaining that classic, cold, organic Black Metal sound.
Perhaps the most significantly unique and appealing thing about First Spell is the acoustic guitar that exists sporadically throughout. It cohesively gives the entire record a bit of a folksy campfire feel, almost as if the entire thing was written and performed along a journey across varying plains, through many different struggles. The acoustic seems rooted and sincere and interestingly only used as a texture rather than the draw in the forefront.
Similarly, the variety of keys performed throughout each of the songs seem present to strictly offer ambiance. They are much more prominent than the acoustic guitar but only when it comes to how frequent they are used. After awhile they become little more than a consistent ally to the typical, heavier guitars, drums and vocals. It is a fantastic touch that makes this one of my favorite Metal albums.
Each Gehenna project is of the highest quality and their entire catalog of music is a preference of mine over most of their contemporaries. First Spell is my personal favorite of theirs but also the one that is best suited for this list. It is perfect October listening for anyone, including those who aren’t particularly fond of heavier music. Technically it is superbly performed and concisely written but not so harsh that a casual listener would find it repelling or harsh. As they have said many times in interviews, “Gehenna is about creating good music,” and I can’t disagree.
Much like Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, Dave Matthews Band was a group that was an unavoidable irritant for me as a burgeoning music fan throughout the early ’90s. As someone who preferred the likes of rawer, heavier bands and with an angst-ridden music elitist during that era, every song from Under The Table And Dreaming and Crash would send me into fits of rage. The Downward Spiral and Nirvana’s Nevermind were so popular that even the sight of the CD’s would fill me with anger. I was as much a hipster elitist as those album purchasers were “posers.” Hey, at least I was a hipster before it was cool though, yeah?
Dave Matthews Band: Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Today’s entry is going to read even more like a nostalgic journey entry than most on our site’s blog. For one, I’m not a fan of Dave Matthews Band per se, though I find his work as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter admirable and interesting. In short, I respect what he does, both as a front-man and composer but I really can’t stand the majority of his legacy with this band and absolutely loathe the fandom that surrounds it.
So, it was 1998 and I was into bands like Slayer, Black Flag and Doves. Every guitarist and drummer I knew was fawning over Dave Matthews Band and The Smashing Pumpkins so every jam with every capable musician included having to know a few tracks by each of those bands. Ants Marching was getting old and despicable but I kept putting on a happy face. We used to have sessions at the lead guitarist’s home when I first heard the song Halloween, the sixth song from Before These Crowded Streets. It was raw, unsettling and perfectly reflected the mood of the month that I had first heard it, October.
The creepy screams of Matthews at the end of that song birthed the incredibly frantic acoustic riff that opened The Stone. A long story short and I was hooked on the album. Every day I practiced and meticulously learned every guitar and bass line from Pantala Naga Pampa to Spoon. It might still be the most fun I’ve ever had learning to play material written by another band and Halloween and The Stone remain two songs I will listen to every year in October.
My appreciation for Dave Matthews grew from disgust to respect that October in 1998. I still don’t like the majority of his commercial releases but learning those guitar parts made me a better player as his songwriting is superb.
Before These Crowded Streets maintains a cold, autumn feel throughout and is one that I recommend to anyone looking to enjoy the season. I’d also like to personally give a nod to the rarer recordings of Matthews and Tim Reynolds performing at Luther College. It is required listening for anyone who wants to up their acoustic guitar game from campground to fantastic. One Sweet World is a great place to start.
Trent Reznor: Quake Soundtrack (1996)
Throughout the ’90s it was virtually impossible to escape the music of Trent Reznor. Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral was as much a staple as Nirvana’s Nevermind and in everyone’s CD collection at the time. His particular blend of synthesized industrial metal spawned hundreds of copycat groups as well as a moderate amount of controversy. His earlier material didn’t appeal to me in the slightest but there is simply no denying his genius as a multi-instrumentalist and composer.
Quake was id Software’s follow-up to the incredibly important video game, Doom. At first I had considered putting Doom on this list instead as I have a lot more nostalgia for that title and a more memorable soundtrack for me, personally as a result. While the music for Doom is fantastic, it borrows a lot of ideas and riffs from a variety of different heavy guitar influenced groups so it doesn’t sound as wholly original as Reznor’s Quake. Also, Doom’s music sounds a lot like a video game soundtrack whereas this one can be enjoyed on it’s own.
Reznor’s work on this soundtrack is criminally overlooked as video games weren’t taken quite as seriously as an artistic medium back then as they are today. Where Nine Inch Nails’ earlier albums fell short for me was in the overly hostile, angry vocals and synth-lead compositions. I can appreciate and respect albums like Broken and The Downward Spiral without fully enjoying them. In fact, I own all of Reznor’s discography on CD and partially on vinyl. What attracts me to his newer material and this Quake soundtrack is the restraint he has developed over the years.
This soundtrack is best heard loud on a dark, damp October evening. The complexity in the arrangements play serious tricks on the listener as subtle sounds ebb and flow throughout. There are moments where the music physically appears to affect my body, particularly in the quieter sections where tiny gurgles or tinny noises occur repetitively. In a lot of ways it sounds as though Reznor was channeling his inner Coil as the music definitely takes on a more ambient, almost noise-based quality compared to his main catalog of Nine Inch Nails productions.
In conclusion, Quake is not only a near perfect Halloween experience to physically play in video game form but also a fantastic album to simply enjoy on it’s own merits. Trent Reznor is one of the last living geniuses in the world of music who deserves all the love in the world for his consistent efforts of shaping and reshaping the formula throughout the past few decades.
Portal: Swarth (2009)
Immediately after giving my negative opinions on bands that rely on gimmicky stage performances for shock value I offer up today’s entry with Portal’s 2009 entry, Swarth.
At the risk of appearing as a total hypocrite I’ll preface this entire thing by opining that Portal doesn’t entirely rely on cheap visual tricks to garner attention. If anything, the elaborate costumes are used to heighten the level of fear presented by their music with an added layer of anonymity. Other bands, such as Ghost have done this to varying levels of success. Though, I’ve always found all aspects of Ghost to be pretty lame.
Perhaps the differences are in the abstract qualities that Portal displays. They don’t parade around on stage dressed in Priest’s garb while singing standard radio-friendly butt-rock tracks. The music that Portal writes is obtuse, complicated and terrifying. Their album covers are abstract and dark. The bizarre, Lovecraftian outfits they wear onstage befit the music.
Portal are an off-putting band to casually listen to. I’m a fleeting fan in that I can only stand to listen to them for short periods in spurts. Luckily, the group seems to be aware of this as all of their LPs are relatively short.
Swarth is my favorite of these full albums. I’ve yet to purchase any of their many EPs or splits as there appear to be many so my experiences with the band as a whole are rather limited. What I can confidently offer is that this music is not for everyone. Hell, it’s barely for me but every once in a while I’m in the mood to be bludgeoned over the head with repetitive, loud guitars and incomprehensible vocals. It is a great Halloween listen, even if it means ignoring their records for the remaining 11 months of the year.
The biggest problem I have with a lot of their material is the production. I’m a fan of noisy, avante-garde music but even I have my limits. For one, the audio is mixed far too loudly to be enjoyable. Bands like Boris often do the same thing but it works for them as they tend to rely much more on the distorted feedback than the melodies on some of their albums. They also know when to tone it back whereas the Portal’s albums just sound abrasive for the sake of being an irritant.
Imagine listening to any other record on your speakers or headphones then popping on something immediately afterwards that practically busts your hardware and eardrums just because it was unexpected. It is the equivalent of a jump-scare in a Horror film, cheap, lazy and artificial. To mix an album at 11 feels juvenile and pointless. This isn’t the late ’90s anymore where this production style was prevalent. It is as trashy sounding now as it was then. I’d love to call out Merzbow as the prime offender of instilling this into “noise” music as they are one of the oldest and one of the biggest perpetrators of this awful trend.
I am not a “playlist” guy in the slightest but you might as well forget about adding any Portal or Merzbow to your music libraries if you ever expect to hit “shuffle” without a better than average equalizer.
To reiterate, I dig raw production. Loud music is great music. I crank my speakers when I listen to music and turn my amps up high when I’m playing my instruments. The difference is that I have control over the decibels I want pumping into my cranium. Not only that but the music, itself suffers from being distorted in a very inorganic way. It sounds like it is being recorded through a MIDI interface and clipping through every instrument. Maybe this was intended and I just don’t “get it” but it is infuriatingly unappealing.
On second thought, maybe I don’t like Portal at all. Sure, it is great Halloween music if you enjoy the esoteric writing of Lovecraft. Yes, the guitars occasionally do something interesting, like callously strumming open chords to break up the monotony of generic, tremelo plucked strings. There are also a few reprises that come through on this album that make all of the noisy, garbled nonsense understandable in spurts. Yeah, I think I just hate this music but it still deserves to be on this list. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more next year when I give their discography another chance.
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