Earlier this year, the Japanese black metal band Sigh released a new album with the title In Somniphobia. And for those of you out there who read this and feel tempted to send me messages about how Sigh are an “avant garde” band or whatever, do not. Just… do not. To borrow and mangle a quote from Jello Biafra that needs to be more widely circulated, this rigid and conservative definition of black metal that you have sure as hell is not what got me into black metal in the first place.
For those who are not familiar with black metal or Sigh, a little explanation of my viewpoint might be in order. As mentioned, Sigh are a black metal band from Japan. Generally, when “pop culture” is sent to Japan in any form, the Japanese will mess with it in a certain way to reflect their culture and its leanings before sending it back to other nations, especially America, in a form that makes the people of those other nations, especially America, react in a way that runs along the lines of “huh? wutthefukk?”. But therein lies the rub. You can call black metal and doom metal a lot of things, but pop culture is a long, long way down the list. In fact, when Black Sabbath released Vol. 4 with songs on it about the desire of the ruling entire to keep the public “sane”, or about how believing in yourself is key to a productive life, doom metal (and thus by extension black metal) became so far away from pop culture that the two only really meet in the world of my novels. Not surprisingly, Japan, which has had a long history after World War II of consuming American culture at a rate that exceeds that of Americans, at first did not know what to make of doom metal or black metal.
The awesomeness of black metal is best expressed by the fact that when it is brought into Japan, digested, then spat back at the originating cultures that developed it, it comes back awesome. Sigh are the best expression of this fact. Whereas many black metal bands openly aspire to shit on convention and end up creating their own conventions instead, Sigh take shitting on conventions and making it into an art form.
Having said all of that, I am not entirely certain what to make of In Somniphobia as yet. In Somniphobia is much like any other Sigh record. You listen to it once, say “what the hell was that?”, listen again, say “what the hell was that?” again, and repeat this process over and over. Trying to compare Sigh to other black metal bands is a bit like trying to compare cloth to rubber. It just does not fit. But on the same token, Sigh does have a lot in common with other artists who take other peoples’ expectations concerning what they do and shit all over them. Mr. Bungle is one artist that comes to mind. In fact, if Sigh were to suddenly break out in jazz noodling whilst Mirai Kawashima began screeching the words “evil Satan” a few times, I would not be in the least bit surprised. Sadly, they do not go that far in terms of shitting on convention, but if Mirai reads this entry and decides to do exactly that on the next Sigh recording, do not act surprised.
So In Somniphobia is the second album on which Dr. Mikannibal (real name still unknown) plays the saxophone and splits vocal duties with Mirai. I do not know why, but it works. Whereas Mirai goes for that traditional black metal rasp/growl by “natural” means, Mikannibal still seems to be recording her vocals through a distortion pedal or similar device. The result is that her vocals sound lower in pitch than do Mirai‘s. Disconcerting at first, but it also achieves a certain contrast. Pretty much like every other element of a Sigh recording.
I am still not completely sure whether the ability of individuals to post songs to YouChoob is a good or bad thing, especially in the unevenly-enforced policy that YouChoob have in terms of removing material if it is deemed to violate copyrights. But I am also for the life of me unable to recall which of In Somniphobia‘s songs I heard first and decided I had to hear the rest. It might have been Purgatorium or The Transfiguration Fear. But given the absence of what I refer to as stand-out songs on this album, it could just as easily have been one of the other nine songs on the album. The upside of this is that at least bands are not bullshitting themselves that a song is merely a “three minute ad for an album”, like one member of a band I will not glorify by mentioning in conjunction with Sigh said in an interview.
Overall, the record is a good listen and keeps my interest from start to finish. This is the first Sigh record I can say this of since Scenario IV: Dread Dreams, which remains their best recording to date. But on the same token, the absence of valleys also means there are no peaks. Do not approach this record looking for a Prelude To The Oracle, a Shingontachikawa, or a Divine Graveyard. You will not find anything like those awesome songs here. What you will find, however, is sixty-four and change minutes of Mirai charting his usual course through an insane concept. According to press materials, the album is based around the concept of an hour-long nightmare. It starts with the usual peculiar musical rambling one expects from Sigh. But when an entire album ends with a vocalist rasping “I’m sorry, but I have to go now…”, well, let us just say you do not forget what you heard over the preceding sixty-four minutes in a hurry.
Speaking of quotes, I am also reminded of the GG Allin quote in which he states that with him, you do not get what you expect but rather what you deserve. That is Sigh to a T. But as Chad Kallauner wrote in his own review, In Somniphobia does tend to get lost in its own experimentalism. Part of the problem, I believe, is that in spite of two different vocalists, it is extremely difficult at the best of times to make out any of the words that they utter. And I feel so dirty having said that that I am going to scrub myself in Drano later. But just as a lousy bass player or a lousy drummer can cut the rest of the music’s moorings off and leave it drifting away in nothingness, the fact that it is difficult at best to make out what the songs are specifically about and thus what images my mind’s eye is meant to conjure in response to the music makes it that much harder to involve myself with the music. At least on songs like Divine Graveyard, the repeated urging to “cry for help… they won’t hear!” gave a certain sense of what Mirai was intending for me to picture as I listened. Where In Somniphobia is concerned, it is still early days yet, but the lack of any distinct musical hooks or decipherable themes does not make me optimistic in terms of how much this recording will grow on me in future.
I have never been to Japan. I do not deal at all well with unfamiliar places, especially when I have no comfort zone in terms of a place where I can go and not have to process too much new information. So visiting Japan on my own would likely pose real health risks to me. That is a downside of being autistic. But when Chad Kallauner writes that he does not think he has uttered the phrase “what the fukk?” as many times in the rest of his life as he has during seven years in Japan, I believe him. Bands like Sigh are one major reason why. If you are not already familiar with Sigh, please go and check out Scenario IV: Dread Dreams or Scenes From Hell first. If you have already heard those two recordings and are anxious for more, you could do worse than In Somniphobia.