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Sigh - Hangman's Hymn

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Artist: Sigh

Album: Hangman's Hymn

Label: The End

Review date: Jul. 18, 2007

Started in the early '90s by bandleader Mirai Kawashima, Sigh might be considered Japan's first black metal band. Kawashima's early contacts with the Norwegian scene led to Sigh being signed by Euronymous of Mayhem, and since then the band have released a string of albums that have explored various different aspects of epic metal sounds.

Hangman's Hymn might be considered a return to form in some ways; 2005's Gallows Gallery was a more standard metal album, with more traditional song structures and almost power-pop vocal styles. Here, Kawashima's gutteral black-metal growl is back in full force, and the songs are more complex and, certainly, elaborate.

It's primarily Kawashima's vocals and keyboards that give Sigh its personality, with sound effects, piano, orchestral strings and horns featuring heavily. Hangman's Hymn is an excellent blend of modern metal and classical bombast, with a doom-laden atmosphere that's well-served by the skillful samples and keyboards. Shinichi Ishikawa's guitar blasts through heavy riffs, backing rhythm guitar, and the requisite fast leads. The rhythm section is less inventive, but that's not necessarily bad since it grounds the songs.

The album blasts in from the beginning with "Introitus/Kyrie," a burst of horns, thrashing guitar and drums, a fast-moving wall of sound that breaks repeatedly into moments of calm, keyboard-driven atmospherics and dramatic, melancholy operatics. "Dies Irae/The Master Malice" begins with an ominous choral opening (thanks to backing vocalist Aurielle Gregory), tolling bells, and thunder. It then crashes into a guitar-led metal tune with symphonic breaks, the general modus operandi here.

The most unique song, and perhaps the best, "Death With Dishonor" is an odd beast, kind of Morricone-metal. It boasts very nice filmic sound touches amidst thrash chugging and throat-ripping vocals. The keyboards, complete with horn bleats, are what give this song its distinctive Western feel.

Elsewhere, we get the six-minute suite "Overture/Rex Tremendae/I Saw The World's End," which opens with a symphonic burst that's echoed again later, amidst blast-beats and savage guitar and vocals. "Salvation in Flame/Confutatis" offers some nice horn interjections as well as Amadeus-inspired "confutatis / maledictus" chanting.

With Hangman's Hymn, Sigh have recorded what's probably their best album. Blending "Requiem" symphonics with thrash-speed metal inevitably offers some element of cheesiness, but Kawashima and crew deliver a very well-conceived dark vision.

By Mason Jones

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