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Sigh - Scenes From Hell

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Artist: Sigh

Album: Scenes From Hell

Label: The End

Review date: Mar. 26, 2010

Metal craves the bombast of the orchestral. When a band reaches a certain level of success, enter the strings (usually somewhere in the last 15 minutes of the album). Problem is, it’s hard to reconcile the outcast rep of metal with a symphony orchestra. It’s not that an orchestra can’t be equally dark, but coordinating that many people inherently implies social order.

At best, metal with classical overtones pits chaotic evil with lawful evil. At worst, it comes across like a hemp enthusiast leveraging a conservatory education. Though a metalhead pulling his hair into a semi-respectable ponytail can be deflating, it’s nothing compared to classical buffs letting their hair down to appreciate a few shorties with nice lungs. (At our next pledge level, you get to check out Opera Babes, duder.)

Sigh, who’ve been around since the dawn of black metal, have been closing in on a perfect meeting of symphony and thrash for years. At times they’ve slowed enough to pass for Deep Purple, but tempos and growls sped back up on their last record. This year’s Scenes from Hell hides whatever sutures remained in their effort to stitch the two genres together by piling a dozen more on top of them.

Outrageous styles clash throughout. "Musica in the Tempora Belli" is driven by standard-issue black metal kick drums. The intro’s b-movie theramin gives away to surf punk leads, then collapses into an unadorned string section. Also, there’s demonic laughing, a saxophone solo, and a spoken word outro. Any one of these elements is enough to sink a song. But "Musica" doesn’t sound ridiculous, even if the shock of hearing it the first time can elicit smiles at the audacity of it all. It refuses to sit still long enough to become a target.

The impact of this music doesn’t come from blackness or the metallic or the symphonic, even if those dominate. There’s too much glee. Nor is it an exercise in collage, mashing together bombast to create an endless crescendo. This album is a fantasy, and as with the best kinds of fantasy, the self-contained world has both an internal logic and enough glimpses of outside norms to make the fantastic transitions plausible. When a string section on loan from Strauss surrenders, hard stop, to the growl of "Brains! Brains!” it’s like zombie fists punching through the glass of a Viennese ballroom. Dinner jackets will be bloodied, bodices torn.

As with your standard horror flic, approaching Scenes from Hell as camp is sure to help some listeners bear witness to all the gore. But it’s even more fulfilling to accept the sadism on it own terms. These aren’t scenes of what the damned are experiencing down there. These are Jock Jams for the landlords.

By Ben Donnelly

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