Sigh – Convention, I Defy Thee

Friday, 29th March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

Leave it up to Sigh to toss convention, harmony, and tradition out the window. Their latest, Scenes From Hell is yet another unhittable curveball from the Japanese quintet who have made a career out of being unconventional and spontaneous. Sounding like the marching band from hell parading through the caverns of Hades, Scenes From Hell might be the band’s most out-there release to date, which is saying a lot considering the all-around mindfuck that is Scenario IV: Dread Dreams and 2001’s landmark Imaginary Sonicscapes.

Next to Loundess (yes, Loundess) there has been no Japanese metal band more visual and influential than Sigh. With that in mind, we picked frontman/keyboardist Mirai Kawashima’s brain on a number of topics including the band’s origins, its early label troubles and what it means to be truly “avant-garde.”

Blistering.com: You’re entering into your third decade of existence as a band. Did such a feat enter your mind when you started in the early 90’s?

Mirai Kawashima: Not at all. Back in the early 90s, obviously the black metal/death metal scene itself was young and you didn’t see many people over 30. So to be honest, I even could not imagine playing in such an extreme band when you were 30. I even was not sure if we could get an album deal because there was no Japanese extreme metal bands that had achieved it in the worldwide scene back then.

Blistering.com: What do you remember most about your early Deathlike Silence days?

Mirai: Those were the good old days. As we didn’t have the Internet back then, I was in touch with people from Norway via snail mail or telephone. It was always a big fun to talk with Euronymous on the phone. Once he warned me not to talk about the Inner Circle crimes because ICPO [International Criminal Police Organization] could be tapping our phone! To be honest I was not sure how serious he was because you rarely have your phone wired by ICPO, but now I see everything was true. I also remember getting a letter from Varg [Vikernes, Burzum] saying “You should burn down the churches in Japan.” The photo of the burned down church was enclosed in it.

Blistering.com: On a similar front, do you recall how grossly mishandled the band was during your stint on Cacophonous Records?

Mirai: After we released the first album, we got an offer from more than 10 labels, and we were stupid enough to choose Cacophonous. I can safely say they did nothing right. They had Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Bal-Sagoth and Primordial among their roster and ALL of them left. If they had done things right, they definitely were one of the biggest metal labels today. Basically the label was run by people who knew nothing about metal. The A&R guy once came to Japan so I took him to Karaoke. When I sang “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, he shamelessly claimed that he did not know what song it was! They stole money from the fans by enclosing the fake ad of the t-shirts in the CD booklet, which they had never printed. The biggest problem is that they still claim to the right to all these albums, and many bands cannot re-release their old stuff. I really do not see any point in just claiming the rights and leaving them deleted.

Blistering.com: Do you take any stock in knowing Sigh is one of the first break-out extreme metal bands from Japan?

Mirai: Well, I think we have paved the way for Japanese bands. Back in the early 90s, there was no other extreme metal band from Japan who had a decent international deal than us. Probably none even tried to get in touch with the foreign labels as they thought signing to the Japanese label was the only way for the Japanese band to get a deal. Now it’s not unusual that the Japanese bands have the international deal, which is definitely a great thing.

Blistering.com: Your recent output is as varied as ever, so how did the transition from Hangman’s Hymn to Scenes From Hell (orchestrated, very avant-garde) come about?

Mirai: Well, personally I do not think SFM is avant-garde or anything. John Cage wrote a piano piece where the player does nothing but closing and opening the lid of the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, definitely it is avant-garde and it was written almost 60 years ago! SFM is pretty much based on the traditional harmonic function system and this could be rather conservative music. We live in the 21st century!

Also if you compare SFM to our earlier albums such as Hail Horror Hail orImaginary Sonicscape, it’s not that varied. If you heard Hangman’s Hymn and SMF is your second experience, you may be a bit confused though. What’s interesting is that some people say SFM is very much alike Hangman’s Hymnwhile others say these two are poles apart. I think both are right. If you talk about the mixture of metal and classical orchestrations, these two are similar, but the visions we’d like to express between them are totally different. This time the main themes are war, hell and death.

When I say “hell,” there’s no religious meaning behind it. Human beings have been experiencing a lot of hell such as pestilence, famine, war, natural disasters etc., and you often see the paintings that describe these scenes from hell such as “Plague” by Boecklin, “Triumph of Death” by Bruegel etc., and we aimed to do the same thing with music for this album.

So the songs are describing compared to those on Hangman’s Hymn. “Prelude to the Oracle” and “L’art de Mourir” is about the world where people are dying everywhere and they feel the reaper flying over their head. Three tracks belonging to “Musica In Tempora Belli” are the most describing and I guess that you can easily picture the scenes of war such as air raid, the rolling tanks, bomb explosion and so on by listening to them. (“Musica In Tempora Belli” stands for “Music in Wartime”).

Blistering.com: I guess this applies to the fact Sigh has never made the same album twice, correct?

Mirai: I won’t say that. Once we are confident that we could make an album that tops Imaginary Sonicscape, we’d do Imaginary Sonicscape Part 2. But so far, it has never happened. Hail Horror Hail is completed in its form. So are other albums, and we still haven’t come up with the ideas to top them in the similar style. But I’m not sure about the future. We always just want to create an album to top the previous ones.

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