Japan is home to a lot of interesting bands, and Sigh are probably the most well-established act among the country’s many quirky acts. They’ve been around since the late 80s, and they’ve consistently put out quality music, starting out as black metal then over time transitioning into top notch avant-garde metal. Graveward is their tenth studio album, and it has tough shoes to fill.  The band’s previous five albums are considered hallmarks of the genre after all. Unfortunately, while Graveward is a fascinating experiment and a good album, it doesn’t exactly hit the extremely high target Sigh have set with their previous records.

First of all, as a follow-up to their 2012 masterpiece In Somniphobia, which was possibly their most psychedelic album, Graveward is a lot more grounded. It’s a slow album, with every song being low-to-mid-tempo. The band have cited old Italian horror movies as their musical inspiration for this album, and it shows. Every song is overtly theatrical and extravagant. The problem is that the frantic energy that is often associated with Sigh is nowhere to be found on Graveward for the most part. The songs are generally based on a slow build-up into a slower, more groovy section or an atmospheric one. While this kind of song is enjoyable, when a majority of the album feels rather lethargic, it makes the overall listening experience a bit of a drag, especially coming from a band who generally used to make such high energy songs. There are a few energetic tracks to be found here, like ‘Out of the Grave’ featuring Trivium‘s Matt Heafy, but overall those songs are the exception and not the norm; and it’s no surprise that that song is also the best one on the album, at least partially due to being more up to the band’s regular speed.

Perhaps the production on the album is partially to blame for this – the sound is generally very mellow. Guitars are low in the mix and don’t really drive the music, the synths sound very retro (most likely decidedly so), but not just in tone – the album feels like it could have been made 20 years ago. This isn’t really a mark against Graveward in itself, but combined with the slower pace the weaker soundscape makes the album sound less energetic than it actually is.

Whether one particularly enjoys the theatrical cheesy-horror vibe the album has going for itself or not, it’s hard to deny that the band are yet again displaying the imagination and expertise that has punctuated so much of their career here as well. The themes of the album lets them flex their creative muscles in different directions than their previous releases. As mentioned before, they’ve aspired to emulate the sound of old movie soundtracks, and it’s indeed very convincing. Every song feels like it’s a story in itself with all the different sections, instrumental flourishes and generally strong atmosphere. It’s a really interesting experiment in songwriting, and it’s generally a success in terms of achieving its goals.

There isn’t a bad song in here, and the premise is held up well, but in terms of an invigorating avant-garde metal album from Sigh, Graveward is a bit lackluster, which is a bit of an odd statement to make considering it’s so unique, creative and generally satisfying. As an entire album it’s just not extremely enjoyable in large doses due to being a bit too slow-paced. It’s still a testament to the band’s talent for all the reasons outlined above, and while they have demonstrated the variety and robustness of their creative chops, they haven’t utilized their potential fully, even though they’ve achieved a difficult task, perhaps it was not the right challenge to overcome from the band. By no means is Graveward a bad album or one that shows the band have given up or “lost it”, they’ve simply directed their focus in an odd direction. Regardless, fans will find plenty to enjoy in this record even if they might not find reasons to keep coming back to it like the rest of Sigh’s discography.

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Sigh – Graveward gets…

3.5/5

-NT

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