Cult Avant-Garde Black Metal from Japan : Interview with SIGH (ENGLISH)
Since the 90's Sigh is giving us, lucky bastards we are, a very singular way of Black Metal with a lot of elements from different kinds of music. No limits could be the word when it comes to Sigh...Somewhere inbetween Classic Thrash Metal, Psychedelism, Progressive Metal and Black Metal from outer space, there is Sigh ! Here's the story, so far...
Sigh is a pionneer in BM because you were created back in 1990 (after being called Ultra Death in 1989/1990). You released your first demo ≪ Desolation ≫ in 1990. It is both very raw BM but there is already Avant Garde keyboards and sounds in it. You were already unique ! Can you tell us the story of the formation of your band ? What were your goals, influences, intentions ?
We were just friends and started a cover band and we were playing the songs by Whiplash, Death, Destruction, Deathrow and so on. Then around the beginning of 1990, we decided to write our original songs. Influences were definitely from the 80s thrash metal bands like the ones I mentioned, and Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, Necrophagia, At War, Post Mortem etc. We did not have any goal or intentions at all. We were not ambitious. We never thought we'd be able to release albums or would still keep playing over 30.
Tragedies your second demo in 1990 was also a combination of Raw and experimental. I can hear influences of Celtic Frost in it ? Do you agree ?
The influence from Celtic Frost has been always there. Even today, they're one of the biggest inspiration.
The third demo, Requiem for Fools, had a much ≪ professionnal ≫ sound. Your sound evolved a bit too, with much faster BM parts. Can you talk to us about this one ?
In December of 1990, Slayer came to Japan for the first time. To be honest I didn't expect anything special as it was already "Season in the Abyss" era, which I didn't like at all. However, they played a lot from the first 3 albums and I was completely blown away! "Requiem for Fools" was created right after that in the excitement of Slayer's concert. That's why "Requiem for Fools" sounds more 80s thrash metal.
After the Scorn Defeat came the Scorn Defeat album. A first milestone in your career ! You were the first japanese band signed by Euronymous on Deathlike Silence (and the last). This album is real Black Metal with Thrash and Doom influences, reminder of Bathory stuff and Celtic Frost , but with already a great personality. Can you tell us how the contact with Euronymous was made ? Which band were you back then ? Satanic BM Band ? There is already jazz and prog influences here..Were you Jazz/Prog fans ? Which bands ?
When "Requiem for Fools" was out, I sent it to every record label I knew from all over the world. Deathlike Silence was one of the. Actually I wrote to Dead but it was Euronymous who wrote back to me as Dead had already killed himself. He was interested in signing with us, so I immediately said yes because there was no other label that wanted to sign us. Back then everybody was enthusiastic about death metal / grindcore and 80s thrash was 100% out of fashion. Nobody cared about it at all. I guess "Scorn Defeat" music was a mixture of 80s thrash metal and classical music. I was taking classical piano lessons for almost 20 years so classical music was / is one of my biggest musical background besides 80s metal.
Were you aware that, in 1993 you were already a real unique band, with a great avant-garde approach or was it much instinctive ?
It was completely instinctive. I remember one of my friends asked me what bands Sigh sounded like. As I seriously didn't come up with any bands, I told him so. I wasn't trying to be cool or artistic or anything. I was not sure for real. But the guy probably thought I was just joking or something. I never thought about trying to sound like somebody else.
Japan had a lot of original sounding bands since you. Is it related with living on an island and keep some traditional behaviors and influences ?
I don't think it is true. I must say 99% of the Japanese bands are very unoriginal, but those bands cannot break into the international market. Only the bands with their own sound can make it, so that's why you feel Japan has a lot of original sounding bands. It's the same everywhere. Some very interesting bands and other copy cats.
In 1994 you released a split with Kawir (a greek BM band). You released ≪ Suicidogenic ≫, a great song that was announcing your next album ≪ Infidel Art ≫. This song seemed very important, like a transition between two eras, are you ok with me ?
Well, I personally think "Suicidogenic" is still in the excitement of Slayer. But also I think my composition skill developed around that time.
In 1995 you gave us a very underground tape, the Venom tribute-ep ≪ To Hell And Back ≫. Was it an homage ? It is a great one, and it's representative of one of your particularities : you always were connected with the real BM pionneers (from the 80's) and it made Sigh both an Old-School sounding band and one of the most experimental ones. Do you agree with this analysis and what is the secret ingredient of your ≪ mix ≫ between these two worlds ?
We all are huge Venom fans and we were playing a lot of Venom covers in the early days. That tape was actually a live recording. Yes, I guess your analysis is right. To be honest, I do not know much about the stuff later than 90s. Sigh have to sound old-school simply because I only know about old-school.
Your first real masterpiece is the ≪ Infidel art ≫ album, released in 1995. An incredible piece of art, with such mixed influences and soundscapes. You were (and still are) the only band that can mix Venom, Hellhammer, Pink Floyd and Funeral Doom parts and make it really enjoyable. How did you do it ? What was the ≪ artistic direction ≫ with this album ? The three members were always ok with such decisions or was it a struggle ?
As I said above, classical music is one of my biggest musical background. After "Scorn Defeat", I started wanting to mix metal and classical music more consciously so I started learning classical music theories. Also I bought my first own synthesizer, Ensoniq TS-12 around that time. So I guess there are kind of a leap between first 2 albums. Of course what I did for "Infidel Art" is very much childish compared to what we are doing now, but probably there were not many albums like that in the early 90s. I don't know what other members were thinking. I always decide the direction without asking other members anything. It's the same today.
After a live album back in 1997 (The eastern force of evil), you published the ≪ ghastly funeral theatre ≫ EP the same year at Cacophonous Records. Once again, you were using Japanese artwork for the cover. Is Japanese traditional art had (and still has) a big influence on you and how ? This EP is such incredible : it's impossible to say what kind of Metal or music it is. It's just SIGH music. Can you tell us how do you see this Ep 20 years later ?
GFT was supposed to be a split album with Abigail at the very beginning. So I wanted to make it a very Japanese album. That's why the song titles and some of the lyrics are in Japanese and so is the artwork. However, the label which Abigail belonged to back then did not let them do it, it ended up as our EP. Musically it is not very Japanese though. What I had in my mind was mixing pop / rock arrangement with extreme metal stuff. Looking back, the idea itself is good, but I am sure if we re-record those songs now, we can do it by far better with Dr. Mikannibal's saxophone and my flute. I've been always thinking of re-recording the songs like "Shingontachikawa", "Shikigami" and "Doman Seman" and maybe some day we will do it.
Then Came ≪ Hail Horror Hail ≫ in December 1997. A step further into progressive music. What pushed you into that way ? Were you listening a lot of prog bands back then ? Since then we cannot really say Sigh was still a BM band. There is a lot of kinds of music in this one two, even a lot of Heavy Metal guitars. Iron Maiden ? Murder, suicide, depression, traditional japanese legends (curse of Izanagi). Your lyrics were still very dark. Can you tell what were your preocupations lyrically speaking ?
I always wanted to recreate horror soundtrack feeling with our album and I noticed 20th century classical music was often used in horror movies. So I started listening to the works by the composers like Bartok, Penderecki, Ives, Messaen etc. and from there I found experimental rock, free jazz and so on. I did not intend to sound progressive or experimental. I just wanted the horror feel. There was not much influence from prog rock on "Hail Horror Hail" except Goblin. Lyrically it was a continuation from the previous albums. As you said, death and Japanese occult. Probably this one is the last album which I handled occultic themes.
The follow-up, ≪ Scenario IV : dread dreams ≫ was realeased in 1999. It's for me a great record, a milestone in the history of Avant-Garde Black Metal. You achieved here a record that is really dark (more than ≪ Hail Horror Hail ≫) but has a lot of great experimentations (with fanfare sounds, this incredible Funeral doom/black in ≪ Black Curse ≫ with this passages of experimentations, so incredible!). What do you think of this album, 20 years later ?
To be honest, I am not a huge fan of this album. There are several reasons for that. After "Hail Horror Hail", Century Media wanted to sign to us, and we wanted to work with them too because Cacophonous was horrible at what they were doing. But unfortunately Cacophonous did not let us go. That was a huge letdown. Also we ran out of the budget during editing the album. You know the album has lots of interludes, outros etc. Now it is easy to edit these. You can do it even on your PC at home. But back then, it was different. The studio engineer brought his own hard disk recorder and was working hard on it, but we had to give up on the way as we did not have money any more. Also the hard disk he used was not a great one, which compressed the files, so I am sure a lot of low-end was lost during that process. Again, I like the ideas of the album, but it could have been much better.
You began the XXIst Century with ≪ Imaginary Sonicscape ≫ one of your most exentric and ecclectic albums to date. How did you work on this one and what can you say about it ?
Back then I was collecting vintage keyboards and I wanted to create some psychedelic album rather than dark evil one. Right now, many consider this as our best work, but when this one was out, half of the reviews was really bad. Again, the ideas are good but we can do it much better if we record this again. The only exception is "Scorn Defeat". That one has a magic as a debut album, so if we re-do it, the magic will be gone. For other album, definitely we can do better with a better line-up now.
After two Splits (one with Necrophagia and one with the great Abigail) you released in 2005 ≪ Gallows Gallery ≫ . A very sober cover and logo, a heavy metal orientation (combined with progressive rock) and a lot of clean vocals. In hindsight i think Ghost, the band, take a good listen to this one. It's a really surprising album, and at first i was disapointed. The Black Metal was over then in your music. What was your state of mind and what did you manage to do with this album ? There is a lot of Mercyful Fate in it don't you think ? Can you tell us a word about the two splits ?
I think the black metal feel is pretty much gone even on Imaginary Sonicscape. We discarded the image even from "Scenario IV" as we were fed up with the scene where everybody looked the same. Probably this is the most different album in our catalogue. Actually we have never played any songs off it live. I love Mercyful Fate / King Diamond a lot, but the vocals that sounded like King were not intentional. That was the only way I could sing high-pitched. I didn't try to sound like him. Well, it's a honor though. In the end, Century Media didn't want to release the album as it was too different from what they had expected. I don't remember much about 2 splits. Back then I was a keyboardist for Necrophagia so I was doing a lot of things with Killjoy. "Gallows Gallery" was released via his label in the US. And I think he wanted to do a split with Sigh, so we recorded the Necrophagia song which I loved the most. We tuned guitar and bass badly on purpose to recreate the original Necrophagia feel. The split with Abigail, I have no recollection. Probably Yasuyuki got an offer from some label.
In 2007 you published ≪ Hangman's Hymn-Musikalische Exeqien ≫ in Osmose Productions. It sounds like a return to the band roots, with more extreme metal in it. Did you want to do something different than in ≪ Gallows... ≫ (even if there is a continuity in some points) ?
The album was actually on The End Records. It was licensed to Osmose for Europe though, I always wanted to make an album filled with fast furious songs but I was not sure how to achieve that without losing Sigh's identity. Then I came up with idea to use the classical opera technique. The album is consisted of 10 songs but at the same time it is one long song. All the songs are connected and interwoven together. And I wanted to limit the elements for this album. Sigh was using anything from jazz to experimental, but for "Hangman's Hymn", I used only classical music and 80s thrash metal. Nothing else. Here in Japan, this album is the most popular among our works.
≪ Oops you did it again ≫ (lol) in 2008 you released a ≪ tribute to venom ≫ EP. What was the point after had realised the 1995 Tribute ?
Dr. Mikannibal joined the band right after "Hangman's Hymn" was out. Or it might have been before the release. We wanted to introduce her to our fans but obviously it is impossible to do another album straightaway, so we came up with the idea to do the tribute. As I said above, the last Venom tribute was just a live tape. And this one is a decent studio recording.
≪ Scenes from Hell ≫, your 2010 album, is more raw and brutal than all the recent predecessors. Was it a consequence of the Venom Tribute ? Did you feel the need of being harsh again ? There is less experimentations here and more violence and darkness. Was it a way to tell the world : Sigh is still here and ANGRY ?
"Scenes from Hell" was kind of a continuation from "Hangman's Hymn", but this time we used the real orchestral instruments. I wanted to describe the scene of Japan during World War II with harsh music. It sure is scenes from hell.
You did the ≪ Curse of Izanagi ≫ EP in 2010 and the 6-way split with Taake, The Meads Of Asphodel, Thus Defiled, Evo and Algy in 2011. Can you talk about these two releases ? And a word about the bands on the split ?
"Curse of Izanagi" was pretty much a sinister track. At first, it was recorded for a Japanese metal compilation album, but the plan somehow fell through. Then we were thinking of making it a bonus track for the Japanese version of "Scenes from Hell", however, the owner of the label that was supposed to release it killed himself, so it didn't happen. After that, it was going to be out on 7"EP via a Canadian label, but again the owner, who was a good friend of ours, died of pneumonia. I was a bit scared and was thinking of burying this track. I knew it was nothing but a coincidence but still too sinister, you know. Then we got an offer to do an EP from the Finnish label. And one of the owners of the label was a Beherit guy and I thought Beherit was much more sinister and the jinx wouldn't work for them. And I was right, nothing happened at that time. "Swine of Hell" split was planned by The Meads of Asphodel. Meads and Sigh have been working together. I played some keyboards for their works and Metatron did some vocals on our albums. Taake is the great friends of ours, too. We shared the stage and Dr. Mikannibal and I sang have sung on their stage, too.
≪ In somniphobia ≫ your 9th album, was released in 2012. It's a really epic heavy and Thrash sounding album, with still Black elements (the vocals) and classical orchestrations (plus a little progressive keyboards. Can we say it's a synthesis of Sigh's music ?
Yes, I think that is right. What I had in my mind was the dark version of "Imaginary Sonicscape". As I said, "Imaginary Sonicscape" was an album where we tried to get away from the black metal image, so its dark nightmarish version can be the synthesis of our past.
After a live version of ≪ Scorn Defeat ≫ published in 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album, you published your 10th album : ≪ Graveward ≫ in 2015. This album is again very rich, with a lot of genres into it, but the particularity is the production, with a very old school analogic sound. Was it an intention to combine your old school influences with all the experimentations you are able to do ?
To be honest, I don't like "Graveward" at all. It took way too long to finish up the album as we had to fire the guitarist during the recording of this album. And I was obsessed with the symphonic arrangement too much. I don't like its production, either.
Last but not least, 2018 saw the arrival of ≪ Heir to despair ≫ and its great artwork. It's a little soon maybe to deeply analyse this one, but i personnaly think it's one of your greatest work ever. It's unique, again, with new sounds and combinations. What's the secret, 28 years after your beginnings, to still be original, surprising and never predictable band ?
Can you tell us how did you proceed with that great album ?
"Heir to Despair" was pretty much a backlash against "Graveward", so I wanted to exclude the symphonic arrangement as much as possible. This time I musically took in the Japanese elements on purpose. I sang in Japanese in the Japanese way and some Japanese traditional instruments such as Shamisen, Shakuhachi, Shinobue etc. were used. This is a very personal album. It's a nostalgia to my childhood. So I was not sure what people would think about this album, but to my surprise, it has been getting pretty good reactions so far.
This book is talking about a lot of subgenres in BM. If i say to say to you : DSBM, BlackGaze, Post-BM, Avant-Garde BM, Space BM or Rap BM, what are you answering me ? Are you still interested in discovering new bands and genres ?
Yes, I am still after music that surprises me. Unfortunately these days I'm rarely surprised at music though. I don't know why, I might be getting too old or I have been listening to too much music, but anyway I'm still searching for music I do not know.
Can you list us your 20 favorite albums ever, in any kind of music ?
- "Into the Pandemonium" Celtic Frost
- "Power and Pain" Whiplash -
"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" Black Sabbath
- "Number of the Beast" Iron Maiden
- "Black Metal" Venom
- "Killing Technology" Voivod
- "Abigail" King Diamond
- "Black Mass" Death SS
- "Sacrifice" Black Widow
- "Dealing with It" D.R.I.
- "Metal Anarchy" Warfare
- "Scream Bloody Gore" Death
- "Pleasure to Kill" Kreator
- "Altars of Madness" Morbid Angel
- Pentagram (US) 1st
- "We're Only in It for the Money" Frank Zappa
- "Torture Garden" Naked City
- "Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables" Dead Kennedys
- "November Coming Fire" Samhain
- "Tantric Steps" Technova
What is the future for SIGH ?
I have no idea. Some concerts are being talked but other that, there is no plan. "Heir to Despair" has been just releasd and I feel completely empty. I even am not sure if we will make another album or not.
What is your vision of our world ?
The world is surely crazy but the world has been always crazy and always will be.
This is a free space : tell us whatever you want :
Well, not much is left to say after this long in-depth interview...