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My favorite black metal is strange by the standards of the genre. It’s easy to overlook that in the early 90’s Norwegian black metal sounded incredibly different from almost every other kind of metal that existed, and a cursory glance through a few old issues of Slayer mag will confirm that the essentially different nature of the music was a huge part of its appeal.

Perhaps that’s why most of the surviving second-wave bands no longer resemble their earlier selves. Mayhem still haven't completely come down from the acid trip of Grand Declaration of War. Darkthrone are trying to find a way to sound like the best and worst classic metal band ever at the exact same time. Spiritually, Japan’s Sigh are trying to pull off both of those tricks and a whole host more on their upcoming tenth album, Graveward.

None of that should come as a surprise. Mainman Mirai Kawashima has happily played odd man out for most of the band’s previous nine albums. After all he was one of the first signees to Euronymous’s Deathlike Silence Productions, even though he was a Japanese keyboardist. Psychedelic black metal? He beat Blake Judd to it by years on 2001’s Imaginary Sonicscape. Taake has gotten more mileage out of one random banjo interlude than many banjo players get out of their entire careers, but Kawashima put a whole country segment in Scenario IV: Dead Dreams. However, he always sounds quintessentially like himself. If Werner Herzog were to make a black metal documentary, his subject would be Kawashima, whose obsessive dedication to ripping, creepy and completely over-the-top music seems to carry an almost seismic force. Nothing will stop him, not budget limitations or the limitations of good taste.

The cost of wanton eccentricity is consistency. You always get Sigh out of him, but you never know which Sigh you’re going to get. For example, the last sigh LP, In Somniphobia sounded like it was mastered on a Super NES, and was about as hard to get through as the first level of Contra. Graveward sounds better, though it’s still rife with sonic quirks—Kawashima’s nasal screeches are countered by a clean-sung chorus that sounds like it’s being sung in a roomful of Helium. Ripping guitar solos enter and exit seemingly at random, as do the various tones Kawashima plugs into his front-and-center synthesizers (for what it’s worth, he hammers out several impressive Hammond and Rhodes organ solos on the album’s latter half) .

But as disparate as the sounds in play are, Graveward is a fun, rollicking ride if you’re willing to take it on its own terms. Kawashima mastered huge hooks on 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn (on which he randomly decided to make the best Dimmu Borgir album that group never wrote), and brings that skill back to the fore here.

There is no good and bad with Sigh. Kawashima transcends all boundaries of taste, and listeners will either recoil at his particular and theatrical take on black metal, or strap in for the long haul. The long haul is more rewarding than not, this time around.

Joseph Schafer

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Graveward is out May 5 via Candlelight. Follow Sigh on Facebook, or on Twitter at @sighjapan.

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