Title: In Somniphobia
It’s always a great pleasure to be confronted with a new Sigh album but the Japanese maestros do make us work for it by twisting any preconceived notions around and turning the listener upside down and round about and playing with them like a cat with a ball of wool. Nothing is ever quite what it seems in Sighworld. Just when you think you have got to grips with one passage of relatively straightforward music they throw not a double whammy your way but several. ‘In Somniphobia’ is probably the most out there album the group have released since 2001’s Imaginary Sonicscape. It is certainly the longest and most accomplished and sounds better production wise than the last few too.
Before one even gets to the music, the album artwork must be mentioned as it really is quite stunning. What is it all about? Well the jury is out on that but to me it looks like a twisted and nightmarish Studio Ghibli scene. I could honestly gaze at this for ages and it must be excellent on the vinyl of the album where it surely will shine through (downloads pah). It’s colourful, macabre and trippy, just like the music within.
This starts with the two most ‘metal’ and straightforward numbers of the piece although by Sigh’s standards that means very little. No intro, just fast flourishes from guitars, sax and drums has ‘Purgatorium’ galloping away at a hell for leather pace with Mirai’s yapping vocals snarling around them. Big orchestral peaks are quickly hit and the organic sounding keyboards dance along with it all in the background. That is before it all flows into a neo-classical Strauss sounding waltz of course! For those wondering, some of the more retro accoutrements to the sound include Minimoog, Prophet-5, Clavinet D-6, Roland RE-201 Space Echo and that is before we even get to the ethnic instruments. A snatch of avant-jazz and tabla drumming sees the harmonic ‘The Transfiguration Fear’ melodically weaving away. Backing vocals from Dr Mikannibal joust along with Mirai and this is a real happy jig of a number, which does not actually screw with your head too much. I love the Morricone Western whistling part at the end though even if it’s a case of just where the hell did that come from?
Of course any sense of normality is going to change all too soon. The Meads Of Asphodel front man Metatron adds yobbish spoken word parts onto an interlude piece starting off a seven track segment and then we arrive at the album’s title track and the acid really kicks in. Tempos and melodies twist and turn and fold in upon themselves. Weird sound effects come out the speakers at even stranger frequencies and the retro keyboards dive through the decades as the music goes all over the shop along with wild cackles and delirious guitar passages. It’s a case of hang onto your hat and see where this takes you but in case you were wondering it all melds together perfectly.
There is so much going on in the album it would take ten pages to describe it all, it has at times really been set out like a the equivalent of taking a trip, it’s not always a good one either but it will keep you on your toes. Sigh also seem to want to pack as many styles of music into things along with as many instruments as possible and it is impossible to even begin to contemplate how they got all these ideas together in the studio. There are plenty of parts that after several listens you will be eagerly listening out for. Take for example the fantastic patch of piano playing on ‘Amnesia,’ Gerry Rafferty and Joe Jackson eat your hearts out!
Songs are long and require your attention. The album itself hones in at 65 minutes and will take repeated listens before you get anywhere near close to fathoming it. I reckon that even after a hundred or so plays you will still be picking up new things, surely the mark of a good album. How it is going to work live is an interesting point too. “Play it in full,” the fool in me says but acknowledges the fact that it would probably kill me.
After an alarm clock and more crazed parts we go into Euro lounge music and ‘Amongst The Phantoms’ with vocals sounding like Jack The Ripper off on a killing spree. It all goes nutzoid again and the manic fervour of the number is a real standout piece of the album, which kind of seems to go all over the world before some French style accordion playing really makes its mark on the melody.
After the seven number mind melting experience Sigh are still not quite done with us and have another couple of numbers. ‘Fall To The Thrall’ combines some snarling thrash laden licks with some more of that old Sigh lunacy, clashing gongs, fiery guitar solos and keyboard cantatas. As for last number ‘Equale’ which gets to you just as you feel like your head is going to do a Scanners style explosion is an interesting and mania inducing finale. “Kill me now’ croaks Mirai and by now some may well be agreeing especially seeing as the main guitar riff sounds like it’s been lifted straight out of some 80s American cop show. Oh my head really is hurting, how about throwing some Bach into the mix? Why the fuck not.
Right I have no choice to escape from this before going insane but before I leave I have to give ‘In Somniphobia’ a final mark and considering all the deranged, debauched and delicious lunacy behind it, well it can only be a high one.
Sanity may never be restored.
(9/10 Pete Woods)