Analysis | SIGH Explores the Inevitable End on Shiki

            Death is one of life’s few certainties, with a fear of its approach being relatable for many of us, and this sentiment has become the artistic focus on a new trip from Japan’s masters of avant-garde extremity. While death is no stranger to the works of SIGH, age has led the chief songwriter, Mirai Kawashima, to seriously contemplate on the event, and Shiki arrives as a personal confrontation with its inevitability. The dread and torment surrounding this reality manifest fully through these spellbinding orchestrations, where heavy riffing and synths entwine with traditional Japanese instruments, and they create some elegant pieces that parallel a warped darkness brooding throughout. All the elements synonymous with SIGH are present at the highest level on Shiki, along with other distinct qualities to form an alluring psychoactive encounter.

            A brief glimpse of demise is perceived on the introduction leading into “Kuroi Kage (Black Shadow,)” where string contortions draw emphasis within a heavy pulse, and intricate drum fills are notable during this procession while apprehension builds. Soloing launches the first of many epic developments throughout, with dark ambience rising among its rhythmic flow, and the visceral energy from vocals is highlighted before it escalates to blast beats. Saxophones appear in the midst of an ethereal interlude, and diverse instrumentation persists when psychedelia creeps above the distorted beat. Bongos are also integrated with the percussion for an aura embodying multiple dynamics, and slower paces cross over with arpeggiated notes and keys to amplify eeriness on “Shoujahitsumetsu (Death of the Living).” Grinding riffage and blasts soon unleash a distinct element of frenzy for this track, which ravages across turbulent shifts with a thrashy attack, and another momentous event takes form when leadwork proliferates to the riffing drive and doom. This force bears down in harmony with the ambient horrors of “Shikabane (Corpse),” and relentless vocal lines pursue their menace toward the virtuosity of drum and guitar solo exchanges. Synths induce a multidirectional trip that lingers amid crushing strides, and partially sung torments reflect its impact on a path disintegrating to madness.

             Grandiose forms are advanced on “Satsui – Geshi No Ato (Murderous Intent – After the Summer Solstice),” with vocals raging over multiple levels of riffing, and their progressions mirror the melody of traditional elements during areas with different sung techniques. Lead and percussive details further elevate the evolving aura, which delves into the dark allure of an extensive synth outro, and its hallucinations unveil fragmented scenes flashing toward “Fuyu Ga Kuru (Winter is Coming).” Clean arpeggiated notes carry the haunts among its heavier surges, and warped effects circulate throughout while flutes emerge with the vocal presence of Dr. Mikannibal. This enchanting passage expands with other grand textures, and saxophones weave a jazzy shade into the psychedelia before extremity charges ahead on “Shouku.” A demented overlap is produced from harsh and sung vocal dynamics, but the former endures with anguish when rhythms shift to a gallop, and this tone lingers after noted patterns form a cumulative link between keyed and fretted solos. The torment is compounded by a slower pace that drifts into the storm of “Kuroi Kagami (Black Mirror),” and this interlude turns to contemplation until arriving at “Mayonaka No Kaii (Midnight Mystery),” where a riff and vocal alliance strikes amid euphoric synth and instrumental designs. Soloing executes a last dexterous act, followed by the classic sounds engulfing “Touji No Asa (Morning at That Time),” and a final confrontation ensues as the reaper sighted on the opening track returns to collect.

            Cycles of life are paralleled across the “Four seasons,” with a “Time to die” encountered at some point along their passing, and those two possible meanings of “Shiki” are central to the concept of this work. A purposeful Japanese presentation of the art and lyrics reflects its personal nature, and so there won’t be a deep lyrical review here, but the approximate translations of song titles above give a few insights into the dark substance within. Its inspiration comes from a medieval poem in Hyakunin-Isshu, where a man nearing his end relates to the frailty of drifting cherry blossoms, a highly symbolic element in Japanese culture, and this scene compares to Mirai Kawashima’s own sentiments toward death as he reaches fifty two years of age. These ideas are portrayed on the intriguing cover art, which depicts the image of death lurking behind a man with the cherry blossoms nearby, but slight deviations from this main theme also appear, including the views of capital punishment merged with a metaphorically lost zenith on “Satsui – Geshi No Ato.” While many other details will remain concealed to those of us limited by language, the observable material is laden with significance and easily inspires one to engage with its unique cultural spirit.

            SIGH have always been renowned for venturing into strange realms, and their boundless potential continues to captivate through the aural wonders of Shiki. The number of vocal references noted above genuinely reflects their impact during passive listens, which suggests Mirai Kawashima, despite the heightened age, still possesses a fierce vitality and has many more productive years ahead. That vehemence is echoed across the instrumental spectrum, with the precision of detailed arrangements executed through diverse percussive features and leadwork, and these are matched by an evocative synth myriad along with some of the band’s heaviest riffing to date. A potent maturity is affirmed over decrepitude by SIGH’s harnessing of this wild array, and the whole of Shiki offers a cohesive and striking experience for those inclined to wander from the beaten blackened path.

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