Japanese experimental metal veterans Sigh have put themselves in a difficult position with In Somniphobia. Following two fleet and brutal orchestra-and-horn-embellished releases (2007′s Hangman’s Hymn – Musikalische Exequien and 2010′s Scenes From Hell), Sigh have crafted an album that may not be black or heavy enough for extreme purists, and is too convoluted and schizophrenic for most other metal fans. Of course, those who have followed Sigh’s 20-year history of wickedly bizarre records like 2001′s jazz and psychedelic-injected Imaginary Sonicscape and 2005′s vocally smooth, Hammond organ-saturated Gallows Gallery understand that such criticism is a crimson badge of honor. With its unconventional rhythms and stylistic shifts (jazz, funk, dub, classical, opera, industrial), In Somniphobia is a surreal odyssey that’s part whimsical hallucination, part harrowing nightmare. At the same time, it’s less overtly metal and more contradictory than most of the band’s catalog. Many of the fastest parts are more redolent of the joyous gallop of Blind Guardian or the carnival madness of Kurt Weil than the homicidal maliciousness of Mayhem. Conversely, some of the mellower classically-based and electronically-treated passages are the most disturbing on the disc. Without question, In Somniphobia is Sigh’s most ambitious, immaculately-crafted, synapse-popping album. Is it black metal? Well, frontman Mirai Kawashima sings about death, decay, fear and insanity in the parched voice of an embalmed corpse. Guitars blaze and drums batter hard enough to splinter sticks. Yet confining Sigh to such a meaningless category is a disservice to the unfiltered, stream-of-conscious and often horrifying state they strive to engender. So let’s just call In Somniphobia a rewarding treat for headbangers with a taste for the absurd and a hunger for the unexpected.
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