SIGH – Disaster, Pestilence & War
Etter nettopp å ha sett Sigh for første gang på årets Brutal Assault Festival, inntar jeg presseteltet i håp om å få noen ord fra bandet. Etter omtrent en time i kø med reportere fra diverse fanziner og blader setter jeg med ned med grunnlegger og vokalist Mirai, samt hans nyeste medlem Dr. Mikannibal som står for kvinnelig vokal (kun growling) og saksofon. En lett nervøsitet legger seg over meg når jeg plutselig sitter ansikt til ansikt med ett band som faktisk har vært med siden den første fremveksten av norsk black metal. Det er ikke hver dag man får mulighet til å snakke med ett av de få bandene som ble signet på Deathlike Silence Productions. Mye har dog skjedd siden den gang. På konserten ble det utelukkende spilt låter fra de to siste albumene, så en naturlig start blir å snakke om bandets siste slipp.
What would you say is the biggest difference between "Hangman’s Hymn" and "Scenes From Hell" ?
Mirai: Well, some say that these two albums are similar, while others say that they are completely different. I think they are both right. If you look at the symphonic elements, they are similar. But the topic on "Scenes From Hell", or world view if you will, which is presented through music, is totally different from any of our previous albums. Another big difference is that the symphonic elements on "Scenes From Hell" are not programmed, but recorded with real orchestral instruments. Also, the songs are a little bit longer and more complex on "Scenes From Hell".
"Hangman’s Hymn" appears to be a more straightforward mix of classical elements and black metal. "Scenes From Hell", on the other hand, seems to apply a bit more avant-garde elements such as saxophone and Hammond organ.
Mirai: That is true, though I wouldn’t call it avant-garde. In this day and age I view these elements of our music as quite normal. I would say that "Hangman’s Hymn" is quite easy to approach, not containing any "avant-garde" or progressive elements, while "Scenes From Hell" has more of these elements embedded into it.
On the heavy metal documentary "Global Metal" Marty Friedman said that he loved Japanese metal because it more freely mixes genres and styles in a manner that could never be done in Europe or America. He claimed that Japanese metal wasn’t confined by the same boundaries and limitations as the European and American metal scene. What are your reactions to this statement?
Mirai & Dr. Mikannibal: We don’t agree with that at all.
Mirai: Japanese pop music is not avant-garde at all, it is only made for consumption. It is a commodity. To Marty Friedman, J-pop is his bread and butter. But this has nothing to do with real metal.
Dr. Mikannibal: Marty might have been referring to the Japanese metal genre "visual key". This genre is all about appearance and entertainment, but it is not exactly metal…
Mirai: It’s not music!
So do you feel that Sigh is a part of the Japanese music scene?
Mirai: No. Actually there are many Japanese black metal bands, but most of them are just copycats with no originality to it. Very few of them would stand a chance on the international market. Still, there are some great bands, but not many.
Both Global Metal and other metal magazines have pointed out that breaking through in Japan, for American and European bands, is not such a big thing as it used to be in the 80’s. Has the Japanese audience lost interest in American and European metal to the benefit of domestic Japanese acts?
Mirai: I think so. I also think it is connected with how Japanese culture has gradually become more popular in America and Europe.
Dr. Mikannibal: Japan is also one of the few countries were the domestic music always has been supported by its own people.
On your earlier albums, such as "Infidel Art" or "Ghastly Funeral Theater", Japanese tradition and culture was clearly reflected in artwork and lyrics. Would you say that "Scenes From Hell" reflect Japanese society in some kind of way?
Mirai: I would say so. Especially since the war (WWII) is one of the topics on "Scenes From Hell". The brass melodies orchestrated on "Scenes From Hell" is for the Japanese people reminiscent with World War II, since it resembles a war march. To the Japanese audience the music reminds them of a military march. The American and European audience react very differently. They call it circus music. I guess there is a difference of perception between American and European audience as opposed to the Japanese audience.
What about the artwork on "Scenes From Hell". Is it reflecting the music, the lyrics or both at the same time?
Mirai: Both. Everything on "Scenes From Hell" is closely connected. Artwork, lyrics and music is all interrelated with the theme of the album. "Scenes From Hell" is about war, death and hell. All the elements on the album is perfectly connected.
As for religion in Japan, it seems like every individual can freely subscribe to any religion of choice, though no one takes religion literarily.
Mirai: This is true. It is all about traditions. Funeral rites are done according to Buddhist tradition, Christmas is celebrated in the vein of Christianity, while on New Year we visit our Shinto shrines. I really don’t think young people care, or that they even know the difference between Buddhism and Shinto.
So with an album title such as "Scenes From Hell" it is interesting to ask about the connotations of it. Being that you are a black metal band, in the Norwegian black metal environment, such a title would immediately be taken to be an antireligious message. But this is not the case with "Scenes From Hell", is it?
Mirai: No, the album is about disaster, pestilence and war. It has no religious meaning at all. Reality is much worse than imaginary hell. 100.000 people were burned to death in one night during World War II in Tokyo. That is scary.
How about the reception for your album. How has it been in Europe and America, and how has it been in Japan?
Mirai: We probably do it best in the US. But Europe also gives us much better reception than we get in Japan. When it comes to the Japanese metal fans, they prefer American or European alternatives. This is quite natural I think, since heavy metal is western culture and western music for them.
Dr. Mikannibal: That is what we do as well. We listen to western metal, never Japanese metal.
Mirai: There is no reason why Japanese fans would pick up Japanese bands first, especially when it comes to extreme metal. That kind of music doesn’t have that big following in Japan. Even when larger bands visit from Europe or America, the venues are quite small.
How has the including of your new female member affected the band?
Mirai: For the band it is much better in a live setting. Our studio albums have a lot of overdubs going on that previously was hard to recreate in a live setting. With an additional member this situation has improved. I saw her (Dr. Mikannibal) perform with another death metal band and thought her performance was brilliant. Her vocal was great, she could play saxophone and she could speak English really well. This is very unusual among Japanese people, as they rarely understand that much English.
How has the audience welcomed you as a member of Sigh?
Dr. Mikannibal: My first performance was at the Inferno Festival in Oslo. There I was surprised that people came up to me and told me that my performance was great. I feel that Sigh has gained some new fans because a female member joined, but at the same time there are some diehard fans that complain about the changes in the band.
Mirai: I don’t think this is fair. If she joined the band for appearance only, that would be one thing, but that is obviously not the case with Dr. Mikannibal.
How about your influences. What influenced you in the initial phase of the band, and what are your influences today?
Mirai: Well, I have two major musical backgrounds that influenced me. Firstly I have been trained in classical piano for 20 years, since I was 4 years old. That is why classical music always has been the biggest influence for me. Then, as a teenager I started to listen to heavy metal music in the 80’s. Today I still listen to a lot of heavy metal, but mostly the same things I listened to as a teenager.Are there any good bands in recent years at all?
Mirai: I listen to some new bands. I like "Three Inches of Blood", "Municipal Waste" and "Skeletonwitch".
Dr. Mikannibal: I mostly listen to Jazz music at the moment. I do listen to some metal also, but never really got into black metal. When it comes to metal, I mostly listen to death metal.
What are the future plans for Sigh?
Mirai: In September we will be the opening act for Mayhem as they will be doing three shows in Japan. After that we are not sure what will happen. At the moment our record contract with The End Records is over, so we will have to hunt for a new label. Hopefully we can release our ninth album next year sometime.
What about releasing a Sigh DVD?
Mirai: I don’t know. Since we have changed a lot of labels over the years, four or five I think, I anticipate that there would be a lot of problem in relation to different songs belonging to different labels and so forth.
Any final words?
Mirai & Dr. Mikannibal: We would love to come back and play in Norway.