(Wil Cifer provides this interview with Mirai Kawashima of Sigh, whose new album will be released on May 4 by Candlelight Records.)
I recently got to catch up with and pick the brain of Sigh’s main man Mirai Kawashima to discuss the new album Graveward and the ghosts of metal past, present, and future.
With Scenes From Hell you took a sharper turn into a more progressive sound. Graveward retains that but steps back into a more metal direction as well. What inspired this?
Mirai: The biggest inspiration on this album is 70s / 80s Italian zombie flicks. At first I was planning to make it filled with old keyboards like Minimoog, Mellotron, Hammond, Fender Rhodes etc., as a dedication to those movies. The final result was pretty much different from the initial plan, but I think you still sense the atmosphere of zombie movies.
I’m not sure what you meant by “metal direction”, but Graveward is filled with mid-paced to up-tempo songs, I mean they’re slower than those on Hangman’s Hymn or Scenes from Hell. In that sense, Graveward is a very metal album. Other than that, the change of guitarist affected a lot on the sound. I’ll talk about it later.
There are quite a few guest performers on Graveward. Of all these guest musicians who has been in the back of your minds the longest as someone you’ve been waiting to work with?
Mirai: It would be great if we could work with Mike Patton or John Zorn.
In most genres aside from metal the guitar solo has almost become a lost art. The guitar playing on this has really stepped up to the next level. Was this influenced by having guys like Matt Heafy around?
Mirai: The reason is very simple. We hired the new guitarist who can play the guitar way better than the old one. Unfortunately we had to fire the guitarist during the recording of Graveward because it became obvious that he was losing his passion on music. He started chasing a preadolescent underground idol who has only 10 fans or so and now he spends all his money and time on that crap. It was a tough decision for us to fire somebody we had worked with together for more than 20 years, but we had no other way. We were lucky enough to have been able to find the new guitarist, You Oshima. He released two albums as Kadenzza on Holy Records from France. He definitely brought us the higher level in the guitar playing.
I really love the darker direction “The Forlorn” goes in. How does this song represent the exploration of beyond-the-grave horror the album seems to be pursuing? There also seems to be less of the more polka or klezmer movements to this album. Was this done to create a more somber tone?
Mirai : Well, I didn’t think about polka or klezmer music when I wrote the songs for Graveward. If you hear Klezmer in it, probably it comes from John Zorn. Dr. Mikannibal and I are huge admirers of John Zorn’s works, including Masada stuff, so there might be some subconscious influence from his Klezmer works.
There are some weird electronic elements to “The Molesters of My Soul”. It almost has an industrial feel to it. Are you fans of industrial or darkwave?
Mirai: Yes, I mainly love old industrial / Darkwave stuff such as Laibach, Foetus, Big Black, Goethe’s Erben, Das Ich, Dead Relatives, CCC CNC NCN, Coil, Nurse with Wound, Throbbing Gristle, etc. But influences of the electronic elements on “The Molesters” rather come from more experimental stuff like Karheinz Stockhausen, Pansonic, Mouse on Mars, etc.
Thrash metal is one of the more predominate colors you paint the album with. What thrash albums from the 80s and 90s have been most inspiring to you over the years?
Mirai: The most inspiring album on Sigh’s music must be Into the Pandemonium by Celtic Frost. If I have to pick the best thrash album, I’d say Power and Pain by Whiplash.
Are there any plans to tour in support of “Graveward”?
Mirai : We will play at Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium and then headline for Metal Magic Festival in Denmark with Candlemass and Girlschool. And we will play a few shows here in Japan but that’s all that’s planned right now. Now Dr. Mikannibal has a baby so we need to slow down our activity a little bit
“A Messenger From Tomorrow” is a song that really stands out to me. Aside from the slower pace there are places where the vocals have some really lush, textured layers with the more growled vocals providing a counterpoint. What other roles do you see the harsher vocals taking in your music?
Mirai: Harsh vocals and singing ones are two totally different things. Harsh vocals can express something which singing ones cannot and vice versa. For example, if you want to express fear and pain, obviously you have to scream. Also I believe the harsh vocals are strictly connected to English, which is a very rhythmic language. I think music such as thrash metal or hip-hop which does not have the clear melody line is a spawn of English.
Some people might not know you guys were at the forefront of the second wave of black metal that came out in the ’90s alongside bands like Darkthrone. At what point did you feel black metal was too confining for your growth as a musician? What are your thoughts on the current state of black metal?
Mirai: To be honest, we never thought like we started as a black metal band and soon grew out of it. It’s either we’re always a black metal band or we never were. It’s just a matter of definition of what black metal is. The Second Wave of Black Metal was born more or less as a resurrection of 80s evil thrash metal like Venom, Bathory, and Hellhammer which was considered to be completely out of date in the beginning of the ’90s. In that sense, we had exactly the same intention. Also the label “black metal” does not limit its musical style any more. All the bands like Emperor, Beherit, Alcest, and Deafheaven are often labeled as black metal but probably people who know nothing about black metal will not be able to find the reason why they all are pigeonholed under the same category. So if we still need to pigeonhole our music style, I’d say it’s black metal.
I must admit that I am not a black metal expert. I know EVERYTHING about ’80s thrash metal, though. Honestly I have never kept up with black metal even from the early ’90s, I’m not the right one to say something about it.
Thanks for allowing me to pick your brain.
Graveward will be released by Candlelight Records on May 4. It features guest performances by Matthew Heafy (Trivium), Fred Leclercq (DragonForce), Niklas Kvarforth (Shining), Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ), Metatron ( The Meads of Asphodel), and others. The cover artwork is by Costin Chioreanu. And the entire album is available for streaming here: