Monday, 9 February 2015

#370 Sigh - Scorn Defeat

Sigh are a band who have undergone a long latency-period for me; the time between sampling their work with interest, and later fully delving into it has been quite a lengthy process. Indeed, I've been meaning to listen to their work for the last couple of years, but never quite found the appropriate moment. Some time in January I finally took the plunge, starting, as I often like to, at the beginning. For Sigh, this beginning is a stylistically interesting and innovative one - only to be expected from a band who later matured into one of the best avant-garde acts in all of metal. Regardless, Scorn Defeat is the record which I have elected to focus on, not just for its musical merits, but for its unique place in the maze of second-wave black metal.

(Artwork from the 2014 Remaster, Hammerheart Records)
Listening to Scorn Defeat is a deeply interesting exercise in similarity and difference in equal measure. The deeply Norwegian-influenced elements stand as a testament to how well ideas and sounds were being transmitted in the tape-trading pre-internet days of the underground, while the massive divergences in style which exist on the record is a testament to quite the opposite; how lavishly, fantastically different the record is from anything else which was being made at the time. Almost conventional one minute, the record has no qualms about suddenly, almost unexpectedly, leaping into something which bucks the black-metal trends which themselves had barely had time to settle and fall into place. Scorn Defeat delivers traditional black-metal evil, yes - particularly well, in fact, with an abundance of crushing and legitimately devilish sounds. Simultaneously, however, the record deploys atmospheric sections and approaches to musicianship which for the most part hadn't been tried before within the genre - at least not quite in this way. While plenty of the components within the work will feel familiar, there is no question that Scorn Defeat is simultaneously a unique work; bringing original flavors to the genre in a way that seminal works like Deathcrush had, before. Interestingly, however, Scorn Defeat does not sound "embryonic" - it is without question a very fully-formed album. While the band sound extremely different today, this retrospect does not leave Scorn Defeat feeling retroactively incomplete in the way in which a record like the aforementioned Deathcrush does; at times like a stepping stone in the shadow of Mayhem's mature sound.

It's position in the grand scheme of things aside for the moment, an equally interesting topic are Scorn Defeat's musical merits in their own right. The record is compositionally fascinating - more inaccessible than some black-metal records, but likewise at times more rewarding to listen to - both confirming and violating expectations subtly, emphasizing the works uniqueness. It's an album which doesn't rely on intensity, speed or being a wall-of-sound to be powerful, instead striding forward with a quirky mid-tempo gate. Swaggering and slithering riffs bolstered by the extensive but non-sugar-coated synth give the album a reeling, supernatural and funereal feel, a tangibly eastern sense of evil meeting with black-metal sensibilities, executed with better musicianship than a lot of their peers. At its best, the atmosphere is engulfing and impressively executed with the accustomed "minimalist extravagance" of black-metal, giving the record an at times crude but constantly vast and impression-making atmosphere of tangled dread, fear and evil, entwined with beauty. Constantly, the spirit of innovation and avant-garde musicianship shines through in the record, setting it apart immediately, and to this day. It is a record which has to be heard to be understood, for it is, once again, a tough record to explain in words - so often the way with records which are islands; who can it be compared to?

Some of the most fondly remembered classics are records which unapologetically blazed their own trail, and Scorn Defeat is certainly such. Combining the emerging black-metal traditions with innovative and unique sounds, the record is one which stands as an outsider among outsiders - it's all the more a fascinating album for it, and one which I would urge everyone with an interest in classic black-metal to explore.

This is a 9/10.

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