Sigh are one of the best known metal acts from Japan. Earlier this year, they released the single Homo Homini Lupus from their 11th album Heir to Despair and frontman Marai Kawashima stated that it “does not represent in any way. If you like the song, you will be 100% disappointed.” Upon listening to the album, I quite enjoyed it and found it to be one of their best in recent time. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to speak to Kawashima and find out more about Heir to Despair.
Your 11th album, Heir to Despair has been out for a month now. How does it feel now that the album has been released?
Well, to be honest I am pretty much surprised that the album has been appreciated very well. Seriously I was thinking that nobody would like it. It’s not about the quality of the music, I just thought this could be too a personal album to be appreciated somebody but me. It’s a nostalgia for the Japanese scenery during my childhood.
The album features Japanese lyrics. What was the inspiration behind this move?
There are several reasons I decided to sing in Japanese this time. The biggest and the simplest one is that naturally I can sing much better in Japanese than in English because I don’t have to care about the right pronunciation or anything. Also Japanese is aurally different from English. I mean, Japanese is rather melodic than English, which is rather a rhythmic language. So I thought the songs would be something different from other past works if I sang in Japanese, and I believe my expectation turned out true. It is also true that I kind of ran out of the themes to sing in English.
Heir to Despair has been described by many as a return to your avant-garde sound. What was the writing process for the album? Did you try any different this time around?
This time, I tried to write the songs as spontaneous as possible without thinking too much. And I must say this is our first album where I took in Japanese / Asian feels on purpose. I won’t say our past works weren’t Japanese at all, but it was nothing intentional. As I am a Japanese and speak Japanese, probably it’s impossible to get away from the Japanese culture and the people from Europe / The US must have always detected something exotic in our music, but this time, I did it intentionally. I used some Japanese traditional instruments such as Shamisen, Taisho-goto, Shinobue, Shakuhachi etc., and I sang in the Japanese ways for some parts. As I said above, it’s my nostalgia to my childhood. In the 70s, there were much more Japanese things in our lives whether be it music or other things. To be honest, I didn’t like the Japanese elements in music when I was a little kid as it sounded very “uncool” to a little boy. But now, as I get older, I started missing it. Nowadays, that kind of elements is completely gone.
You have expressed your displeasure with your previous album, Graveward. How differently did you approach the writing of Heir to Despair?
I can say it is completely opposite. Actually I had an album like “Heir to Despair” when I started working on “Graveward”, I mean I wanted to make it a proggy psychedelic album with lots of vintage synthesizers etc. However it took too much time to finish up the album as we had to fire the old guitarist and find the new one, and somehow I started getting into the symphonic arrangement during that. The symphonic arrangement itself isn’t bad at all, but it’s the matter of balance. I was too much into it. So this time, I had a clear vision to keep the first plan till the very end. Also this is our first album that You Oshima was involved from the very beginning. He joined the band after all the songs for “Graveward” were written, so he just played the songs for the last album.
You started out as a black metal band. What are your thoughts on the current state of black metal?
We started as a black metal band but for me it was rather a resurrection of 80s evil thrash metal. I grew up listening to 80s thrash metal bands such as Venom, Whiplash, Deathrow, Celtic Frost, At War, Post Mortem, Necrophagia etc., so actually I’m not a so-called black metal expert. And to be honest I don’t think I’m keeping up with today’s black metal scene that much.
What has motivated you to keep going through the different line ups over the past 2 decades?
There are 3 things that keep me going. The first one is my own motivation, namely the confidence that I can make an album that tops our past works. The second one is fans. I make music because fans want it. I wouldn’t make music for myself. Every month probably more than 30 metal albums are being released, and what’s the point in making another album when nobody but yourself wants to hear it? And the third one is that we have a record label that financially backs us up. Probably the second one and the third one are the same things. If fans want to hear it, you can find a label to back you up. And if even one of them is gone, I am ready to be retired. It’s simple as that.
What’s currently on your playlist?
It pretty much depends on where to play. When we play at the festivals where die-hard black metal fans gather, we play a lot from “Scorn Defeat”. In Japan, we play a lot from “Hangman’s Hymn” as it is the most popular album here. For proggy festivals, we play more from “Imaginary Sonicscape”.
What are your interests and hobbies besides music?
Unfortunately I don’t have any time for anything else than music. I do a lot. I work for a record label, I work as a free-lance music journalist. I’ve written countless linter notes and I’ve done countless interviews and I write for Japanese magazines and websites. This December, my first book no heavy metal lyrics was published. I have so many things to do about music, so I can say my current life is completely filled with music.
Do you have any shows/tours planned in the coming months?
Yes, we have been talking about some shows in Japan, the US, Europe and some Asian countries. But right now I cannot reveal them as the deals haven’t been finalized.
Thanks for answering all our questions. Do you have any final words?
Thank you very much for the interview. For 2019 some cool reissues are being planned, so keep your eye on us.