I'll be up front: In terms of extreme metal, you generally have to put a little bit of a spin on your music in order for it to catch my attention. Unless your black metal is symphonic or your death metal has progressive elements, I'll likely become bored pretty quickly. There are exceptions to this, of course, but by and large these genres have to do something different in order to keep me listening.
Sigh's Scenes From Hell, thanks to manic saxophonist Dr. Mikannibal and a stunning orchestra ensemble , separates itself from the fold immediately and jumps to the front of the pack for (admittedly early) consideration for best metal album of 2010.
"Zany" is a word I'm slightly remiss to use in describing the first portion of this album, but I fear it might be the only word that truly describes the sound that Sigh has concocted here. Thumping drums and growling, raspy vocals smash head first into classic rock-tinged guitar solos and brass arrangements that might be described as peppy to create a sensation composed of equal parts anxiety and jubilation. "L'art de mourir" probably has the most memorable chorus of the album, something not unlike if Mr. Bungle and early Emperor had a child, and "The Soul Grave" sounds as though all Hell's demons started jumping out of the floor right below you, and they're having a grand old time of it too, thank you very much. If anything, the first three songs probably describe the feeling of being on the street during a Godzilla attack: It's pure terror and bedlam, but you just have to smile because, come on, this can't actually be happening. It's one of those rare albums that's close to impossible to sit still while listening to. This is music you'll want to put on when you need to go for an angry walk, or just as an appropriate sonic background while you lose your mind.
Scenes From Hell then moves into a pair of similarly titled dirges called "The Red Funeral" and "The Summer Funeral". They move the album into somewhat darker territory, as the classical arrangements both become more prominent and less bouncy, and the whole tempo of the album slows down a bit for the fourteen minutes these songs take up. This is not to say that Scenes From Hell loses even a modicum of intensity during this middle third. Indeed, the Gothic leanings that these songs take present an image of Apocalypse and fragmentation that is at once unnerving and undeniably exciting. "The Summer Funeral", in particular, mixes waltz, folk and black metal elements that explode into the bleakest, most romantic cocktail this side of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album.
The final three songs eschew the classical/movie soundtrack elements a little bit and go head-on towards more traditional black metal fare. These are, predictably, the weakest songs on the album, but since Sigh is still an exhilarating band with or without their orchestra backing them up, these songs still thrill more than 80% of black metal could ever hope to. "Musica In Tempora Belli" is more or less typical moshpit fare, but the violin solo and spoken word segment that arrive in the middle of the song call back fond memories to earlier in the album(and yes, you won't even have time to finish it before you have fond memories of Scenes From Hell). "Vanitas", sadly, close to completely abandons the brass and strings that made the rest of the album so memorable, and in effect it becomes the least memorable song on the album. Thankfully, the title track wraps things up with a stirring horn section and breakneck pace that summarizes the whole experience and puts a nice bow on it, to boot.
Scenes From Hell is essential listening. If you've never gotten into metal before but have an open mind, this could be a great place to find out what the big deal is. And if you're already a hardcore metalhead, well, there's absolutely no reason-none whatsoever-for you not to have this in your collection. Sigh has created an utter triumph that mixes the avant-garde with indispensable metal fundamentals and sounds like nothing else on the scene today. Scenes From Hell has set an incredibly high bar not only for future metal albums of 2010, but for all music to come out this year, metal or not.