Album Title: Aathma
Label: ViciSolum Records
Date of Release: 24 February 2017
I will be honest and admit that prior to this record, my opinion of progressive death/extreme metal band Persefone was not that high, despite my general favour towards this particular subgenre of metal. I felt that the music on previous outings was impressively technical and ambitious but that it lacked that certain something to hook me in and keep me fully engaged. I appreciated the music, but I didn’t love it. As such, there was no real connection and even now, I am struggling to remember too much about the content of their previous album, 2013’s ‘Spiritual Migration’ for example.
I therefore came to ‘Aathma’ with minimal expectations. I was aware of plenty of excitement from certain corners of the metal underground of course, but I did not share these expectant feelings.
So, at this point, my review of this record could have gone one of two ways. Indeed, after an initial listen, my early notes began to lead me firmly in a particular direction. However, I have since undergone some kind of epiphany and find myself penning a review that differs greatly from its embryonic form.
To be clear, I absolutely love ‘Aathma’ and I’m now a fully paid up member of the Persefone Appreciation Society. So what changed?
First of all, it is blindingly obvious within moments just how much effort Persefone have put into this record. Mind you, in the crowded and increasingly saturated market that is Andorran extreme metal scene, the sextet needed to do something to separate themselves from the hordes.
Clearly I jest, but in all seriousness, I am not at all surprised that ‘Aathma’ took four years to come to fruition. The music itself may have taken a while to make an impact but the rest of the package does not. From the gorgeously striking cover artwork to the production of ‘Aathma’, all the important basics have been covered. In terms of the production, the finished article is slick, crystal clear and powerful whilst avoiding the easy pitfall of making the music sound sterile and soulless. It’s a fine line and whilst the production is unashamedly modern, it never manages to stifle the content or it’s vibrancy.
One of the reasons why it took me so long to warm to this record is that it is so impossibly complicated. ‘Aathma’ contains either ten or thirteen songs depending on how you look at it. The closing title track is a 20-minute epic split into four distinct parts to reflect the content and the themes explored. Either way though, ‘Aathma’ lasts for over an hour and, given the content, is one hell of a listening experience.
Within the hour, we are treated to a little bit of just about everything. And when I say everything, I mean it. Ok, so there’s no rap or R&B in there, but you know what I mean. Death metal, progressive metal, ambient, thrash, tech, djent; it is all evident to greater or lesser extents, combined into a single breath-taking whole. It is multi-layered, dextrous, cinematic and just a little bit pretentious. But as I’ve said before, I’m not averse to some well-placed pretension from time to time, it makes the world a more interesting place. And Persefone certainly fits that bill.
As you might then expect, ‘Aathma’ is an album of impressive contrasts, both between songs and indeed within them too. You have moments of calm, atmosphere-driven introspection forcefully juxtaposed against all-out extreme metal brutality and over-the-top, mind-blowing complexity. And yet, somehow, inexplicably, the song-writing is so honed and assured that everything neatly falls into place and you’re not left thinking that the album is one giant mess of disparate ideas. In fact, if anything, there is a strangely smooth feel to the album.
The album begins with ‘An Infinitesimal Spark’, a rich, multi-layered cinematic opening that showcases keyboardist Miguel Espinosa’s talents excellently. It is enriched further by the unmistakeable clean vocals from Cynic’s Paul Masvidal, a band who have clearly been an inspiration to Persefone over the years.
‘One Of Many’ continues the symphonic and cinematic trend in elegant fashion, albeit this time joined by the rest of the ensemble, including some crushing riffs from guitarists Carlos Lozano, Jordi Gorgues and Filipe Baldaia. It is here that the talent of Persefone really begins to become evident, as the technicality and the contrast in tones and textures come together harmoniously to create dramatic beginning to the record.
At this point, a word is required about the melodic sensibilities of Persefone. Whilst this is an extreme metal record first and foremost, there is just enough melody to peek through and to surreptitiously hook you in for future listens. It was my realisation of this during my sixth, seventh or possibly eighth spin that was the catalyst for my aforementioned epiphany. If I was being very picky, I’d love Persefone to have given even more in this area, to open up and show us their epic and melodic side more, because I think I would be amazing. But then, it might have impinged negatively on the overall feel of the record, something that I’d never advocate. Nevertheless, suddenly, I could hear cleverly subtle synth melodies, fleeting vocal hooks or other moments of melodic clarity elsewhere; just enough to catch my attention, make me smile in appreciation and provide a welcome respite from the sophisticated tumult elsewhere. And the more I listen, the more I hear those snatched moments of beauty and revel in them.
There is far too much music on ‘Aathma’ for me to describe it all in detail – you’ll just have to listen for yourselves to decide what it is that makes this record such a magical experience. Every time I listen, I hear something new to wax lyrical about within this review.
‘Prison Skin’ is the first ‘proper’ track on ‘Aathma’ and it is a huge beast of a track. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Sergi ‘Bobby’ Verdeguer and bassist Toni Mestre is on top form, weaving their technical prowess into the composition in such a way as to support and drive the song rather than dominate it. The guitar riffs and lead breaks are razor sharp and the ever present synths are subtle one minute and then right up front and centre the next. Gloriously rich clean vocals from Espinosa duel with the much harsher gruff delivery of lead vocalist Marc Martins and the whole thing pulls together in a manner that leaves me scratching my head thinking ‘that shouldn’t be possible’. But it is and it sounds immense.
A dramatic ambient, post-rock intro ushers in ‘Spirals Within Thy Being’, a track that then morphs into something a little more abrasive and spiky. The song has a vaguely sci-fi, other-worldly feel to it, complete with tinkling keys and caustic vocals from Martins that are almost black metal in delivery. The guitar solos are simply ridiculous but then the utterly grandiose ending eclipses everything that has gone before.
Elsewhere, ‘Cosmic Walkers’ and ‘Vacuum’ both provide respite from the onslaught via some rather exquisite instrumental music. They are both very different from each other but both are beguiling and majestic, demonstrating the band’s deftness and apparent love of experimenting with textures and tones within a more minimalist framework.
Staccato riffs and blastbeats feature within ‘No Faced Mindless’, a rip-roaring track that fizzes past in a blaze of speed and yet more incomprehensible instrumental gymnastics, as well as a gorgeous mid-song break into more dynamic and epic climes. ‘Living Waves’ then enters the fray and with it comes more vocals from Paul Masvidal in the form of his unmistakeable effect-laden clean delivery. The contrasts within this song are pronounced as the atmospheric sections that feature Masvidal are punctuated by bursts of intense extremity. This has to be one of the best songs on the record, it just has to be; the melodies, the variation and the sheer audacity of these six gentlemen are hard to eloquently describe.
‘Stillness Is Timeless’ is intriguing insofar as it cleverly and subtly manages to blend old with new. The opening guitar and key combo has more than a hint of 70s prog to it, but then we’re clobbered by a monumental modern groovy riff with the odd bass bomb thrown in for good measure.
And then it’s on to the epic title track. By now, I’m finding it hard to think of new things to say about the music. I love the more playful, almost power metal infused ‘Part II: Spiritual Bliss’ but to be honest, the entire thing is a work of impressive art and justifiably acts as the final piece for such an already impressive album. ‘Part III: One With The Light’ also stands out as it is a behemoth of a track that highlights Persefone’s death metal attributes whilst offering plenty of variety to accentuate the extremity. The final part, ‘Part IV’ is a gentle symphonic closer made all the more beautiful by the inclusion of a female singer. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a film soundtrack and, ushered out via the soothing sounds of the sea, it ends the album perfectly.
As the album closes, I’m thoroughly exhausted but in a really good way. I absolutely love music when it offers a challenge and isn’t afraid to go in directions that it wants, rather than what convention dictates it should do. I don’t mind saying that Persefone have produced an absolute masterpiece with ‘Aathma’ – it is the work of six supremely talented musicians at the top of their game. Short of a miracle, I cannot see any other extreme progressive metal albums topping this during 2017 or beyond. Spectacular.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.8
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day