"He who must not be named ere the twilight hour, The Shogun of Sorrow, The Angry Metal Arbiter himself recently bestowed on us brief mortals a missive of momentous proportions. In it, he explained that his natural response to absorbing music is an intellectual one, cerebrally stimulated instead of emotionally. I couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. I can heartily appreciate the often overwhelming, dexterous intelligence that engineers so much of this music we love – but it remains so that I better connect via the feeling it elicits from my rusted ferrous heart. As long is it’s stirring in some way, I can happily enjoy minimalism in all its prolonged glory. Prog metal’s best kept secret, the Andorran Persefone strike the perfect balance between both worlds, forging infinitely technical, highly progressive yet innately poignant extreme metal. I’ve been a fan since 2009’s Shin-Ken and almost equally adored follow up Spiritual Migration. Now, with the help of some sterling guest appearances, Aathma arrives to once again set the bar impossibly high.
Cherry picking the best parts of acts as diverse as Symphony X, Opeth, Arcturus and even Pain of Salvation, whilst focusing them through an unmistakably melodeath filter, Persefone manages to be impressive from pretty much all angles. Aathma (the soul) begins with dual instrumentals “An Infinitesimal Spark” and “One of Many…,” which bleeds into the first traditional song, “Prison Skin.” Busy furores, ever-changing time signatures and grandiose keys combine with distinctly Gothenburg inspired cyclical riffing to make up the body of the track and album. It manages to utilize the band’s myriad musical principles in one: high technicality, distinct melody, Carlos Lozano’s blazing scale solos and the double vocal attack of lead vocalist Marc Martins, whose voice has plateaued at a less belligerent but more versatile rasp, and the increasingly powerful cleans of keyboardist Miguel Espinosa.
The appropriately named “Spirals Within Thy Being” twists and contorts through various time signatures, alternating between moments of furious tech-death riffing and Espinos’s stunning piano. The presence of odd syncopated rhythms that were introduced on Spiritual Migration, has, this time around, been handled with a mercifully minimalist Djentle touch, striking the balance between jagged chugs and traditionally explosive riffs. Paul Masvidal of the legendary Cynic puts in an appearance, notably on the elegiac “Living Waves,” supplying signature robo-vocals and lead guitar. The song represents Aathma at its most fluid, extolling the virtues of a transcendent existence, presupposing Masvidal’s spiritual philosophy and taking clear cues from Cynic themselves, who are surely great inspirations for Persefone. Emotional and plaintive in its technical proficiency, the mid-paced song offers an oddly bittersweet glimpse beyond the mirror at what could have been, had Masvidal and Reinert continued down the path they paved with Focus. Either way, it’s a clear album highlight.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Aathma makes for a demanding listen. The busy and convoluted nature of the music coupled with the run time lays down something of a gauntlet upon first inspection, and I’ll admit that it took me a while to truly penetrate the material, which is somewhat denser than its predecessor. But, as with all good prog, the album reveals more of its nature upon multiple plays, and after a gestation period, shows itself to be increasingly multi-faceted. Making full use of Jens Bogren’s crystalline mix, even the four instrumental interludes are syntactically placed throughout the record, grammatically punctuating the narrative until the album reaches its zenith in the “Aathma” suite – a 20 minute epic dissected into 4 parts that encapsulates the spiritual concept of the album. Worthy of particular mention are parts III – full of foreboding palm mutes and ever changing landscapes, juxtaposing uplifting vocal passages with blast beat heaviness and emotive leads – and part VI, a perfect piano piece featuring the velveteen vocals of Merethe Soltvedt for a brief and resolutely beautiful conclusion.
Persefone are, I suspect, a band instinctively incapable of the bare minimum, and in Aathma have further fortified their already considerable discography. Possessed of emotional resonance and preternatural ability, here is an album to challenge the casual listener, an album to abide by and an album which will almost certainly make umpteen end-of-year lists. Having already spent considerable time with the record, I still find something new upon each and every listen and, although gestalt by nature and dense in its complexity, Aathma is also uninhibitedly musical. Given the time it deserves, this is an album of potentially cosmic proportions." - Angry Metal Guy