Great music can come from all over the world and from any country, no matter how major or obscure it is. For example, Andorra is not exactly the first country I’d think of when discussing metal bands, but one of my favorite bands happens to be from there, that being Persefone, a progressive death metal band that first blew me away with their sophomore release Core, and everything they’ve done since has been nothing short of excellent. The band has changed their lineup several times since then, and their sound has evolved over time, but through it all, they have managed to be easily the most consistently satisfying band in their genre, and certainly a band I always look forward to hearing new material from. Their fifth full-length release, Aathma, is now out and once again the band has delivered some of the most complex, most technical, most engaging and most satisfying progressive death metal you’ll ever hear.
One thing I’ve always liked about Persefone is how while they have certain elements that are always a part of their music and they never do massive genre shifts, each of their albums brings something new to the table. For example, Core was a massive 70 minute concept album broken down into just three tracks, over 20 minutes each and both structurally and stylistically it very much reminded me of classic Opeth, while the following album Shin-ken felt a bit more accessible, modernized the music a bit and added some unique Japanese flavor, which immediately gave the album its own feel. Compared to those two albums, Aathma doesn’t feel like as massive a leap from its predecessor, Spiritual Migration, an album which felt like the band went into overdrive, featuring some of their most adventurous and most technical instrumental parts, as well as some of their most extreme death metal sections, and some very atmospheric and melodic clean vocal sections. By comparison, Aathma feels rather similar in that it does hit the same kind of balance between all extremes, but the biggest difference is that it feels a bit more subdued in its tempos, with the music never really speeding up the way some tracks on Spiritual Migration did, and the extreme vocals feel a little bit more restrained. Other than that, though, I’d say it very much feels like a natural evolution of its predecessor, where each previous album tended to feel quite a bit different. Not that I’m at all disappointed, though, because Spiritual Migration was an excellent album that at times showed potential to be even better, and I’d say in some ways Aathma manages to be better, even if the end result is about the same quality overall.
Musically, this is a very complex album with quite a lot going on. Obviously, keyboardist Miguel Espinosa is a very important part of the music, as he adds a lot of atmosphere and texture to the music, both with keyboard effects and some very creepy piano notes at times and this is especially noticeable on some of the soft interlude tracks, but also very much an important part of the heavier tracks as well. Guitarists Carlos Lozano and Filipe Baldaia also have a lot to do, of course, and some of the guitar work on this album is extremely technical and very impressive, as always. Just like its predecessor, this album has a ton of heavier instrumental sections where the musicianship really shines, as well as some excellent riffs during the extreme vocal sections, but the softer sections are just as impressive, if not even more so, and there’s just the right balance between heavy and melodic sections on this album, as well as a perfect balance between great musicianship and cohesive songwriting. In fact, on a musical and compositional level, I’d say this album may be the band’s best work to date, and it is just about perfect.
Vocals have always been the biggest sticking point for me with this band, as no matter which album I listen to, there are some parts where the vocals amaze me and some parts where they just don’t quite work. Spiritual Migration was especially notable for this, as Carlos did an excellent job with his smooth, deep clean vocals and every section where he sang impressed me, but lead vocalist Marc Martins while sometimes solid with his extreme vocals, occasionally got to be a bit irritating as he’d launch into some overly screamy metalcore type vocals I wasn’t a big fan of. This time around, both are actually in fine form as Carlos sounds excellent as always and for the most part, Marc is a little more restrained with his vocals, often using some deeper, yet still powerful death growls, and even the more extreme screamed sections feel a bit better than I was expecting. There are also two notable guest performers, who I will be talking about a bit further in the review, but suffice to say, one of them is a very important reason for my overall score being what it is.
Moving on to songwriting, and this is where Persefone has really delivered this time around. Every track here is brilliantly written, from atmospheric, instrumental interludes “Cosmic Walker” and “Vacuum” which do a great job of calming things down and setting the mood, to heavier tracks like “Spirals With Thy Being” and “No Faced Mindless”, everything here is just about perfect on a compositional level. After a brief opening track, dominated by keyboard effects and voiceovers, which I’ll discuss in more detail later on, we get “One of Many…” the first full instrumental track and it immediately sets the tone, mostly with atmospheric pianos, but also with some nice riffs and a great guitar section near the end, and it serves as a great lead-in to “Prison Skin”, as the overall atmosphere carries over into that track, before the band goes into full prog mode for an extensive instrumental section with excellent musicianship. As the track moves on, we get some great death growls from Marc and some excellent clean vocals from Miguel and the track is relatively straight-forward for a bit, until pausing for an atmospheric section and from there the track is just brilliant, making excellent use of all elements of the music and serving as a great first full song.
It’s really hard discussing individual tracks here, as everything flows together so well, but another early standout is “Spiral Within Thy Being”, which starts out with a nice instrumental section before slowing down and giving us some of the most atmospheric death metal sections on the album. Meanwhile, “No Faced Mindless” speeds things up a bit during the first half and has some melodic death metal elements early on, before becoming a bit more technical in the second half, as we get some very proggy instrumental sections and more great clean vocals. The longest individual track (at least on my promo) is “Stillness is Timeless”, an excellent song which goes through many different phases and does a great job of alternating between many different styles, before slowing down near the end and building up for the four-part, 20-minute title track. I’m not sure if the song is meant to be broken into four tracks or presented as one, but my promo has it split up, so I’ll judge it as four parts, Anyway, each part of the title track serves its own purpose, with parts 1 and III representing the bulk of the song, giving us some heavier parts and growls, to go along with Miguel’s clean vocals, while part II is a largely instrumental track, mostly on the softer side, with a brief voiceover section from guest Merethe Soltvedt, who also sings on part IV, a soft closing track played entire on keyboards and piano. Her vocals are very pleasant and fit the music well, giving the album an amazing ending.
One last track I haven’t mentioned yet is “Living Waves”. Its second half is absolutely brilliant, featuring some great extreme metal sections as well as some of the best clean vocals on the entire album. However, it’s the first half that really stands out and that makes an impact on my overall impression of this album. I mentioned earlier that the opening track features some voiceovers. Well, those voiceovers are provided by another guest, Cynic vocalist Paul Masvidal, whose voice I’ve always struggled with as I tend to not like an overuse of vocal effects in metal. Unfortunately, he goes overboard with those effects on this album, greatly distorting his voice on both the opening track and “Living Waves”, and in case that wasn’t enough, the latter track has a brief part where his voice gets high pitched and whiny, and when you combine that with the distortion effects….. Let’s just say my ears disagree terribly with the result, and so the first half of that track is very unpleasant for me to sit through. I hate to harp on this, but when the rest of the album is pretty much perfect, and especially when there are two other vocalists on this album who provide excellent clean vocals without needing to use annoying voice effects, I just can’t help but wonder why the band thought this was a good idea. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that, as I said earlier, the rest of that track is so amazing, and so I never end up skipping it, instead of forcing myself to endure those painful 2-3 minutes in which Paul appears.
Aside from that one horrible miscalculation, though, Aathma is a brilliant album from a band that continues to impress me, and I don’t want that one paragraph to scare listeners away, or even to upset fans of the band, as on a musical and compositional level this is progressive death metal at its absolute best, and every section not featuring Paul Masvidal is about as perfect as music gets. Persefone have long been one of my favorite metal bands and I hope they can continue to be great for many years to come, and I highly recommend this album and all their other album to all fans of extreme prog metal who like their music to be complex and adventurous. One frustration aside, this is still an early highlight in 2017, and in many ways some of the best work the band has done yet.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/02/26/persefone-aathma-review/