Album Review: PERSEFONE Aathma
Progressive metal is a tricky one to get right. Many debates have been sparked about what it means for a band to truly be "progressive," and the term itself is an all encompassing one that really has no limits. And why should it? The beautiful thing about music, and metal in particular, is that it provides a blank canvas for musicians to paint on as they see fit, with no creative restraints whatsoever. If this holds true, then the rich, textured and colorful music of Andorra's native sons, Persefone, deserves to be put on full display for the world to see. According to the fabled Encyclopedia Metallum, Persefone is one of just four metal bands hailing from the obscure European nation of Andorra; if this indeed the case, it's hardly their fault that they're not more well-known by the metal masses.
Persefone has four, now five, full-length albums under their belt, but it was only with their most recent one, 2013’s Spiritual Migration, that they began to gain any sort of notoriety. Spiritual Migration was widely lauded as one of the best albums of that year, and rightly so; it is truly a masterclass in how modern progressive extreme metal should be done. Persefone took the blueprint laid by contemporaries such as Ne Obliviscaris and In Vain and one-upped it in every way. They’ve continued this momentum with their latest opus, Aathma, but rather than leaping too far forward, Persefone is simply in the process of refining what was already done on Spiritual Migration, and it yields mixed results.
At surface level, Aathma plays like a prog metal nerd’s wet dream. Densely layered and crystal clear production accents the lush instrumentation found throughout, and it features plenty of head-turning riffs and musical acrobatics that are common for this style of music. Furthermore, the inimitable Paul Masdival of Cynic lends his ever-so-airy vocals to the appropriately Cynic-worshipping “Living Waves,” and Leprous guitarist Øystein Landsverk lays down some fantastic leads on the album's four-part closing suite, checking off the “sweet guest spots” box that are standard fare for any prog album that aspires for greatness.
As with Spiritual Migrations, the songs of Aathma are well-composed and cover a vast sprawl of soundscapes. This album is sure to please those who appreciate lengthy songs and an almost classical sensibility when it comes to songwriting. An impressive balance between the soft and heavy parts of the album is maintained in tracks such as "Stillness Is Timeless," while the 20-minute, four-part closing suite of "Aathma" is clearly intended to be the centerpiece of the album as it ebbs and flows through peaks and valleys of extreme prog.
Where Aathma falls short is in its inability to outdo its predecessor. By following on the heels of a record as strong as Spiritual Migration, Persefone has put itself between and rock and a hard place with Aathma. Make no mistake, the record features many moments that are certainly warrant several listens through; however, they've essentially made the same album twice. For some, this will be perfectly fine and is exactly what they expect, and in their defense, Persefone is consistent in that regard. But in being labelled a progressive band, one can't help but wish Persefone, well, progressed a little more with such an anticipated effort. These qualms aside, Aathma will likely stand as a highlight for progressive metal in 2017. Here's sincerely hoping it gets Persefone the awareness they so rightly deserve.
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