Nearly four years have passed since Andorran prog-metallers Persefone released their fourth studio album, 'Spiritual Migration', and now we have their fifth, 'Aathma'. Turning to the crowd funding platform, Verkami, in an attempt to amass recording costs, the band shattered their €15,000 target by raising in excess of €22,000. It seems they have something of a following. And rightfully so, as I caught this bunch in live action, on the Leprous tour, back in 2012, for a mightily impressive support slot, which included a metalled-up take on part of John Williams' Star Wars score!
No expense has been spared here... well, I guess they did have an additional 7K to play with. Renowned artist Travis Smith, whose work has adorned the covers of many esteemed prog acts, was responsible for the fantastic album artwork. And accomplished producer Jens Bogren mixed and mastered 'Aathma. Also, they even managed to recruit the legend that is Paul Masvidal for a guest vocal spot on a couple of tracks - 'An Infinitesimal Spark' and 'Living Wave' (it's nice to hear him musically active again, after Sean Reinert's single-handed attempts of sabotaging Cynic). You can throw all the money in the world at an album, with esteemed guests, masterful mixers etc... but the talent needs to be there in the first place, within the band themselves. Based on 'Aathma', Persefone ooze talent from every creative pore, from their compositional abilities to their individual and collective performances. Their fifth album is a masterpiece.
I'm not a fan of comparing bands but, for points of reference, 'Aathma' is where the cacophony/euphony duality of Between the Buried and Me, meets the spacey spirit of Cynic, meets the wild fretboard acrobatics of Psyopus' Chris Arp, meets the aggressive/serene prog prowess of Burst. And then some. This is so much more. Moments of ethereal beauty - such as on the opening of 'Spirals Within Thy Being'; the intro and outro of 'Cosmic Walkers'; and 'Vacuum' - are mixed up with passages of bewildering technicality, clean-led ambience, and bursts of fury-fuelled brutality. And it all gels and flows perfectly in a transcendently creative work of utter brilliance.
Recent-ish recruit Sergi Verdeguer on drums puts in an awesome performance on the album, with Portnoy-esque sticksmanship in terms of rhythmic execution, with a touch of Steve Flynn in his natural, free-flowing impetus. Some of the guitar work by Carlos Lozano and newcomer Filipe Baldaia materialises through some crazily conceived fretboard widdling (just check out 'Spirals Within Thy Being'). Breathtaking. Sure, some will find this widdle for widdle's sake but, for me, these kind of fretboard articulations are sheer poetry... as crazily cacophonic as it sometimes gets. The keys work by Miguel Espinosa is just sublime and well-posited throughout, while bassist Tony Mestre is ever-inventive with his playing. It's all great in the vocals department, too - Marc Martins' growls are impressively impassioned, while Espinosa's warm, clean voice is the perfect contraposition to the aggression. All in all, 'Aathma' showcases some astonishingly accomplished musicianship throughout. Even the guests shine in each of their spots - apart from Masvidal, Lerpous' Řystein Landsverk contributes a guitar solo, and Merethe Soltvedt provides some angelic vocals. The latter appears on 'Aathma Part IV', which provides a truly sublime finale to the album.
'Aathma' is also an album of bewildering and absorbing complexities and depths. Several listens later, and I'm still hearing new depths; new parts; and feeling different emotions. In this sense, what Persefone have achieved here is remarkable. Plus they know just how to colour their canvas with all the right touches in all the right places. Just take the heavy passages like those found in 'No Faced Mindless'; 'Living Waves'; towards the end of 'Stillness is Timeless'; and the 'Aathma Part II' opening, all which have a layer of clean sonics (guitar; keys) under the heavy aggression. This doesn't have the effect of lessening the hard-hitting impact of the music but, rather, it adds a whole new dimension; it becomes more sonically curious and captivating... almost like an aurally surreal mystery revealing itself through the medium of music.
While 'Aathma' might be technical as fuck in places, it somehow succeeds in striking a perfect balance between virtuosity and fluency. Progressions in the songs sound ever so natural, rather than forced. And the music retains its varied emotional essence at all times. All too often, technical playing overrides emotional responses, but not here. On 'Aathma', they're at one. Of course, this album is not solely about technical bewilderment, as there are as many passages that allow tranquil reflections, too. It's one big emotional journey, and might very well be THE album of the year for me. Of course, January is far too early for such a speculation, but Persefone have set the benchmark ever so high. Absolutely fucking phenomenal stuff.
Review by Mark Holmes
24th February 2017
1) An Infinitesimal Spark
2) One of Many; 3) Prison Skin
4) Spirals Within Thy Being
5) Cosmic Walkers
6) No Faced Mindless
7) Living Waves; 8) Vacuum
9) Stillness is Timeless
10) Aathma Part I Universal Oneness
11) Aathma Part II Spiritual Bliss
12) Aathma Part III One With the Light
13) Aathma Part IV - Many of One
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a transcendently creative work of utter brilliance."