It’s been four years since the release of “Spiritual Migration”. That album blew me away with its completeness. It was like an entire world in one long, turbulent and thoughtful album. There is an air of spirituality about that one, which took this collective from Andorra to even greater heights than they had reached on their earlier albums. An album can never be judged by its cover of course, but I sensed on picking up “Aathma” and studying it that another massive progressive metal adventure might be in store.
A shiver runs down my spine. Drama is in the air as we are symphonically and mystically taken higher and higher. The adventure has just begun. Delicate piano tones alternate with power-packed passages, sophisticated drumming and forward-driving guitar work which flutters out of the sky and scatters progressive magic. Sophistication becomes complexity. There’s so much going on here. “Prison Skin” has that rumbling depth which goes with classic progressive metal. Lofty and growled vocals both capture the enormous scene. The music twists and turns. Persefone’s style is more progressive and technical in its style than ever, moving on from the symphonic black metal days of “Core” (2006). “Spirals Within Thy Being” is pure tech metal. Growls now provide a deathly presence. The music is so invigorating that I can’t break out to check the story. Fast, hard, my heart is racing with this unstoppable technical whirlwind. The vocals rise above the storm. Unusually I thought that the epic element was underplayed on “Spirals Within Thy Being” but there’s no time to ponder. The colourful, expansive feast continues on its relentless path, only calming for the lush sophistication of “Cosmic Walkers”.
After “No Faced Mindless”, another full-out and overwhelming technical assault, there is only momentary respite before “Living Waves”, a track which features Cynic’s Paul Masvidal. Mysterious programmed voices mix with the turbulent and urgent metal sounds. Exciting and inventive as it is, I briefly stopped again to wonder what it is all about, but only briefly as the music finds epic heights with thrusting instrumentals and a mystical choral line. Enter the tranquil “Vacuum”, the prequel to the gun-fire sophistication of “Stillness is Timeless”. But in these shifting sands of a track, the atmosphere alternates between spine-tingling melancholic, epic heights and blasts of technical mastery. Harshness alternates with delicacy. It is always subtle and typically thrilling. Cosmic waves find themselves overlaid with deep tones. The sky is dark and cloudy but it’s as if we’re floating on the clouds.
This monstrous album has a four part 20 minute epic under the banner of “Aathma” to close. The first, “Universal Oneness”, mixes mystical power with bewildering heavy technicality. “Spiritual Bliss” takes the mysticism further and seems to be signal an emotional climax, but after a guitar solo, part III “One with the Light” roars off into violent, deeper territory. Tension is in the air. A cosmic sound effect, which Persefone use very effectively to heighten the atmosphere, supports the build-up to the crescendo of “One With the Light”. All that remains is the sad symphony of “… Many of One”. The lofty female vocals of the renowned Merethe Soltvedt and sound of the lapping waves complete the scene.
“I’m a speck of dust floating in the immensity of space”. This is a line from “Stillness is Timeless”. Immense is what this album is. “Aathma” left me breathless. It’s an album where you’ll never stop finding great moments and passages. The sheer technicality and power are simply overwhelming. Looking at the sleeve notes, this album seems to be about introspection and transcendence, but it’s such a rushing whirlwind that I felt myself hanging on with no time to reflect, not wanting to be left behind. If I have one small criticism of “Aathma”, it’s that it needed more “Spiritual Bliss” moments to enable greater appreciation of the epic enormity of it all. Persefone is an amazing band, and this is another gripping work from them.
(9/10 Andrew Doherty)