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A venture into the pantheistic cosmos. - 91%

hells_unicorn, November 14th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, ViciSolum Productions

Somewhere out in that great beyond there is a place where borders begin to blur, definitions run together and one might travel a great distance without taking a single step. Such a speculative realm would seem to be the exclusive domain of eastern philosophy and mysticism, but there are a number of westerners who are quite enthralled by the concept as well. Arguably one of the greatest metal-based musical purveyors of this off-kilter mode of metaphysical speculation are the Andorran progressive outfit with a melodeath twist Persefone, a band that rose to prominence during the heyday of genre splicing in the mid-2000s and have weathered the past decade of shifting trends without a hint of being phased. Packing a punch hard-hitting enough to trade blows with the likes of Gojira, yet also sticking to a songwriting template that emulates the technical and eclectic character of Dream Theater and Threshold, they've offered a unique musical take on things to match their otherworldly lyrical pursuits, and their fifth studio LP Aathma is no exception.

To the uninitiated, the musical game of spiritual and philosophical excursions that Persefone deal in are fairly reminiscent of the dichotomy between extreme impact and nuanced atmospheric flavoring that is typical to their newer and arguably more popular Australian rivals Ne Obliviscaris, though this western European fold plays it a little closer to the traditional prog sound of Dream Theater. This formula was codified on their 2009 studio effort 真剣 / Shin-ken and tends to feature mostly through-composed songs of varying length (anywhere from a minute and a half instrumental interlude to a massive 20 minute epic in four parts). Despite the highly esoteric and contemplative subjects covered, there is a strong degree of symmetry to these songs, culminating in what could be construed as hooks at varying points, usually involving either pristine clean vocal work or even an occasional robotic voice effect heavily reminiscent of Cynic. Nevertheless, these points of accessibility are shrouded in plenty of jarring twists and turns, and enough technical noodling to make John Petrucci smile.

It is a challenging undertaking to unpack the contents of this hour-plus musical manifesto of transcending the material world, but it is difficult to miss the surprisingly smooth flow that emerges in spite of the radical contrasts in length and depth between each song. The spacey soundscapes of the likes of the fleeting instrumental "Vacuum" and the longer and more climactic "Cosmic Walkers" offer fitting points of rest and recovery after the intense battery of harsh shouts and rhythmic pummeling that culminates in "Spirals Within Thy Being" and the schizophrenic five minute journey of technical showmanship and cybernetic chants "Living Waves". But even more interesting than the whole tendency of the album to ebb and flow from beginning to end is the towering miniature album unto itself of a closing title song, which is divided into four near-equal parts; the first "Universal Oneness" cycling through a series of jazzy grooves and flowing loosely amid the heavy guitar hits, the second progressing from a slow ballad-based crawl to a sea of dynamic riffs and shred-happy lead guitar work, while the other two provide equally original paths in a heavier hitting bruiser and a closing ballad denouement before vanishing into the cosmic ether.

Any assessment of an album as vast as this one is a daunting task, as the sheer amount of content packed into each song is a mind-trip on its own, let alone trying to take the whole album in as one flowing concept. However, compared to the preceding efforts of this outfit, particularly since 2009 when their approach became slightly more stylized, this is an ever so slight dip in relative greatness. In many ways, this is the most ambitious offering to date for Persefone, but it doesn't quite force its way into one's long-term memory as quickly as its predecessor Spiritual Migration, which put a slightly greater emphasis on symmetry and dwelt upon the hooks just a little bit longer. Nevertheless, it is an obvious boon to any existing fan of this outfit's recent prior works, though it is probably not the ideal album to start with for someone seeking to take the plunge with Persefone for the first time. Chalk it up to another highly impressive notch in this outfit's quest to expand the horizons of metal while being able to translate it into something understandable to earthbound thinkers.