Persefone - _Shin-Ken_
(Soundholic Records, 2009)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
Persefone comes from a rather curious little country called Andorra, which is small principality in the Pyrenees Mountains, situated between France and Spain. The two things I know about Andorra are: 1) the people living there have the second highest life expectancy in the world (those living in Macao have the highest); and 2) it's in the general vicinity where the famous German / Jewish philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin spent his last few days before committing suicide (which was actually in Portbou, Spain; but it's fairly close to Andorra, sort of). Other than the aforementioned things, though, I really don't know very much about this country.

I first discovered Persefone back in 2004, and really enjoyed their debut album, _Truth Inside the Shades_, on the once great Adipocere Records. I liked their second album _Core_ even more, and was very curious to hear _Shin-Ken_ when I found out about its release. Well, all I can say is that for their third album, Persefone really hit it, adding in some insanely progressive touches all over the place for ballast. To be honest, this is progressive melodic death metal at its best. Actually, this is one of the most progressive albums I've heard in a long, long time; however, the question is: does it work? For the most part, yes, it does. There were only a few spots on this monster of an album -- clocking in at over 60 minutes -- that I found to be in need of slight improvement.

First off, let's cover the band's general aesthetic with this album, and then move on to the music. _Shin-Ken_ is a concept album based on a movie called "Miyamoto Musashi" (1954), which, unfortunately, I've never seen; and, as such, I'm loath to comment on the lyrical content. The packaging, though, is excellent, with a beautiful cover of what looks to be a shogun warrior, complete with _Shin-Ken_ written in Kanji. I like the cover a lot, actually, as it is really atypical for a death metal band to use a colour palate consisting of whites, pinks and blues -- it's a nice change.

Musically, the band orient themselves toward a version of very dramatic melodic death metal which sounds somewhat akin to early Kalmah and maybe Mors Principium Est -- only, in my opinion, Persefone are much, much more progressive. In fact, _Shin-Ken_ is so progressive that I got a little lost sometimes in the process of the dynamic patterning of the songs. I think it works for the most part, but sometimes there are just so many riffs in one song that it makes for a dizzying experience. Much like the aforesaid bands, you'll find that the keyboards take a dominant position, so much so that this album is replete with really interesting keyboard solos and tasteful accents in the appropriate places. I understand that this could actually be somewhat of a turn off to those anti-keyboard metal purists out there, but I think it works in Persefone's favour.

What really sets _Shin-Ken_ aside from other albums in the melodic death metal genre are the flourishes of Japanese-style instrumentation found throughout the album. To see what I mean, just listen to the first song (after the intro): part way through the song, the band make use of what I think is a koto, which is the Japanese version of a zither. There are some shorter pieces, like "The Fire Book", which make use of traditional sounding Japanese female vocals and flute. Along side these ethnic flares, and another aspect that really makes _Shin-Ken_ stand out to me are the absolutely amazing and lengthy guitar solos. I've got to say that Carlos Lozano and Jordi Gorgues can really shred. Their solos are long, complicated, and are featured in almost every song -- which is fantastic if you're into soloing. Accompanying the great solos and the myriad riffs are some nice clean guitar sections that sound a lot like Opeth. No kidding.

In terms of the vocals, there's quite the range showcased on _Shin-Ken_. We've got lower register growls -- which are the band's default approach -- along with higher register rasps which, unfortunately, I have a hard time accepting as they are a little too raspy and high-pitched for my tastes. Offsetting the growls and the rasps are some really excellent clean vocals, which, to these ears, sound redolent of Dan Swanö, though perhaps not as low register.

For those of you into the genre of melodic death metal who are looking for something a little different, I would definitely recommend _Shin-Ken_. It's a long, complicated and highly diverse album; and, as such, it may take several listens for it to fully sink in. Persefone know how to play their instruments very well, and also know how to craft beautiful arrangements, save the overly progressive edge to some of the songs. Aside from this, though, _Shin-Ken_ is a monster of a record, and ranks -- retroactively, of course -- as one of 2009's better albums.


(article published 31/10/2010)

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