Over the last twenty years, Andorran sextet Persefone have become one of the leading forces in extreme progressive metal. By incorporating distinctive approaches to dynamic theatricality and philosophical conceptualization, they’ve consistently pushed the style further. Their fifth studio LP, 2017’s Aathma, was perhaps their greatest accomplishment—that is, until now, as follow-up metanoia— which releases tomorrow, February 4th—looks to surpass it in every way.
Their first release on Napalm Records, metanoia is Persefone's second collection with their current line-up of drummer Sergi "Bobby" Verdeguer, vocalist Marc Martins, bassist Toni Mestre, keyboardist/vocalist Miguel "Moe" Espinosa, and guitarists Carlos Lozano and Filipe Baldaia. In addition, the metanoia features some truly notable guests such as Steffen Kummerer (Obscura), Einar Solberg (Leprous), Merethe Soltvedt (Two Steps From Hell), and Angel Vivaldi. Behind the scenes, it's mixed by David Castillo (Soen, Opeth) and mastered by Tony Lindgren (Ihsahn, Sepultura).
Naturally, the group's ambitions for the album warrant such a stunning pedigree of talent. Officially, they describe it as "a musical journey for a spiritual breakthrough."
"[It's] the next step in our personal pursuit for existential growth through music. This album is a call for a deep change, a call for an inner journey through fear and pain, a call for a leap into a meaningful and rooted place. Making this album has forced us to face many musical and personal hurdles and fears, and the result of that confrontation lives within all the notes and words captured on this new chapter in our journey. May you … find meaning in all this musical chaos."
Indeed, metanoia is likely their most filmic, unified, and meaningful record to date. Be it the lusciously dramatic build-up of the introductory title track (on which Solberg sings as passionately as ever); the feisty symphonic rage of "Katabasis"; the gorgeous respites of "Merkabah"; or the triumphant scope of three-part finale "Anabasis," metanoia is a wholly enthralling and endearing testament to Persefone's growth as songwriters, arrangers, and performers.
Don’t just take our word for it, though. Check out the entire sequence below and let us know what you think! (Of course, you can preorder it now as well, in a variety of formats.)
Oh, and be sure to read our exclusive interview with Carlos Lazano (also below) as you blast metanoia as loudly as possible.
Hey, Carlos. How's it going?
I'm doing pretty well, Jordan. Thanks.
Glad to hear it! To begin, you guys are obviously from Andorra. Would you say that there’s a decent progressive metal scene there? Do you think Persefone is leading the charge?
Well, we are the only band in the country [laughs]. Somehow, we’re the only ones playing national shows on a regular basis. Before COVID, at least. Andorra is really small, though. We only have about 70,000 people, so we have a lot of support here from non-metal guys who are just happy that we’re doing what we’re doing. There’s no scene here, or even any venues to play this kind of music. Every show we do is international.
That makes your story even more extraordinary because, you know, you're with Napalm Records now and you've made such a name for yourselves. Against all odds.
It feels amazing.
I bet. So, how did the title and artwork for metanoia come together, and how do they represent the LP?
We like concept albums; we've been doing them forever, and this one is no different. We always work on the cover toward the end. We have to have the music first, and we've worked with many artists. Last time, it was Travis Smith, who's done the covers for many of the albums we really like. It was a highlight to work with him on Aathma. For this one, we found the picture that ended up being used way before any music was written. Our drummer asked me what I thought of it and I said that it was very modern and cool. We tried to find something similar but then we just contacted the artist, Jon Ojibway, and bought it.
Seems like it was fate.
Yeah. Then, we came up with the concept for the record. We’ve touched upon spiritual things for the last three or four albums because we like to write about things we experience. Aathma had a pretty positive message, whereas this one is positive, too, but also darker. It’s about a big change inside of human beings through pain. Through willingly getting rid of things that you like about yourself but don’t serve you. So, there’s this big light in the middle of the cover, with the little guy in the cave, and then we did this analysis theme about going into hell and going outside. Everything came together very nicely, and it was inspirational to make the music after that.
Absolutely. It kind of reminds me of Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” You guys always have a philosophical angle, and metanoia’s is particularly relevant—intentionally or not—due to how the pandemic has made people rethink who they are and what they want out of life.
We're living in crazy times, but that wasn't on purpose.
I’m sure. How would you say that the new record compares to its predecessors?
We wanted it to be heavier, with louder drums and more fast riffing. When it comes to production, we make mistakes on every album. We don’t have any other bands in Andorra to take advice from, so that keeps happening. When we wrote and recorded Aathma, we did it all in the rehearsal room but then Jens Bogren (Devin Townsend, Opeth, Katatonia) did his magic to make it sound really professional. On this one, we spent more time and resources on trying to get the best out of the process. We worked with David Castillo, who was very involved from the beginning. He was telling us from Sweden where to place the microphones and how to record the guitars properly. Aside from that, we wanted to give the album a kind of Blade Runner vibe. More cinematic and electric, so we spent a lot of time—especially our keyboard player, Moe—working on finding little noises and industrial flavor to add. Hopefully, that comes through.
It definitely does. I love how theatrical and cohesive it is. It seems more like a continuous journey than a series of disconnected songs.
Thank you. In 2022, I don’t know if making this kind of conceptual record is the smartest thing to do. Some people just go to certain songs on Spotify and that’s it. But we enjoy doing this. All of my favorite bands did these great albums from top to bottom, so why not do it, too?
It's a trademark of the genre as well to have a required track order and to treat the sequence as a singular statement.
You mention the artists that you grew up with. Which groups inspired your work on metanoia, or just in general?
Back when we started—around twenty years ago—our main influences were, like, Dark Tranquility, In Flames, Edge of Sanity. A lot of death metal, and then Symphony X and Dream Theater. Now, we have other influences, like how Moe listens to soundtracks way more than metal. I’m more into fusion jazz now. With YouTube, you have access to young people making incredible things, so it’s easy to get inspired very quickly from all of that if you’re open to it and understand the message they want to give. I also like Cannibal Corpse and Cryptopsy and that really hard metal stuff.
That’s a diverse range.
Yeah. Of course, we have the skills we have, so sometimes we come up a little short in trying to emulate the music we like. But we really try.
You pull it off well. It’s interesting how people may think that just because you make a certain kind of music, that’s all you listen to, too. That’s rarely true.
I like many styles, and I have lots of guilty pleasures. I’m not telling you, though, because you’re the guy from Metal Injection [laughs].
Hey, so do I. There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like a lot of pop and indie music, for example.
Would you say that the pandemic greatly impacted the writing or recording of metanoia?
It's so great to be able to write riffs with a mouse and keyboard, or by working alone. I mean, the best thing to do is be with the band, but we never write together with all six of us. When you’re all together, there’s chaos, especially with this kind of music. We usually work in groups of two or three, so when the pandemic came, we just stopped writing. That was it. Thankfully, some of us had work elsewhere, like producing music for video games. We waited until we could meet again and finish the record. It was really delayed.
It's remarkable how many groups were able to work through it and end up with some of their best work.
Yeah, like Haken with Virus. It was wonderful. I was grateful to bands who released albums even though they couldn’t tour.
Oh, me too. Did signing with Napalm Records affect the album? Were they looking over your shoulders and giving you directions?
There was a little bit of pressure, but only within the band because we were being exposed to another kind of public. We’ve been working underground for so many years, so we don’t know what to expect but we’re getting more exposure now. It’s beautiful. The label never gave us any direction, though. We sent “Katabasis” to them to let them know what we were doing. Before signing, they just wanted to listen to some newer stuff, and they were so happy about it. There was no other word from them, and then we sent them the album fully mixed, and they loved it. There’s a team behind us and it’s a new feeling.
There are so many stories of labels not being very supportive of their roster, so that’s nice.
So far, it’s been a very pleasant experience.
As usual, you have some special guests on metanoia. How did they come to join, and what was it like working with them?
We had a wish list of people we wanted to work with, and luckily, all of the ones we contacted were up for it. We met most of them before, too, like we toured with Leprous in Europe when they were supporting Bilateral and we were supporting Spiritual Migration. So, it was easy to reach Einar. With Angel, we met when we played in New York, and he was at the show. I fanboyed with him a little bit and asked if maybe he wanted to collaborate someday and he said that he did. The same thing happened with Merethe. We did Aathma with her and then we met in L.A. and now we’re friends.
That must’ve been so gratifying.
Oh, it was. As for Steffen, the story is kind of funny. Years ago, after Akróasis, Obscura were looking for a new guitar player. Sometimes, when I see something like that with a band I like, I just say, “Maybe I’m interested” just to have some interaction with them. Then, Steffen wrote back to me and said, “Oh, you’re the guy from Persefone. No, no, I’d prefer that you stay with your band and maybe we tour together in the future.” I was so flattered. Then, we played together at UK Tech-Fest 2017 and we got to talk a little bit. They’ve tried to set up a tour with us since then, but it’s difficult for us to jump on every tour we get offered. I asked him if he wanted to work on metanoia and he asked, “Guitar playing or singing?” and I said, “Oh, I want your screams on the album.” He did superb work. They all did. They’re very professional.
Totally. They make the record even better. What led to “Merkabah” being chosen as the first single and music video?
We wanted “Katabasis” to be the initial song released, and we recorded a video for it. Then, we decided that it’d be better to show off “Merkabah” first since its beginning is a bit different. It’s mostly clean, so it’s easier for new audiences to get into. We had to make a new video, obviously, and it was a DIY thing. We wanted to incorporate the portal from the cover, and we used, like, the worst materials ever [laughs]. It was very cold that night, too, and we had a couple of friends recording the whole thing. The quality is pretty good, though, and I love how it turned out. It was an adventure to get it done.
It's awesome that you guys have such a confident DIY attitude toward everything you do.
Well, we’ve been doing it for twenty years, so we’re getting better at it.
For sure. I noticed that metanoia also continues the “Consciousness” suite that began on Spiritual Migration but wasn’t included on Aathma. Why skip it like that and then return to it here?
When we did Aathma, we had a new drummer [Verdeguer] and guitarist [Baldaia], and they wanted to sound nothing like Spiritual Migration. They didn't want to work with the same producer, either. They were new but they were younger and hungrier, and they wanted to move away from that sound. Then, with metanoia, we thought about how people keep saying that Spiritual Migration is their favorite Persefone album, for whatever reason. We thought, If we were fans of the band, we'd be hyped to have "Consciousness" come back. It's something we wanted to do even before we really started writing.
I love when artists repeat motifs and stuff like that across a record or across multiple records, like The Dear Hunter or Coheed and Cambria do.
Yeah, like when you’re listening to Symphony X or Dream Theater and you recognize a riff or melody from another album. It gives you chills. If we can make a listener feel like that, it’d be tremendous.
Exactly. I know that we’re still living in such uncertain times regarding tours, but do you have any plans to take metanoia on the road?
We want to tour as much as possible if we can. We aren't getting any younger, and now that we're with Napalm, it's our chance to really see how big we can get. We're very happy that we've planted this flag in Andorra to say that if you want to do something and you put the time into it, you can reach it. No excuses. We have this album with Napalm and this upcoming European tour with Obscura in September. After that, hopefully, we get some offers to come back to the U.S. We're just waiting to see what happens with COVID. We want to headline in Europe ourselves, too, and some other bands are asking us to jump on as support. We have to be careful and choose the right things.
Of course. Fingers crossed that it all goes according to plan and you’re able to come to America again. I’d love to see you guys in concert.
I hope so, too!
Thanks again for taking some time to chat with me, Carlos, Any final words for readers?
Thank you, Jordan. Please, everyone, stay healthy and enjoy your life and the people you have as much as possible.