Persefone - Shin-Ken
Soundholic
Progressive Melodeath
15 songs (1:06:44)
Release year: 2009
Persefone
Reviewed by Vrechek

Andorra? Where the hell is that?! Why the hell is there only one active Metal band there, and why did they do a concept album about samurai?! Why do they spell Persefone with a “f” instead of a “ph”?! Since when did Melodeath get so technical and interesting?!?!

So many perplexing questions, but I have a review to do so enough with that nonsense. Persefone's third album, Shin-Ken, was released in July of last year, and for one who has heard all of their material a good number of times, I can safely say that this may be simultaneously one of the band's best and worst releases to date.

Allow me to explain:
Persefone's first album, Truth Inside the Shades, was a competent, if directionally challenged proggy Melodeath album that owed much of its inspiration to Opeth. While a decent debut, it certainly didn't do anything special to make Persefone stand out from the crowd.
Their second album, Core, was an extremely ambitious concept album with three songs each clocking at over 20 minutes apiece, complete with spoken word and many interludes. While superior to the first Persefone album, it smacked of the band trying too hard to make something really complex and deep, with plenty of ideas thrown in but not all of them good.
This, their third album, dialed back the sophomoric “progressive” elements of Core and brought compartmentalized songs back to the forefront, with a number of interludes and soft intros/outros/breaks to give Shin-Ken the concept album feel.

So what we end up with is an album that is both backpedaling and attempting to strive forward, creating its own sound. The results are a bit messy, but still very listenable.

Let's start with the worst aspect of Shin-Ken: the vocals. I don't know what the fuck happened between Core and Shin-Ken as apparently the vocal duties have always been handled by the same people, but here they're almost cripplingly bad. The production gives both growls and shrieks an oddly hollow and flat sound which makes them all the more grating on the ears. They sound rather weak and fragile but overly loud, which makes me suspect that there was a lot of studio trickery to make the harsh vocals sound more powerful and “Extreme”. They really are some of the most piss-poor Melodeath rasps I've heard in a long time, and that's counting Anders Fridén. The clean vocals are not much better: heavily accented and with a limited range, whoever is in charge of them does his best Mikael Åkerfeldt impression but comes off as almost laughable at times.

Other weak parts of Shin-Ken include the dreaded “complexity for complexity's sake” which crops up frighteningly often in Progressive and Technical Metal. It's thankfully not quite as prevalent as say, Necrophagist or Brain Drill but sometimes you'll get done listening to a randomly placed solo followed by a wonky keyboard section and some Meshuggah-esque technical chugging and think: “what was the point of all that?” The song order also gets entirely too predictable, which is, to be fair, a problem with almost all concept albums. It makes sense in context but can sometimes detract from the listening experience to hear little pieces of Metal broken up with long interludes. Thankfully, unlike on Core, you don't necessarily have to put up with it if you don't want to (hint hint: next song button). I would also question the wisdom of Persefone placing three outro tracks at the end of the album, one of which is less than half a minute long, and then a cover (no, it's not a bonus track.) The last and most intangible failing of the album that stands out is a depressing lack of atmosphere. It simply isn't enough to have folksy interludes; I often forget that this is supposed to be a Samurai Epic while in the middle of an extended solo section when there are no cues to keep everything strung together into a cohesive whole.

But enough of the negative, let's talk about how much this album rocks! Awesome technical and heavy riffs loaded into each and every song, incredible production value that lets you hear each instrument perfectly, and a cool (but sadly rarely heard) eastern folk influence that bolsters a kick-ass album concept. Hell, this album has roughly ten times as many riffs as your average Gothenburg album, and most of them are pretty damn heavy and complex to boot. There are solos out the ass, at least two per song on average, and that's if you don't count keyboards! Progressive epics like Kusanagi stand out as prime examples of how Gothenburg Melodeath should be done: catchy and hook-filled but not so sweetly and saccharinely melodic to put off the listener after hearing it only a couple times. It's not surprising then that when the lousy vocals shut up for awhile (and they do, thank goodness) and allow the guitars to come out of the background you really start to hear the excellent composition of the songs.

The interludes, as mood-breaking as they might be sometimes, are actually very well done and could stand alone without the Metal tracks as an atmospheric and melodic little EP if you wished to play it that way. They're all quite disparate in style too, meaning that each one is memorable in its own right. Purist metalheads will likely find them overly long and boring, but I see them as almost vital to the album's aesthetic. While they aren't enough to make Persefone truly stand out musically (to say nothing of their geographical circumstances), it's certainly better than nothing.

When it comes down to the bottom line, Shin-Ken is an interesting but not altogether excellent Melodeath album. The good certainly outweighs the bad, and it does have potential, but sadly doesn't warrant much more than a cursory listen for most seasoned Metal vets. Those looking for technical guitar riffs and complex compositions will find much to like here, but for those concerned more with listening to a great album, don't expect to be blown away.

Killing Songs :
Kusanagi
Vrechek quoted 79 / 100
Other albums by Persefone that we have reviewed:
Persefone - Aathma reviewed by Andy and quoted 90 / 100
Persefone - Truth Inside The Shades reviewed by Crims and quoted 76 / 100
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