Believe it or not, we tend to research the bands we review here, even if it’s occasionally more tempting just to mash our palms against the keyboard for five hundred words, assign an arbitrary score, then knock off down to the pub. This week has, therefore, seen me listening to an unhealthy amount of the genre that discerning metalheads love to hate: djent (the ‘d’ is silent). From this exercise, I’ve learned that basing your music on a guitar sound rather than finding a sound to suit your music leads both to extremely terrible songwriting and horrible production decisions (I’m looking at you Volumes, After the Burial and Born of Osiris). However, any genre that rapidly expands in popularity is likely to contain more than its fair share of dud hangers-on. Some genuinely good music has come out of the djent explosion: this very website reviewed Animals as Leaders’ last record favorably, and I’ve been known to enjoy a bit of TesseracT now and again.
Periphery, the subject of today’s analysis, have become the standard-bearers for djent and are perhaps its most popular product. Starting out as the solo project of guitarist Misha ‘Bulb’ Mansoor in 2005, they eventually released their debut with a full lineup in 2010 and a follow-up in 2012 (which AMG reviewed and generally disliked). Their basic sound on these albums is a mix of Chaosphere and Nothing-era Meshuggah with a whole bucket-load of recently reunited British experimentalists SikTh, and this was really the biggest problem I had with them: whenever I listened to Periphery, all I could think was “this sounds totally like Meshuggah,” or “this is blatantly stolen from SikTh.” They never really moved beyond their inspirations. However! 2014’s Clear EP was a significant improvement: they blended these influences more effectively while adding in a big chunk of Coheed and Cambria (guilty pleasure) and finding a higher level of songwriting, imbuing each track with a unique personality. This gave me hope that their new double album, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, might actually turn out to be an early year highlight.
No such luck. Let’s start with the obvious: there is absolutely no way this deserves to be an eighty one-minute double album. The band apparently thought the storyline (of course it’s a concept album) deep enough to warrant splitting across two records, which would have been fine if they’d provided enough interesting music to last the journey. Many songs contain nuggets of good ideas – the chorus of “Heavy Heart,” the crawling heaviness of “The Event,” the opening riffs of “Alpha,” and the Opeth-influenced chord progressions of “Graveless” are particular highlights – but they’re padded out with the kind of generic djentery prevalent on their first two albums. The odd novel influence is discernible on occasion, a few of which work well: the aforementioned foray into Opethian harmonies is great but brief, for instance. It’s just a shame that these fresh ideas are few and far-between.
As on their previous records the musicianship is pretty spectacular, though the album is so over-produced you’re never quite sure how heavily edited the performances are (to be fair, they played well when I heard them live a couple of years ago). Many metalheads will find the vocals difficult to swallow, with Spencer Sotelo singing in a distinctly mid-2000s emo style. His clean vocals are comparable to the excellent Daniel Tompkins’ (of the aforementioned TesseracT and poshcore pioneers Piano) though with a whiny edge, while his metalcore screams are fairly generic. Sound-wise the record is over-compressed as expected, though not as badly as others in the genre (just listen to that Born of Osiris shite!). But the whole thing is ridiculously clinical. Everything has been comprehensively tweaked to remove any perceived imperfections, and with them much of the record’s already limited soul. The heavy sections are particularly stifled by this approach.
Ultimately, Periphery just don’t have the songwriting ability to pull off an eighty-minute concept album (how many bands really could manage that?), but it’s not simply a case of over-ambition that limits this record. They are still too reliant on their influences – not in itself a bad thing, but a big hindrance when these influences wrote such significantly better songs and progressed positively between releases. Speaking of which, I’m going to go and listen to SikTh some more. They were awesome, original, and they understood dynamics.