Periphery // II
Rating: 2.0/5.0 — A band for whom song craft is in the periphery.
Label: Sumerian [NA] | Century Media [EU]
Release Dates: EU: 2012.07.16 | US: 07.03.2012
Periphery is kind of a big deal, apparently. People have been having a conniption on the Internetz ever since the release date started getting closer and, wow, I didn’t really know what all the hype was about. In all of this, I received a promo of the band’s wittily named II and I thought “Hey, progressive metal! I like progressive metal!” This, however, is not your grandfather’s progressive metal. No, unlike the progressive rock and heavy rock of the past, Periphery isn’t really writing great symphonic works of art or abstract tracks with smart, snappy choruses. Nor is this a shred-fest in funny time signatures á la Dream Theater and their ubiquitous and oppressive ilk. Nay, Periphery is something unique to the 2010s, and I’m not sure that progressive metal is better for that.
Periphery is a modern metal band that probably belongs in the “djent” category for all you genrefiers out there. Sure, that genre is getting a bit wide (and already oh-so-tired), but Periphery wears the moniker well. The root idea of most songs are semi-progressive, poly-rhythmic guitar riffs that scream Meshuggah worship. These chuggy riffs in twisted time signatures are blanketed with vocalist Spencer Sotelo’s unremarkable hardcore screams and occasional growls. Then there are the obligatory pop-punk cleans, punctuated by Sotelo’s school boy tenor, which is produced and filtered to a T. Finally, the songs are often laced with electronica tricks and fantastic guitar-nerd solos. The production is thick, hyper-modern, multi-layered and really functions to encase the sound as it’s supposed to be presented: in a sterile package. It’s hard, actually, to imagine the band ever performing this material live because of how important the production is to their overall sound. All of this blends into a semi-cohesive sound, but often times serves largely as a vehicle for a chorus or a vehicle for solo—depending on who’s supposed to be in the spotlight in what song.
But, frankly, I get left in the cold by this band. My complaints are legion, but I’m going to focus on the two things that I see the as the biggest problems: the songwriting and the vocals. While the songs have some amazing parts (the intro to “Luck as Constant” is fucking superb, for example, and I could go through separate songs and pick out neat parts and tricks), they feel undirected and poorly constructed in their tendency to wander. Songs (maybe “tracks” would be more appropriate) tend towards linear formats, relying on production tricks and awkward transitions to push one riff or another—but rarely does the band produce a transition that’s truly memorable like what one hears from Textures or Animals as Leaders or old Opeth. The guitar work and the riffs are exciting and creative at times, performing mind-bending backflips and dropping the bottom out sometimes and just hammering home thick, fat riffs. But as the drummer from a major label band once told me: “Everyone can play. Everyone has ProTools. Song craft is a dead art.” And Periphery is the perfect example of that. Write me a fucking song, dudes, not a series of audial doodles that have been pasted together on your computer.
The second problem that I have overlaps with the first; vocalist Spencer Sortero. I don’t know where these little boys grow, but can we stop getting them in our metal? With his Coheed and Cambria meets Protest the Hero pop punk vocals, one would expect that this record would be laced with catchy melodies that would stick into your spine like those fucking annoying spiky balls that stick to your pants when you’re walking through the woods. Instead, the vocal lines are often just him linking notes together into patterns with no real melodic content in a weak attempt, I assume, to be progressive. There are moments like on “Ji” or the opening “Muramasa” where the melodies are good, subtle, smart and poppy. But for the rest of the record it’s almost like the guy is just free associating his parts at the studio. Oh, also, this Angry Metal Guy finds his voice really annoying, but since he’s not singing melodies worth listening to anyway, I’ll leave that alone.
So riff-after-riff that doesn’t sit; “melody” after “melody” that make me go “meh” and this record leaves me unimpressed and, frankly, confused as to what the fuss is. They’re talented, sure, but “anyone can play,” and where are the songs here? What’s to be excited about? If it’s great guitar work and sterile production you’re after? Check out Digital Veil from The Human Abstract. Like great chug and crazy polyrhythmic times? Well there’s a band called Meshuggah, they kinda invented that genre. Want a little boy who sings weird melodies that get stuck in your head? Check out Coheed and Cambria. Leave Periphery in the periphery.