It’s a little early to discuss candidates for album of the year as it is only October, but I am going to go ahead and throw progressive metal band Periphery’s sophomore effort, the hilariously named Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal, in for consideration. Seeing as the album came out in July, a review may be a bit late, but with an album as dense, long and brilliant as this is, proper listening and analysis takes time. In a word, Periphery II is fulfilling; in two, it is nearly flawless. In 800, it is…well, you are already 97 in, so you might as well keep reading.
Periphery is a seven-piece band from Bethesda, Md. that has been mentioned several times in the infallible “Paper Radio” by yours truly, and for good reason: they are a fantastic band that always strives for progression without sacrificing their roots. Periphery is one of the founding bands of the “djent” subgenre, and unlike the bandwagon bands that have jumped onto their (and other early djent band’s) coattails, they keep writing quality music that never seems to get stale.
The band was originally the progeny of one Misha Mansoor, the lead guitarist and main songwriter. As noted in the previous DIY recording article, Mansoor recorded the entirety of their first album (and much of this sequel) in his bedroom studio, and had been recording song clips with programmed drums for years before the debut’s release in 2010. The release was met with almost universal critical acclaim thanks to Misha’s blending of songwriting influenced by Meshuggah and Nobuo Uematsu (of “Final Fantasy” fame), and a mix of accessible melodies and abrasive, challenging aggression.
Fast forward to 2012, and the band’s second aural endeavor was hyped up to an insane degree by the metal community, an anticipation that was only exacerbated by the addition of two of the budding djent community’s finest musicians to Periphery’s already ample stable: Nolly Getgood of Red Seas Fire and Mark Holcomb, formerly of Haunted Shores (a collaboration with Misha). Furthermore, Periphery enlisted the talents of axe-slingers Guthrie Govan (of The Aristocrats) on “Have a Blast,” John Petrucci (of Dream Theater) on “Erised,” and Wes Hauch (of The Faceless) on “Mile Zero.” Thankfully, all of this great talent is not wasted on mediocre music; it completely lives up to the fans’ ridiculous expectations. And while it initially seems to come up just shy of the excellence of its predecessor, this album begs for listen after listen as a textbook “grower.”
The record begins with “Muramasa,” the first track of a trilogy of songs (the other two being middle track “Ragnarok” and album closer “Masamune”) that together make up the cornerstone of the album. These three tracks are definite highlights, and being a trilogy, contain a single lyrical theme, similar chord progressions and note selections, and a cohesive overall feel. They also are a great introduction to the new twist to Periphery’s sound, one that may not please true metal fans.
The aspect of Periphery II that makes it so great is its accessibility. “Accessibility” is sometimes considered a dirty word in metal, but it need not always be a synonym for “mainstream.” This album is a great example of accessibility in challenging music. Singer Spencer Sotelo’s vocal melodies are incredibly infectious throughout (see the aforementioned trilogy, progressive pop song “Scarlet,” painfully personal “Mile Zero” and the melodically contagious track that is, “The Gods Must Be Crazy!”).
Unfortunately, Sotelo’s vocal melodies are not wholly original. He wears his influences on his sleeve, although when one channels the incomparable Rody Walker of Canadian prog metal gods Protest the Hero, channeling isn’t such a bad thing. The catchiness pervades into the guitars as well, making for an almost saccharine-sweet package. Still, catchy or not, the music is incredibly technical throughout. At no point does Periphery sacrifice technicality for the sake of melody, an important distinction to make from more pop-oriented artists. “Ji” is a guitar clinic from beginning to end (on a floor-rattling eight-string, no less), complete with what is my first exposure to a self-described “rhythm guitar solo,” in which all three guitarists (Misha, Holcomb, and Jake Bowen) and bassist Getgood get a chance to shine. Guitar acrobatics are also a focus of possibly the heaviest song on the album, the humorously named “Froggin’ Bullfish.” Even this vicious song is sure to get stuck in many a listener’s head through its masterful use of Periphery’s (and the djent genre’s) trademark polyrhythmic groove. This rhythm is present throughout the album thanks to perhaps Periphery’s most impressive member, drummer Matt Halpern.
Halpern’s drumming is best described as controllably chaotic. Many YouTube videos make him appear as though he is having a seizure all over the drum kit, but those in the know realize this man just feels rhythm so deeply he cannot help but show it all over his being. There is no single moment where the drumming shines most because it is, simply put, perfect. Halpern’s beats are catchy, danceable, and ludicrously technical for the entire 69-minute runtime. Really, the last piece of the puzzle then is lyrical content, which Sotelo handles quite successfully for his first penning.
Periphery’s tracks touch on a variety of atypical metal topics; there are no gory mass murders, rapes, or demon conjuring here. The only demons are personal ones dealing with the loss of a friend (“Mile Zero”), the struggle with faith (or lack thereof in “The Gods Must Be Crazy!”), and a lack of faith in humans’ will to think for themselves (“Facepalm Mute”). All these topics are discussed in creative and memorable language and imagery.
Truly, Periphery’s seamless melding of catchiness, Meshuggah-esque groove, Final Fantasy inspired melodies and transitions, and punishingly heavy sections have created perhaps the best progressive metal album of 2012. In fact, they make a convincing case for “album of the year” in any genre. All music fans could find something to enjoy here, including a techno track (“Epoch”) to accompany the band’s sometimes industrial leanings. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but perfection is few and far between. At this rate, maybe the third time will be the five-star charm for Periphery.
Regen McCracken is a junior intending to major in English. He has a love for video games, metal, jazz, and all things that make one think. He also writes and performs his own music while not writing these ever-interesting columns or studying himself to sleep.