If you were standing in a club watching the six gents in Periphery groove and cruise along in their off-kilter brand of progressive metal – sometimes lovingly referred to as dabbling in djent – would you believe the band could one day command arenas and festival stages in the same way? It’s kind of a high bar to set, even for a band as generally known in these parts as Periphery has shown on their recent run with Protest the Hero. But with the band also not far removed from a support run with progressive legends Dream Theater in Europe, they’ve had their taste of bigger things and seem to have their eyes and minds set pretty high for the future.
“Currently, as it stands, Periphery is definitely a club band,” assures Jake Bowen, electronica arranger and one part of the trio of guitarists Periphery wields in their sonic concoction of punchy grooves and progressive melodies. “We’ve gotten good at playing clubs and throwing down in a certain way that looks good on a club stage. But once you move or you go on a tour that you’re playing arenas and huge venues, you have a huge stage to command. It requires a lot more energy and thought into what you’re doing.”
That idea came to fruition on that European tour, which visited venues in size much like Wembley Arena in the United Kingdom. For Bowen and the rest of Periphery, it was a learning curve they had to take head on. “We all had to kind of get it together really quickly. After the first date, we were like, ‘Okay, this is a lot different than what we’re used to.’ We had to learn really fast.”
The tour was a mix of old, new and slightly unaccustomed for those on both sides of the speakers. For Periphery, it was going to fans they seemingly either already had on their side or had never even heard of the band. “As far as the crowds, it’s very interesting because we usually do very well in Europe,” says Bowen. “Especially in the U.K. Some of the places we went on this last tour, we’ve never been to before. Seeing a good reaction from a place where we haven’t even begun to build a fan base just because we haven’t toured there, is really motivating.” However, not every date was as welcoming. “The German crowds are notoriously hard to impress, you know? It might just be a cultural thing or whatever, but those were the most underwhelming shows. Even for Dream Theater, their fans would have the first few rows would get really into it, but everyone else is just kind of standing there with their arms crossed.”
Being the only openers on a huge arena tour such as this one, it is almost expected to meet those sorts of crowds regardless of the foreign nature or genre of the band. Yet even in the less receptive of situations, the band was able to make headway on getting these new faces to open up to their music.
“At the beginning of the show, we’d see a lot of people with crossed arms, dead stares and as we would get halfway through our last song, which was really proggy, really Dream Theater influenced, you could see we were converting people right before our eyes. It was pretty cool on that level.”
Now with the band fresh off of that run with Protest the Hero, a band who once joked that this tour would never happen, the attention for Periphery turns back towards the music they’ve been writing as of late – starting with the inclusion of the track “Passenger” on the re-release of the band’s self-titled album this past January.
“I’m still kind of apprehensive about that whole release just because it gave the wrong impression I feel to a lot of people,” admits Bowen. “I think a lot of people thought Passenger was a new single off the new record and it’s not.” Though it is a new song and Bowen is proud of how it turned out, the track is really just “re-appropriated Haunted Shores material” according to him. This is particularly key to the future of the band though, as newest guitarist Mark Holcomb’s resume includes a membership in said band prior to his joining Periphery.
“We were all divided on different people that we wanted to join the band. My number one pick was always Mark, just because of how well we get along with him. He writes great riffs, he just fits perfectly. It was just so natural to have him write with us. The thing is, he wasn’t really familiar with this style of music before he joined the band. So, he really had to figure out what it is we do and how we play and how we pick the types of riffs we play. He learned it within a matter of weeks and was already writing on the same level that me and [guitarist] Misha [Mansoor] write which is really fast-paced.”
But as far as the future goes, the band has constantly had to answer questions about the current year in writing and recording for things due to having already said they’d be writing not one, but two albums for release at some point this year. The statement, along with the band’s reputation for releasing things, has caused a large stir of anticipation to build up with fans.
“I think we set a precedent early in our career with Misha just releasing stuff. Because back when we didn’t have any deals or obligations or any terms with the people we’re involved with or the labels we’re involved with, people were used to getting music all the time, hearing what the band’s been up to and hearing every demo from of all the songs we have. That was one of the biggest complaints about the first record. People were saying, ‘I’ve heard these songs already, now they have vocals on them. I want to hear new stuff.’ With the new stuff, there’s a few things that people might have heard on demo forums if they’re familiar with the pages that we post on, but most of it is brand new material. Even the stuff that came back, the demos we worked on, there’s extra sections, vocals over everything and re-arranged and re-appropriated for our modern sound that we have going on. I think it’s just, important that people get a surprise this time around.”
At this point though, very little information is coming out of the camp regarding either album. Bowen says the first album is completed and being mastered by Logan Mader, something that reflects upon the band’s collective tastes in metal. “He did Gojira’s The Way of All Flesh, which is collectively in the band one of our favorite metal albums, sounding albums as well. He is a well-known mastering guy and he used to play in Machine Head and he knows his shit.” But as far as the release of that album? The band seems to be thinking for next month as the right time to release the record, though nothing has been confirmed up to this point. “Once we get those masters back then it’s game on.”
There’s a reason that the band has been a bit hesitant to talk about such information, be it when they’re releasing music or what exactly it might sound like. Whether it is just being particular or wanting to make sure people are taking in this album in the way Periphery wants them to, it has reflected in the band’s approach to writing and recording this record. “We went to a studio this time and we used acoustic drums. We used real amps. No auto-tune on any of the vocals. It’s all very refined and legit as we could make it this time around. We get a lot of shit for being a drum kit from hell, superior band with Axe-FX and all the gadgets that we use. We use it for the ease of use, but with this album we wanted to show everyone that we can do it this way too. So you know, back off.”
Taking that extra time to refine the sound and writing of this album has led to a double-edged sword of sorts, created both by the band’s desire for this album to be taken in and their own suggestions of even wanting to do two albums in the first place.
“One of the things about this album is that it came out so good, at least to us, that we’re so proud of it. It was such a collaborative effort and turning out so good that if we release something in such close proximity to it, it might cheapen it. I want people to really listen to this record and listen very carefully because this is actually Periphery.”
The progression of the band, not only as a whole, but as different parts making up a machine, might come off as a bit arrogant in the process, but in reality the realization of the band’s sound has been a long time coming due to various member changes and solidifying something that was, according to Bowen, not just a collection of songs but a true album. “This time around, everyone was involved, everybody was in charge of tones and eliciting good takes out of our band members and being really supportive and having a support structure in the studio.”
That solidification has manifested itself in not only the songs making changes, but members, including vocalist Spencer Sotelo truly evolving in Bowen’s eyes. “We’ve all heard the album and we’re all sick of it at this point [laughs] but the one thing that’s been abundantly clear to us is that Spencer’s game has gone to the next level. And it’s not like we have this music with arbitrary vocals over it anymore. Like, the vocals are the main drive now. The vocal lines that Spencer has come up with are mind-blowingly original. Like his tone, his screaming voice. He has like four or five different screams that he uses now instead of the one on the first record. The dynamic range of the vocals has gone to the next level and I’m really excited for people to hear that.”
The question then becomes this: What happened to the second album, an album that was said to be of a conceptual nature that was to be released sometime this year?
“I know I’ve been writing for it, and I know Misha has songs and he’s been writing for it. Mark has ideas. I’ve been writing a lot with Mark lately. It’s coming together. I just don’t know with our touring plans and everything that’s going on this year where we’re going to exactly fit it in, but it is going to happen. I just don’t want to commit to anything right now with that. I know we’ve said stuff about it, but, we really don’t care [laughs].”
It’s been a bit of a long road for Periphery. A look at the band’s past roster reveals nothing short of a revolving door over the years the band has been together. But as far as Bowen sees it, the changing of the guard has only strengthened the band’s future as opposed to slowing any progression. “Every time a member has left, and this is no offense to anyone that’s ever left the band or quit the band or got fired from the band, it’s just the way it is, the band has gotten stronger as a result. I think it’s because any weak link that was present is starting to get rooted out and now we’re all on the same page and we’re all willing to put up with the same hardships at the same levels at the same time. It’s been getting better. It sucks to see all the people who were in your band, but it’s relieving to know the people who are here now are going to continue what we’re doing.”
So with the future seemingly bright and undoubtedly in the hands of the band, what does Bowen see the band doing in the coming months or even years?
“We do have a potential to evolve into a band that can play those bigger stages,” Bowen says of the band’s touring desires and ability. It seems with music as meticulous and layered as Periphery is attempting to make, it might be the only fitting place to witness it.