It’s no wonder that I’ve had so much fun following progressive metal giants Periphery throughout their career; they’re an incredibly fun band. The most interesting thing – besides watching their popularity grow at a tremendous rate – has been seeing the group grow as musicians. A lot of stuff labeled “djent” doesn’t interest me, and that’s because few bands actually attempt to stand out aside from their sheer musical finesse alone. However, Periphery has always kept me on my toes, for they typically find ways to change things up.
A band that initially concentrated itself in the djent realm with a progressive metal-inspired, talent-oozing-out-of-every-element heart has found ways to venture into other parts of the body with every release. The six-piece continue to delve more into rock and pop influences, taking to melody and clean vocals quite often. It’s brought a lot of praise, but it’s also brought a lot of criticism — mainly due to the continued prevalence of Spencer Sotelo’s high-pitched cleans.
I’ve typically been on the ‘praise’ side. Thus, with the highly-anticipated double album Juggernaut, the band’s third and fourth records respectively, I expected a lot out of these guys. And needless to say, they delivered.
The first album of the two, Alpha, is solid, but takes a little time to figure out. Unlike previous Periphery records, the songs feel more focused on capturing an essence, often working to support a whole instead of standing out individually. Because of that, there’s definitely some stuff to pick out and cling onto, and there’s some skippable material as well. Even still, the sextet doesn’t lack much. If you’re looking for thick, spacey vibes and a beguiling aura, you’ll find it. If you love guitarists Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb and their mind-blowing riffage and domineering technique, you’ll be ecstatic. And, of course, if you can dig Sotelo’s wailing voice, Alpha will leave you satisfied.
All of this in mind, the songs don’t make you hold on for dear life, like pasts hard-hitters “Facepalm Mute” or “Insomnia,” nor is the material quite as memorable as the material in Periphery and Periphery II. The best moments in Alpha come in the heavier tracks, specifically “MK Ultra” and the catchy “22 Faces.” In the former, the guitars perfectly balance impeccable energy with snazzy cohesiveness, while in the latter Sotelo’s ability to thrust himself in front of the booming instrumentation is almost as breathtaking as the rest of the band’s expertise alone. Plus, it’s arguably the record’s main stand-out. “Heavy Heart” is great thanks to its pop appeal, and the last three tracks thrive off their relentless metallic punch.
The breadth of styles and moods captured throughout Alpha provides a lot for listeners to explore. However, it tends to make the whole a tad inconsistent and lack a bit of an edge. With a few problems, this record still tends to be great more often that not. Showcasing a band working on expanding their identity while keeping progressive metal at the core, Alpha has a few growing pains, but is excellent nonetheless.
Rating: 7.5 / 10 stars
Part two to the double album that is Juggernaut: Omega feels like an added bonus for the near-year extra between album cycles. Though it’s three tracks shorter, it’s nearly the same length of Alpha due to the 11-minute-long “Omega”, a title track perfectly encapsulates what this second disc entails. Starting off with jazzy piano and waltzy synth, the track then blasts into an onslaught of heavy metal that ends up being some of the best, most intense material the band has ever created. Alpha may have shown a band mellowing out a bit, but Omega gets right back on track, proving to fans that the melodic, vibe-driven side on the first disc was just another side of the metal players that they intended to explore.
Like the title track, the rest of Omega is a deafening journey. It bleeds potential, while providing the grit that Alpha was lacking. “The Bad Thing” is a straight-up jam, complete with massive melodies and bouncy guitar riffs. Sotelo’s voice moves smoothly with the instrumentation, as the frontman takes turns singing ahead of the guitars, drums, and bass and setting up the high-octane instrumental release with his screams. While the presence of every member is felt in the whole of Alpha, it’s felt in every single song on Omega, and in almost every moment, too. The result is some incredibly bombastic songs. Whether it’s the classic metal sleekness of “Priestess,” the demoralizing tenacity of “Graveless,” or the ghastly attack of “Hell Below,” Periphery breathes fire everywhere, and they destroy almost everything in their path — expectations included.
Omega offsets Alpha in a nice way, creating a double record that’s diverse due to its combination of melodic atmosphere and out-of-this-world potency. Juggernaut in general may not be Periphery’s best offering, but that’s just because the band made such a great impact early in their career. By going back-to-basics and adding a few unique touches, the six-piece has both recaptured and rewritten themselves. With Omega, the band has created some of the stealthiest, yummiest Periphery tunes yet, finishing out the dual-disc, dual-faced Juggernaut in a blaze of glory.
Rating: 8.5 / 10 stars
Progressive Metal | Sumerian Records