Periphery – Live in London


Full disclosure required here: this reviewer attended the Periphery show at the London Kentish Town Forum on 15 November 2019. However, he booked the day off work and sunk too many pints to remain sober for the show. Other than the opening two songs, the rest of the event was a haze, so it’s a bonus the band decided to pick this gig as the setting for their first live album.

A Periphery show is not your standard metal event. You’ll see no long-haired crusties wearing Slayer t-shirts and the crowd is only eighty percent a sausage fest, which must be quite scary for the women in attendance when they see the number of potential incels queuing up for pints of lager at the bar. Let’s be honest, Periphery is a band for guitar nerds and PhD computer science students. As a band that started in the bedroom of virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, Misha ‘Bulb’ Mansoor, it’s no surprise that most of their audience are bedroom hermits who look like they’ve spent the last year studying music theory and watching extreme porn.

Guitarist, Mark Holcombe, is absent from this record after leaving the tour early to fix his marriage. (He played away from home on the North American leg of the tour and had an affair with guitar prodigy, Yvette Young.) But this does not diminish the full power of the Periphery live assault with Misha and Jake Bowen stepping up to play Holcombe’s lead parts where needed. Opener, ‘Reptile’, is every bit as astonishing as the studio version with its labyrinth of brutal guitar riffing and scale runs lighting up the Kentish Town Forum like a rocket dashboard ready to register lift-off into the stratosphere. The full seventeen minutes of this epic song could continue for another ten minutes without slipping into tedium, and that’s because vocalist, Spencer Sotelo, is now the focal point of the band’s sound. This is an impressive achievement for a group that started out as a drop-tuned version of Dillinger Escape Plan experimenting with Meshuggah’s polyrhythmic patterns. Now you can go to a Periphery show to see if Spencer can hold those fry screams and high belting notes among the soulful falsettos and rock dynamics. The verdict: the man is a modern Mike Patton who can switch between a variety of styles at the flick of a switch with effortless ease. (He cites Patton as his biggest influence.)

Periphery IV: Hail Stan was the standout album of 2019 and confirmed the quintet as the most forward-thinking progressive metal act of their era. We should not forget that it also ramped up the extreme metal element for the first time since their crushing debut album in 2010. ‘Church Burner’ and ‘Follow Your Ghost’ are like Gojira at their supreme best with chunky riffs and guitar fills bringing out the best in drummer, Matt Halpern, who – surprise, surprise – is one of the best in the world. (You can’t be a member of Periphery unless you’re capable of jaw-dropping greatness as a musician.) Again, Spencer is the star of the show alternating between berserk extreme metal screams and rock heroism, often in the space of a millisecond. It’s clear he studied Devin Townsend from the side of the stage when the band supported the Canadian master back in 2015.

Fans of the first two albums might be disappointed by the lack of material from the 2010-2012 period of the back catalogue. Leaving the likes of ‘Icarus Lives’ and ‘Make Total Destroy’ off the setlist is like Faith No More dropping ‘We Care A Lot’ and ‘Epic’ from their live show. It explains why the crowd reach a point of ecstasy at the opening notes of ‘Scarlet’ from Periphery II and slam through the song with chins raised to the ceiling and hands grabbing imaginary beanstalks as they bark out the chorus like Christians waiting for the holy spirit to fuse through their veins. It might be the closest the band have to an anthemic metalcore song with its upbeat tempo and radio-friendly chorus, but no metalcore band could play these complex guitar parts or find a drummer to accent every palm-muted chug with double-kick grooves like Matt Halpern. The same applies to ‘Marigold’. Again, Periphery show they can write a chorus, but the neo-classical guitar riff is a finger-twisting shred piece that even Dean Lamb of tech-death sensations, Archspire, could not work out on his YouTube channel.

It’s surprising how much of the live set is subservient to pre-recorded backing tracks for such a virtuoso group of musicians. The guitarists use a MIDI interface rather than pedal boards to switch between distortion and clean, and the bass parts are pre-programmed following the departure of Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood in 2016. It’s noticeable that many of the backing harmonies are also synthetic, which leaves the guitarists and drummer competing with Spencer Sotelo to demonstrate their technical brilliance. On most tracks the singer is the victor, although his performance on ‘Blood Eagle’ opts for a lowering of the semitone range to produce a brutal death metal version of the original. Now this is heavy! Jesus Christ! Imagine Deeds of Flesh playing a Meshuggah song from Chaosphere with the complex timing arrangements of Tesseract in the middle eight and a solo that draws inspiration from Jazz guitarist, Alan Holdsworth. The pit goes wild for the action like a room full of gurning soldiers intoxicated by the orgasmic experience of shooting up a village of civilians.

At the end, they go back to Periphery III and leave us with the glory of ‘Lune’, the band’s nearest thing to an illuminating Smashing Pumpkins epic. The smartphones were probably waving in the air, but this reviewer was too drunk to notice at the time. Nevertheless, the crowd go home delighted by the performance and forget that the band played only one song from their masterful 2015 Juggernaut double album.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 13/11/2020

Record Label: 3Dot Recordings

Standout tracks: Reptile, Scarlet, Blood Eagle

Suggested Further Listening: Gojira – The Flesh Alive (2012), Jinjer – Alive in Melbourne (2020), Killswitch Engage – (Set This) World Ablaze (2005)