Periphery – Periphery V: Djent is not a Genre


Periphery were a true innovator of the 2010s and easily the best new band of the last decade. Six albums in nine years between 2010 and 2019 tells you everything about their prodigious creativity. 2015’s Juggernaut Alpha/Omega double-release is one of the finest metal albums of the century to date. 2019’s Periphery IV: Hail Stan would have achieved a perfect ten rating if not for a miscalculated attempt at a pop song in the middle section. You can hear their influence on Spiritbox, Jinjer, Erra, Bleed from Within, Vexed and a thousand other bands. Matt Halpern is one of the most lauded drummers in contemporary music; Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen and Mark Holcomb pretend to have imposter syndrome but are three of the greatest guitarists on the planet. And, of course, in Spencer Sotelo, Periphery have the most talented vocalist of the modern era. It begs the question: what more can they do to push their talents after their last record?

Opening track, ‘Wildfire’, suggests the quintet are up to the task of carrying on where they left off in 2019. Seven minutes of thunderous guitar chugs, dexterous scale fills, eye-popping vocal aggression and sophisticated drum grooves will make you feel as invincible as a run through the Dillinger Escape Plan back catalogue. The surprise saxophone solo and reference to their 2015 instrumental song, ‘The Event’, are just as gratifying. Here, Spencer’s lyrics betray a personal darkness seldom articulated on previous albums: “So, here I sit like a marionette/ A slave to thoughts/ They’re like a weight on my chest/ An appetite for neither food nor sex/ With a malicious intent, I’ll take two to the head.” His mind is a maudlin enemy on ‘Atropos’, where the band take their first foray into multi-harmony pop amid a maelstrom of Meshuggah guitar patterns and drums that start in 4/4 timing but end up somewhere in a mathematical equation beyond human instinct. “How much better we seem to get along/ When we’re face down in a place where we belong,” laments Sotelo in a tuneful tenor voice.  You fear the band might embrace the melody with too much gusto and encroach on emo territory before they pull back with an extended prog metal detour of slicing guitar riffs and tech death patterns. Does it need to stretch beyond eight minutes? Probably not.

The first sign of this album’s inferiority to Periphery IV appears at track three. ‘Wax Wings’ is the brainchild of Mark Holcomb, who seems to write the most upbeat of the Periphery guitar parts despite sporting the Emperor and Morbid Angel t-shirts in the promo shots. His songwriting draws from melodic post-hardcore for its melody but uses the math-rock technicality of Plini for its execution. Combine this with Spencer’s crystalline Michael Jackson-esque voice and you end up with a sentimental pop rock that will make most metalheads wretch. It might contain a competent R&B chorus, but the fact that the rhythm section takes control after the second chorus and embarks on a two-minute prog metal odyssey reveals an incongruency that Misha and the boys cannot resolve. Even Spencer’s demonstration of his incomprehensible high register belting technique at the end feels like a desperate plea to retain credibility with the old fanbase.

Most artists learn the limits of their abilities when they attempt to follow up a monumental record. Devin Townsend didn’t bother to write Empath, Part 2 last year; Haken couldn’t continue in the same vein as their epic 2020 Virus LP when they returned this month with album number seven. Here, Periphery might be a victim of their own ambition. They make the heavy songs even heavier. The lighter moments are unashamed in their pop sparkle. You cannot comprehend how the same band can toss Lorna Shore aside on ‘Everything is Fine!’ with a devastating piece of drop-tuned mathcore chaos before slipping into the melancholy electronic pop of ‘Silhouette’. One sounds like a nuclear holocaust; the other could be a boyband lullaby for a teenage audience if not for the poignant lyrics about the post-grief process of mourning. Why they need to plant the sub-standard Smashing Pumpkins pastiche of ‘Dying Star’ at track number six is a shocking oversight from a band that often get these things right.

Fortunately, the guitar triumvirate carries the day on the last third of the record, where Periphery remind you that they’re as important as Meshuggah and Gojira in the heavy music scene. ‘Zagreus’ is the perfect mix of chunky guitar patterns, berserk tempo changes, and ferocious vocal abrasions that take screaming to new levels of volume projection. Nobody does the fierce roars better than Spencer. He can also deliver the melodic choruses better than most when he avoids the Panic! At the Disco/My Chemical Romance inflections. The nine-minute prog metal bludgeoning of ‘Dracul Gras’ is already a classic. Few drummers can outthink the drum timings of Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake, but Matt Halpern runs him close here with a bewildering rhythmic assault. Listen how the low-end guitars squirm through the speakers like a superior alien lifeform that can survive all technological attempts to destroy it.

Like Tool and Between the Buried and Me, seventy minutes is the least you expect from a Periphery album. Loyal fans will not settle for anything less, but the band need to rethink how to structure a record with so many different personalities. A recap of the Faith No More and Twelve-Foot Ninja discographies should also help them craft pop music with a sense of humour rather than the earnest attempts that elude them on this record. Increasing the severity of the extreme metal songs will keep their fanbase onside, but how might a TikTok user from Gen Z respond when she hears the pseudo-boyband charm of ‘Silhouette’ only to have her intestines ripped out by the murderous aggression of ‘Everything is Fine!’ Make your mind up: do you want to be the successors to Dillinger Escape Plan or the contemporaries of Bring Me the Horizon?

A good record by Periphery is ten times that of an excellent one by most artists, but the band need to be more careful in their openness to risk. Periphery V provides some spectacular highs and some isolated moments of cringe. Fans will love it, but the old-school elite will continue to view them with suspicion.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 10/03/2023

Record Label: 3Dot Recordings

Standout tracks: Wildfire, Everything is Fine!, Dracul Gras

Suggested Further Listening: Erra – Erra (2021), Veil of Maya – Matriarch (2015), Jinjer – Wallflowers (2021)