The SBR Guide to Periphery

Few bands were as influential and productive as Periphery in the last decade. The brainchild of YouTube guitarist and gear enthusiast, Misha Mansoor, the group exploded onto the scene in 2010 with their debut album helping to unleash a new sub-genre within progressive metal known as djent. Whether this is simply a playing style or a legitimate genre, two things are notable. One, the word ‘djent’ is a ridiculous name for a genre; two, this style of music ripped through most of the metal spectrum over the last decade, including metalcore, deathcore and even death metal, as well as influencing a new generation of fusion bands with seven and eight-string guitars.

Originally, upholders of Meshuggah’s heaviness and mind-blowing polyrhythms with the chaotic complexity of the Dillinger Escape Plan, Periphery have moved far beyond their origins and carved out a sound that is recognisable in seconds and inspirational to bands as diverse as Spiritbox, Unprocessed, Loathe, Reflections, Novelists FR and Red Handed Denial.

In this feature, we’ll look at the band’s back catalogue and appraise their output up until 2023’s Periphery V: Djent is Not a Genre.

Watch our video below to get the most out of this discography review.

Periphery (2010)

Many were already aware of the band’s sound for at least three years before the debut album finally arrived via Roadrunner Records. This is the LP that started the djent boom and launched the careers of a thousand bedroom-guitarists. People forget this is also one of the heaviest albums in the history of metal with its brutal Meshuggah sonics, Gojira grooves, and Dillinger Escape Plan complexity. Singer, Spencer Sotelo, got the gig two weeks before they were due to record after Misha fired Chris Barretto for being a “diva”. Opener, ‘Insomnia’ is a crunchy metallic slab of scale runs and low-end vocals, while ‘The Walk’ is a lesson in polyrhythmic excellence. But at over seventy minutes, the album is too long. Closing track, ‘Racecar’ is fifteen minutes in length and the band ought to have saved it for another release with its endless brokerage of riffing. Some of the tracks also sound like a group of musicians who recorded the vocals as an afterthought. It’s a relief when we get to the melodic respite of ‘Jetpacks Was Yes’, even if it dwells in standard metalcore introspection. But this is still a remarkable debut that continues to influence bands to this day. And we’ve not even mentioned the bewildering technicality of ‘Zyglrox’…

Icarus EP (2011)

Why the band didn’t release ‘Racecar’ as the EP’s lead song from the debut album is a mystery. Maybe a fifteen-minute track is too long to begin an extended play record? Misha had plenty of material left over from the self-titled effort and wanted to put it to bed – fair enough. New songs ‘Frak the Gods’ and ‘Captain On’ are good enough for their debut album with their crunchy riffs and off-kilter time signatures. But the highlight is the title track, which marries Led Zeppelin and Sikth with metalcore vocal histrionics to great effect. However, the three remixes of ‘Icarus Lives’ are utterly superfluous.

Periphery II – This Time It’s Personal (2012)

It’s no secret the debut was a virtual solo effort from Misha. Yet on this record he opened the song-writing to all members of the band, with Mark Holcomb replacing Alex Bois as third guitarist and Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood taking the bass slot vacated by Tom Murphy. This is where the band stepped out of the comfort zone of extreme metal and embraced post-hardcore, pop, groove metal and jazz fusion. Many reacted in horror to Spencer’s dalliance with emo vocals, but that should not detract from the sheer imagination and complexity on show here. ‘Make Total Destroy’ and ‘Masamune’ are utter bruisers, while ‘Have A Blast’ and ‘Froggin Bullfish’ offer a unique metal interpretation of mathcore. This is a record that demands your attention and never allows it to waiver. ‘Scarlet’ and ‘Ragnorak’ are staples of their live show to this day and will never sound tired. Few bands could write something as challenging yet so memorable as this prog masterpiece.

Clear EP (2014)

Apart from Dream Theater, it’s hard to think of a band where every member is capable of writing and producing their own song. That’s what the band decided to do on this seven-track EP, and it proved an unmitigated success. Demonstrating the diverse influences of each musician, Clear treats us to prog metal, industrial, post-punk, tech death and even a shade of nu metal. Behind it all is a common melody that all songs reference as their centre point on each composition. Drummer, Matt Halpern, produces a fine rumble of bass-led metalcore in ‘Feed the Ground’, while Spencer’s ‘The Parade of Ashes’ packs a Nine Inch Nails punch and anthemic chorus. And, of course, no Periphery release would be complete without seven-string guitar virtuosity. Misha, Nolly and Mark Holcomb provide the djent fix for the faithful here.

Juggernaut Alpha/Omega (2015)

Released as two separate albums one week apart, this is now recognised as a double album. And what a record! Spencer’s vocals have full room to breathe as the band craft the metal equivalent of Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness with a conceptual narrative like Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime. The riffs are as down-tuned and heavy as ever with plenty of syncopation and mind-blowing drum patterns, but the difference here is the maturity of the song-writing. ‘MK Ultra’ and ‘Omega’ stay faithful to the band’s original chaotic sound, but ‘Alpha’, ‘22 Faces’ and ‘Rainbow Gravity’ are anthems with arm-raising choruses. Like The Cure’s Disintegration, the record defies logic and gets better and better with each song until the end. And what is not to like about a conceptual narrative that chronicles a child born into a satanic cult who grows up to be a reluctant killer? Arguably, the best metal album of the twenty-first century and a new benchmark in production quality.

Periphery III: Select Difficulty (2016)

After the stress of Juggernaut, the band wanted a more relaxed atmosphere to record an EP. What started as a congregation at Misha’s house to rediscover their love of music and hang out like friends evolved into a productive month of arranging and composing enough songs for an album. The result is Periphery III, a sprawling masterpiece of metallic fury and melody with choirs and synths coming to the fore. This is the record with the most textures and extensive colour palette, encompassing blast beats on ‘The Price Is Wrong’, gorgeous pop dynamics on ‘Catch Fire’, and symphonics on ‘Marigold.’ But fans have no reason to worry about the band’s direction as they stomp through some of their heaviest songs on ‘Habitual Line-Stepper,’ ‘Motormouth’ and ‘Prayer Position’ before the poignant ending on eight-minute epic, ‘Lune’. Spencer’s vocal performance is magnificent in its variation and his lyrics more poetic than on any previous albums. This is the one Periphery LP that grows with each listen.

Periphery IV: Hail Stan (2019)

The first record released on Periphery’s own label following their departure from Sumerian Records, the band took a full year away from touring and concentrated on writing the best album possible. This time Spencer Sotelo cements his position as a peer of Mike Patton and Devin Townsend with the finest vocal performance of the 2010s. You know a band are taking a risk when they open with a sixteen-minute track, but ‘Reptile’ is a stunning execution of metal virtuosity and rollercoaster emotions from righteous anger to sorrow. Fans will also welcome the band’s berserk detour into extreme metal on ‘Blood Eagle’ and ‘Church Burner’ before settling into a King’s X vibe on ‘Garden in the Bones.’ This would be an easy ten out of ten if not for the inclusion of ‘It’s Only Smiles’, a song that calls to mind the emo melodies of Fallout Boy at their most annoying. It’s a spectacular own goal, but they’re able to recover with the breakdown riff in ‘Follow Your Ghost’ and the synth-rock of ‘Crush.’ But closer, ‘Satellites’, is where the magic culminates in a zenith of melancholia and longing. These eleven-minutes of balladry interspersed with heavy riffing showcase Spencer at his inhuman best and the band at their most poignant. At times brutal beyond belief, yet steeped in melody on other songs, Hail Stan is essential listening for all metalheads and lovers of progressive music.

Periphery V: Djent is Not a Genre (2023)

Two years in the making after the end of the Covid lockdowns, Periphery took the longest break of their career – most of it enforced – to work on album number six. A lot had changed since Hail Stan. Spiritbox were sitting on top of the world. Djent was now a meme and a stick with which to bash young metal artists. Contemporaries such as Haken had released two albums in this time. Legends like Between the Buried and Me, Meshuggah and Gojira had all put out new records in the last two years. How did Periphery want to present themselves in 2023?

The scintillating metal frenzy of opener, ‘Wildfire’, suggests this is a band that want to take their extreme prog metal to new heights. Next single, ‘Atrapos’, gives us an AI video of off-meter metallic chugging with mellifluous synths and a wide spectrum of vocal talents. Djent is Not a Genre has some majestic highlights but its determination to prove that it can be a pop record, and an electronic record, and a tech metal record in one package backfires. The sequencing of the songs on this LP is clumsy. How can you follow a face-smashing metallic blaze like ‘Everything is Fine!’ with a boyband number like ‘Silhouette’ and the bland alternative rock saunter of ‘Dying Star’? As we said in our review at the time: ‘Make your mind up: do you want to be the successors to Dillinger Escape Plan or the contemporaries of Bring Me the Horizon?’ Seventy percent of this record is vintage Periphery – ‘Dracul Gras’ and ‘Zagreus’ could grace any of the classic albums. The guitarwork is stupendous throughout, but we learn one important lesson about the band – they cannot write a pop song. More time listening to Faith No More and Twelve Foot Ninja might help them improve in this arena, but one hopes Spencer will stop imposing the Backstreet Boys on the band’s music on the next effort. 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 reputational risk.

Are you new to Periphery? Start by watching their face-scorching 2019 single, ‘Blood Eagle’, from the masterful Periphery IV: Hail Stan album.