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  PERIPHERY
'Periphery II: This Time It's Personal'
(Roadrunner Records)

Michael Downie

michael downie

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periphery this time its personal

And so the cycle repeats. With every new trend of music you have an initial surge of interest, new bands and new releases over the space of two or three years before the cycle has to repeat itself. What I'm referring to is the album-tour-album cycle. Djent is still in it's infancy as a subgenre of Metal and the vast majority of the big hitters on the djent scene are still in the first part of the cycle. Soon enough though, that difficult second album has to appear (or in the case of Monuments, that very-delayed first album, but that's another story).

Let me elaborate. So a band/musician will toil away in relative obscurity, honing their craft, developing their sound and generally finding out what they want to do with music. During this period of development they have all the time they want to get ten to fifteen songs together for a full album, or an album and EP/single. It's crafted and worked on to a point where in their eyes it is utter perfection. The band/musician then gets signed, the world falls in love with them, they sell loads of copies, tour loads of places and generally have a great time. Then the label wants the second album. In six months.

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So our venerable band/musician has to come up with ten to fifteen new songs of a similar calibre in (most likely) less than a quarter of the time they had to write the first album. The pressure is immense as a badly received second album can get a band dropped from the label and it's back to stacking shelves at Tesco for the band/musician.

Djent is coming to this phase now. All the big players have had their debut albums/EPs out a while now. They've toured and partied and now is the time for the second release. In fact, most of the bands are actively working on new material. Chimp Spanner is working on his second album, TesseracT are writing a second album (despite the recent departure of their vocalist), Circles are busy in the studio, Aliases are writing and Visions have a new EP out soon. However one of the first big names out of the blocks with a second album is the irrepressible Periphery with 'Periphery II: This Time It's Personal'.

I want to get this out of the way now, this is a STUNNING album. I loved the first album but there were inconsistencies that used to bug me, a lot of which centred from the fact that the album just didn't flow very well. The songs were all great but I just didn't enjoy listening to it in one jolt. If I did listen to it in one sitting, I would put it on shuffle and iTunes would make it flow for me. Fortunately, 'Periphery II' doesn't suffer from that problem, it flows beautifully.

The musicianship on display here is absolutely phenomenal. It actually sounds to me like Periphery have tried to move slightly away from djent and more towards general technical and progressive metal. There's less of the bottom fret chugging or the noodly-for-the-sake of it riffing. All the songs are incredibly technical, but the construction is better and less jarring. Songwriting has clearly been a priority for the band this time around.

Vocally they've given Spencer Sotelo a lot more room to flex his vocal cords. 'Have A Blast' shows him at his most versatile, jumping from guttural roaring, raspy yelling and high end clean singing, bouncing off everything the guitars are doing. I would say the only problem with this kind of vocal delivery is that by time you've heard the first couple of songs his entire repertoire has been laid on display so further through the album there is nothing you haven't experienced. That's not a bad thing when he is such a versatile vocalist, but it can leave you wanting a little bit more that just never comes.

Periphery has always been about the guitars. Hell, the band was formed around Misha Mansoor's particular progressive vision. For the guitar geeks out there, you don't need to worry, things are absolutely amazing. A lot of the album caters to guitarists, from the pun-tastic song title 'Facepalm Mute' to the absolutely amazing Guthrie Govan solo in 'Have A Blast'. That's right. I have no idea how they managed it but they managed to get Guthrie Govan to do a solo on this album.

Periphery are one of the few Metal bands these days who are brave enough to make use of three guitarists. So besides the driving of force of Mansoor, you also have Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen bothering six, seven and sometimes eight strings all in the name of progressive goodness. They avoid the trap a lot of multi-guitar bands fall into and actually make use of all three guitarists. It is very rare you will hear them all playing the same thing at the same time. More often than not two will play a rhythm while the third will play a lead melody or counter point. Or they'll just all harmonise a tricky lick and make it sound twice as impressive.

There is an element of humour to some of the riffs. I know it sounds like a strange thing to say and it might just be listening as a guitarist, but for instance, the opening ten seconds or so of Ji always seems to raise a smile for me, as does the intro for 'MAKE TOTAL DESTROY'. It's partly the unabashed skill on display and partly the fact that both just sound really cool to me.

Since the recording of 'Periphery', the band's original bass player left to pursue other projects. For the recording of 'II' and touring they have made use of former Red Seas Fire bassist Adam 'Nolly' Getgood, who has now become a full time member of the band. The basslines Getgood plays are quite similar to the lines that Tom Murphy played on the first album, which I think is down to the technicality of the guitars, there's not a lot of room to move and still be heard. This is by no means a bad thing, Getgood is a phenomenal player.

There's slightly less slap on this album than there was on the previous album and Getgood has a slightly clickier sound, but throughout the experience he is audible and fully engaged with what is happening around him. The clean verse and intro of Erised has Getgood showing his melodic side in stark contrast to the slap fest that is 'MAKE TOTAL DESTROY'. Then you get the moments where he can just hit the instrument as hard as he wants, such as in Froggin' Bullfish (seriously, that's the song title) which is a seriously heavy stomp for the most part and Getgood just wallops the bottom string like he caught it spilling his pint.

I've said it many times before, I feel sorry for the drummers of djent/tech bands. They have such a hard job to maintain such twisting, complex arrangements without being drowned out by noodly guitars and screaming vocalists. I suppose then it's a good job Matt Halpern is one hell of a drummer.

'II' has him stylistically jumping around. From the straight up fast beats of 'Scarlet' to the staccato, riff synced pounding in 'Luck As A Constant', he is consistently challenged and always seems to have something interesting to counter the furious guitar riffery. Aspiring drummers should take note of Mr Halpern, he is one brilliant drummer.

As I mentioned before, it would appear that Periphery have focussed more on the songwriting aspects with 'II'; the songs are more coherent, with better structures than before. The whole album is less of a challenge to listen to yet somehow it seems to increase the intensity and technicality they brought to the table with 'Periphery'.

'Periphery II: This Time It's Personal' is equal measures engrossing, beautiful and bat-shit crazy. Mansoor and his merry men have raised the game for djent as a genre while at the same time evolved into something different than they used to be. With a third album due out very soon, I can't wait to hear which strange new places Periphery dare to go.

31.7.12


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