REVIEW: PERIPHERY – “V: Djent Is Not A Genre”
Any day with new Periphery content is a good day! Yes, five albums (six if you count the Alpha/Omega double album) in, Periphery is still cranking out new music like the well-oiled machine it has been proven to be. Continuing the trend of tongue-in-cheek album titles, beginning with PIII: Select Difficulty, and more recently, PIV: Hail Stan, the djent demigods are back with an album title popularizing a mid-2000s meme, viz. Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre.
In many ways, Periphery have always been the crown bearer of the modern progressive metal subculture. They are the face and voice of the new wave of DIY metal content production for about a decade. Developing, showcasing, and tutoring various tools and ideas of taking the entire concept of producing elite metal content and putting it in the hands of the “everyday musician”, Periphery have championed an entire subculture within the modern metal space.
But enough of that, we have a lot of new Periphery music on their newest record. Over the last few records, they are leaning more and more into the more expansive side of progressive metal song arrangements, with many tracks crossing the six-minute mark. When your shortest track is around five minutes long, you know you have to buckle in for a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint through what the artist has to offer.
Kicking things right off, with their first of three singles, “Wildfire” is as strong an opening statement as they come. With djenty chugs and harmonics, Periphery takes seven minutes to deliver a gut punch of a song. With their onomatopoeia heavily palm-muted chugs, they are telling us that Djent Is Very Much A Genre! Among the more violent tracks, “Wildfire” is the “Make Total Destroy” (from Periphery II) of this record. With off-kilter semi-dissonant lead lines over low-register chugs, Periphery is not being shy about their Meshuggah worship. The coinage of the term “djent” is often interchangeably to both Meshuggah and Periphery. While Meshuggah takes the no-nonsense serious approach to their delivery of the djent promise, Periphery have always maintained a more lighthearted approach. Sections on PV like the ones on “Wildfire”, “Everything is Fine!” and “Zagreus” prove to us that they still have the chops to write downright filthy Meshu-chugs.
“Wildfire” is also a perfect package to explain what Periphery is all about. You can never tell what they will throw at you next! Chugs? Check! Symphonic arrangement with heavy operatic choir pads? Check! Jazzy piano lines? Sure why the heck not? Final Fantasy-esque dream pop? Yup! The latest single “Atropos” also includes some pigeon-headbang-inducing groovy riffs thrown in for good measure. Do you want a synth-wave/chill pop track? “Silhouette” is made for you, with elements bleeding from Bowen’s ambient side project. “Zagreus” is the third released single, and named after the protagonist of the successful indie videogame “Hades”, the track even includes the central four-note theme of the game’s soundtrack. It is nods and nudges like this which pushes Periphery into newer territory and court favor from new avenues. There is much to be said about the last two tracks off PV. “Dracul Gras” runs in at TWELVE minutes and closer “Thanks Nobuo” comes in at ELEVEN minutes, these two tracks are longer than many released Eps, but will be left unsaid to not rob the listener of their own treks through the sonic forests of those tracks.
Fully admitting that I am an absolute sucker for larger-than-life arrangements, I was waiting for that moment on this record. Just as PII had “Ragnarok”, PIII had “Lune”, PIV had “Satellites”, and 2023’s PV: Djent Is Not a Genre has “Wax Wings”! A great track on its own, the trademark Periphery buildup at around the five-minute mark rises toward the truly cinematic moment of this record. With massive triumphant choral/synth sections picking chord progressions that are hyper-emotive, open ringing chords, and soaring near-operatic vocals, every Periphery record has a track that brings a happy teary grin to my face, with an emotionally cathartic reaction that will always remind me why modern progressive metal is among my favorite genres in all of the music! I was sorely disappointed that this melody/leitmotif isn’t revisited, as it would have been an amazing way to close out the record.
To say that the musicians in Periphery are highly skilled would be a meme in itself by this point. In the modern progressive metal genre, each member of this band is practically a superhero. The riff hero Mark Holcomb takes the helm when it comes to the riff salads, and includes the more straightforward aggressive darkness when he includes influences from his side project Haunted Shores. Jake Bowen is THE artiste extraordinaire when it comes to painting lush pictures with synths, and ambient sections, and also brings jazzy solos to the package. Demigod Misha “bulb” Mansoor is an entire industry unto himself, bringing all the cheeky dj0nts to the songs, his own personal songwriting journey has been on full display over the last decade or so, and his knack for writing complex simple riffs (yes, that’s right) with a density that belies its simplicity is the backbone upon which all the accolades granted to Periphery rest. Drummer Matt Halpern strongly holds all the disparate elements in the band’s songwriting arsenal together, seamlessly transitioning between genres, also championing the idea that a simple groove goes a long way in strengthening a hyper-complex sound. As a parting note in this regard, BRING BACK Adam “NOLLY” Getgood YOU COWARDS! Though Nolly IS the mind behind the mix, which is evident by just how academic this genre can get. Even at the busiest moments of the record, each layer is distinct, each instrument occupies its requisite space and adds just enough to the overall mix without everything devolving into mush.
Every track on Djent Is Not A Genre is chock full of head-twisting surprises; to varying degrees of success. The sheer width of the diversity of sounds jammed into this record is both the greatest strength and biggest weakness of this iteration of the band. I think my biggest grievance, and boy what a nitpick it is, is that over the last few records, Periphery is simply doing TOO MUCH on their tracks and their records. With lengthy tracks, weaving in and out of different tempos, genre tropes, etc.; there is just so much going on, that listener fatigue is an ever-present monster lurking in the background of every single track on this record. The adage of “too much of a good thing is bad” is certainly true in this case. The sheer density of instrumental layers, overdubs, riffs, chugs, solos, synth pads, ambience, and over/interludes, is like an unending aural cascade causing much of the nuance to be pushed away rather than relished. My sincerest take on this record is that it is best-consumed track by track, rather than trying to sit through the entire record in one session. There are various moments on this record, where I was forced to check if I was on the same track because of the abrupt change in vibe. It is my personal opinion that if your track relies on frequent changes in the central melodic theme, the track is bloated and needs a keener editorial edge. The downside of musicians writing, recording, and producing their own music without an external producer separated from the songwriting process is made apparent in this regard. A big part of me thinks that this record would be better served with an external set of ears trimming down some of the bloats on this record, especially towards the end of the songs, or on the juggernaut closers (pun intended) “Dracul Gras” and “Thanks Nobuo” that would have been left on the editorial chopping floor.
If there was ever a sore point causing terrific amounts of strife among the Periphery fan club it is the vocals, courtesy of Spencer Sotelo. Bouncing around several vocalists with their own flavors, Periphery have been stable with Spencer for their longest run of releases, so people have been more accepting, grudgingly or otherwise about his vocal delivery with each successive release. Continuing with the running theme of “simply too much”, Spencer is throwing everything at the mic on this record. While his diversity of range is certainly impressive with convincing death growls and high falsettos, and his now stereotypical prog-poppy timbre, it really feels like he’s trying WAY TOO HARD on this record to touch all the corners of the room at the same time, so to speak. Furthermore, some of the notes chosen for the vocal delivery on tracks like “Atropos” seem to fall in places that feel awkward to my ears. Perhaps intentionally so, or merely because my brain hasn’t reached that level of prog metal knowledge, they come off as jarring rather than logically melodic.
Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre is a stellar record held back from mega-stardom when it struggles under the weight of its own ambition. A superlative statement in modern progressive metal, Periphery continues to push the very limits on just how much is “too much” on a single record. Whether or not you agree with the idea behind the album title, it is now evident that Periphery IS a Genre!