Review Summary: A more focused and structured effort all around, and a truly remarkable listen.
Periphery are known for a number of things in the metal community; their DIY production style, the creation of the "djent" sound, the polarizing vocals. Since their inception as a one-man project in 2004, they've built their fanbase through the internet, through forums and Facebook, through guitar videos and gear rants. They're a band that's got almost as many haters as they do supporters, and backed by a hype machine that looms over whatever they may put out, threatening to ruin expectations that are unreasonable. Their debut album fell prey to this syndrome - while being an epic in its own right, the songs were overly long and awkwardly structured, and then new vocalist Spencer Sotelo's immature voice and forced screaming served as a put off to many people, and given that the album had taken about four years to complete, it seemed disappointing given the circumstances.
So, a little over two years later, expectations for their second album were on par with, if not greater than, expectations for the debut. With even less time to make this album, and given the general sophomore slump, how could this possibly be anywhere close in quality?
Well, friends and fellow music lovers, I will tell you this - the result is not only MUCH more focused and tighter, but in my opinion one of the greatest albums of the year.
The first thing you'll notice when starting the album is it's melodic style; while the previous material was primarily rhythmic with melodic overtones, this is vice versa. "Muramasa" provides a slow, churning intro set to dueling guitars and a synth backing. It's not something you'd ever expect to hear from Periphery, until the track changes near the end to a heavier, low tuned passage. Longtime fans will recognize "Have a Blast", which kicks the album off with an almost Sonic-esque riff before returning to their trademark syncopated grooves. The album continues in this vein of experimentation; the Sotelo-penned "Facepalm Mute" is reminiscent of Sikth with one of the catchiest choruses you're ever like to hear, "Ji" is the band's first 8-string track (hence the title pun) that uses but doesn't abuse, "Scarlet" is a Haunted Shores carryover that serves as a vehicle for Spencer's improved vocal stylings (I've heard it described as Dance Gavin Dance meets Protest the Hero, and I agree with that), and "Luck as a Constant" evokes the feel and groove of the debut whilst adding in some of that insane melody this album is a huge fan of, including a guitar solo for each guitarist. Let's stop right there and make a quick digression.
Now, it's not that solos weren't Periphery I's friend (OMG Racecar), but they were more like that friend that only comes over every other weekend, and it's only to show off whatever new item he's acquired, more than likely one of your ex-girlfriends. Now that Periphery II's rolled around, he's around much more frequently. One of the selling points of the record in its promotion is the three guest solos by Guthrie Goven, John Pertucci, and Wes Hauch, and there are a lot more solos by band members besides these. Some will enjoy this, some will shun it as just more prog wankery, but it fits the melodic theme of the album and it never dissolves into mindless shredding.
Onto the vocals. You'd have to be deaf not to notice the insane improvement that Spencer has achieved. Cleans are reminiscent of Protest the Hero and Corelia, and are much more catchy. If the first album's vocals didn't get endlessly stuck in your head, these will do the trick; especially Erised, which is this album's "Jetpacks Was Yes!" Gone is the sterile pitch correction from album number one - these vocals are all organic, and it shows via the emotion. Spencer uses a variety of scream styles on the album, and all are much improved from the airy gasps on Periphery I and the stop-getting-your-spit-all-over-my-face hiss from the Icarus EP. You're probably not going to be converted if you didn't like the vocals already, but that's something that's unreasonable to expect.
And of course I have to comment on the production. While the first album's production was sublime, and one of the best aspects of the album, this mix is even more immense. Guitars are crushing, the bass is clear without overpowering anything else, and you can distinctly pick out each part. It feels like something you can drown in, and makes the band that much larger than life.
There are a few small flaws, as with any album; the electronic album interludes don't flow nearly as nicely as they did on the debut, amazing as they are. And the 69 (lol) minute length is exhausting given the general energy of the music. But these are microscopic wrinkles on the face of the world's most beautiful woman, and to count them as anything other than trivial would be insanity.
So, if you like your metal heavy with a good dose of melody, and enjoy bands like Protest the Hero and Meshuggah, you absolutely cannot miss this. When "Masamune" finishes its sludgy, pummeling descent into madness, you'll manage a weak smile before passing out.
And THAT's where you'll find the dreams/memories.
Sorry. I couldn't resist.