Review Summary: Unrefined and intriguing. Bloated and impressive.
Periphery have, since their inception, had the wonderful quality of being naïve towards their own presence and expectations. Naming the album “Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal” and several tracks after niche role playing game weapons should alone affirm that a self conscious awareness does not pervade the band’s process (in part because the above is incredibly lame, but I digress). The band flips from song to song with utter disregard for anything other than their own enjoyment, experimentation rampant throughout in a genre which frequently walks the tight rope of homogeneity (mea culpa, Meshuggah). From the bizarre, and yet somewhat fitting, violin led introduction to “Have A Blast” to the acoustic outro in “Froggin’ Bullfish”, the liberated and unconventional approach of the album is dictated by their whims, and not simply the aspirations of the Mansoor generated media storm.
At an enormous and entirely unnecessary seventy minute run time, the band has learned nothing from previous criticisms regarding length. Songs like “Ji” and “The Gods Must Be Crazy!” add absolutely nothing to the record except for dead weight, and the entire album is littered with minutes upon minutes of filler, sections which are useless and instantly forgettable. Repetitive and generic chug fests are no longer an incessant feature, a welcome change for someone who grew increasingly bored of attempting to differentiate one from another on their previous effort. This frees up space for the subtle tonal change of the album, one of more commonplace lighter repose and Sotelo’s clean vocals. Rather than “going soft”, this serves only to make the riffs and guttural screams more contrasting and impactful when they do appear e.g. the break-in several minutes into “Masamune”. More than that though, the band show their capacity to not rely on the sound they established previously. “Erised” is an incontestable standout performance in the album, yet is unrecognisably smooth and placid, exempt of breakdowns and screams. Previous fans may not embrace such changes, but it’s undoubtedly a step forward artistically. In an entirely contrasting ideal, “Ragnarock” is an impressively brutal monolith which pays direct homage to their debut, right down to the reprisal of “Racecar”. Such flexibility is impressive.
Much has been made of Sotelo’s progression as a vocalist, comparisons to Protest The Hero
’s Rody Walker being thrown as both criticism and congratulation. Though still not without its imperfections (judging by the extravagant vocal contortions throughout, Spencer’s never heard the phrase “walk before you can run”), the vocals are leaps and bounds ahead of the airy, somewhat unfulfilling affair of their self titled. The soaring eruption of “ourselves” on the opening “Murumasa” alone speaks of a vocalist maturing and advancing far past less courageous tendencies.
The instrumentation is technically proficient, wildly variable and extremely overindulgent (the band wear their influences on their sleeves when they included a solo from Dream Theater
’s Petrucci). Solos and instrumental sections allow every member to demonstrate their capabilities to no small degree, but to begrudge such unrestrained musical wankery would be to deny what is enjoyable about the band’s efforts. This album, though significantly improved in various areas, is still markedly immature and unsophisticated in structure, but there’s something intensely charming about that. There are palpable flaws and criticisms inherent to this gambled approach, but Periphery are talented enough that many of these self gratifying risks actually work. It may not produce a cohesive, consistent masterstroke, but it’s certainly novel, and enjoyable in no small part.