Review Summary: An overstuffed bombardment that may leave listeners not retaining much, but it's still a blast to hear, and shows the band improving upon themselves so much that they justify themselves as just as much of a serious progressive metal band as any other.
Perhaps the only reason Periphery is generalized as a metalcore band upon surface listening and grouped under an umbrella encompassing the generic side of core bands, is because of the falsetto cleans/cookie monster growls singing style that speaks for their music. It's a shame that listener's such as metalheads tend to harshly judge at the first impression, because past the at first seemingly weak vocals, founder and guitarist Misha Mansoor's talented playing in odd time signatures composed of Meshuggah inspired "djent" riffing, combined with a complexly produced atmosphere of soaring melodies and layered sounds has made Periphery more experimental and more ambitious than any of their labelmates and contenders.
Periphery started out as a project for Mansoor to exercise his instrumental finesse through numerous demos of random ideas that were kept to be refined and redone over the course of a few years, so regardless of the issues that arose of finding a final vocalist for the band before Periphery's debut album, the release was essentially comprised of Mansoor's solo instrumental work that he had years to tweak until satisfied. An instrumental version of the debut was even released to further justify this, so in the end, Periphery's first self-titled album was the accumulation of much revising of earlier solo work without much significant input from anyone else, with last minute vocalist decision Spencer Sotelo tagged on at the end, along with his then strained, shakily inexperienced, and generically novice vocal style.
This wasn't Sotelo's fault though, he was chosen to be included in the lineup after the fact, and was given already finalized instrumentals of songs that he had no part in composing to sing over in a pre-established fashion, he didn't have a chance to find himself within the band and bring himself to the table for the band's debut. This is no longer a potential threat to the quality on Periphery's second self-titled album however, as enough time has passed for each member to have grown together as a band and gain the experience in working together as an actual band and not a reworking team for fragments of past demo recordings.
Periphery actually feels like they are writing as a band on this album, with new material that clearly incorporates everybody's ideas with a single common goal in mind, to top themselves by thinking bigger and going harder than before. While there is much new material, there are still a handful of new recordings of old demos from Mansoor when he was under the alias of "Bulb", but even with these being old songs, the new versions of the them on this album are redone with the same unique treatment found on the new songs.
The most noticeable of the improvements to the band's sound on Periphery II is Sotelo's vocals. When comparing his execution, style, and ability on this album to his performances found on the band's debut, the improvements in his vocal talent on Periphery II are remarkable. It's apparent that he's found himself within the band in the time that has passed, and has adjusted comfortably enough to develop and master a style that is unique to himself and works with the band, while also separating Periphery from the rest of the pack vocally. Sotelo's delivery sees him more skilled in his range, and by being aware of his limitations he shows a better sense of control over the soaring melodies he impressively belts out without any pitch correction. He's more harmonious than ever, and his roars are undoubtedly emphasized in more intensity and bold fury than last time.
Still though, having clean vocals like Sotelo's are not and never were a problem. They don't affect how seriously the listener takes the music, and they definitely never made the genre weaker or more soft. The clean vocals on Periphery II do not whine or sequel, the melody and the addition of actual choruses to this type of progressive death metal actually brings a more accessible and melodic side of atmosphere to metal as densely harrowing as Meshuggah's, without deteriorating the sheer brutality of it. His vocal style is energetic, bombastic, and sometimes even a bit jazzy, really pouring a lot of varying personality into his voice, a much welcome change opposed to the 1 dimensional whining of his original vocal style of choice.
Sotelo goes about his execution in a method similar to that of The Dillinger Escape Plan's vocalist Greg Puciato, as in he doesn't abruptly alternate between high pitched cleans and booming growls, he finds a sort of middle ground between the two and smoothly slips into the two styles when required, lacing his voice with style along the way. All in all, his singing on top of the albums slick and thickly layered production brings a Dream Theater-like flavor to the bone crushing groove-oriented sound Periphery is fond of.
The music of Periphery II is bursting at the seams with the layers of different sounds it has jam-packed into it. Periphery without question aimed to go bigger than they ever before with this album, but they do actually manage to obtain their desired quantity without sacrificing quality. Even though the album is crammed, no aspect is expendable, and all are different and interesting inclusions. Delicate electronica interludes soothingly tinge the album into a well-rounded state, and make the transitions between songs so seamless that they are sometimes unnoticeable.
Mansoor does not feel the need to exaggerate upon the usage of djent riffs, dishing out a well balanced amount of the addicting palm mutes while also expressing his love of the guitar in general by experimenting with even more odd time signatures and obscure motifs then on the band's previous album. These chord patterns capture attention and intrigue, and are fascinatingly complex enough to keep the further focus they require in order to be followed.
As to be expected, the groove is prevalent and carries most of the songs. Groove in general dominates the album as a whole and isn't just limited to the riffs, even the breakbeats of the electronica interludes have a light funk to them. This shows that Periphery are still the grooviest of their label mates and core comrades, and one of the only groovy prog-death bands in general that don't put their groove in such a savage and hostile perspective.
Mansoor even allows his own position as lead guitarist to be temporarily dethroned on several tracks with the inclusion of guest spots for a handful of other famed progressive guitarists to each have their own solo featured on the record.
Even with all the complex and numerous elements of the album, and Mansoor handing over the reins for the guest solos, nothing ever feels suppressed or muffled, and no element sounds lost under something else. The record never overpowers itself or overwhelms the listener even with so many different things going on at once. Listeners are able to register and identify every aspect of the album as it comes, and it all amounts to a sprawling experience that never lets up.
While this is technically impressive and a very powerful experience, that benefit also comes with some minor negatives. Every song transitions into the next, and while this isn't an issue if listeners are looking to be provided with a constant and steady flow of bombardment, on one straight listen through it can become very draining, very fast, and the always rising assault that seemingly never peaks can cause all the songs to blur together, and it doesn't help that there's no clear line between where songs end and begin.
Songs are different from one another, but only show their distinctions towards their halfway points. Every song starts off as a blast of energy from the preceding track that never winded down, and listening to tracks individually can make the listener feel as if they're caught in the middle of something. Not a single song launches with a change of pacing that clearly indicates a new track is present, and while this isn't overwhelming, the album after a while can just seem to come and go, and feel like a blur afterwards. It's as if Periphery is throwing a lot against the wall, but not much is sticking.
The album leaves a hell of a mark and it's not like it's too much for listener to handle and take in, the problem doesn't lie in grasping its immediacy as it comes, but in how listeners may be mind blown after listening, but will find themselves not retaining much of anything from it.
Regardless of how overbearing it can be for a first impression, Periphery II shows the band besting themselves and improving in every conceivable way. Periphery II is a powerful album that has appeal for a wide range of different audiences of metal sub-genres, sets an examples for the core community to follow, and moves them towards the same level of talent as the progressive heavyweights they are inspired by, and have earned the respect of.
Periphery no longer feels like a progressing project of Misha Mansoor, they have finally settled down and are comfortable as a band, and by embracing the assets of the incarnation of themselves that they are satisfied with, Periphery II sees them breaking free from the "core band" label to become a serious progressive metal force to be reckoned with.