Review Summary: No sophomore slump to be found here!
Periphery released their self-titled first album in 2010. It took Meshuggah’s polyrhythmic grooves, simplified them and added a great amount of melody and ambiance to the sound. The band impressed a good amount of people with their technicality, songwriting abilities and optimal use of three guitarists. However, many were put off by vocalist Spencer Sotelo, which had an incredible vocal range but overall didn’t seem to fit according to them. Personally, I thought he was fine. Yes, he had a lot of room to improve (especially on the harsh vocals), but he did enough things well to make the album one of my favorites from 2010 (‘’love that ***!’’). We’re now in 2012 with a few lineup changes, and I was really looking forward to this sophomore effort.
On the first run through the album, you hear a lot of stuff that makes you think ‘’Hey that was cool’’, ‘’Damn this riff is heavy’’ or ‘’Matt Halpern can have my babies’’. The problem is that you don’t remember much after you finished listening and the album seems way overlong. The only thing that stays with you is Sotelo’s vocal change. There’s little to no pitch correction or autotune, which makes is performance way more engaging but not without its little out-of-tune/weird-sounding notes. The harsh vocals have also improved greatly, sounding like a wounded ox with bigger balls this time. He also had the opportunity to write his vocal lines now. While some of the vocal lines don’t really fit that much or are just uninteresting, he deserves credit for rarely singing the obvious. He is at his best when he doesn’t overuse his (still impressive) vocal range such as in ‘’Have a Blast’’, ‘’The Gods Must Be Crazy!’’ or in the chorus of ‘’Facepalm Mute’’. In these songs, his high range is used just enough to make an impact, whereas in ‘’Scarlet’’, his constantly high delivery gets tiresome.
After listening to the album a couple more times, you start to make the difference between the songs and understand what the **** is going on here. Almost every song has something special to offer. ‘’Facepalm Mute’s’’ chorus, ‘’Ji’s ‘’ ambient middle section and ‘’Luck as A Constant’s’’ solo ending are just a handful of the superb moments here. Although sometimes the band is going through the motions until it gets to these sections, it’s still enjoyable all the way.
There are still some songs that kick all sorts of a** all the way through. ‘’Have a Blast’’ starts off with two minutes of high energy and then goes through a simple and melodic second half that shows off Sotelo’s great vocals. The riffs are technical, fun and the writing is coherent. ‘’Erised’’ is the obvious highlight. It has subtle guitar playing, groovy bass lines, a unexpected but surprisingly fitting drum solo by Matt Halpern and John Petrucci’s solo to finish the song is just the icing on the cake.
The biggest problem here is the album’s length. Normally, I’m happy when artists aren’t cheap with the amount of content, but this is too much. The electronic sections at the end of a lot of songs are not as fluid as they were on the first album. Sure, they provide some time to breathe between all the heavy riffs and soaring vocals, but it all feels forced this time. They also could have cut the useless track ‘’Epoch’’ and maybe ‘’Froggin Bullfish’’, which does nothing that different and it could have made the album have a better flow. The other problem is that the writing felt more coherent before. Here, some songs are all over the place. For example, while ‘’Ragnarok’’ has some of the heaviest moments on the album, it suffers from having no structure and from including a completely useless throwback to ‘’Racecar’’ (last album) that doesn’t even fit.
In conclusion, if the band wants to create a real masterpiece next time, they need to trim the fat and make the ideas flow instead of forcing them together. In the meantime, this album will probably be one my favorites from 2012. ‘’Periphery, love that sh*t!’’