Review Summary: Juggernaut, Pt. 2: Return to rootsJuggernaut: Omega
is the darker, heavier side of Periphery’s double concept album. As a singular release, it fares slightly better than its counterpart Alpha
; mainly because Omega
focuses more on Periphery’s signature progressive metal traits rather than exploring their poppier tendencies like Alpha
did. It also brings back the intensity and dissonance that was largely absent from every Periphery release since their 2010 debut (or Icarus
if you neglect the remixes). Alpha
was the band’s way of polishing the alternative-driven direction they explored on Periphery II
(‘Scarlet’, ‘Mile Zero’), while Omega
sounds like the band taking aspects of what made the Peripheries
so enjoyable – the crunchiness of ‘Insomnia’, the grandiose soft-hard dynamics of ‘Luck as a Constant’, the drawn out prog elements of ‘Racecar’ – and harnessed these strengths into six fully realized, unique tracks (seven including the reprise of ‘A Black Minute’) comprising a concise, 40-minute package.
That’s not to say Juggernaut: Omega
isn’t without its catchy qualities. Singles ‘The Bad Thing’ and ‘Graveless’ are littered with memorable melodies, namely the former’s soaring verses and the latter’s infectious chorus. But in between these accessible breaks is where we hear Periphery’s rhythmic intensity turned up a few notches. ‘The Bad Thing’ takes notes from the nü metal playbook by dropping all hints of melody halfway through for a massive droning chug break, and ‘Graveless’ has a post-chorus riff that hearkens back to the majestic discordance of Periphery II
highlight ‘Masamune’. The non-singles, however, are where the band really goes all out. After an almost fully sung calm-before-the-storm track ‘Priestess’, the band barrel through the heaviest three-track stretch of their career. It begins with the previously released ‘Graveless’ – after its closing breakdown and subsequent feedback, the band pulls the rug from underneath its listeners with ‘Hell Below’: an apocalyptic chug fest down-tuned to modest C♯ (an octave below the traditional tuning for that key). ‘Hell Below’ readily lives up to its sinister title, fit with haunting death growls, dissonant guitar jabs, and a vile downbeat groove that perfectly compliments the song’s hellish atmosphere. This continues until its off-kilter jazz-fusion outro, which quotes ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ for good measure and leads seamlessly into the piano intro of the eponymous track.
‘Omega’ is arguably Periphery’s best song to date, if only from a songwriting standpoint. The 12-minute epic sees the band fire on all cylinders – dense breakdowns, gripping blast beats, djentified Opeth riffs, all woven together seamlessly with each idea flowing into the next without a hitch. The opening piano motif is revisited on the guitars in various ways, providing a sense of continuity throughout the track’s intimidating runtime. But the song never stays in a comfort zone for long. In fact, ‘Omega’ is structurally akin to what Between the Buried and Me
did on The Great Misdirect
’s longer songs. It’s loosely broken up into three movements – the first is the abrasive, riff barrage portion, the second features an Incubus
esque chorus and experimental fusion breaks, and the last being the build up to the song’s climax (which quotes its counterpart ‘Alpha’ for the final chorus) and subsequent monolithic closing breakdown, which itself is a previous riff slowed down as if to convey the track coming full circle. It all comes together gloriously. ‘Omega’ could have been a perfectly sufficient album closer, but Periphery decided to give listeners a cool-down through ‘Stranger Things’, which toys with the soft-hard dynamic by exploring the extremes of both sides. The soft parts are the most subtle and tranquil moments of the project, with Spencer even gracing us with his falsetto for a few seconds, while the heavy sections set the perfect foundation for Spencer to show off his impressively developed screaming range.
draws influence from a wide array of artists. Meshuggah
is the obvious answer, but there are far more interesting sounds at work here. ‘The Scourge’ has a Devin Townsend
esque vibe when Spencer wails “I will survive” near the end, and his vicious delivery over the methodical riffage in ‘Hell Below’ pays homage to Strapping Young Lad
’s critically acclaimed City
. Vocally, Spencer Sotelo is still comparable to Protest the Hero
’s Rody Walker due to his high range and knack for creating infectious, operatic melodies. But many vocal lines here are also reminiscent of Incubus
’ Brandon Boyd, which curiously doesn’t sound out of place in the slightest; rather, it provides a comforting alternative tone in between the bursts of technical insanity.
Unfortunately, some issues on Juggernaut
are impossible to ignore. While the band’s songwriting has been fine-tuned greatly over the years, it’s gotten to the point where sections can become predictable as the tracks progress. Their scatterbrained songwriting approach has been essentially sanded down into basic pop song structures. The band’s brilliance shines the most when they are not confined by these crutches and simply let their ideas flow freely (i.e. ‘Omega’). On another note, vocalist Spencer Sotelo is nearly omnipresent on Juggernaut
. This shouldn’t surprise anyone – it’s been advertised as a vocally driven concept album since its inception, but that also means if you don’t like his vocals, you likely won’t be able to sit through the album(s) without cringing. Spencer also has a habit of over enunciating his lyrics. It’s a fine technique for screaming, an encouraged one actually, but when he’s singing clean it’s nearly impossible to overlook. It’s mostly evident on tracks like ‘Priestess’ that are dominated almost entirely by Spencer’s crooning over clean guitars; rather than invoking emotion, the over-the-top vocals may induce annoyance more than anything else. Again, it’s impossible to deny Spencer’s talent from a technical standpoint, and even more so his evolution as a musician in general, but singing all
the time and leaving little breathing room for the instrumentals to shine isn’t exactly the best use of his talent.
Periphery’s reputation has been on the fritz for a couple years now. From the overtly poppy Periphery II
to the experimental EP Clear
, not to mention the notorious hatred Periphery gleaned from the metal community over the years, it’s amazing how well Juggernaut
holds up under the circumstances. The project epitomizes the best of everything the band has done before. Fans of poppy Periphery will find exactly what they want in songs like ‘Alpha’ and ‘Heavy Heart’, while those who missed Periphery’s dissonant, atonal chugging will appreciate the aggressive cuts ‘MK Ultra’ and ‘Hell Below’. Many ideas used on this project were written far before their 2010 debut even hit the shelves – the ideas themselves were shelved until Misha had a good enough group of musicians around him to help enhance and turn his vision into something tangible. Juggernaut
is exactly that; it finally sees Misha’s vision come into full fruition, and serves as an apt culmination of everything Periphery has experimented with thus far. Now we can only sit back and wait to see where Periphery’s sound will go from here; the possibilities are endless.