Review Summary: Periphery takes a bunch of very, very small baby-steps forward...
Periphery is definitely entertaining if nothing else. The group who popularized "djent" or whatever the *** kids call it these days, the band has been nothing if not adept songwriters who combine a number of influences into something tangible. Whereas the band's self-titled debut was overwhelming at times for these ears because of the thousand different things going on at once, This Time It's Personal is very, very slightly more cohesive. This time around, the tempos have slowed very, very slightly, and the melodies are more pronounced, both in the guitars and vocals. There is definitely more of an emphasis on Periphery II on groove.
Now, you may have noticed that I keep throwing around the phrase "very, very slightly." That is because I view Periphery II: This Time It's Personal as a small step ahead of Periphery #1. I like to compare Periphery to a horse, to use an analogy. A newborn foal learns to run minutes after birth, and then develops other gaits as it develops and matures. Periphery #1 to me was the band's first attempt to run, and like most foals, they went for it, with everything set on run all the time. Periphery II: This Time It's Personal is, to me, Periphery's next step of development, and the first time the band has displayed the ability to move at other speeds besides a dead-on sprint. The tempos are more varied, and many songs lock into a solid groove. Take the first real song on Periphery II, "Have a Blast." The song kicks in with a violin and bubbling electronics before Periphery comes in and pounds you into submission for a few seconds. After that, the song moves at a mostly mid-tempo groove.
The other incremental step on Periphery II is the melodies. The album is centered around vocalist Spencer Sotelo and his vastly improved vocals. On Periphery #1, Sotelo's harsh vocals sounded a bit hollow, but on This Time It's Personal, his growls/screams have more bite to them. Clean vocal-wise, Sotelo is still damn good. Spencer possesses one of the better sets of pipes around when it comes to progressive metal, and he puts those pipes to use all over This Time It's Personal. The entire record is stamped by his soaring clean melodies.
Guitar-wise, Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb let loose all over Periphery II. The tones mustered up are heavy as ***, and lean solidly towards groove. However, the trio is not alone. Periphery II features three guest solos from guitar luminaries Guthrie Govan, Wes Hauch, and John Petrucci (on "Have a Blast", "Mile Zero", and "Erised" respectively). Rhythmically, the bass of Adam Getgood is barely audible at times, probably both a result of the guitars being tuned so low and the balls-to-the-wall production. Drummer Matt Halpern on the other hand, drives everything like a demented ringleader. Seriously, I'm convinced that the man is half-machine, considering how many polyrhythms and off-kilter grooves are present on Periphery II. There are a few slower songs ("Erised", "Ji", "Mile Zero", etc) but most of Periphery II is faster, although not quite as speedy as Periphery #1.
I return to my original analogy. If Periphery #1 is the newborn foal that runs at full-speed all the time, than Periphery II: This Time It's Personal is that same foal learning how to move in other ways besides running. The tempos vary slightly and the melodies dominate this time around. Yes, Periphery is still bat*** insane songwriting wise, but they aren't quite as random this time around. In that way, This Time It's Personal is an appropiate title. Periphery #1 felt mechanical at times IMO, but Periphery II feels more human. Periphery, congratulations on your baby steps forward.