Review Summary: Juggernaut, Pt. 1: A poppy start
Periphery’s history has been short but interesting to say the least. For starters, the band is living proof that the Internet can bring concealed talent to light. Lead guitarist and songwriter Misha Mansoor quickly gained an online reputation through his moniker Bulb, from which he uploaded technical and groovy self-produced tracks and subsequently scouted for talented players to fill the shoes as band mates in his ambitious metal project, Periphery. A few years and a plethora of lineup changes later, their self-titled debut Periphery
was released unto the populous; and unexpectedly, through its excellent promotion and updates from the band prior, it blew up. Periphery is now considered a pioneer of the “djent” movement – a sound derived from Meshuggah
’s polyrhythmic tendencies combined with down-tuned, percussive guitar tones. While there was consensus of the band’s talent, there was (and still is) a polarized opinion on vocalist Spencer Sotelo and his audacious vocal delivery. His melodic and brazenly poppy approach naturally repulsed the metalheads and hipsters. But on the other hand, it exposed a less familiar audience to metal. People who believed metal was music for devil worship and those who thought every band that used harsh vocals is “screamo” can now happily jam ‘Jetpacks Was Yes!’ without sacrificing either of their edginess, and (hopefully) have motive to explore and learn more about metal. The tracks of Periphery’s progressive accession were already laid by prog metal giants Between the Buried and Me
and Protest the Hero
– Periphery were just opening the floodgates to a new, more accessible crowd; and if their diehard fanbase is anything to go by, they succeeded with flying colors.
Fast-forward about a decade and we arrive at Juggernaut
: a project that was conceived so long ago and postponed so many times that it started to feel like a Tool
album. But after extensive touring following their sophomore release Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
, the band announced that they began recording tracks for the conceptual dual-album project, Juggernauts Alpha
, containing about 1½ hours worth of material between the two. Needless to say, two full albums worth of material is a lot to release at once, and the fact that its backed by years of hype only made the payoff that much more desirable. So the million-dollar question is, was it worth the wait? Well let’s put it this way: if you’ve stuck with the band thus far, you won’t be disappointed.
Of the two Juggernauts, Alpha
is the radio-friendly brother. The eponymous track is the most flamboyantly poppy song they’ve ever done, and opens with an archaic keyboard lick that sounds like it was taken straight from a Gameboy Color. Songs like ‘Heavy Heart’ and ‘Rainbow Gravity’ are also vocally driven bangers with a bit more edge – infectious choruses, crunchy riffs, and a rhythm section that’s as abrasive as ever, reinforced by Nolly’s godlike production. Juggernaut
also doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a concept album both musically and lyrically. Many motifs are repeated throughout the album, such as ‘The Scourge’ being quoted in ‘Four Lights’ and ‘Psychosphere’, and reprises of ‘A Black Minute’ on Omega
’s ‘Graveless’ and ‘Stranger Things’.
As far as the vocals go, you probably won’t be swayed from what you previously thought of Spencer. His vocals are front-and-center in the mix as usual; though, regardless of whether or not you can stomach Spencer’s tone, it’s impossible to deny that he has improved immensely on all fronts since 2010. Juggernaut
features his most charismatic vocal performance, fit with beefed up death growls, high pitched wails, and his always impressive chest range. Spencer’s control is equally admirable, as he’s able to drift seamlessly from one vocal style into another. For example, ‘The Scourge’ builds up tension for the first couple minutes until it implodes into an ambient clean passage, from which Spencer holds out his final note and slowly alters it into a dire howl, with its transition as natural as it is frightening.
While much of Alpha
can be labeled as formulaic pop metal, there is far more beneath the surface than it initially lets on. ‘22 Faces’, for one, has various guitar nuances effectively masked by a strangely melodic chorus. Its final chorus in particular has face-melting tapping passages under Spencer’s eccentric delivery, creating a climax that is both vocally melodic and instrumentally atonal. What’s also impressive is that ‘22 Faces’, and a number of other tracks on Juggernaut
, are pop songs that actually get better with time (contrary to the genre’s inherent nature). Periphery peaks your interest immediately with catchy melodies while beckoning for repeated listens to uncover the many hidden intricacies. Despite its overt pop tendencies, Alpha
still packs a punch when it needs to. ‘MK Ultra’ is by far the heaviest of the bunch, hearkening back to ‘Zyglrox’ right off the bat with highly technical grooves and blast beats, not to mention a rarity in Periphery’s tradition: a fully screamed chorus. After the atonal tapping barrage and visceral growls by Spencer (seriously, he’s come a long way from his hollow screams on Periphery
), the song closes with a smooth jazz break, all without even reaching the 3-minute mark. Other highlights include instrumental ‘Four Lights’, which peppers in the motif from ‘The Scourge’ late in the track to contrast the monolithic chugging that makes up the rest of the song; and closer ‘Psychosphere’ has fun, offbeat palm-muted accents midway through which makes way for its alluring climax and groovy outro.
In short, Juggernaut: Alpha
is a great representation of what Periphery does best. While it’s mainly poppy in nature, Alpha
contains enough range and depth to have been a perfectly respectable tertiary album on its own. However, when paired with its companion album Omega
merely serves as a preview of even greater things to come.