Review Summary: A melodic refocus results in Periphery's best album to date.
Let me be blunt: I like Juggernaut: Alpha
. I like it for probably many of the reasons fans of the group's first forays seem to dislike it: for emphasizing musical structure and painting with a wider swath of colors than the monochromatic schemes we were fed on their eponymous debut.
(the one that wasn't personal) focused on experimenting with rhythm, it mostly neglected to shade that rhythm with any particular color. Don't get me wrong - forgoing melody to achieve dissonance or pounding rawness can be an effective technique, but we invented color television for a reason, and Periphery
never quite had the cinematic effect of a Schindler's List
. Periphery 2
, on the other hand, shifted gears to emphasize melody, albeit in a "look at us, we're shifting gears to emphasize melody!" way typical of a band experiencing growing pains while reinventing themselves. Spencer Sotelo also learned to sing like Rody Walker at this point, which at least sounded better than his performance on their debut.
But I digress, Alpha
is a good album. Not a "good by comparison" album or a "good for this band
" album, but a damn good album, up and down, left and right. Maybe with a pinch of a "good to see a band with a lot of talent finally put out something really great" mixed in there for effect. Because Periphery are that band and this is that album.
builds its success from two angles: the heavy djent rhythms Periphery are known for (although often altered to be in a slightly more regular meter) and an elaboration on the flash of melody that we saw on Periphery 2
. Vocal melodies and guitar solos alike create less dissonance than they did on previous outings, allowing tracks to gel into a package that's more attractive and accessible. And yes, the two really do go hand-in-hand for Periphery, as dialing back the rhythmic technicality on Alpha
clearly makes space for a melodic air that the band have sorely needed in the past. That said, you'll still hear moments of computer glitch soloing ("22 Faces" and "Rainbow Gravity") and "MK Ultra" definitely steers full-boar towards the group's original sound (for better or worse).
But even the retread balls-to-the-wall rhythmic madness of a track like that feels polished on Alpha
- partially the product of Spencer seemingly, finally coming into his own as a vocalist with an appropriate range dialed into every track on the album; and partially the product of a band putting a few fundamentals back into a sound that was sorely missing them. Some will bemoan that this makes things more "pop-oriented" or "less innovative," but there's simply no denying that the techniques employed are successful. Truthfully, the turnabout sees a lot of clever hooks and tropes employed by successful 21st century progressive rock, which is probably why it's being seen in such a "pop" regard. But when it works, why argue with results"
is easily the band's most accessible album to date... But that should, by no means, be a black mark against a band that have finally
put all of their musical intelligence to exceptional use. Having a chorus that's fun and easy to sing along ("Heavy Heart," "The Scourge," "Alpha") to doesn't lower the musical worth of a product that can leave you reeling with a low, polyrhythmic punch just a track later. Nor does melodic soloing, or rhythms which know their place reinforcing song structure and venturing into experimental territory without detracting from a song's focus.
If anything, Alpha
proves that Periphery have learned and matured as musicians and as a band. Alpha
is less an exercise in flaunting technicality (as the previous two albums tended toward) and more a concerted team effort with a musical goal in mind. To be concise, it's less instrumentally selfish, more melody-focused, and interesting without being alienating. That, to me, makes a damn good album, whether you're Periphery or any other band. If you're a fan of progressive metal, whether you've listened to Periphery before (actually, especially
if you've listened to Periphery before) or if this is your first experience with the band, you'll be pleasantly surprised with this one.