Review Summary: Periphery release their most focused, catchiest, and well-written albums to date.
(Please note: although this review is listed under “Juggernaut: Alpha”, “Juggernaut: Omega” is considered in this review as well for the sake of abridgement. How each album plays by itself is factored into the assessment, and the rating applies to both albums.)
Upon the first seconds of “Juggernaut: Alpha”, it’s clear that Periphery has finally figured out the type of band it wishes to be, after years of deliberation. The band started as an internet music project of guitarist Misha Mansoor, and slowly gained traction as he found other members to help flesh out his ideas. Early demos were heavily influenced by Meshuggah, a trait that has persisted through to the band’s modern sound, albeit in a more subtle fashion, and the style of the band shifted as different vocalists came and went. The band’s first album, released after years of demoing and lineup shifts, was coherent, creative, and well-written, but it felt cold and overly calculated, and then-new vocalist Spencer Sotelo sounded a little unnatural singing parts that were written for previous member Chris Barretto’s vocal range. “Periphery II” fixed these problems: the songs were composed by all members of the band and vocal parts were finally written with Spencer’s post-hardcore tone in mind. But this shift in sound alienated some previous fans, and some obvious growing pains were on display.
Now here we are, nearly five years after the release of the first album, and despite the waning popularity of their contemporaries and the very sound they helped to create, Periphery are still more creative and experimental than they’ve ever been. “Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega”, a project that the band announced more than seven years ago (originally intending it to be their first album), is a pair of concept albums exploring occult themes with a coherent narrative told through the lyrics, music, and accompanying artwork. As they now have a story to tell, the band finally gives themselves room to breathe – instead of packing every song with riffs and technicality, tracks are more focused on the vocals and atmosphere this time around. Spencer exhales life into every second of these tracks, going from a monstrous roar on the downtuned “MK Ultra” (potentially the band’s heaviest track to date) to post-hardcore crooning on the soothingly melodic “Heavy Heart”, to highly aggressive cleans on the pop metal “22 Faces”, and even to thrash-style growl-singing on the eleven minute centerpiece “Omega”. He’s as diverse as he is talented, and his vocal lines are imbued with more purpose than ever before.
That’s not to say that the vocals always steal the show; the instrumental songwriting itself is of higher quality than ever before. The first title track “Alpha”, which opens with a charming chiptune rendition of the main riff, is catchier and more accessible than virtually anything else they’ve written, while still remaining complex and unique. Omega’s “Priestess” is the band’s first-ever acoustic track, and instead of relying on the tired cliché of having electric guitars crash the party in the second verse, they’re faded in during the course of the song. Alpha’s final track “Psychosphere” incorporates elements of post-metal, sounding almost like a newer TesseracT song in places. And “Graveless” is the band’s tribute to more traditional metal, taking pages from thrash, black, and death metal and topping it off with their own poppy chorus.
Being a concept album, many instrumental themes carry over from track to track, but it’s a testament to the skill of the band that most of them are subtle enough to completely miss on your first few plays. Moments like realizing one of the solos in “Heavy Heart” is reused as the chorus in “Rainbow Gravity” in a way that completely transforms the feeling of the melody make you smile. Spoiling any others would ruin the fun, but let’s just say that there are a lot more than that. It feels like the band actually put effort into finding multiple places for the melodies to fit instead of just lazily reusing them in the same context and using the “concept album” as an excuse to repeat things.
The album’s production skirts the line between “massive-sounding” and “over-produced”, but manages to stay on the former side, with guitars that are powerful and clear and vocals that are layered and huge. The biggest improvement from the production of the earlier albums is the added emphasis on bass parts, which are easily audible in every song and add yet another layer to the band’s dense, three-guitar sound.
The main fault of the album comes not from any of the music itself, but from the way it’s structured. “Juggernaut” was released as two albums – “Alpha” and “Omega” – to make the albums more accessible to listen to on a daily basis, as 44 minutes of music is easier to handle at once than 88. However, unlike double albums like Coheed and Cambria’s “The Afterman”, where each disc flows like its own album with a clear beginning, middle, and end, “Juggernaut: Omega” plays more like a back half. It starts with a reprise of the opening song from “Alpha” and then launches right into a song that feels like it belongs in the middle of an album. This makes listening to it on its own for a “true album experience” feel lacking, and one wonders why the two discs weren’t simply packaged together.
But these flaws are irrelevant to the greater experience. The two “Juggernaut” albums are a masterful example of dense, complex music that still pulls you in after the very first listen with poppy choruses and addictive guitars. Progressive music fans will be delighted to have another 80 minute album to dig into and a story to decipher. Fans of modern post-hardcore will like having something else to sing along to. Guitar fans will enjoy having more riffs to teach themselves. Fans of the first album who were put off by Periphery II likely won’t find anything to like here, but even some of the band’s detractors might be won over by the band’s newfound sense of maturity and coherent songwriting. Whether you love them or detest them, Periphery remains one of the most important bands in the metal world, and these albums prove that they’re not letting up anytime soon.