Sound — 8
"Clear" is the second EP from progressive metal band Periphery, and their fourth excursion overall. The EP is an experimental work for the band, and is a bit of a departure from the previous efforts from the band. Guitarist Jake Bowen says of the work: "'Clear' is an experiment to explore all of the different writing styles in the band. It's rare when you have a band where every member is capable of writing and producing music. With each member controlling their own track, this recording enabled us to go down any path we chose in terms of style and sound. Every track also contains a melodic theme established in 'Clear''s intro track 'Overture,' this common thread links all of the songs together, even though they all sound wildly different." The idea to have each member of the band compose their own song, with reference to a collaborative overture, is a novel one not seen particularly often, and is a great way to showcase the individual talents of each member while working with a group dynamic.
The EP opens with a short instrumental track aptly named "Overture," which does exactly what the title suggests: serves as an opener to a suite that prefaces the main thematic elements of the other movements in the suite (tracks on the EP in this case). It begins dark and slow-burning, then moves on to glide seamlessly between dancing piano lines and crunchy guitar riffs, in an orchestral metal style reminiscent of such compositions as Dream Theater's "False Awakening Suite." It serves its purpose in foretelling for the listener both the heavier and the mellower aspects of the tracks to follow.
"The Summer Jam" is one of the album's more strikingly melodic pieces; its instrumental aspect has an upbeat, positive feel to it, which is mirrored in the tonality of the vocals. I had never been much of a fan of Spencer Sotelo's vocals (I am a big fan of their first album, but only as the instrumental version), but "Clear" as a whole showcases his versatility as a vocalist and now I find he has a nice clean voice; I hope for this trend to continue. Speaking of vocals, I find that the clean vocals themselves are a bit melodically reflective of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," and I mean that in the best way possible. They are nice and airy, and the subject matter gives one a nice image to imagine as they listen (something I personally very much enjoy).
"Feed the Ground" strikes me as a very emotionally charged song. Most of the track is growled vocals, which are surprisingly well done, and the very literal lyrics speaking of violence along with the crushing guitar riffs and thick-laid bass help give it that kind of air. The flow of the vocals is good, and the song has more of a rhythmic focus than a melodic one, appropriate considering the subject matter.
"Zero" is immediately identifiable as pure Misha upon first listen. A neat trick that "Zero" achieves is being punishingly heavy without being aggressive - it has a stellar groove to it, and is easy to listen and even headbang to. I like instrumentals like this more than most, so this is perhaps my second-favorite song on the EP, and my preferred of the two instrumentals. It makes great use of severely down-tuned guitars (what sounds to me like an eight-string with full exploitation of the low F#) which lends it the unique sound it needs to get to the sonic stage I expressed previously.
"Parade of Ashes" is the "catchiest" song of the EP by traditional definition, and thus the one that stuck with me most in the first few listens. I do like the song, but for some reason it strikes me as a hair childish, perhaps owing to its at times poppy sound. Despite this, the song is enjoyable, and deserves its place on the EP.
"Extraneous" is a solid track, faithfully merging the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the band in a great-sounding instrumental. Nolly's guitar playing is very good (and yes, I am aware he is a guitar player as well). The only complaint I have about this song is that it strikes me as a little boring until the 1:55 mark - up until which time, it does not have the necessary substance to sustain a pure instrumental piece.
"Pale Aura" is, upon real thought, my favorite song of the EP. It is the most mature-sounding of the bunch, and garners the most visceral response for me - moments of it actually give me goose bumps. This song, in my opinion, is the best fusion of the "dark" and "light" aspects of the EP as implied by the overture. The vocal harmonies combined with the deep lyrics are stellar, and the overall sound is beautifully clear.
The EP as a whole is mixed and mastered very well. I ran a few of the files into Audacity to examine for clipping or over-compression issues, and while the displayed waveforms suggest there may be some, it is not blatantly audible and the whole production comes across as very smooth.
Lyrics — 7
Of the four lyrical pieces, I find that two of them have largely metaphorical lyrics and two have largely literal lyrics. "The Summer Jam" is one of the metaphorical ones: "Cut up the planet for an illusion/ Home isn't far from where the resource ends/ Fusing distant lands/ The sign of life is steadily ending/ Call out so desperate for a way/ The cries are readily sending/ They beg of night to release the day/ They're calling out for a better way." The song has an overall bright feel to it, which culminates with the chorus lyrics: "Coldest nights sometimes give way to brightest skies of blue/ Moving onward carrying the life that's in plain view, and we will carry with a thriving few." The other largely metaphorical one is "Pale Aura"; its lyrics combined with the harmony and the guitar is just haunting and beautiful, and as I had stated previously, gives me goose bumps every time: "Come and stare at her love through these eyes, from a mountain so high/ Is it possible we've forsaken our mother? / Return to nowhere and nature will know my name/ This is what it takes to feel at home/ In her solace, beyond light is where I lay/ I'll lay until the dusk of man." These lyrics combined with the brighter, more melodic instrumentals further support my assertion that this is the song that combines the album's two aspects the best. "Feed the Ground" and "Parade of Ashes" are more literal, more carnal songs; from "Feed": "Tonight we'll eradicate the decay/ We'll throw the lives that are bent to their knees, ignite the flames and burn with rage/ Time is spent and I've got a fucking reason to suffocate when a breath leads to treason/ Cut the ties, collect what's mine, burn everything and feed the fucking ground" and from "Parade": "F--k your theories, we are the way we are/ The violence is out of control/ We paint the walls red, murder the innocent/ We're digging us a deeper hole." As I said, Spencer really does have a nice clean voice, which is out in full force on "Clear." I never liked his growls on "Periphery" or "Periphery II" but now I find myself enjoying them.
Overall Impression — 9
As a whole, I really enjoyed "Clear." I like how truly enjoyable Spencer's cleans are, I like the instrumental skill that is always present on any Periphery work, and I find it intriguing that the band made an active decision to not include album art. I bought "Clear" the day it came out, I was so impressed with it upon preliminary YouTube listens. My favorite songs (excluding "Overture") are, in this order, "Pale Aura," "Zero," "The Summer Jam," "Extraneous" and "Feed the Ground." This isn't to say that any song is not good, because they really are - I think Periphery's experiment paid off.