Sound — 9
Periphery have been the go-to band for guitar nerds for the last couple years. While metalcore has been evolving into something a bit more homogenous to appeal to masses, Periphery has bucked the trend and given us two deliciously proggy albums and an EP so far, and show no signs of stopping, as this was intended to be one of two releases this year (the other appears to be on hold for now). On their past releases, Periphery were nothing more than guitarist Misha Mansoor's demos having been re-recorded, with very little input from the rest of the band. While many of the songs on this record originate from the same pile of home demos, Misha allowed the other members of the band (vocalist Spencer Sotelo, guitarists Adam "Nolly" Getgood and Jake Bowen, bassist Mark Holcomb, and drummer Matt Halpern) to exert some of their own creative pull on this record. That resulted in pieces like "Have A Blast!", the second track on the album, to come to life, as only half of it was written prior to the sessions for this record. "Facepalm Mute" actually came from a riff written by Spencer, who by all accounts isn't that great of a guitarist, yet it's a pretty crushing riff. "Ji" features a distinctive "rhythm solo" composed by Misha and Mark, where the rhythm guitar plays a non-repeating cycle of riffs in place of a traditional lead guitar part. It's clear that the influence of the other members has left a mark on the band's sound. Of particular note on this record is the lack of pitch-correction on the vocals. Spencer's singing is amazing on this record, and while I'm personally not the biggest fan of his growls, his cleans more than make up for it by showing one hell of a vocal range. But physical vocal or playing range isn't the only impressive aspect of this record. The band goes in so many directions on this record, from lengthy and complex proggy tunes like "Have A Blast!" to damn near commercial hard rock songs like "Scarlet", and all territories in between. There's an amazing amount of restraint on much of the album, as well. Whatever is being played usually carries Spencer's vocal melodies or one of the myriad guitar solos on the record nicely. While we're on the topic of guitar solos, that's pretty much the reason we're all into Periphery in the first place, right? This record doesn't disappoint. There are plenty of lead guitar moments here. Though not every song has a guitar solo, when they do, they're usually pretty good. Misha, Adam, and Jake all have very modern solo styles that kind of sound a bit like Steve Vai and John Petrucci at times. There are three guest solos on the album as well, "Have A Blast" features Guthrie Govan, "Erised" features John Petrucci (who happens to be Jake's uncle), and "Mile Zero" employs the talents of The Faceless' Wes Hauch. Guthrie's solo is sublimely fusion-esque and has some wild bends. Petrucci delivers something kinda standard for him, featuring plenty of sweeps and alternate-picked scalar runs. Wes Hauch's solo may be the best guest solo here, and is surprisingly melodic considering The Faceless' music. The band also leans far less heavily on the "djent" guitar sound that got them famous, and will even admit to that in interviews (like in the latest issue of "Guitar World", where Jake doesn't even hesitate to mention it). This doesn't necessarily mean there's no "DJENT-DJENT-DJENT-DJENT" anywhere on the record, but they certainly use it a lot less than they used to. Even things like Meshuggah-esque polymeters are used far less here than the past. The songs feel more like songs than just collections of similar-sounding riffs now. If I had to come up with a criticism of the sound of this record, I don't think I could really come up with anything convincing. However, as I mentioned, I'm not the biggest fan of Spencer's harsh vocals. I wouldn't mind if their songs were all clean, or if they got a better harsh vocalist. I know he's talented at it, but I just don't care much for his particular style. Personal preference. But that's enough for me to make this one shy of a perfect 10.
Lyrics — 9
Cryptic lyrics are usually the name of the game for Periphery. That doesn't mean, however, that sing-along choruses don't exist on this record. Even if you're not really sure what they mean, you'll probably end up singing along with some of the lines on this record, like this gem: (from "Have A Blast!") "And it's the thrill of life that enables us to flow. Locked In the spirit's line, souls entwine, to journey on as one." Lyrical themes seem to be equally ambiguous spirituality, and ambiguous anger. Nothing overtly plot-like in the songs, though the first track, "Muramasa", seventh track "Ragnarok", and album closer "Masamune" form a loose trilogy, sharing a common lyric and melodic motif, as well as titles based on three swords from a Final Fantasy game. Spencer seems to use his clean vocals a bit more often on this record. In fact, "Scarlet" and "Erised" almost entirely consist of clean vocals. This is a welcome change, as I really enjoy Spencer's singing, and as mentioned above, he's good enough at it that he doesn't need no silly auto-tune or pitch correction. Take that, modern music production! I've never been the biggest fan of the really core-ish harsh vocals, but they do the job. Spencer might have one of the greatest sets of pipes in the business right now.
Overall Impression — 9
Compared to their debut and the "Icarus" EP, this is a much more cohesive, musical album that leans less on their original "djent" style for a more organic prog-metal sound. Vocally superior to all of their old material, "Periphery II" is definitely a contender to me for "album of the year", and it's only August! While any track on the record is sure to please anyone looking for modern, melodic prog-metal that doesn't just sound like another Dream Theater ripoff, or metalcore that doesn't sound like another Meshuggah ripoff (though I know you're all thinking otherwise), my favourite tracks on the record would have to be "Have A Blast!", "Erised", and "Ji". The former is just chock full of riffs that I never would have expected out of a metal band. In fact, they sound very influenced by the likes of Nobuo Uematsu or Steve Vai. "Erised" is a perfect example, to me, of Periphery laying back and doing a simple song in a really emotionally effective way. You could call it their "power ballad", I guess. Petrucci's solo also opens with two of the finest opening bars I've heard him play in ages. "Ji" uses the eight-string guitar in a far more inventive way than I'd do it if I had one. And the "rhythm solo" is just a really interesting piece that deserves to be put in a museum or something. There's nothing I actually hate about this album. Spencer's shouts may not be my piece of cake, but I can't imagine this record being as effective without them. The production is amazing. There are enough riffs and solos on this record to keep any musician happy for a long time. It's their most melodic moment to date, but there are some riffs on here that have the kind of balls they only wish they had on the debut record. It's not a completely flawless record, but it might be the closest thing to one I hear all year, so overall, I give this record a 9/10.