Sound — 9
The first five years of their career may have been a slow-plodding journey from their formation to their eventual 2010 debut self-titled album, but Periphery would put themselves in recording overdrive in the next five years. With their follow-up album, 2012's "Periphery II: This Time It's Personal," gaining extra buzz with guest performances from tenured guitarists like John Petrucci and Guthrie Govan, Periphery would finally take the next step as a progressive-minded metal band by making their next albums a two-part concept in its composition and lyrical matter, releasing both "Juggernaut: Alpha" and "Juggernaut: Omega" in 2015 to well acclaim.
While the composition of their fifth album, "Periphery III: Select Difficulty," abstains from the conceptual songwriting of the previous "Juggernaut" albums, Periphery move forward a lot in terms of their sonic repertoire. Still maintaining their deft prog metal performance in nearly every song (especially in the techy riffs of "Habitual Line-Stepper," "Flatline" and "Prayer Position"), Periphery offer a wider array of sections to contrast those heady foundations. The post-rock interlude at the end of "Marigold" is a clear callback to "Periphery II," and a hint of jazz influence in "Lune" echoes that similarly used in the "Juggernaut" series, but the main genre infusion used in "Periphery III" is a symphonic one, where string sections lay the melodic groundwork for the frenetic "Marigold," bolster the anthemic "Lune," and close out "Absolomb" with a high-brow orchestral epilogue.
But to look at the grandiose mashing of prog metal and symphonic sections as the only example of contrast in "Periphery III" would be to overlook so many other great examples, all showing how the album oscillates properly between an angry, aggressive side and a melodically rich side. The grungy bass djents throbbing in the center of "Absolomb" juxtapose nicely with the delicate guitars on the edges, the primarily positive disposition of "Remain Indoors" hits a substantial wave of turbulence with a bridge of tense string sections, and the aggressive blastbeat drumming intensifies the triumphant vocals and guitars in the soaring choruses of "The Way the News Goes..." Even on a more compartmentalized level, Periphery dish out straight-up heavy tracks (heard in the opening stretch of "The Price Is Wrong" and "Motormouth") as well as they do straight-up righteous tracks (heard in the harmonious "Catch Fire"). And lest it be overlooked among everything previously mentioned, Periphery make a couple nods to their nu-metal influences, with Spencer Sotelo's snarly singspeak/rap vocals in "Motormouth" pay homage to Corey Taylor, and the triplet riffing in "Prayer Position" rings similar to Deftones.
Lyrics — 7
As opposed to the linear concept constructed in the lyrics of the "Juggernaut" albums, Sotelo's lyrics in "Periphery III" revert back to a mixed offering of topics revolving around set themes and emotions. Heading back to his inspirational well of social commentary, Sotelo goes from railing against the ignorant hoi polloi ("And thank God I'm not alive to see the slack-jawed generation spread it's fucking seed" in "The Price Is Wrong"), materialism ("Tell me, mannequin, what brings you to move? / Is it all of the colors in the magazine?... Paint your face now pose and filter the mood" in "Motormouth"), and authoritarian leaders ("We walked the line / Living in a state of mind controlled by a tyrant" in "Habitual Line-Stepper"), to agonizing over one's nihility in response to a world so bleak, heard in the existential turmoil of "Marigold" ("I'm just another one wandering aimlessly on to the grave"), the suicidal thoughts of "Flatline" ("The lack of motivation keeps the soul from bettering / It's no life / Now reach the next level with a bottle and a blade"), and the lust for escape through substances in "Prayer Position" ("Scratch the itch and murder the body for pleasure / Sparking it up / Breathing the fire that we crave / Guzzle it down").
Sotelo does a good job bringing this tandem worldview of rage and despair to the table - paradoxically refusing to be fooled by the matrix of a tinselly society, yet being powerless to change it or transcend it - but the way he articulates those thoughts is encumbering. Perhaps runoff from the characteristically aggressive narration in "Juggernaut," Sotelo seethes with an abundance of violent symbolism - whether "Every word is like a shotgun shell so burn inside my hell" in "The Price Is Wrong," "It sure is something when we all catch fire / Bodies burning like the sunrise" in "Catch Fire," or "Another day pulls me down to my knees and / Holds the gun to my fucking head" in "Prayer Position" - that ends up being literal overkill when coloring the emotions he wants to portray, coming off more brutish than necessary.
Overall Impression — 9
With the previous "Juggernaut" albums acting as a learning experience for Periphery to compose music with more gears and moods, they take that experience and apply it to an even stronger degree in "Periphery III." Periphery's heightened sense of contrast in their songwriting provides even more intrigue to the album as a whole, and with a wider set of extra sounds and tricks applied to the backbone of their stellar prog metal performances, "Periphery III" shows improvement in nearly all categories.