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Periphery - Juggernaut: Alpha CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

2.96 | 39 ratings

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2 stars Periphery, for me, have always been a 'guilty pleasure' band. They're fun, at times, and I can sure sing along loudly to 'Scarlet', because that shit's hella catchy, but the moment anyone starts talking about them as 'progressive' and 'thinking man's metal', I have to hold my breath to stop from bursting out laughing. And this happens often. Periphery are a band who combine sugary melodies that could be in Britney Spears songs with a bit of polish, with br00tal chug chug breakdowns and screams, with some ~trendy~ electronic bleeps and bloops, with lyrics that are half pseudo-deep pretentious nonsense and half meme-seeking gimmickry. And just because their guitar leads follow absolutely no time or groove or melody or key, that suddenly makes them compositional geniuses? Nope, this is pop music, plain and simple. And sometimes, they make some pretty nice pop music.

But I'll take an aside first to talk about this release - more specifically, why the fuck is this a double album? Don't get me wrong, the rockist inside me loves this - two disks, separate covers and titles, both about 40 minutes (the length of a 70's LP), and both with perfect split points for each side of the record. Fantastic, just how it should be. But then, Periphery decide to release them as separate albums, and then tell us 'you should be listening to both one after each other, to get the full story'. No. No, no, no. No, no, no. That's not how it fucking works. You split into two disks when you don't want people to listen to it all at once. You know, like Have One on Me or Grace for Drowning. Both artists agreed that listening to it all at once would become a bit boring, so split the albums conveniently into short pieces. Here, Periphery have just done it because they want more money from their legions of 12-year-old followers (who actually legitimately purchased Periphery 'Keep Calm'' and Dolan shirts. Yes, Dolan, that uber-shitty maymay that was making the rounds in late 2012). So instead of doing what they want, I'm not going to listen to this at the same time. I actually haven't heard Omega yet. This is a review of Alpha, which is what you should get when you release things as two disks.

This is Periphery's first bad album. Well, not really, I'm obviously ignoring their rather pathetic debut record. But that was really just Misha (the worst member of the band in terms of compositional input) making bedroom chugs that the rest of the band had to work around. This is the first bad Periphery album, with them producing material as a group. This Time It's Personal was messy, overlong, and contained some real stinkers, but was also devilishly catchy, and had some not too shabby stuff courtesy of Mark Holcomb and Spencer Sotelo (and Matt Halpern would get a mention too if it weren't for the piss-poor drum tones on that album). Even Clear had its moments, as a watered-down version of This Time It's Personal. This? It runs the dreaded line of sincerity way too hard, producing some truly laughable parts in which the band attempts to juxtapose some pretty deep ('deep') lyricism and concepts over some pretty childish musical passages. Even the parts I liked from their sound in the past have taken serious knocks this time around, with the album being rather devoid of strong hooks (there are hooks here, just they are all pretty weak), and even their best asset, Spencer Sotelo, wavers a bit with some weak performances.

'Psychosphere' is nearly good, for a few minutes. The guitar is poor and there are some rather corny chanted vocals in the background, but if you focus on Spencer's cleans and the backing synths and textural guitars, it's actually pretty cool. And for once, that wall of ambience that djent bands so often utilise sounds powerful and full rather than like a cheap soup of casios and reverb guitar. I can sense Mark Holcomb's influence in this song, given the pseudo-black metal tonality of those tremolo riffs in the background, and overall it makes a pretty nice mid-saga climax to the album. Pity about the godawful bass solo break and those rather bad cookie-cutter metalcore screams.

And there are other good moments on here, it's just that the bad drowns out the good, and whenever one instrument is playing something nice, three others are playing something awful. 'The Scourge', for the first three minutes, is the first time I've heard a heavy Periphery song that doesn't suck, with them getting some real grit into the performances and riffs here, without leaving melody behind. But, as we all predicted, it quickly dissolves into a good old fashioned chug-fest, complete with more metalcore screams. Sigh. 'Heavy Heart' is the other good one here, although I will say that my enjoyment of it is purely ironic. This is possibly the sappiest song I have ever heard. Ever. The first chorus sounds straight off a Britney Spears record, and even though I love pop Periphery, even that was a bit too much for me. Fortunately, the second chorus of the song is much better, but the improvements in the song aren't enough to counter the pure cheese. 'Alpha' is an odd one, with most of the song being pure pop metal nonsense, halfway between Disturbed and Abba, but the chorus goes further beyond that to the point when it's actually kinda catchy and good.

But the entire album is riddled with moments of garbage, and I'm not just referring to the regular inclusions of chug-chugs and Spencer's metalcore vocals. Things like the acoustic break in 'MK Ultra' or the chiptune parts in the title track. Why? What does this add to the music aside from cheap gimmick points from your fandom of 12-year-olds who like cheap gimmicks? But the most disappointing part of this album for me is how poor Spencer's vocals are. Everyone else has been going on for years about how bad his voice is, but aside from the metalcore screams, I always loved it. He has some serious pipes and can belt out some truly delicious earworms at times. Here, he misses far more than he hits. The entire opening track, which wouldn't be half bad on its own, is filled with poorly done vocal performances. Some are weak lines, some are done with some absolutely terrible accentuation, and some are actually just plain off-key. The accentuation becomes a big problem throughout the album, with Spencer trying his hand at some bad Claudio Sanchez-isms with the clean sections.

Musically Periphery are pretty much the same as they've always been, smothering every single part with as many riffs as possible, because the band members' egos are so big that they can't just play chords. I'm exaggerating of course, there are some parts in which the guitars are reasonable and well played, but once every two songs isn't enough for me. But Periphery's bad moments in the instrumentals shine out a bit more clearly on this record than ever. The two biggest offenders being 'MK Ultra' and 'Four Lights', with the latter being a completely unnecessary instrumental chug-fest competition of who can get the worst guitar tone, and the former being just a plain competition of who can write the worst song of all time. I've heard tales of the band saving their best riffs for this album, that a whole lot of the ones that should have been on This Time It's Personal were left off in favour of being on here, because they were so good. When I hear the opening riff of 'MK Ultra', I get seriously confused. Yeah guys, that's the best riff you could come up with. That combination of 0, 0 and 0 is the best riff for that situation. Right.

In the end the only times Alpha is good is when it goes beyond bad into a sort of post-ironic anthemic pop music kind of enjoyment. You only like it because of how stupidly cheesy it is. The bad here is certainly more potent than the good, and when you're making a super-deep concept album and your best asset is a bunch of sappy pop choruses, that's not really going to hold up all too well in the long run. I look forward to what Omega has for me.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 2/5 |


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