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Monday, July 9, 2012

Album Review: Periphery – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal

Meshuggah-worship comes in many forms. Front of the queue, bowl in hand, was a young Misha Mansoor. Naturally, he went on to start his personal project, Bulb, and form the band Periphery and the kind of math-heavy, palm-muted power chords that marked the band out as the djentleman who owe most to Fredrik Thordendal and company. Their eponymous debut album was bulging with jagged, heavy syncopation and angular battery fused with, first, the kind of yobbish yelps of derision that only seem to come from those whose vocal cords haven’t yet been fully broken in and, second, Spencer Sotelo’s whining cleans that turned so many potential fans away from the band.

Their follow-up is the cringingly-titled Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal. Yes, I thought it was a joke too. It’s a work that’s led me to wonder if, after their forthcoming concept release, Juggernaut, the next album will be called something equally tacky. Perhaps Periphery III: In Your Face or Periphery III: The Real Deal. Well, apparently the answer is “yes”. In a brief comment made by Mansoor recently, which includes the information that the lyrics in II actually reference III, their next album will be called the horrendously gimmicky Periphery III: Third Time’s A Charm. But, I digress.

This sophomore album sees the whole band taking on songwriting duties, as oppose to the one-man show of their debut, yet it still contains a number of reworked Bulb demos, so it’s a bit of a mixture and that does come across. As the title suggests it is, in general, less abrasive than their debut with much more of a melodic, colourful approach to tracks. The production values have been tightened a notch and the vocals have been thrust more to the forefront. Of course this brings Periphery into line with current trends for a more textured, ambient approach to the genre and the latter half of the album, especially, dangles its legs deep inside that concept. The first half is more of a patchwork quilt of chaos and order; battering groove and demonstrative lulls; hard-hitting roars and growls that dive into the kind of clean singing that is mostly pitched at the top-end – just the zone where Sotelo’s whine comes fully into play. Those who ducked for cover last time will be doing so once more.

The introductory posturing on “Muramasa”, for instance, is short and sickly sweet and quickly pitches us head-first into the crush barrier of “Have A Blast”. The spasmodic, mathy nature of the music here goes a long way to focussing our minds on the g-spots of each chorus and this pattern is followed deep into the album. A gnarly, pop-up electro-beat backed by reverb-heavy strings feeds into the jerky hammer of “Ji” and, at last, Sotelo rediscovers that tone that suits him best with some dark, throat-ripping growls and mid-range cleans. There’s a beautiful, cosmic wash lurking in the background here and some impressive stickwork from Matt Halpern that seeks to plug the gaps.

With other tracks creating gateways, like the hook-laden “Scarlet”, the chameleonic “Ragnarok” and the ambient layering and simplified structure of “Erised” sucking us in, and surprises such as the instrumental “Epoch” and all the craftily-integrated guest solos, the album stands a thousand times more accessible than their debut. Yet, there is far too much that simply passes by without ever finding its feet, and, ultimately, you’d really have to question if, at any point, Periphery hit the addictive bounce and lightness of touch that the most recent releases by Vildhjarta, Uneven Structure, Skyharbor and, even, Textures feature. All these albums simply hit harder and sink deeper into our psyches.

In the cold light of day, 14 tracks and 69 minutes (their debut topped 72 minutes) is a heck of a lot of material to wade through when so much of it ceases to shock and awe to anything like the degree that their debut so clearly did. But then, apparently, “this time it’s personal”, so perhaps we should allow them some leeway; some selfishness in their experimentation. Let no-one say you don’t get value for money with Periphery. Whatever the effect that this softening of the edges has had on their fanbase, they can be pretty proud of the fact that they’ve successfully managed to build another interesting level on their already solid foundation. We can only hope that, in the future, their talent for album titles remains so asymmetrically opposed to the quality of the material that lurks inside them.

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