The last several albums that I have talked about on this blog have admittedly been fairly calm in terms of instrumentation and style (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), so it’s time to kick it up a notch with the heaviest album so far: Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal. Before even listening to the album, we can tell that the band Periphery at least seems to either have a good sense of humor or an excessively nerdy obsession with terrible cinema (or perhaps both), so we can be assured that the music must not be too bad. As the follow-up to their highly regarded debut album, Periphery, this second effort showcases the band’s successful effort to adhere to their definitive style while continuing to expand musically. In the two years that have elapsed since their first release, it is clear that the band has matured as a cohesive unit both musically and compositionally.
Periphery has been instrumental in carving out a recently developed niche in the heavy metal community widely known as “djent.” The origins of such a word come from onomatopoeic relation to a particularly refined tone of guitar distortion that is achieved by palm muting heavy chords while boosting the gain to emphasize tightness and clarity. Such a sound becomes apparent in any of the fourteen tracks on Periphery II, as it is a defining characteristic of their style. Although there has been an unending flow of controversy as to whether or not “djent” metal is an appropriate name, I am choosing to consider it as a recognized subgenre because it is currently the only name that has been associated with the style, and it would be a disservice to simply lump it in under the label of progressive metal. If you happen to be one of those who believes that “djent” only applies to the guitar tone and not the style of music, then consider this: industrial music is named after Industrial Records, the record label that spawned it, psychedelic rock is named after the psychedelic drugs that were widely used by its most avid supporters, and the term “ska” comes from the distinctive sound of the guitar strumming that defines the genre. If these are all considered legitimate names, then surely “djent metal” must also be valid.
Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal is not a concept album, but it does revolve around a three-song trilogy of sorts. “Muramasa” (the opening song), “Ragnarok” (track number seven), and “Masamune” (the final track) are all linked by unifying themes, both lyrically and musically. It was an interesting decision on Periphery’s part to space them out throughout the album, as opposed to keeping them all together. I think it works extremely well in helping to give the whole album a context of sorts. The themes are established in “Muramasa,” the epic introduction, and then abandoned for awhile until they return in the middle of the album with “Ragnarok.” This makes an incredible experience for the listener when they suddenly hear the same riffs and lyrics that were present at the beginning of the record. To hear them again one final time on “Masamune” was the icing on the cake; a fitting end for Periphery II to be sure.
Periphery does a fantastic job of delivering solid material for diehard djent fans (after all, they and Meshuggah practically invented the genre). Although there will always be those who criticize heavy metal for barraging the ears with nothing but noise, it is easy to see the genre’s appeal with bands like Periphery. Besides, a little guitar distortion has never hurt anyone! All of Periphery’s music is intricately laid out; every note and rhythm has been well thought out. While there is a lot to be said for simpler musical styles that revolve around jamming and improvising on the spot, sometimes the more refined and planned out material can take it that one step further, which is certainly the case with Periphery II. The band exhibits their ability to remain extremely tight as a band while blazing through elaborate riffs and complex rhythms at high speeds.
The factor that really puts this album over the top for me is the more ambient electronic presence. There are short electronic segues inserted between many of the songs that do wonders in providing contrast to the much heavier sections. Referred to by the band as “palette cleansers,” they give the listener’s ears a break from the brutal chops that dominate the majority of the album, and they give Periphery’s sound a much more polished, mature edge. These segments also serve to improve the experience of listening to the album as a whole, as opposed to one track at a time, because they create the impression of a musical journey, travelling through both chaos and serenity.
Periphery also knows how to avoid the unfortunate tendency of excessive instrumental “wankery.” Too many recent metal bands end up getting lost in the complexities of their songs and don’t write enough memorable content. As a result, this style of music can sometimes be quite forgettable. On Periphery II, however, there are strong, rousing choruses in all of their songs that create focal points off of which to base the music’s energy. These more melodic sections have the added benefit of making the more technical riffs fit in more cohesively with the rest of the material. In short, Periphery varies their style and song structure very frequently, making the album as a whole much more appealing to digest. Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal is an incredibly visionary album, and it has already played a large part in advancing metal as a genre.