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Periphery - Juggernaut Alpha/Juggernaut Omega Review

Posted on January 8, 2015 at 11:55 AM

The ultimate statement of progressive intent: But does it deliver


The great irony of the band’s name in 2014 is that they are no longer on the periphery of the modern metal scene. A band birthed by guitarist Misha Mansoor and nurtured into health on the Sevenstring Forums has now become a dominant musical force over the course of several increasingly consistent releases. The appointment of vocalist Spencer Sotelo in 2010 appeared to many as a false start, a failure to finally come good on the promise of a voice to propel the band to greatness. However, Sotelo has proved himself to be exactly the right man for the job, stepping up his game on the band’s sophomore release and breathing new life into every facet of Periphery’s sound. The appointment of Mark Holcomb, who has brought a colourful and unique style of riffing to the band, created a perfect counterpoint to Mansoor’s off-kilter and often cold Meshuggahisms. Periphery II was a triumph of Mark and Misha trading blows, sometimes in the same riff; a battle between unbridled flair and cold sterility that is surely now the trademark of the djent sound.

Of course, the music hasn’t been the only player in Periphery’s meteoric rise to success over the last five years - they have a lot to thank for the way they’ve marketed themselves and their product as they’ve learned to cater for an ever-growing fanbase. The regular (and hilarious) webisodes, the constant contact with their audience on Facebook and their openness and honesty about their profession all contribute to a Periphery that’s hard, if not to love, then to respect.

Thankfully, for those of us who do love what Periphery do, 2015 is set to be a big year for the sextet as they release their new double album. Juggernaut was originally set to be a multi-part song but was dismantled to create the band’s break-out single Icarus Lives before it was shelved. Long time fans have been waiting years for Juggernaut to resurface, and anticipation hit fever pitch when the band announced it would be a double concept album - the ultimate statement of progressive intent. Often, of course, this sort of thing falls flat on its back. Cue overwrought arrangements, buckets of filler and an end product which is too busy for its own good. The question is, then, does Juggernaut live up to the hype and how far does it take the idea of a double concept album?

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Juggernaut Alpha introduces itself with a slow-burning and vocal driven opener, much like its P:II predecessor, in order to set up some of the key melodies and themes of the record/s. Four minutes later and MK Ultra comes ripping through the speakers with a trademark ‘massacre on a bouncy castle’ riff, rekindling the spirit of Bulb from old demos. Then, the first surprise of the record. Just as the song is gathering steam, it cuts abruptly into a smooth jazz, lounge-y passage straight out of the playbook of Australian wunderkind Plini. These sorts of eclectic moments may not dominate Juggernaut, but they colour both discs here. The result is a strange amalgamation of meticulous planning and blatant disregard for the rules. On the second disc, this crushingly heavy to lounge jazz transition is repeated verbatim during Hell Below, illuminating Periphery’s true reasoning behind making this a double album over a traditional one.

We all love a good Easter egg. Bands such as Coheed and Cambria have made it their trademark over the years, dropping in motifs and melodies from earlier albums to give fans that ‘Ahh’ moment. It’s a proggy trope and we all love it. Periphery have dabbled with it before but never on this scale; Juggernaut is full of them. Aside from the obvious traits shared by the title tracks Alpha and Omega (which, by the way, are probably my two new favourite Periphery songs), cross-pollination efforts include the reprise of A Black Minute at the end of Disc One and at the beginning of Disc Two, the endings of MK Ultra and Hell Below, and a lot more than I can hear but can’t put my finger on yet. In this sense, Juggernaut’s musical element works extremely well in conceptual terms, 
constantly giving the listener strange deja vu (sorry) without ideas getting repeated too obviously, frequently or as a crutch for a lack of good ideas.

"Trademark ‘massacre on a bouncy castle’ riffs, a strange amalgamation of meticulous planning and blatant disregard for the rules and abrupt cross-pollination - Juggernaut is a superb achievement."

The songwriting is sharp, as usual, and the production is arguably the bands best, with each instrument getting its due space in the mix to shine. There’s solos scattered about, shimmering lead work, sledgehammer riffs and some softer moments to temper the affair; it’s the metalcore formula taken to its logical and scintillating conclusion. Spencer’s vocals deserve a very special mention because for the first time, a Periphery record succeeds and fails for me based almost entirely on his contribution. The music is steady enough, quality-wise, but when Spencer really decides to turn on the infectious hooks, that’s when things go from good to outstanding. Heavy Heart is probably the best example of this and, when compared to earlier power-pop tinged efforts, really shows how far he’s come as a songwriter. I love this song. It forces me to admit that Periphery are no longer best at writing metal, in many ways. This is proved to me elsewhere on the album with Four Lights, Rainbow Gravity, Psychosphere and Hell Below which just don’t burn with the same fire as the catchier cuts (and this is coming from a huge fan of extreme metal, grindcore, noise, you name it).

My main issue (which other people could see in a more positive light) about Juggernaut is the missed opportunity to write a truly engrossing concept album complete with bells and whistles galore. There are no voiceovers or storytelling aids and gone are the lush electronic interludes of the previous records. I’m on my fifth listen of Juggernaut and even though I don’t have the lyrics to hand, I would have no idea that this was a concept album were it not for the advance notice. That bothers me. For a band pushing towards creating a real piece of art, they seem to have regressed and actually made a less conceptually coherent album. It allows me to focus on the songs more but there’s less to contextualise them than there should be. I’m still left yearning for that huge, immersive and expansive masterpiece after the final chords of Stranger Chords have rung out.

But hey! It’s not all doom and gloom. Juggernaut may not work for me as a concept album, or even as a double album, but it’s still a superb achievement. Periphery have created 80+ minutes of music that are an absolute pleasure to listen to, with at least 5 songs which I’d hold up as their best ever. When these songs choose to swing, they hit a home run. For now, my challenge is to reshuffle the track-listing to create a solid hour of music which I truly love. When my physical copy arrives, I’ll read the lyrics, get into the narrative, and then I might be singing to an entirely different tune. I hope I am because the moments I love on Alpha and Omega eclipse all but the very best metal music released in the 2010’s.

If their debut was one small step, and their sophomore was one giant leap, then Juggernaut becomes that fleeting glance back towards the Earth, caught entirely between two worlds - in every sense.

Words: Ben Armstrong

Periphery is:


Spencer Sotelo – Vocals


Misha Mansoor – Guitars


Mark Holcomb – Guitars


Jake Bowen - Guitars


Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood – Bass


Matt Halpern - Drums

Categories: CD REVIEWS

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