Periphery "Juggernaut: Alpha" ** and 1/3
"Juggernaut: Omega" **and 1/3
I'd like to start this review by saying these two albums are all over the place, and not really in a good way. It's kind of a perfect illustration of my love/hate/indifference relationship with Periphery as a whole. Their first album killed, the second one was...okay, but something was off, and "Clear" can be written off as an experiment, if not for the fact it illustrates just what I didn't like about "Periphery II" in the first place:
I liked this band before they turned into Protest The Hero.
They needed to do something different; lord knows if they'd stuck with pure djent, we wouldn't be here, writer and reader, about to embark on an analysis of these two albums. But for some reason, I never dug Protest The Hero, and I figured it out after streaming "Clear," then going to work and hearing someone play "Volition" that Periphery decided to crib a LOT of PTH's style from their second album forward. But even worse (though interesting on paper), they took the formula for "Clear", which had multiple genre experiments and songs written by individual members of the band, and applied it to a double album. It's eighty minutes (not quite 81) of a band not even trying to find itself, but trying to be something, anything else. Which is what's so frustrating. There's a good band in there somewhere, if they'd just figure themselves out. Instead, we're left with an uneven, yet workable album. It's worth a listen, at least.
Right off the bat, "Juggernaut" does itself no favors, however. One could almost just start with track five. In regards to tracks one and three: Not really impressed with Periphery's morph into a pop punk band with seven strings. "A Black Minute" and "Heavy Heart" are not only lacking guts, they're not catchy enough to justify such a direction. It'd be one thing if they wrote really good pop punk songs, but they're still kind of tied up in melancholy and trying to be "deep". It's Emo. There, I said it. Emo with competent lead guitar. (I'm looking at you especially "Heavy Heart".)
"MK Ultra" is some bullshit death thing that isn't very good, that ends with a weird video gamey interlude to mesh with the emo song following it (named above). "The Event" is a minute and a half of music that serves no purpose and goes nowhere. "The Scourge" picks up a little, at least bringing a little bit of much needed "Oomph!" to the proceedings for the first 90 seconds. It gets moody after that, but it's at least a nice atmospheric moody. The second half of the song is some of what brought Periphery to the dance, that melo-djent goodness that they are actually better at than most other bands in this trend.
The title track "Alpha" starts with video game shit, which sounds like it at least belongs this time , and I decided "Let's listen to this with sixteen year old ears." Not me at sixteen; God no. I'd hate this more for Spencer Sotello's voice. I wasn't "No Clean Singing!" exactly back then, but I was not a fan of the Blink 182's and Third Eye Blinds of the world either. "Alpha" may not be the best song, but it's well constructed. It does what it needs to do, and it's not jarring, out of place, annoying to listen to or something that makes you long for something else instead. It's good for what it is.
It's at this point where I feel like if they'd cut some of the bullshit, this may have been a decent single album instead of a bloated double (which only needs 2CD's because of a minute long overrun). For instance, drop the first three tracks on "Alpha". There. Three songs the world will never miss and the album is better without them. "The Event" suddenly makes sense as an intro.
Moving right along, "22 Faces" is more muscle for the skeleton. Sotello can be gutsy when he wants to with his delivery, and it makes this song so much better. This stands out so far, because it's catchy, has gusto and is well written. You feel the shit, main.
"Rainbow Gravity" is your basic melodic djent song, but because it's Periphery, they raise it a micron or two above the dreck this genre has become by showing some goddam restraint and not making it a technical wankfest. They ride the groove. Also, clean middle section was a surprise, as well as not just going straight back into the chorus out of the middle. Nice touch. The track runs right into the next instrumental interlude "Four Lights", which is a key of F# djent stomper. It's fine, but kind of out of place as it's own track.
"Psychosphere" sounds like a decent closer, but there's a problem. It's the closer to part one of the album. You know there's 39 minutes to go, even if it's on a different disc. Also, it's a good closer in the context of a full album, not this somewhat half-baked 40 minute, padded with interludes and emo songs half of one. Still, it's a good last word type of song, beating out a sense of finality in A tuning.
[Not a good sign that the Booking.com ad before the next track is one of the legitimately more interesting things I've heard during this record.]
"Omega" kicks off with a reprise, which, again, would be unnecessary if this was a single disc. It doesn't suck or feel out of place, but it stops dead in its tracks and yields to "The Bad Thing", which sounds like Emmure with the use of their frontal lobes returned to them. It's nothing to write home about, but they can actually read and write is what I'm saying. (It gets better as it goes along, but it's too late to truly capture the momentum it needed to get to that point.)
"Priestess" opens up with an acoustic guitar, which sounds purdy, but once Spencer starts singing, it sounds so much like A Simple Plan (or if I'm being generous Tokio Hotel) that it hurts. It gets better in the middle, but you have to really hold your nose to get past the first half of the song.
And then, what goes perfect after an early 00's emo power ballad on steroids than a fucking thrash metal song? "Graveless" starts out like that, but has that poppy chorus which is a blessing and a curse to Periphery's style. They can never be taken seriously, but they hook the kids. And even their thrash song is kinda wussy, because by the middle they pull out a few light drum loops and have a clean section for the short solo. The song's tuned to A; why does it not feel hard? It's because they can't decide what kind of song they're writing here. There's splashes of djent hung on a thrash skeleton, sewn together with poppy choruses and a clean solo with drum loops. Hell, that sounds impressive, interesting even on paper, but the execution just leaves me going "Hmmm. Okay."
"Hell Below" is clearly played with 9-string guitars, and it sounds like ass as a result. We reached the bottom limit of guitar tunings with 8, people. Get over it. (Update: According to Wikipedia, this is actually played on de-tuned 7-strings, but in a tuning that matches the bass note with a 9-string guitar.)
Okay, here we are at the title track, and I can see we're in for Periphery's second longest song at just a shade under twelve minutes. It starts well enough, with a delightfully bright but sinister intro, then goes into some blast beat shit, climbing back to the original theme from there. After two short verses, some chords out of Meshuggah's "Sublevels" happen, pretty yet dissonant; diminished even. Reminiscent of Metroid or something. The section starting around the 4:25 mark is pretty sweet. It's like intergalactic inspirational adventure theme music or something. This is definitely a highlight of the album. Unfortunately, I kinda saw the late song flame out coming where it just goes all wobbly and soft. It's not a bad section they put after all this, but once you get to 8:25 or so, it's hard to think of this as the same song. (Nerd note: I can hear in the drum fill a minute before the end that Matt Halpern actually has some rack toms on his kit. He usually just has the floor.)
"Stranger Things" falls into the chaff category, as it's over seven minutes long and nothing from it jumped out at me. Just put "Phychosphere" here instead, and you've got a decent crescendo.
Long story short, there's plenty I would cut from this album to make it one volume, but overall you're left with enough meat to make one volume in the first place. Not a lot of projects are that fortunate. It's a shame that Periphery continue to hover in the "Good enough...I guess..." category when they started out legitimately Good. Just like this album: Lots of potential, but plenty of extraneous bullshit bogging it down.